Project Management

Voices on Project Management

by , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with--or even disagree with--leave a comment.

About this Blog

RSS

View Posts By:

Cameron McGaughy
Lynda Bourne
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Wanda Curlee
Christian Bisson
Ramiro Rodrigues
Soma Bhattacharya
Yasmina Khelifi
Sree Rao
Lenka Pincot
Emily Luijbregts
cyndee miller
Jorge Martin Valdes Garciatorres
Marat Oyvetsky

Past Contributors:

Rex Holmlin
Vivek Prakash
Dan Goldfischer
Linda Agyapong
Jim De Piante
Siti Hajar Abdul Hamid
Bernadine Douglas
Michael Hatfield
Deanna Landers
Kelley Hunsberger
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Alfonso Bucero Torres
Marian Haus
Shobhna Raghupathy
Peter Taylor
Joanna Newman
Saira Karim
Jess Tayel
Lung-Hung Chou
Rebecca Braglio
Roberto Toledo
Geoff Mattie

Recent Posts

How To Establish Your Credibility as a Project Manager in a New Environment

Are Project Managers Salespeople?

The Planning Paradox

Project Management: Talent or Skill?

Project Management Is The Great Equalizer

3 Ways to Challenge the Agile Norm

Categories: Agile

 By Soma Bhattacharya

Never fear challenging the norm.

A standup seems like the norm for any agile team, part of the identity associated with being agile. As many of us all now work remotely, it seems that the right way to start the day is by attending the standup and getting the status items, questioning team members—and dealing with interruptions from multiple stakeholders.

Whether you like it or not, there’s no one rule for getting the standup done. It’s about connecting with the team and being there for each other without ruthless questioning.

So, if you are not answering the standard three questions (What have you completed? What will you do next? What is getting in your way?), what else can you do? Here are what I call the three acts:

  1. Socialization: Working alone from home for more than a year under pressure and deadlines hasn’t been all cozy, so take the time to just catch up with each other. Listen and get to know each other. Simple games like this one can help you still feel like part of a team and that you aren’t working in silos: The scrum master as the facilitator can ask the team to write down “one act that makes you feel proud,” written anonymously on (virtual) sticky notes and tacked to the team board. During the standup, ask team members to identify who wrote which sticky note. It’s fun, and you get to know each other—especially any members that have joined most recently and never met the team face to face. It gives them a better idea of who everyone is, and knowing something personal will always make you work better around them. No one forgets a good story.
  2. Intrigue: Look at the burndown chart, as this will allow conversations to start naturally on how things are working out for the team. This ensures there is no finger pointing and brings the group together. Decisions are made by the team based on the data and the general team trend. I find it far more effective than just the three questions. Another tip that always helps: Look at the buffer usage as a health check for the teams. Start with a 10% buffer in sprint estimation. Look at the burndown, and if you see the buffer is being completely utilized, find ways to uncover why and where the estimation went wrong, or if more tasks are being added later. Increase the buffer and continue to keep on checking on the team trend; you will either fix the leak or find the root cause.
  3. The wrap: Support and positivity should always be the closing thoughts. Even if the team is behind schedule, team members should find ways to work together and use the learnings for better estimations and strategies next time. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Your behavior, bonding and team experiences matter in keeping the team together during these trying times.

Changing the norms to ensure things are working for you—and keeping it that way—is agile. No one shoe fits all, so find what your team needs and try it out!

Posted by Soma Bhattacharya on: July 20, 2021 03:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

3 Tips for Avoiding the Single Point of Failure

Categories: Agile, Best Practices, Teams

By Christian Bisson

In this article, I refer to “a single point of failure” as the situation when a company utilizes someone with unique expertise/knowledge that no one else has, or is the only one who does a particular task. By having these single points of failure within a team, you risk facing problems if that person becomes unavailable—or even worse, just isn’t part of the team anymore.

Fortunately, there are various ways to mitigate this!

1. Rotate roles within the team

There are several tasks that often fall by default on the scrum master or the “nice guy’s” shoulder. A good example is sharing a screen so everyone can see the backlog for a planning or a refinement session, or sharing the board in a daily scrum (if it’s not physical).

If that person is not there, then the meeting becomes less effective because the logistics (using Jira, screen sharing, etc.) is not necessarily well known by everyone.

By having a rotation system (by random name picking, for example), these tasks are eventually done by everyone and all can be efficient doing it eventually; therefore, the team doesn’t become dependent on a single person to know simple things like updating the story points of a ticket using Jira. 

I once came across a team that couldn’t do its own planning without the scrum master sharing the screen and going step by step with them, and it had been doing it for several months!

2. Conduct knowledge transfer sessions

This can be done in many ways, but I’ve seen a lot of teams planning a weekly knowledge transfer session, where each time someone presents something to the others (a new tool, something they just coded, etc.). Another good way for developers to share knowledge is for them to code pair. That way, the code itself is known by two people instead of just one; throw in peer reviews on top of that and you will be in better shape if someone leaves or is on vacation.

The idea is to avoid having only one person knowing something; always aim for a minimum of two people. If you want to identify gaps, there is always the classic “lottery winner” scenario you can use, which is to keep in mind that it’s possible for someone to win the lottery and therefore become unavailable without notice. Although it might seem unlikely, the idea is to ask yourself: For every member of the team, what would be the impact if that happened?

3. Rotate members among teams

This practice is debated, but I feel it’s a good way to make sure the knowledge is properly spread. The idea here is to have a rotation system of team members among the teams. This practice is questioned by some, who will argue that to be effective, teams need to be stable—and changing it will make it regress to the “forming” stage.

That is indeed important to keep in mind when thinking about how/when the rotation will occur, but in the long run, people will be accustomed to working in all the various teams—and also be knowledgeable in all the different pieces each team takes care of. This gives a much higher flexibility depending on deliverables/vacations/etc., and lowers the risk of losing knowledge on something within the organization.

What tips do you recommend?

Posted by Christian Bisson on: July 02, 2021 11:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Is Planning Predictive or Persuasive?

Categories: Agile

Lynda Bourne

To paraphrase Gen. George S. Patton, “A good plan, enthusiastically executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” The objective of this post is to suggest that too much emphasis is placed on developing ‘perfect plans’ that attempt to accurately predict future outcomes (a passive process)—and not enough on using the planning process to proactively influence the project’s future direction.

The thinking behind this proposition comes from American political theorist John H. Schaar, who said: “The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created—created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made. And the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.[1]

In this frame, project plans become a guide to the pathway you are intending to make rather than a prediction about achieving something already fixed.

Unfortunately, the mathematical and scientific approaches to planning—particularly cost estimating and scheduling—have evolved in a way that implies that the plan is a factual statement of what will happen. This concept is embedded in contracts, law, and expert submissions going back decades. But is this approach the best way of achieving a good outcome? Fighting over what should have happened after it did not happen and allocating blame is not very useful, even in traditional industries.

My suggestion is that we adopt a more agile and adaptive approach to planning focused on engaging all of the important stakeholders. This type of collaboration is far more likely to craft success! Working with people to build a plan they are willing to commit to achieving is far better than telling them what the plan says they have to do. Then working with them to progressively adapt the plan to deal with the unfolding reality on your shared journey towards success is far more likely to optimise the eventual outcome.

The final project objectives of time, costs and outcomes are unlikely to change in most projects, but the pathway you chose to follow towards achieving these objectives is yours to make, adapt and improve along the way. The two key ingredients are building consensus and commitment with the stakeholders (particularly those involved in the work)—and then keeping them engaged. In this scenario, the project plans become a key communication tool and people are held accountable for achieving their commitments.

The analytical aspects of planning are still important, and should be used to support this approach. There is no point in committing to a plan that will deliver failure. What the analysis shows is the scope of the problem to be solved, and the solution is crafted with the project’s stakeholders. The trade-offs and challenges of project management don’t change; the difference is moving from a paradigm where the project manager tries to make people work to the plan, to one where the project manager leads the team in planning to achieve the project objectives and outcomes.

How flexible is the planning on your project?

 


[1] Legitimacy in the Modern State (ed. Transaction Publishers, 1981) - ISBN: 9781412827485

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: June 16, 2021 06:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Innovation and Design Thinking, Part Two

Categories: Agile, Design Thinking

By Lynda Bourne

In my previous post, Innovation and Design Thinking, Part One, I focused on the personal and cultural aspects of innovation. But having an innovative idea is only a small part of the challenge. To create value, the bright ideas need to be transitioned into practical products or solutions that can be applied, sold or used.

Well-managed projects are a key element in building the new product or solution, but traditional project management, even agile project management, is rarely sufficient.

One well-established technique that bridges the gap between an idea and a practical project: design thinking.

Design Thinking

The original concept of design thinking was built around problem-solving with a shift in emphasis from traditional analysis toward innovation and synthesis. Design thinking tends to be promoted by its advocates as a complete solution to delivering innovation within an organization. A typical model looks like this: 

There are many models, with minor differences, to explain the process. But they all involve the following basic steps:

 

  • Understand and empathize. Using observations and qualitative data, create stories that help define the problem. Understanding the context and culture of the people involved helps you to empathize with the problem. As with agile, the design thinking approach is focused on the end users’ needs.
  • Define the problem or opportunity. Research and find patterns in these insights, then diagnose the problem. Translate the diagnosis into a defined plan.
  • Ideate, prototype and test. Here’s where the creativity comes in. The first round of “solutions” should really be treated as a jumping off point for more in-depth iterations. Create simple prototypes that test possible outcomes, so mistakes are noted and fixed early on.
  • Implement and learn. The entire process can be cyclical, especially when it comes to ideating, prototyping and testing. After implementing the solution, feedback facilitates the refining of ideas.

The problem with these models is a lack of process around creating the solution. My suggestion is using design thinking to link the creation of a culture that encourages the development of innovative ideas (the focus of my last post) with the use of project management to deliver results.

I believe that bringing project management disciplines into the design thinking process—starting from the validation of the design brief (is the proposed solution feasible, viable and desirable?) through to the delivery of the innovation and realization of benefits—is likely to result in a more cost-effective outcome in a reduced timeframe.

Innovative thinking should be encouraged within every organization. But you need pragmatic innovation to move the best of these ideas from an abstract concept to a proven concept that delivers value. Melding design thinking and project management seems to be one way of achieving this objective.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: February 28, 2020 06:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Plan for the Velocity of Change to Keep Increasing!

Plan for the velocity of change to keep increasing

By Peter Tarhanidis, Ph.D., M.B.A.

Today, developments in emerging technology, business processes and digital experiences are accelerating larger transformation initiatives. Moore’s Law means that we have access to exponentially better computing capabilities. Growth is further fueled by technologies such as supercomputers, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, Internet of Things (IoT) and more across industries.

Emerging Tech
The global IT industry is valued at $5.3 trillion in 2020 and is poised to grow 6.2 percent by 2021, according to tech market research firm IDC. Emerging technology like augmented reality and robotics will make up an increasing share of that growth.

Business Process Maturity
Organizations are improving the maturity of their business processes. They’re doing this by automating tasks, eliminating them, improving performance or finding the lowest-cost way to perform a task. Organizations are connecting with experts to collaborate across a wider network of colleagues. This enables strategies to be integrated across the value chain to quickly drive business outcomes.

According to market research group IMARC, automation and the IoT are driving growth in business process management (BPM); the BPM market is expected to grow at a 10 percent compound annual growth rate between 2020 and 2025.

Customer Experience
In addition, having a formidable customer experience strategy can make the difference between customers choosing your brand or your competitors in 2020. That’s according to Core dna, a digital experience platform vendor.

Customer experience is redefining business processes and digitizing the consumption model to increase brand equity. Gartner reports that among marketing leaders who are responsible for customer experience, 81 percent say their companies will largely compete on customer experience in two years. However, only 22 percent have developed experiences that exceed customer expectations.

Economic Forces
Lastly, the potential for cash flow growth remains high in 2020, despite economic risks, according to the U.S. Corporate Credit Outlook 2020. This will likely lead to capital investments and a fair portion of companies funding transformational projects.

The Way Forward
While transformations have evolved, they encapsulate the way we think and operate. Old methods may seem encumbering and administratively difficult, creating bureaucracy and delays in decision making. The challenge is the velocity of change, which is very disruptive to organizations.

I’ve developed a few guidelines to help navigate this change:

  • Work with an agile mindset.
  • Fail often and fast to ultimately filter out winning initiatives.
  • Define the cultural attributes that propel staff and colleagues to succeed on their endeavors.

Change is now inherent and pervasive in the annual planning process for organizations. Given that, I like to ask: What is the plan to prepare staff and colleagues to compete in this hyper-transformation age?

What observations have you made to keep up with this new era’s velocity of change?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: February 13, 2020 04:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)
ADVERTISEMENTS

"He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever."

- Chinese Proverb

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsors