Voices on Project Management

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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.

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Cameron McGaughy
Marian Haus
Lynda Bourne
Lung-Hung Chou
Bernadine Douglas
Peter Tarhanidis
Vivek Prakash
Conrado Morlan
David Wakeman
Jen Skrabak
Kevin Korterud
Mario Trentim
Roberto Toledo
Joanna Newman
Christian Bisson
Linda Agyapong
Soma Bhattacharya
Cyndee Miller
Jess Tayel
Shobhna Raghupathy
Rex Holmlin
Ramiro Rodrigues
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Wanda Curlee

Past Contributers:

Jorge Valdés Garciatorres
Hajar Hamid
Dan Goldfischer
Saira Karim
Jim De Piante
sanjay saini
Judy Umlas
Abdiel Ledesma
Michael Hatfield
Deanna Landers
Alfonso Bucero
Kelley Hunsberger
William Krebs
Peter Taylor
Rebecca Braglio
Geoff Mattie
Dmitri Ivanenko PMP ITIL

Recent Posts

Is Your Company Mature?

3 Keys to Success for a Global Project Practitioner

Lessons Learned From an Inspiring AI Project

The Project Initiatives That Influenced My Career

Seek Better Questions, Not Answers

3 Keys to Success for a Global Project Practitioner

By Conrado Morlan

As a project management practitioner, I’ve been lucky enough to deploy programs and projects across the Americas, supported by teams in South Asia and Europe.

Working on those assignments enriched my multicultural background and helped me learn and become proficient in Portuguese. But as I’ve learned throughout my career, language is just the tip of the iceberg.

Based on my personal experiences, here are three key areas of focus I recommend that practitioners consider before, during and even after their next global assignment:

  1. Gain Cultural Awareness

It is imperative that global project management professionals understand an individual's personal, national and organizational cultures, so they can better align the team and gain greater influence.

Learn about the country’s culture—do your research and find out similarities and differences. Include cultural differences as one of the topics on the agenda of the kick-off meeting. Use that time as an open forum for everyone to share and record their cultural experiences. Keep those cultural experiences in a repository with documents and useful video clips that can be later used to induct new team members.

Cultural awareness is a skill that should be developed and mastered. Incorporating a cultural differences exercise establishes respect and empathy for diverse values and behaviors, which in turn creates an open and accepting team environment.

  1. Embrace the Chinese Army Approach

As a global project management professional, you may worry about resource planning. Resources may not be your direct reports, meaning you don’t have control over their schedules.

Instead of struggling, apply the Chinese army approach: Imagine you have unlimited resources available. Assume you have resources with the right skills who can be assigned to the different roles in your project. Do not worry yet about assigning names to the roles.

You may find that the roles can’t be filled with internal resources because of a lack of required skills or capacity, so your solution may be to outsource resources.

To complement the approach, you’ll need to adapt and remaster communication and negotiation skills, which will help you get the best resources.

  1. Be SMART

The project management profession now goes beyond just managing projects. The profession helps to achieve business objectives and explore new ways to lead, execute and deliver. Technical expertise in project management is not enough; global project management practitioners must adopt a business-oriented approach.

My suggestion is to become SMART. The SMART concept includes a portfolio of skills the global project management practitioner must master to meet the needs of the organization in the coming years.

Being SMART means you are:

  • StrategicDemonstrate an understanding of the organization’s business goals to help it get ahead of the competition.
  • MindfulDevelop cultural awareness and leadership styles to influence and inspire multicultural and multigenerational project teams. Foster strong relationships across the organization’s business functions.
  • AgileBusiness strategy is not static and is frequently impacted by internal and external factors. Projects will need to be adjusted to remain aligned with the business strategy, so embrace change.
  • ResilientRemain committed and optimistic. Demonstrate integrity when realigning or repairing projects facing hardships because of miscommunication and problematic behaviors, as well as cross-cultural issues and conflicts.
  • Transparent. Whether the project is in good shape or facing challenges, the status needs to be shared promptly with relevant parties.

To become SMARTer, global project management professionals need to continually strive for excellence and master new skills to support professional growth and help the organization achieve its business strategy.
 

If you’ve been exposed to global programs or projects, what advice would you offer to other practitioners?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: November 20, 2019 09:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

My Three Most Influential Projects

 

 

By Kevin Korterud

 

It’s quite possible that, if asked to remember every project I led over the years, I would be hard-pressed to do so. Our typical project management journey takes us down a new road when we complete a project, so we’re never really stopping to take a retrospective on how each one shaped who we are today.

 

A much easier exercise for me is to recollect which projects played a significant part in shaping my journey as a project manager. These projects, not unlike silver polish, brighten our skills and capabilities to a shine that allows us to undertake even larger and more complex projects.

 

Here are three projects that had a profound impact on my capabilities, and what I learned from each: 

 

 

  1. There Is Big and Then There Is BIG

 

Up till a certain time in my project management career, I felt that my work included some rather large projects in terms of team members and scope. However, nothing prepared me for the massive construct that is a transformation program involving almost 2,000 people.

Transformation programs extend well beyond the realm of what project managers normally lead. They involve significant changes to business processes and technology, as well as altering what people do on a day-to-day basis. In addition, there are many project and team members involved with multiple, parallel tracks of work. All of this makes a project manager feel as small as the tiny people in Gulliver’s Travels.  

Transformation programs pushed me to think and engage externally beyond my assigned project, especially when it came to dependencies between projects. I also realized it was essential that project managers collaborate and cooperate in order to maintain progress for the overall transformation program.

 

2. Technology Is in Everything   

 

Over the years, I have followed with great interest the increase in the proportion of a project that involves technology. On my first projects many years ago, the level of technology was quite modest, relying mostly on data inputs, online screens and reports that augmented existing business processes. Today, technology permeates nearly all facets of a project. 

 

When asked to assist with the estimation and implementation of a new type of airliner, my initial assumption was that there would be some form of enabling technology and the airliner would still operate as before. For example, there would be some technology support required, but the fundamental functions would not really change.

 

After reviews and discussions, I was astounded at the depth of technology that was found in this new model. The flight deck had provisions for laptops to be used by pilots to both prepare and operate the airliner. Flight operations and integration tasks that were once managed manually were now conducted automatically and at high speed, all of which reduced pilot and ground crew workloads. The technology found in this new airliner caused me to dramatically re-think the level of rigor required to estimate and plan its implementation. In addition, it raised my expectations of the effort required to estimate and plan today’s projects in order to ensure quality delivery.

 

  1. Projects Impact People

As we consistently execute project delivery over and over across a number of projects, our growing confidence can sometimes cause us to view project delivery as commonplace. We can begin to lose our sensitivity towards project outcomes as we proceed through a seemingly endless stream of phases, sprints, tasks, activities and artifacts of project management.  

 

A big wake-up call for me occurred when I led a project to process calls from customers of infant nutritional products. Customers would call in on a variety of topics ranging from inquiries about the right product to use as well as potential infant health issues. Before I formally began the project, the sponsor reviewed with me existing customer cases showing both simple inquiries as well as potential emergency health issues. I realized then that my efforts on this project could potentially save the life of an infant.

 

It’s easy to think about projects as two-dimensional entities that refine business processes and technical capability. From the dialogue with the project sponsor, I came to appreciate how this project could improve both the time and quality of response on an inquiry related to the health of an infant. This motivated me and the team to always be thinking about how this project would interact with the customers in the most effective and efficient manner, especially when the life of an infant could be at stake.   

 

As we all proceed through our project management careers, we tend to remember the distinct impact these projects had on us. Some of the projects affect how we plan projects, others influence project execution and still others will be remembered for how they served as key waypoints in our project management journey. In addition, these “waypoint” projects are well-suited as experiences to share with the next generation of project managers following in our footsteps.

What projects on your project management journey have shaped who you are today?

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: October 27, 2019 11:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Why Employees Leave Culture

by Jen Skrabak, PfMP, PMP

Most people leave organizational cultures, not managers.

Organizational culture is defined as the collective behaviors, thoughts, norms and language of the people in the organization that signifies the "way of working." It represents the overall support system and resources of the organization. 

For example, if employees regularly start meetings late, then the culture of the organization may be to begin meetings late ("it's just the way things are"). Newcomers quickly learn this unwritten norm, and adapt to the late meetings, further propelling the status quo.   

It's important to understand that people leave organizational cultures because portfolios and programs can represent significant change to the organization—requiring new ways of working, behaviors and new operating agreements defined to support the change. However, if the organization is resistant to change—and the traditional ways of working remain—how do you change the culture?

First, let us understand why people leave the organizational culture and what we can do to model the right behaviors as leaders:

1. Misaligned Vision and Leadership

A common complaint is that there is "no perspective of where the organization is headed and not being able to see how my role fits into the bigger picture."

Leaders, starting at the top, must role model the behaviors they expect. Rather than simply talk about the vision or the strategy, they must roll up their sleeves to translate the vision very specifically and tangibly into everyone's work.

This is typically done through the strategic portfolio—employees identify with a stack ranking of strategic initiatives that communicate the most essential programs and projects of the organization. Each executive sponsor must then clearly translate the vision into day-to-day actions that the program or project is implementing. 

The strategic portfolio represents the "better state" of the targeted culture— what are the behaviors, ways of working, thinking and norms that need to be in the future. This is codified typically through team charters, operating agreements, and ground rules so that everyone on a team follows the same rules and ways of working.

2. Compromised Values, Beliefs and Increased Toxicity

When employees feel they are being coerced into doing things that don't align with their values, they will find other places to use their talents. Behaviors that result during large scale change may be burnout, rumors, and change fatigue.

Mediocrity may have been accepted as good enough, resulting in high performers, leaving the organization due to lack of challenge and opportunities. However, for those that remain, it may be difficult to absorb change since they never had to. 

As a portfolio or program leader, you don't need permission, budget or authority to start acting in ways that model high performance. Recognize and reward the right behaviors and call out the wrong behaviors. 

Growth needs to be the focus—desire is a powerful emotion—more than the fear/doubt that is often the first reaction when encountering change. The first emotion is Fear/Doubt. Left unmanaged, this can spiral into water cooler conversations, negativity and constant churn. 

However, having a growth mindset means that there are opportunities created from changing and learning new skills that can propel that organization to embrace new ways of working.

 3. Organizational Structures and Processes that Create Stagnation 

Not having structured processes that support high performance creates an environment that people leave. No one wants to stand out when something new is introduced—it's almost like a virus where the antibodies (the current organizational culture) start attacking it. There needs to be a core group of high performers that embrace and spread the targeted organizational culture across the organization.

High performers can't stand waste—wasted time in meetings, wasted use of resources, and wasted opportunities. Is the strategic portfolio management or program management office reporting to the executive leadership team level, or is it buried somewhere within the organization under a functional organization? 

Growing organizations embrace change as a constant and adopt a growth mindset. 

A growth mindset means that the organization is continually learning and sees change as an opportunity to learn new skills and gain new experiences. Rather than sit back and accept the status quo, we seek out how to design and build the change rather than be just the recipient of the change. Thoughts and mindset ultimately translate into behavior. Motivation and attitude are skills that are just as important as the technical portfolio or program management skills and can be developed over time. 

How are you developing your growth mindset?

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: September 22, 2019 12:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Unlock the Value of Artificial Intelligence

By Peter Tarhanidis

Artificial intelligence is no longer a tool we’ll use on projects in the future. Right now, many organizations are formalizing the use of advanced data analytics from innovative technologies, algorithms and AI visualization techniques into strategic projects.

The maturity of advanced data analytics is creating an opportunity for organizations to unlock value. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates AI’s global economic impact could climb to US$13 trillion by 2030.

As an example, in the healthcare industry, Allied Market Research reports rising demand for data analytics solutions due to the growth in data from electronic health records, among other factors. The global healthcare analytics market was valued at US$16.9 billion in 2017, and the report forecasts it to reach US$67.8 billion by 2025.

The Evolution of AI Maturity
Gartner describes four growth stages of analytics and value activities. The first is descriptive analytics, which gains insight from historical data on what occurred in the firm or a project. This includes key performance measure reports and dashboards. Second, diagnostics analytics allow you to learn why something happened and the relationship between events. Third, is the use of predictive analytics to develop viewpoints into potential future outcomes. Finally, prescriptive analytics allow you to provide users with advice on what actions to take.

Everyday examples of these solutions range from simple automated dashboards, remote check deposit, Siri-like assistants, ride-sharing apps, Facebook, Instagram, autopilot and autonomous cars.  

Tips on Successful Transformation
Leaders must consider advanced data analytics as a transformational journey—not a complex project. Without thoughtful consideration of the implications of managing AI projects, one may create chaos in adopting these new services.

As a project leader, take these steps to avoid key pitfalls:

  1. Develop your understanding of data science tool kits and technologies and identify any centers of excellence. Start with basics such as descriptive statistics, regression and optimization techniques. You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with technology such as machine learning and natural language processing.
  2. Determine how these AI initiatives integrate into the organization’s mission and vision. This may require a new strategic business plan, optimizing an organization, culture change and change management.
  3. Establish a data governance body and framework to ensure accountability, roles, security, legislative and ethical management of consumer, patient, customer and government data.
  4. Develop strong multiyear business cases that clearly indicate cost versus revenue or savings.
  5. Maintain an agile mindset and leverage design thinking methods to co-create the pilots into products alongside stakeholders.

Please comment below on what approaches you have taken to enable advanced data analytics in your role or in your organization.

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: August 12, 2019 01:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Business Transformation in Disguise

Business Transformation in Disguise

By Jess Tayel

In the quest to uplift capabilities, better serve customers, improve the bottom line or acquire market share, organizations rely on a mix of projects and programs.

Some projects are scored as critical and complex. Some organizations have a clear and defined scoring system of what is critical and what is not, while others settle for a subjective measure.

But even after you’ve determined a project is critical, there’s more to consider.

Is it Change or Transformation?

When it comes to big, critical projects, ask yourself: Are you delivering a change initiative or a business transformation initiative?

Why is this distinction important? Because they both have different characteristics that dictate how they should be brought to life.

Change initiatives execute a defined set of projects or initiatives that may or may not impact how things work across the entire organization.  Examples include introducing a new payroll system, moving into a centralized shared services model or executing an office move.

Business transformation, however, is a portfolio of initiatives that have a high level of interdependencies, leading to change across the organization. They’re focused not just on execution but also on reinventing and discovering a new or a revised business model. That model is based on a significant business outcome that will determine the future of the organization.

With that in mind, business transformation is more unpredictable and iterative, and it’s about a substantial change in mindset and ways of doing business. The “how” may not be as defined as it is in change initiatives, which means you need to try different methods and be more experimental.

Set Your Organization up for Success

Because of these distinctions, business transformation should never start with finding a solution, i.e., bring in this technology, hire this firm, change model X to Y. It should instead focus on the following:

  • Why?
    • Define the purpose and the platform of urgency.
    • Why is this important?
    • What would happen if you do not achieve this transformation?
  • Who?
    • Who is your customer (internally and externally)? Tip: Internal customers, i.e., employees, are as important as your external customers. Understanding their point of view and what impact they will have on the success of this program is critical.
    • What would that mean for your customers?
    • What competitive advantage are you bringing to your customers and to the market?
    • What changes to behavior and mindset is required to make this change a success?
  • What?
    • Define success.
    • How do you measure success?
    • What does success look like in the future? Tip: Be as detailed as possible. Tell a story of success X months into the future.
    • What are the barriers to success?
    • What are the top three risks that may affect this transformation?
    • What are the top three opportunities that you need to capitalize on to deliver success?

You may say that these questions can be part of the initiation phase. But in my 20 years of experience around the globe, I have rarely seen the above steps executed diligently from a customer centricity point of view before teams start to dig for a solution.

That said, time spent clearly articulating those elements is well spent and directly contributes to the success of the transformation, while reducing rework and change fatigue. It’s like spending time to sharpen your saw before starting to cut the tree.

In my next post, I will talk more about what is required from the leadership and internal transformation teams to facilitate and create success.

Feel free to comment below and send feedback; I would love to hear about your experiences with business transformation

Posted by Jess Tayel on: July 03, 2019 01:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)
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