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
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Roberto Toledo
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rex Holmlin
Christian Bisson
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Jess Tayel
Ramiro Rodrigues
Linda Agyapong
Joanna Newman

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Change Is Cool

Are Traditional Scrum Masters Becoming Obsolete?

 

By Kevin Korterud

 

I experienced my first agile project nearly a decade ago. At the time, agile was still an emerging concept. I remember thinking there were all sorts of activities going on that I had never seen on any of my projects. People were standing up for meetings, marker boards were filled with things called “stories” and delivery moved forward under the framework of a “sprint.”

 

At the center of this whirl of frenetic activity was a person who the team called a “scrum master.” At first, I thought this person was a project manager. But they were doing things that were outside of the traditional project management realm.

 

Since that first experience, agile has matured and continued to grow in popularity. This trend prompted me to examine the evolving role of the scrum master in complex agile delivery environments. Here are my observations:


 

1. Agile Delivery is Becoming Mature

Agile delivery teams used to function within isolated pockets. But, as the use of agile—as well as the size and complexity of solutions being delivered—grew, new methods, such as SAFe®, were developed to help orchestrate agile delivery across an organization.

 

With agile becoming more common in organizations as a delivery method, the overall need for scrum masters’ general process advice diminishes. Agile teams over time—as well as with the support of enterprise framework methods—will become more self-sufficient, which reduces the need for some of the current activities performed by scrum masters.     

 

2. Higher Engagement and Direct Accountability  

One of the guiding principles for scrum masters is that they are not supposed to intervene with the team and are not responsible for delivery outcomes.

 

While a focus on process advice was essential during the early days of agile, today’s larger and more complex solutions demand that delivery quality issues be identified as soon as possible. In addition, there is also a need to ensure on a more frequent basis that the solution being created will yield the desired business outcomes.

 

Given its proximity to agile delivery teams, the scrum master role is positioned to leverage a higher level of engagement and accountability. In addition to traditional agile process advice, scrum masters should also serve as a durable checkpoint for both delivery quality and alignment to business outcomes.

 

These checkpoint activities would include reviewing user story quality, monitoring non-functional requirements and checking solution designs against business needs. As other roles in agile delivery possess some form of delivery accountability, the scrum master must also become more engaged and accountable in order to remain relevant.

 

3. Emerging Project Managers Becoming Scrum Masters

While scrum masters are not meant to be project managers, that notion is preventing project managers from becoming scrum masters, especially earlier in their career. Emerging project managers invariably have some form of solution delivery experience. They know what makes for sound requirements (especially non-functional), designs, testing, quality and implementation plans.

 

As the level of complexity and scale increases with agile delivery, so does the need for some form of delivery oversight at the agile team level. With the scrum master position in their repertoire, teams would have developed competencies and know-how for scaled agile delivery, release train engineer, program manager, etc.    

 

Scrum masters have played an essential role in the growth and adoption of agile as a practical means of delivery. Their direct interactions with agile delivery teams create a unique opportunity to expand their influence in generating valuable outcomes for end-users, consumers, customers, employees or suppliers. To do so, they need to further extend themselves— both in terms of skills and engagement—to remain relevant in today’s complex delivery environment.

 

How do you feel the scrum master role has evolved? Are newly minted project managers the scrum masters of tomorrow? 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: June 21, 2017 05:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

The Case for Grassroots Communities of Practice

By Peter Tarhanidis

These days there is such a high influx of projects and such a demand for project managers, but such a limited supply of practitioners. How can companies help their project professionals improve their skills and knowledge so that they can work to meet that need?

Leaders deliver more results by sponsoring grassroots project management learning and development programs. Common approaches and best practices are shared across all levels of project managers—ranging from novices to practitioners. Therefore, if an organization has more employees who can learn to leverage project management disciplines, then the organization can meet the increasing demand, and are more likely to develop mature practices that achieve better results.

One type of grassroots effort is to establish a project management community of practice (CoP). CoPs are groups of people who share a craft or a profession. Members operationalize the processes and strategies they learn in an instructional setting. The group evolves based on common interests or missions with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field.

For project managers, there is a specific added benefit of CoPs. They bring together a group who are traditionally part of separately managed units within an organization focused on strategic portfolios and programs.

CoP members develop by sharing information and experiences, which in turn develops professional competence and personal leadership. CoPs are interactive places to meet online, discuss ideas and build the profession’s body of knowledge. Knowledge is developed that is both explicit (concepts, principles, procedures) and implicit (knowledge that we cannot articulate).

In my experience, I have seen CoP utilized in lieu of project management offices. The members define a common set of tools, process and methodology. The CoP distributed work across more participants, increased their productivity to deliver hundreds of projects, improved the visibility of the members with management and positioned members for functional rotations throughout the business.

Which do you think drive better performance outcomes—establishing hierarchal project management organizations or mature project management disciplines through CoPs?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: September 21, 2016 07:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

3 Steps to Outsourcing Success

By Peter Tarhanidis

When leaders use outsourcing it is often in an effort to enhance the organization’s value proposition to its stakeholders.

Outsourcing allows leaders to focus on and invest in the firm’s core services while using cost effective alternative sources of expertise for support services.

When services are outsourced, management and employees need to prepare for a transformation in organizational operations—and project managers must establish a strategy to guide that change.

 

Creating an Outsourcing Strategy

Project managers can help to create an effective outsourcing strategy based on a three-part structure:

1. Assess the current state

This assessment should define the firm’s:

  • Labor expertise and associated labor costs
  • Value versus non-value support services
  • Baseline of operational measures and service levels

 

2. Consider the “to-be” state

The to-be state should be designed based on a comprehensive evaluation and request for proposal, including a good list of best alternatives to negotiated agreement items.

The to-be state must consider:

  • Access to low cost, high expertise labor and the marketplace arbitrage. This may evaluate onshore, right-shore, offshore and hybrid labor models.
  • Whether the firm should invest to “fix and ship” its processes or to “ship and fix” and adopt the providers processes.
  • Productivity gains that may be measured via the labor arbitrage, process capability improvements, speed to software application and deployment, automation of processes and IT management services, robotics, etc.

 

3. Consider the governance required to sustain the future state

A new internal operating model needs to be formed. This includes establishing teams to manage the contract, such as senior sponsorship, an operational management team or a vendor management team.

Then the outsourcer and the outsourcing organization should focus on continuous improvements that can be made to the process.

 

Avoiding Outsourcing Pitfalls

Project managers can avoid a few common pitfalls in their outsourcing projects:

  1. Add procurement and legal outsourcing experts on the project team to construct the agreement.
  2. Engage senior leaders to steer the initiative and align it to the business mission.
  3. Garner senior leadership support with change management actions to help guide the organization across this journey.

Overall, if done with a defined end in mind, leaders can capitalize on outsourcing by reducing operational costs, reinvesting those savings in core services, and providing access to expertise and IT systems that would normally not have been funded via capital appropriation.

Have you been a part of any outsourcing efforts? What advice would you offer to project managers involved in similar projects?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: August 26, 2016 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Agile + PM, or PM + Agile ?

 

By Kevin Korterud

As project delivery methods have evolved, so has project leadership. Hybrid approaches have emerged: Traditional waterfall project and program managers are now faced with the prospect of having a portion of their work use iterative agile approaches. Agile Scrum Masters and product managers executing rapid iterations of new products now have to contend with budgets, financial forecasts, release schedules and business case benefits, as well as with aligning implementation of products with other projects across the enterprise.

With this as a backdrop, a frequent question that comes up from my colleagues is whether an industry needs a project manager who knows agile, or agile leads who are competent in more traditional project management practices. In today’s complex world of delivery, we urgently need both.

 

1. Project Managers Need to Understand Agile

It’s inevitable that a project manager will at some point oversee an agile delivery process. So it’s important that project managers start their journey to competency as soon as possible. This journey can begin with training in agile methods as well as shadowing an agile lead to see how the iterative process works.

As the journey continues, project managers will start to immerse themselves in advanced areas such as agile metrics, alignment of agile to testing and release processes as well as the people factors. A project manager will soon see what sort of projects can best be delivered through agile vs. waterfall methods, as well as the linkages to enterprise functions required regardless of delivery approach.

 

2. Agile Leads Need to Understand Project Management

Agile leads typically have experience with iterative methods used to quickly shape and deliver solutions. In addition, they typically have a strong business analysis background that comes into play when defining user stories.

In the past, these skills alone were sufficient for agile delivery efforts.

With the complexities of contemporary delivery, however, many agile leads now encounter similar expectations when it to comes to schedule, budget, product quality and business case realization as their waterfall counterparts.

These expectations compel agile leads to gain skills in traditional project management areas such as estimation, forecasting, resource management, technical requirements as well as testing and implementation practices. Acquiring these skills will enable agile leads to deliver higher-quality products in a more timely and efficient manner. 

 

3. Everyone Needs Enterprise Function Support

As hybrid project delivery approaches become more common, the considerations for aligning delivery activities to produce the most value to an organization become more numerous. These considerations can include (but are not limited to) the speed at which agile produces product iterations, business and technology complexities, and the increasing expectations of consumers.

All of this amplifies the importance of enterprise functions such as portfolio management, release management and resource management. These and other traditional enterprise delivery disciplines have been identified by the Scaled Agile Framework (“SAFe”) as being key to success.

It’s not so much that the SAFe framework has had a “eureka moment” around enterprise functions as new innovations. Rather, it has identified the critical need to have these functions in place and engaged for all types of delivery. Both project managers as well as agile leads can be more successful when tightly integrated with enterprise functions. Without having robust enterprise functions in place, organizations will struggle with more frequent schedule, resource, dependency, testing and implementation conflicts. And those conflicts dilute the business value of projects regardless of delivery style.

 

What do you think? Do organizations need agile leads with project management knowledge, or project managers with agile knowledge? I welcome thoughts regarding delivery successes and failures relative to either or both roles.

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: July 14, 2016 07:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

Digital PMs: A World of Opportunities

By Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina

Project managers come in all kinds of flavors. During my 15 years in the biz, I've been lucky to use all kinds of methodologies and frameworks to deliver a variety of projects. These last few years, I’ve mainly been a digital project manager.

But just within the digital world, there are many different kinds of project managers. Here's a brief overview of a few. There are nuances to every role, of course; these are broad-stroke descriptions.

Tech PM: This designation used to include all things digital before digital splintered off. Now a tech PM usually works in the IT/infrastructure realm.

These PMs are the keepers of the critical backend of your business—email, broadcast pipelines, data storage, cloud systems, security, software integrations, etc. They’re leading large enterprise-wide initiatives to enable organizations to adopt new tools and processes.

OTT device and app PM: PMs in this area often work on products related to "over the top" (OTT) video platforms. AppleTV, Roku and Amazon Fire Stick are all OTT devices. So are gaming consoles like Xbox and PlayStation.

PMs in this area may manage development of the device itself, but more often they are leading app development initiatives that focus on getting video/music content to customers.

Mobile app PM: Direct to your phone or tablet: no muss, no fuss. PMs in this area often strictly focus on delivery of apps (and their requisite updates) for various handheld smart devices.

The reason why this isn't rolled into OTT is because mobile devices and OTT devices are very different beasts! An app may look and even act the same on both OTT and mobile devices, but the backend of both are quite different. There are thousands and thousands of apps in the world. You could make your career as a brilliant PM just in this area alone.

Web/mobile/livestreaming PM: PMs in this area lead projects in the dotcom space at organizations like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, Twitch.tv, etc. There is often crossover from mobile app to web/mobile because most businesses have app offerings, but this PM isn't strictly app-focused. He or she is leading teams to develop engaging desktop experiences while simultaneously being focused on how that desktop experience translates to a mobile device outside of an app.

That's why using Twitter in a web browser on your laptop looks almost exactly like it does in a browser on your phone. Want to add in more complexity? These PMs understand how livestreaming (and soon VR) affects their organization and work with teams to figure out how to leverage both for their customers.

Web/mobile ecommerce PM: Just a few days ago, I bought my groceries online. I'm sure it will become the main way I shop for food! An offshoot of the web/mobile PM, the ecommerce PM is an expert in helping teams deliver all manner of web shopping portals.

Big box retailers with online presences, independent artist Etsy-type sites, auction sites, Paypal and subscription services are all where these PMs live. This PM has to understand the nuances of payment types (both domestic and international), billing and recurring charges, payment funnels and how customers move through them, customer accounting and requirements for handling extremely sensitive data.

From gaming to video-on-demand SMEs, there’s a world of opportunities out there for digital project managers—and they’re changing all the time. What other common digital PM roles do you know of?

 

Posted by Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina on: July 11, 2016 03:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)
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