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
Conrado Morlan
Kevin Korterud
Peter Tarhanidis
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
David Wakeman
Jen Skrabak
Mario Trentim
Shobhna Raghupathy
Roberto Toledo
Joanna Newman
Christian Bisson
Linda Agyapong
Soma Bhattacharya
Jess Tayel
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

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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)

3 Project Management Lessons From a 70.3 Ironman

By Conrado Morlan

I’ve been running for eight-plus years—ever since my son suggested I do a half marathon in San Antonio, Texas, USA. So when a friend suggested I try a triathlon, I was ready for it. At that point, three years ago, I had 10 full marathons and 15 half marathons under my belt.

The triathlon includes three disciplines in a single event: swimming, cycling and running. It was the athletic challenge I needed, similar to the professional challenge I encountered when I moved across industries to keep leading and managing projects.

To get ready for the triathlon, I had to go back to the pool and start swimming after a long time away. I borrowed a road bike from a friend to start the formal training. We worked out on our own on weekdays and as a team on weekends.

That first experience transformed me into a triathlete enthusiast, which led me eventually to the Ironman 70.3. The "70.3" refers to the total distance in miles covered in the race, consisting of a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run.

The short distance triathlons helped prepare me for the Ironman 70.3. And as I’ve come to realize, learnings I’ve made along the way also apply to project management. These are my three main findings:

1. Expertise and Experimentation

Mastering all three disciplines in a triathlon can be difficult. My background is in running, but I was new to swimming and cycling. My coach gave good tips and workouts that helped me manage my bicycle on hills, navigate sharp turns and use all of my leg muscles to have a better stroke.

For swimming, I followed my instinct and experimented with the breaststroke. I soon felt confident in the pool and gradually in open waters. My experiment worked out, as I finished my swim in the Ironman 70.3 about 20 minutes ahead of the cut-off time.

As a project management practitioner, you may have mastered an industry-standard methodology and need to catch up with the new trends. In the triathlon, you may not transfer skills from swimming to cycling or running, but in project management, you can.

Communication, time management, and people management are required regardless of the methodology or best practice that will be used in the project. This gives you room to experiment. At project checkpoints, you can inspect, adapt and make the required changes to improve your project and be successful.

2. Transition Is Key

The transition is where the triathlete moves from one discipline to another, changing equipment. The area should be prepared in advance, with the gear set up in a way that helps the athlete have a smooth and fast transition. The time spent there may define the winner of the competition.

I would compare the transition area with the risk registry. The more prepared the project manager is, the less impact there will be to the project. The “gear” in your risk register will include the most impacting risk(s), the risk owner and the actions required to mitigate the risk if it arises. It’s a working registry, so the project manager should keep adding risks during the project as required.

3. Anybody Can Help You

A triathlon is not a team event, but that does not restrict the triathlete from getting support from others. Before the competition, the athlete may have followed a training plan supported by a coach, they might have been mentored by fellow triathletes and, last but not least, they likely benefited from family support.

It’s common for some triathletes to have a race sherpa on the competition day. The athlete and sherpa will discuss beforehand what tasks each will take on during the race. In short, a race sherpa will lend a hand whenever necessary and cheer for the athlete during the competition.

 

As a project manager, you have your project team, stakeholders and sponsor(s), but that does not restrict you from getting help from people outside the project. You may have an internal or external mentor, somebody in your organization who can be influential and help you address issues. I used to have a list of people in the organization I contacted in advance. I let them know about the project and asked them if I could ask for support if needed. That simple action helped me on several occasions when I faced a challenge.

If you are an athlete and a project manager, what lessons have you learned from practicing your favorite sport? Please share your thoughts below.

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: August 29, 2019 11:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (25)

Project Planning Using Canvas

by Ramiro Rodrigues

Project managers: Are you sometimes looking to make plans faster but without being superficial and therefore riskier to the project?

Developed in the 1980s, design thinking is a structured mental model that seeks the identification of innovative solutions to complex problems. Although the concept has existed for decades, it’s only made its presence known in the corporate environment over the last 10 years.

Swiss business theorist and author Alexander Osterwalder similarly sought to accelerate collaborative reasoning when he introduced the Business Model Canvas. Canvas helps organizations map, discuss, rework and innovate their business model in one image.

But a series of proposals for the use of the Business Model Canvas for various purposes outside of business models has also appeared — including innovation, corporate education, product development, marketing and more.

For project professionals looking at alternatives to developing quicker and more collaborative planning, Canvas may sound like a great option. Of all the proposals that come up for the use of Canvas in a project environment, integrating stakeholders may be the best. Canvas brings stakeholders into the process and will help to minimize resistance and increase collaboration, resulting in a better proposal for planning problems and making the project more aligned to the interests of organizations.

But while the arguments put forward for Canvas all seem positive, there is still a dilemma: Can Canvas fully replace the overall project plan and the planning process? Is it possible to do without a schedule of activities, a detailed cash flow, a matrix of analyzed risks — just to limit ourselves to a few examples?

That is probably too extreme.

The general sense is that the integration of Canvas with specific planning — such as the cost plan and the risk plan — is the most productive and generates the best results.

It may be worth asking your project management office for their thoughts.

Have you ever used a Canvas for your project planning efforts? If so, what tips can you share?

Posted by Ramiro Rodrigues on: April 17, 2019 01:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Are You Neglecting Your Professional Development?

By Conrado Morlan

“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” ―Benjamin Franklin

I’ve heard from colleagues in project management that they don’t have access to professional development opportunities to help them improve and increase their capabilities. That led me to do some research. I found Training magazine's Training Industry Report, which is recognized as the training industry’s most trusted source of data on budgets, staffing and programs in the United States. It found that U.S. companies spent over US$90 billion on training and development activities in 2017, which represents a year-over-year increase of 32.5 percent. 

With that information on hand, I took the opportunity to ask my colleagues if the companies they work for are among the organizations spending money on training and professional development.

Some of them were fortunate to work for companies with professional development budgets, but they didn’t take the training due to their workload or personal reasons. In other words, the opportunity was there but it was neglected.

For those who worked for companies without professional development dollars, their main complaint was that the company did not appreciate them and the opportunities to develop more capabilities were so limited.

I asked them: Who takes charge of your professional development? You, or the company you work for? Many of them responded that the responsibility fell to the company they work for, because training would help create a more competitive workforce, increased employee retention and higher employee engagement. I agree on all the benefits the company would get, but ultimately the individual is responsible for their professional development.

I have worked for both types of companies. In the ones with development budgets, I saw former colleagues neglecting opportunities because “they did not have time,” they did not like to travel or simply because they felt it was not needed. In the ones without budgets, I heard the same claims mentioned above.

While working for the latter type of company, I took ownership of my professional development. Instead of seeing roadblocks, I saw opportunities, which led me to do the following:

  • Attend conferences. When I found out the company wouldn’t pay for the conferences I wanted to attend, I explored three options:
  1. Submit a paper. In many cases guest speakers do not have to pay the registration fee, or the fee might be reduced. This has to be done ahead of time during the call-for-papers period
  2. Volunteer to support the event. Volunteers are assigned to different tasks before, during or after the event, but they are allowed to attend the conference while they are not on duty.
  3. Find other ways to save. If options one and two did not work and I saw the value of attending the conference, I looked for early-bird registration or contacted sponsors to see if they would share a discount code to avoid paying the full registration fee.
  • Get stretch assignments. I was looking to learn more about the company and expand my knowledge outside project management, so I looked for an assignment on the business side that would challenge me.
  • Be a volunteer. This gave me the opportunity to give back to my community and support local chapters of professional organizations like PMI. I was able to attend chapter events, such as professional development days or chapter dinners, free of charge, and they helped me discover how to improve my project management capabilities. 

So do not solely hold the company you work for responsible for your growth. Take charge of your professional development. After all, if you do not invest in yourself, nobody will.

How do you take charge of your own professional development?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: February 20, 2019 09:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Find Purpose to Unlock Exceptional Performance

Find Purpose to Unlock Exceptional Performance

By Peter Tarhanidis, MBA, PhD

Purpose

There are three common maturity levels in developing project management leadership:

  • In the first level, the project leader becomes familiar with PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) and begins to implement the methods in their initiatives.
  • In the intermediate level, project leaders broaden their abilities by implementing more complex projects and demonstrating a strategic use of the methodology.
  • And in the most mature state, project leaders demonstrate high performance by using advanced project methodology and leadership competencies to take on an organization’s most critical initiatives.

It takes many years to cultivate the skills necessary to execute complex initiatives of all sizes and types. And project leaders may find gratification in the personal development to sustain their performance, as well as their project achievements. 

However, over time, it’s not unusual to lose sight of that passion, excitement and engagement for executing initiatives. Instead, the project leader may default to simply providing the project management administrative activities of project execution. This reversal of development is a leadership pitfall and creates a chasm between high performance and exceptional performance.

One way to bridge the chasm is to be purpose-driven. A defined purpose distinguishes oneself as a distinctive as a brand. A brand is underpinned by one’s education, abilities and accomplishments. By identifying what is central to your interests and commitments, project leaders can re-engage with purpose and unlock exceptional performance. This can be broad or can be very specific in a subject expertise.

I have use the following method to find my brand and define my purpose:

  1. Develop a purpose statement—this is your elevator pitch that quickly and simply defines who you are and what you stand for as a project leader.
  2. Assign annual goals to achieve the purpose and watch your performance increase.
  3. Create a network of relationships that support your purpose and brand.

Having used this approach to define my purpose, I learned I enjoy the macro view of the firm. I regularly coach leaders and help them develop their teams. Therefore, I like to simultaneously drive toward exceptional performance to achieve a firm’s mission and to advance the needs of society.

Please share your purpose and any examples of exceptional performance you achieved toward that purpose.

 

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: September 14, 2018 09:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)
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