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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View Posts By:

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

Past Contributers:

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

Recent Posts

Harnessing Bathroom Brilliance

Can Frogs Be Stakeholders?

The Importance of Changing Perspectives

It’s a Robot Revolution: Time to Embrace Your Humanity

Project Management to the Rescue

Can Frogs Be Stakeholders?

by Linda Agyapong

"Who" really is a stakeholder?

I enjoy breaking down some of the buzzwords in project management.

In my previous post, we looked at “project success” vs. “project management success.”

Today I’d like to focus on “stakeholder”—one of the most buzzworthy terms.

For this discussion, let’s check in with our three favorite project managers: Jim, Mary and Alex. They have been tasked with a major construction project in Europe. On the first day of their kickoff meeting, as they were documenting their project charter, they got stuck because the three of them could not agree on identifying all the stakeholders for the project.

Turns out the targeted site for the construction project had a natural habitat for a specific kind of protected species—the moor frog.

Jim and Mary jointly agreed that moor frogs should never be considered as stakeholders of the project—after all, they were not humans. But Alex maintained that they should be considered as stakeholders because the frogs would either be significantly affected by the project, or they would significantly affect the project.

Alex then explained that the classic definition of a stakeholder—from the legendary business theorist R. Edward Freeman—did not segregate animals from humans, nor living things from non-living things. In his award-winning book, Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, Mr. Freeman defined a stakeholder as “any group or individual who can affect, or is affected by the achievement of the organization's objectives.” He subsequently clarified that this definition can be expanded further to cover anything that the organization significantly affects, or is significantly affected by it.

Alex added that the very issue had been argued in the journal article Project Temporalities: How Frogs Can Become Stakeholders by Kjell Tryggestad, Lise Justesen and Jan Mouritsen. These authors took the stance that the natural habitat of the frogs provided some benefits to people in the community, such as via food, recreation or entertainment. Because of that value, the moor frogs should be classified as stakeholders.

Robert A. Phillips and Joel Reichart argued the opposite in their article, The Environment as a Stakeholder? A Fairness-Based Approach. They said that this natural habitat cannot be classified as a stakeholder because, “only humans are capable of generating the necessary obligations for generating stakeholder status.” Their basis was that stakeholders can only impact a project when they “make themselves known as part of the empirical process to develop the project.”

Tryggestad, Justesen and Mouritsen, however, advised that non-living things could be actors of the project if they make a visible difference within the project, such as significantly impacting any of the triple constraints of the project (namely time, cost and scope). Their rationale was that “an actor does not act alone. It acts in relation to other actors, linked up with them.” The frogs were then considered to be “an entity entangled in a larger assemblage consisting of both humans and non-humans.” At the end of their research, the frogs were classified as actors or stakeholders of the construction project.

To bring it home, Alex calmly advised his colleagues that the frogs have peacefully lived in that part of the community for several years. To avoid incurring the residents’ wrath, they should classify frogs as stakeholders and subsequently make the necessary arrangements to appease the community accordingly.

In the end, Jim and Mary unanimously agreed to this great suggestion.

I encourage you to think outside the box to identify all the potential stakeholders for your upcoming projects. Good luck!

Posted by Linda Agyapong on: May 23, 2018 05:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

High-Performance Teams Are Purpose-Driven

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

Program teams should collaborate like a world-class orchestra.

This ideal state of team engagement and performance requires the presence of several key elements, including an engaged sponsor, a governance committee, a project manager and a status dashboard to communicate performance.

However, maximizing this level of performance is especially challenging when working with cross-functional groups, external stakeholders and shareholders. This increases the complexity of the human performance aspects of team management.

I recall one assignment I worked on that required the team to design and build a new centralized model to bring together three different operations. The team was given two additional challenges. The first challenge was to consolidate disparate teams into two geographic centers. They also had to reduce the overall timeline from 18 months to 10 months.

These challenges exacerbated how teams were not working well with their counterparts. They quickly became dysfunctional and lost their purpose. The project was crashing.

Stepping into this situation I decided to conduct a stakeholder analysis. I used this approach as an intervention method to understand the underlying themes. The analysis revealed the team:

  1. Lacked shared values: Members did not have a sense of purpose on the intent of the program.
  2. Were not being heard: Members felt they had no control over the program’s major activities or tasks.
  3. Lacked trust: Members felt they could not rely or confide in their fellow team members, sponsors or peers to accomplish tasks on the program.

After reflecting on the team’s feedback, I realized that most members wanted to find meaning in their work. It seemed no one was developing their sense of shared purpose and putting their strengths to work toward this program.

I decided I needed to re-invest them as members of the team. To get the team back to performing well, I:

  1. Built rapport with various team members
  2. Gained their trust by delivering on my commitments
  3. Integrated their perspectives into decision making
  4. Recruited new members to build up gaps in team capabilities
  5. Focused the conversation on our individual purposes and aligned them to a shared value

This approach strengthened the program and delivered on the challenges.  

The lesson learned is, do not simply apply methods and approaches in complex program delivery. Manage the team’s purpose and establish shared values as an important driver of overall delivery.

How do you manage that purpose and invest in high-performing teams?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: April 18, 2018 08:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

A Balanced Competency Model

By Mario Trentim

A successful project requires a combination of technical and managerial activities at every stage to jointly deliver the final result and its benefits.

If you have high levels of maturity in project management without the equivalent technical knowledge, your project is doomed to deliver a poor solution. On the other hand, when you have best-in-class technical knowledge without project management maturity, your project is also doomed to be inefficient and maybe even inefficacious.

Many organizations have already developed competency models to encompass technical and managerial aspects of projects, describing overlapping areas and highlighting essential project management and systems engineering foundations of successful projects.

Consider the U.S.’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) competency model, which “outlines distinct competency areas for project managers and systems engineers, as well as shared competencies that encompass both disciplines.”

Examples of defined project management competencies include:

  • Stakeholder management
  • Safety and mission assurance
  • Cost estimating
  • Risk management
  • Project control

Examples of defined system engineer competencies include:

  • Technical requirements definition
  • Product verification
  • Configuration management
  • Technical data management
  • Interface management

Examples of shared competencies include:

  • Workplace safety
  • Communication
  • Team dynamics and management
  • Safety and mission assurance
  • Knowledge capture and transfer

You might be asking yourself what does NASA have to do with your own daily projects? Most of us are working in projects and programs far simpler than building space systems. However, my objective here is to call attention to the best in class so that we can contextualize and tailor their model to our own reality.

Of course, in order to achieve a proper balance in your projects, thoughtful tailoring is essential. Take the International Council on Systems Engineering’s handbook, A Guide for System Life Cycle Processes and Activities:

“On smaller projects, where the span of required communications is small (few people and short project life cycle) and the cost of rework is low, Systems Engineering activities can be conducted very informally (and thus at low cost). On larger projects, where the cost of failure or rework is high, increased formality can significantly help in achieving project opportunities and in mitigating project risk.”

Even small and medium projects can benefit a lot from the proper combination of project management and systems engineering. Systems engineering is helpful not only in developing complex products and services, such as a spaceship or an air traffic control system, but also in less sophisticated products such as a bicycle or an alarm system. In fact, systems engineering is even helpful when you are designing your new house.

 

What product development approaches are you using today? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Posted by Mario Trentim on: April 03, 2018 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Project Leaders Are at the Forefront of Today’s Operating Models

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

Many organizations are shifting their traditional operating models to include new innovative collaborations and social networks to sustain economic growth. These new operating models, however, challenge the future of leadership.

Most operating models used today were designed in the industrial age. In these models, the division of labor is by specialization, which is hierarchical in nature. This approach has been analyzed and debated by philosophers including Plato and economists such as Adam Smith, whose analysis is incorporated in current organizational designs defining a company’s value chain. The advantage of this approach is that it drives increases in productivity and efficiency by allocating teams by their skillset.

Yet companies are boxed in today. They have become efficient and productive, but are at a disadvantage in sustaining innovation.

Companies are challenged to design and integrate innovative operating models to continue to drive economic growth. Some ways companies are leveraging new operating models to drive innovation include creating internal groups to access and fund startups and sharing resources with external research centers to drive external collaborations that drive new product pipelines.

These innovative operating models challenge leaders to work collaboratively across value chains and external business partners. To meet that challenge, there must be a shift in a leader and team skill sets.

The organizational design shifts from a division of labor and specialization to one that taps into knowledge workers and social networks. This shift—to forge new innovations and operating models—challenges leaders to define new behaviors, styles, skills and professional networks to sustain economic growth.

Project leaders and their teams have been at the forefront of working across these emerging models, navigating both internally as productivity experts, externally as innovation collaborators, and professionally to develop social networks to foster and sustain economic growth.

One’s future as a leader comes down to navigating your development against these current organizational trends. One approach I find helpful is to define personal 360-degree feedbacks. Start with three simple questions to determine where you need to develop and build from, such as:

  1. What do senior leaders want from their leaders to sustain the company?
  2. What do clients and customers want from their partners to build strategic and trusted relationships?
  3. What do teams expect from their leaders to meet strategic initiatives and how can leaders help them succeed professionally?

Having used this personal approach, I learned the following three themes to form my development opportunities:

  1. Senior leaders are expected to communicate in a variety of forums and formats. Leaders should have the courage to ask for help. One should be very knowledgeable about the business and build the professional relationships required to be successful.
  2. Clients and customers expect great experiences with a company’s product and services. They expect leaders to learn their business, marketplace, and challenges. Build trusting relationships and strategic alliances through a successful track record.
  3. Teams want better leaders to sponsor the initiative and provide clear guidance. Align teams to a common shared purpose. Influence members to share in the success of the initiative by linking the initiative to the strategy. Demonstrate how the strategy aligns to the business and how the individual team members help the business meet its goals. Advocate for professional development and provide a mentoring opportunity to advance one’s professional goals.

One must then consider what actions they should commit to developing — whether it is leadership behaviors and styles, business relationships or knowledge — to lead today’s organizations and sustain economic growth and relevance.  

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: February 08, 2018 11:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Project Management? There’s an App for That.

By Conrado Morlan

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” - Abraham Maslow

Over the last two decades, the project management profession has rapidly evolved. The number of professionals has grown worldwide, organizations have adopted, adapted or created frameworks and methodologies to support their projects, and technology has flooded the market with a plethora of mobile, desktop, server and cloud tools.

These tools are big players in establishing the ideal project management environment for organizations that want to track project metrics, performance, pipeline optimization, resource management, time, cost and budget—and the list can go on and on. These versatile apps also support an endless range of frameworks and approaches, from waterfall to agile to Kanban.

Organizations may go thru a selection process to choose the right tool for their environment. Many support their decision-making process with external sources from consulting companies that had reviewed several tools and classified them based on different criteria.

Once a tool is selected, the next step is to put together the various pieces of the puzzle—the project, practitioners and tool. They don’t always naturally match up—and that’s to be expected. That means training.

However, I’ve recently noticed a disturbing trend. I’ve seen several job postings in which the most important trait is the years of experience using a particular project management tool. Some of the job seekers told me that they did not get the job because of their lack of experience in a particular tool.

It makes me wonder: Are organizations “toolizing” project management? Are they boxing themselves into a tool environment? Why is a tool more important than a discipline?

Experienced project professionals exposed to different frameworks or project management methodologies may apply their knowledge to the tool and manage the portfolio, program or project. A tool expert does not make a project management professional.

Remember, at the end of the day, a fool with a tool is still a fool.

Do you think organizations are becoming “tool-centric”? If so, what’s driving this trend?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: November 27, 2017 09:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)
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