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

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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PMI + TED: Possibility Speaks

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Don’t Fear Organizational Politics — Master Them

Imagine you're a project manager reporting to a senior director of a subsidiary, with a dotted line to a group director in the HQ. In a meeting, you're caught in their crossfire. What would you do?

If you’re wondering whether getting involved in the politics is mandatory, the answer is yes. What if you wish to stay away? You can, but you’ll put your career at risk.

There’s no need to be afraid of organizational politics. Often the top performers are those who have mastered the art. In the organizational hierarchy, there is a level beyond which winning at politics is more important than mastering any technical skills.

What Are Organizational Politics?

Workplace politics are simply the differences between people at work—whether they’re contrasting opinions or conflicts of interest. They’re important, because you need these politics to:

  • Get your job done;
  • Get the resources you need to accomplish your goals;
  • Influence stakeholders to say yes and give you access to their resources;
  • Fetch critical information necessary for your success;
  • Get to know the facts—they are not offered on a platter;
  • Effectively deal with people around you; and
  • Read between the lines.

What Aren’t Organizational Politics?

Politics aren’t about cheating or taking advantage of other people. They are not about:

  • Defeating, abusing or dodging others for self-interest;
  • Getting too obsessed with yourself;
  • Playing mischievously;
  • Harming others for your own benefit.

It is not about me over you (win-lose), but both of us together (win-win).

Why Are Organizational Politics Inevitable?

You can’t avoid them, because the following are all sources of politics:

  • Organizational structure and culture
  • Competing objectives
  • Scarcity of resources
  • The fact that not everything can be told upfront in public
  • Everyone having an ego
  • Insecurity (fear of loss)
  • Competitive work environment (rat race)
  • Prejudice

Some of these factors are always present in an office, making politics inevitable.

How to Win in Organizational Politics

The most common reactions to politics at work are either fight or flight, which can have harmful consequences. Remember, we always have a choice to approach the situation and then hold on, understand or work out a viable solution.

Here are few steps you can take:

Know Enterprise Environmental Factors:

The first step is to understand the source. You can put together a winning solution if you understand factors influencing your project execution, such as organizational culture, organizational structure, various communication channels, organizational policies, individual behavior and risk tolerance of stakeholders.

Analyze Stakeholders:

Politics always come down to the people who are involved. Until we understand their interests, power, influence, buy-in and support, it may not be easy to prepare a strategy. There are various tools like the power/interest grid, buy-in/influence grid, stakeholder engagement matrix, etc. that help in stakeholder analysis and preparing strategies. There are tools like power/interest grid, buy-in/influence grid, stakeholder engagement matrix etc. that help in stakeholder analysis and preparing strategies. In fact, it is a good idea to always maintain a stakeholder register so you have information ready to quickly deal with a situation.

Discover Hidden Agendas:

Hidden agenda aren’t always as bad as they appear. Many times a personal objective is driving someone’s actions. Therefore, it is necessary to talk to the people and understand the driving factors behind their opinion and actions to strengthen your strategy.

Think Win-Win:

Somehow, we are encouraged to think that someone has to lose in order for us to win. We see our colleagues as rivals instead of as our team members. This may be because of the organization’s politics. We have to find a solution that not only makes you win, but others too. This may not be easy, but understanding other people’s point of view and putting your feet in their shoes will help you find a win-win solution.

Build your network:

One of the best ways to do this is through networking, which builds relationships. This will help you better understand other people’s viewpoints and get their support in facilitating a solution. Networking is also very effective in getting buy-in and reaching consensus.

By taking these steps, you can propose win-win solutions and steer your projects to success.

What ideas do you have for dealing with organizational politics? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I look forward to reading about your experiences.

 

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: March 04, 2019 07:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

3 Tips For Assuming an Existing Project

As a project manager, there’s perhaps nothing better than starting a new project. With it comes a fresh start and the promise of a successful conclusion. To me, it’s akin to starting a new year in school with new notebooks, where nothing has been written to spoil the fresh sheets of paper.

 

However, as we become more experienced as project managers, we’re called on more and more to assume control of a project already in motion. This might be triggered by a happy event, such as a promotion for the existing project manager, or a less-than-happy situation, such as a lack of progress on the project.

 

Assuming responsibility for a project that has already launched is a lot different than starting from the beginning. You won’t have the benefit of starting with a clean sheet of paper, and there will be things you need to do—and undo.

 

Here are three tips I always follow when assuming control of an existing project:

 

1. Assume Nothing    

When starting a new project, you have the opportunity to perform mobilization and initiation activities to effectively set the project on a path to success. In addition, there are some early checkpoints where you can perform structured control actions to further assure the proper trajectory of the project.  

While the existing project status reports can show the assumed disposition of a project, they may not reveal essential missing activities needed for project success. For example, an existing project might not have had the benefit of a thorough mobilization and initiation effort to properly set its course. In addition, there may be hidden or under-mitigated risks, emerging issues, stakeholder challenges and hidden dependencies that have not yet come to light. 

When taking over an existing project, the first thing I do is review it in the same way I would a new project. Introducing a pause in project activities to perform a “soft reset” allows both confirmation of assumptions and validation of project progress.

In addition, this activity can reveal unseen factors that put the current project position in doubt. This is a good time to reforecast the remaining work. By assuming nothing about the project, the “soft reset” serves as a basis to properly transition the project towards success.

 

2. Match the Team to the Realistic Remaining Work  

One of the most important facets of a soft reset is reforecasting the amount of remaining work. Use the existing forecast as a foundation for considering other factors that may influence the future progress of the project. These may include effort, scheduling conflicts (e.g., year-end holidays), upcoming business process changes and technology-readiness dependencies. 

From the reforecast, compare these factors against the capacity and capabilities of the existing project team. Review whether you have the requisite skills and team members available for each phase of the project. In addition, consider the availability of key resources who cannot be readily substituted in case they are not able to work on the project. This examination of project resources by phase should include not only individual team members, but also team leads and third-party suppliers.

 

3. Engage More Frequently With the Most Accountable Stakeholder

While there are many inorganic components of a project, such as deliverables and status reports, often the most critical components revolve around the organic nature of people. Having strong executive sponsorship, a structured governance engagement model and open communication all enable project success.

When you are introduced as the new project manager on an existing effort, some change management work will need to be done to ensure a smooth transition.

Given the myriad stakeholders involved in a project, who should you start with? The typical consideration is to start with the most senior leadership stakeholder, who is typically also the project sponsor.

I think, however, a better place to start is with the most accountable stakeholder. This would be the person who after the project is implemented would manage the new solution to achieve the project objectives. In addition, this person would likely have the greatest knowledge of requirements and implementation considerations, which would be valuable to your soft reset.

 

Set Your Team Up for Success
When airline pilots transfer control of an aircraft to another pilot, they go through a structured process. Before control is transferred, the flying pilot does a check of instruments, course and speed. The pilot currently flying and the pilot taking over the controls exchange a distinct exchange of commands to ensure a precise transition and a safe flight.  

Assuming control of an existing project should have that same level of attention to detail and precision. Now that you are leading this existing project, be sure to consider the factors shared above that confidently allow you to say, “I have the controls.”

When assuming existing projects, what sort of activities do you perform as part of a transition? I’d welcome other thoughts to help make us all better project managers.

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: February 02, 2019 06:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

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 (21)

3 Signs Your Project Is Headed For An Accident

 

by Kevin Korterud

 

The technology found in today’s automobiles is simply amazing. Front and side traffic radar units, anti-dozing head movement detectors, driving timers that alert drivers when they should stop for a break­ — all good examples of accident prevention mechanisms.

 

Projects to some degree are like automobiles: They are on a journey to deliver passengers (the project team and stakeholders) to a pre-determined destination. However, despite the introduction of many modern project management technologies, research shows that we continue to experience project accidents. These accidents result in extensive and costly rework to get a project back on track. 

 

I think part of the solution to avoid these potential problems is to borrow from recent automobile technologies as a way to detect troublesome signals. These signals are not readily perceivable from traditional project management methods.

 

Here are a few examples of anticipatory signals that portend the onset of a skid that often leads to a project accident.

 

 

  1. Forecast Volatility

 

A core competency of a project manager is to determine the schedule, budget and progress trajectory of a project. The project forecast is essential to determine where the project will finish for these measurements. Schedule, budget and progress forecasts from team members that exhibit great degrees of change over prior reporting periods are indicative of trending to an accident. This downward spiral is exacerbated when the forecast measurements come with great uncertainty; e.g., “I don’t know what this will take to finish.”

 

Several techniques can be employed to reduce the volatility of forecasting. Some of these techniques include initiating a peer review of the forecast with another project manager or supplier subject matter expert, as well as pausing the project to recalibrate the forecast in a dedicated working session. Taking time to implement these and other techniques to mitigate forecast volatility will get the project back on track before an accident.

 

 

2. Static Project Status

 

Project status reports can offer a tremendous amount of value to a project manager. They accumulate both qualitative and quantitative data that sheds light on the current project state. But, despite the visibility status reports provide, they’re just a snapshot. That limits their ability to show progress trends. In addition, a project status report that does not show content changes week over week indicates that the project is likely stalled and headed toward an accident.

 

To increase the anticipatory value of a project status report, introduce trending and predictive data for risks, issues, deliverables and milestones. This allows the project team to determine what level of progress has been achieved, as well as what progress to expect. It also better positions the project manager to escalate mitigations to avoid an impending project accident.

 

  1. Diminishing Stakeholder Engagement

At the beginning of a project, stakeholder engagement and enthusiasm is typically high. This is not unlike the start of a road trip. But, as time passes on a project, the level of enthusiasm and engagement can begin to wane. Stakeholder engagement over time will face tough tests from project risks to resource challenges to dependency conflicts. Each can sap the energy levels of stakeholders. This leads to passive engagement at best and complete disengagement and absenteeism at worst.

To keep stakeholder engagement at the proper level, stakeholders need to be treated like any other resource on a project. Their time needs to be managed in work plans to avoid oversubscribing their capacity. In addition, their work should be focused on higher value activities that promote project progress. Providing the team access to project support staff to maximize productivity also helps further stakeholder engagement and leads to persistent engagement.

Perhaps one day in the future there will be technology solutions that provide anticipatory signals for projects headed for an accident. Until that day comes, however, project managers still need to think organically and look for hidden signals of dangers to project budgets, schedules and progress.  

What do you see as the leading indicators that a project is trending toward disaster?

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: May 03, 2018 06:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

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 (14)
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