By Ramiro Rodrigues
The term path is used for a sequence of activities that are serially related to each other.
Imagine, for example, that your colleagues have decided to organize a barbecue. After dividing up the work, you are responsible for hiring the catering services. For this task, you are likely to have to look for recommendations, check availability and prices, analyze the options and then choose the best one. These four activities are a path. In other words, they are a sequence of activities that must be carried out sequentially until a final goal is achieved.
A project manager’s job is to estimate the duration of each planned activity. And if we return to our example, we could consider the possible durations:
This sequence of activities will last 40 hours, or five workdays. And since the whole barbecue has been divided among various colleagues, other sequences (or paths) of activities—such as choosing the venue, buying drinks, organizing football, etc.—will also have their respective deadlines.
The critical path will be the series of activities that has the longest duration among all those that the event involves.
Let's imagine that the longest path is precisely this hiring of the catering services. Since the process is estimated to take five days, the barbecue cannot be held at an earlier time. And if it were held in exactly five days, all the activities involved in the path have no margin for delay. This means that if, for example, my analysis of options is not completed on the date or within the duration planned, then the barbecue provider will not be selected in time, which will invariably lead to the postponement of the barbecue—and leave a bad taste in my co-workers' mouths.
Under the critical path method, there is no margin for delay or slack. If there is a delay in any activity on that (critical) path, there will be a delay in the project. At the same time, other "non-critical" paths can withstand limited delays, hence the justification of the term.
It is the duration of this path that is setting "critical" information for all projects—when all the work will have been completed.
Do you use the critical path method in your work? If so, what are your biggest challenges?
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?
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?
Playing the Right Leadership Role
Education and Training,
Human Aspects of PM,
New to Project Management,
Reflections on the PM Life,
Categories: Best Practices, Career Help, Change Management, Communication, Communication, Complexity, Education and Training, Facilitation, Human Aspects of PM, Human Resources, Leadership, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Lessons Learned, Mentoring, New to Project Management, PMOs, Portfolio Management, Program Management, Project Delivery, Project Failure, Project Planning, Project Requirements, Reflections on the PM Life, Roundtable, Stakeholder, Strategy, Talent Management, Teams, Tools
By Peter Tarhanidis
It is not unusual for project leaders to fill a variety of leadership roles over the course of the many unique initiatives we take on.
As I transition from one client, program, employer or team to another, my personal challenge is to quickly work out the best leadership role to play in my new environment. Therefore, I find it helpful to have some knowledge of leadership theory and research.
Leaders must understand the role they fill in relation to staff and management. That typically falls into three categories, as defined by Henry Mintzberg, Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at the Desautels Faculty of Management of McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada:
Interpersonal: A leader who is either organizing the firm or a department, or acting as an intermediary. He or she is the figurehead, leader or liaison.
Informational: A leader that gathers, communicates and shares information with internal and external stakeholders. He or she is the mentor, disseminator, and spokesman.
Decisional: A leader that governs and has to make decisions, manage conflict and negotiate accords. He or she is the entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator and negotiator.
During one of my recent transitions, I thought I was a decisional leader, but I was expected to play an informational role. When I acted on information rather than sharing it and gaining consensus toward a common goal, my team was very confused. That’s why it’s so important to know the role you’re expected to fill.
When you start a new effort, how do you determine what role you’re expected to play? How has that contributed to your success?
By Wanda Curlee
Do project and program managers need to be experts in the industry or sector they work in? While many would say yes, others argue that a competent and experienced project or program manager can lead initiatives in any area.
I would agree with the latter—with one caveat. Project and program managers who lack experience in a given field must be willing to do research and fill any knowledge gaps to make their efforts successful.
Research is the key to staying current. As a program or project manager, you must be able to ask subject matter experts smart, targeted questions. By arming yourself with the right information, you’ll be able to challenge assumptions and better navigate schedules, risks and other issues. And raising these questions will also drive creativity and innovation.
There are several online tools that I often use to conduct project–related research, including:
Google Scholar: This is a good tool for Boolean, or combined keyword, searches. It returns a list of reputable articles, books, abstracts and court opinions from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other websites. For most results, the title, author's name and abstract can be seen, but the full piece is behind a paywall.
Semantic Scholar: This engine—still in beta—has artificial intelligence built into the search, which is amazing. For those who have used EBSCOhost or ProQuest as a student or an academic, Semantic Scholar will look somewhat familiar. It’s based on Boolean searches as well, but, unlike Google Scholar, 99 percent of the returned articles are available as PDFs.
Semantic Scholar also lets you narrow your search. For example, you can search based on author(s), limit the search to a certain publication timeframe and only review articles in certain journals.
Depending on the search, some articles can also be sliced and diced by topic. For example, when I did a search on neuroscience and leadership, I was able to pick articles on certain areas of the brain. Even more fascinating, I could filter down to the type of brain cell discussed.
These are two of my go-to tools. Where do you turn when conducting project research and preparing to lead an effort in a new field?