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

Can Frogs Be Stakeholders?

The Importance of Changing Perspectives

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

Project Management to the Rescue

Calling All Trend Surfers

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 (16)

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)

Are Best Practices Really Possible?

By Mario Trentim

 

A project is a planned and coordinated piece of work that requires considerable effort to deliver a specific result.

According to PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), a project is a temporary endeavor to create a unique result. And it is performed by people, constrained by limited resources, planned, executed and controlled.

Project management is an interdisciplinary approach to balance the conflicting interests and constraints of a project: well done (scope), fast (time) and cheap (cost).

Although there are other important aspects of managing a project that will be covered in subsequent posts here, the triple constraint (scope, time and cost) implies that a project, large or small, addresses at least the following areas:

  • Specific outcomes and results: requirements and deliverables (scope);
  • Definite tasks, start and end dates: schedule (time);
  • Established resources: people, materials and budget (cost)

Project managers perform four primary management functions:

1. Planning: This encompasses project initiation and detailed planning, involving processes to identify needs and requirements, define deliverables and tasks, estimate resources and develop the project management plan.

2. Organizing: This function prepares for execution, it is a supporting and administrative function to provide project structure and governance. Most of the time, organizing involves staffing and procurement, but other preparation activities might be included here.

3. Directing: This is the management function of getting the work done, managing execution according to the plan. It encompasses stakeholder engagement, team management and communications management.

4. Controlling: This function takes care of project performance monitoring, preventive and corrective actions and the integrated change control.

These functions might be performed in parallel and should not be understood as sequential.

Outside of these functions, project managers should also focus on managerial aspects of the project, including leadership. Although it is desirable that the project manager possess some knowledge in general business management, business analysis and the technical aspects of the project, they are usually supported by other experts in a number of project management related disciplines including systems engineering, requirements engineering and specialist engineering disciplines, quality assurance, integrated logistic support and more depending on the project and industry.

But, are these best practices really universal given all these factors? Please leave your comments below. We’ll be looking further into this question in subsequent posts.

Posted by Mario Trentim on: March 27, 2018 03:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

The Knowledge Management Paradox

by Ramiro Rodrigues

 

Years ago, I was invited to speak on project management trends to a group of entrepreneurs and businesspeople from small and medium-sized companies. When the subject of knowledge management in a project setting came up, I asked if people agreed that it was important for companies to retain the knowledge acquired for future projects. As expected, there was unanimous agreement.

 

I then asked people if they had already implemented some kind of system for lessons learned within their company. Only 15 percent of participants raised their hands.

 

This reflects a common corporate weakness.

 

Civil, architectural, marketing, research and development, and IT projects, among others, deliver products that rely on the intelligence and experience of those working on them. For these segments, the maintenance of this knowledge, or intellectual capital, offers a competitive advantage. After all, it’s this intellectual capital that allows the recurrence of new business transactions.

 

Imagine the case of a Brazilian construction company that has been awarded a contract for work in the Middle East. Geography, labor legislation and culture are complete unknowns for the company. The project is expected to experience a high number of challenges and errors. Even so, the project will be delivered. Now imagine that, years after the completion of that project, the same construction company is awarded another contract of similar size in a neighboring country in the region. Even though every project is unique, the knowledge acquired in the first project has immense financial value in helping avoid the same mistakes.

 

What we witness today is that the knowledgable worker is highly valuable. Imagine that, between the construction company's first and second project, its key leaders leave the company. If the organization has not implemented some kind of mechanism to retain the knowledge acquired during the first project, all the errors (and financial losses) that marked it are highly likely to be repeated in the second project.

 

And this, in some cases, can be fatal for the survival of the company.  

 

This brings us to a corporate paradox. Most executives are likely to agree that it’s important to develop some kind of knowledge transfer structure. But at the same time, there is clear lethargy in freeing up resources to implement knowledge management systems for projects.

 

Not that it's simple — initiating any knowledge management process is inherently difficult. There is veiled resistance among workers to explain the knowledge acquired during projects. Either they don’t agree with its importance, find the process annoying or even fear it will make them less essential.

 

Leaders have to overcome this resistance. Neglecting the issue can put them at risk of being exposed to market volatility.

 

What challenges have you encountered with knowledge management? How do you make it work within your organization?

Posted by Ramiro Rodrigues on: March 27, 2018 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Award Winning Metrics For 2018

 

Award-Winning Metrics For 2018  

by Kevin Korterud

What are the best metrics for determining if a project is about to experience schedule, budget or quality slippages? These metrics are best categorized as delivery volatility metrics.

 

Executives already know when a project is in trouble — they are more concerned with those projects whose trajectory is on a currently unseen course to trouble.

 

PMI offers guidance on project metrics to help detect delivery volatility, such as the Cost Performance Indicator and Earned Value Management. While project reporting will likely have one or more of these metrics, I got to thinking what other metrics would indicate the potential of delivery volatility.

 

An additional complication is the various approaches used today, including agile, waterfall, company custom, software product, service supplier and regulatory. These can all generate their own set of metrics.

 

While pondering this question watching TV one evening, I noticed a multitude of movie, theater, television and music award shows that tend to occur this time of year. A characteristic of these shows is the numerous categories that are awarded to nominees — Best Supporting Actress, Best New Pop Group, Best Special Effects and so on.

 

As I was organizing my thoughts around metrics, I figured: Why not use award show categories to help shape an answer on which metrics would best suit early detection of delivery volatility?

 

As the Master Of Ceremonies for the 2018 Project Metrics Award show, here are a few of the winners:

 

 

  1. Best Supporting Traditional Metric: Schedule Performance Indicator (SPI)!

 

As our projects become more complex and more numerous, the ability to deliver on a set schedule becomes more important. The SPI has the great benefit of comparing actual and planned progress in an objective manner: earned value/planned value.

 

The true power of SPI comes into play when selecting a method for earned value accumulation. Assuming work plans are at a level of granularity where task progress can be measured within a two to four week window, a conservative earned value scheme such as 0%/100%, 25%/75% based on task start and completion is a very objective means of calculating progress.

 

With these conservative schemes, you capture value when the tasks have started (when resources are truly free to work on tasks) and whether the task has been completed (usually with acceptance of completion by a project manager or stakeholder).

 

Given today’s tight delivery timeframes, as well as the need to coordinate delivery with other projects, SPI is a good indicator as to the schedule fitness of a project.

 

 

2. Best Supporting Emerging Metric: Functional Progress Metrics!

 

As I shared above, there are now a multitude of methods available to run projects. From these methods, all sorts of new metrics are available to project managers to identify delivery volatility. These metrics can include completed user stories, forecast backlog, project burndown, build objects, test case performance and many others.

 

In addition to these new metrics, a whole host of new waterfall, agile and other tools have come into play that capture functional progress outside of the traditional work plan tasks and milestones. In fact, work plan detail requirements can be relaxed when these tools are used to shed light on the functional progress of a project.

 

The power of these functional metrics is that they allow the next level of inspection underlying project phases, tasks and milestones to see delivery trajectory. For example, being able to see the detailed completion progress of requirements, build objects and test cases in automated tools allows project managers to catch underlying barriers to progress before it is revealed in a work plan. 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Best Metric For 2018: Planned vs. Actual Deliverables!

As project managers, the universal outcome for our efforts is that we need to create value for our project executives and stakeholders. While activities can lead to creating value, our mission revolves around the production of deliverables in a timely manner to fulfill a project value proposition.

The inherent power in providing and approving deliverables in a timely manner is that they are completely objective means of progress. No matter what method, effort, dependencies, resources, tools or other constructs of project management are employed, deliverables are an indicator of whether you are making progress. The track of deliverables being created, reviewed and approved on schedule means you are making definitive progress toward value.

Creating a track of deliverables and their targeted completion dates with progress that can be monitored through other metrics allows a universally understood path to project completion. For example, if a deliverable has not yet been approved by stakeholders, you are making visible a potential schedule delay that would impair future work activities.  

 

To host your own 2018 project metrics award show, one does not need a spotlight or trophies. You just need to think about what metrics can serve to detect early signs of delivery volatility beyond the self-declared green/yellow/red stoplights that are typically found in project status reports.

 

If you were handing out your very own 2018 project metrics awards, what categories would you select? What would win? 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: February 17, 2018 03:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)
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