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
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Roberto Toledo
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rex Holmlin
Christian Bisson
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina

Recent Posts

A Recurring Interview Process Ensures a Good Fit

Promoting Project Management In Conversation

The Strategic Alignment of the Project Portfolio (Part 2)

The Strategic Alignment of the Project Portfolio (Part 1)

5 Steps to Manage Project Dependencies

A Recurring Interview Process Ensures a Good Fit

Great preparation goes into identifying the right project manager for the job—including determining the project’s delivery complexity, defining the role profile, selecting interview questions and validating professional certifications.

 

However, the interview process shouldn’t end once the new project manager is hired. A recurring interview process ensures project managers remain a good fit. It also helps showcase a project manager’s capabilities to instill confidence among leadership groups, stakeholders and team members—especially if elements drastically change, as they are wont to do.

 

Not every project manager is a good fit for every project. Original assumptions that lead to the initial acquisition of a project manager may not hold true as the project progresses. And poor outcomes often result from hasty decisions to get a project manager on-boarded as quickly as possible to start a project within a desired timeframe.

 

Here are three questions that not only ascertain the health of a project, but also the fit of the project manager. Depending on the outcome, you may choose to retain the project manager or replace them with someone who is a better fit.


 

1. Where are we now? 

Being able to confidently articulate and identify the true position of a project and the recent progress velocity to get to that position is a foundation of project management success. Failure to know where the project currently resides puts future progress at risk.    

 

Assisting the project manager in this determination of project position includes schedule and budget performance metrics, resource availability, dependencies, risk, issues and other inorganic position indicators. In addition, a project manager should be able to organically identify the “so what” implications and potential remedies required to create a three-dimensional view of project progress.

 

2. Where will we be in six weeks?

An old adage says that a point shows a current position, two points make a line and three points make a trend. Project managers should be constantly triangulating their project trajectory from their current position. If they can’t, they’re putting the project’s finish in jeopardy.

 

This six-week timeframe means a project manager can have a clear vision of the visible road ahead, but isn’t so far where they have to speculate well beyond a reasonable horizon.

 

Use of predictive quantitative methods and tools and prior project experience can help a project manager confidently state where the project is headed.

 

3. What changed from the original project scope? 

Change is constant. It takes many forms and has diverse impacts. Additions or revisions of functional requirements, technical requirements, different implementation approaches, new expectations, supplier complexity, unfunded mandates and other events make up the aggregate, ever-changing landscape of a project.  

 

While the project manager does his or her best to control identification, processing and action around changes, in some cases the aggregate impact of change can overwhelm.

 

In many cases, changes—such as leadership changes, new suppliers, as well as portfolio management actions that can merge existing projects—have nothing to do with the project manager’s capability. But when the depth and breadth of project change exceeds the capability of the project manager, it may be time to secure a replacement.  

 

What line of questioning might you use to ensure that a project manager continues to be a good fit for the project they were hired for? 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: April 28, 2017 03:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

The Strategic Alignment of the Project Portfolio (Part 2)

By Conrado Morlan

“Without strategy, execution is aimless. Without execution, strategy is useless.” —Morris Chang, founding CEO, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Ltd.

In the first part of this series, I outlined the groups in the organization that must support the strategic alignment of the project portfolio:

  • Executive Group
  • Project Group
  • Operations Group

Let’s dive into those groups a little further.

The Executive Group

The executive group shares the strategic plan with the organization, highlighting the high–level strategic objectives that will support its growth and move it to the next stage.

This group defines the strategic governance processes — that includes policies and monitoring guidelines to ensure the strategic objectives will be achieved. It establishes a governing body that will ensure accountability, fairness and transparency. The project portfolio governance will adhere to the strategic governance to align the project portfolio and drive the execution of the strategic plan.

During the development of the strategic plan, a thorough risk assessment should be conducted to assign a risk level to the initiatives included in the strategic plan. The risk assessment will feed into the strategic alignment process to ensure the portfolio of projects will keep these risks top of mind each step of the way.

The governance body will also monitor the performance of  programs and project to ensure the expected benefits are being delivered as planned.

The executive group will interact on a frequent basis with the project group to address governance issues, changes in strategy that may impact the portfolio and risks. Meetings with the operations team, on the other hand, will focus on monitoring whether benefits are being created and harvested, as well as how those benefits are impacting — postively or negatively —the strategic objectives.

The Project Group

The project group will cover all areas of the project management profession: portfolio management, program management and project management.

This group will “translate” the strategic plan into elements of the project portfolio and align them with the strategy. Priorities, sequences, dependencies, risks and other elements from the strategic plan will cascade into the project portfolio.

The project portfolio will establish an execution framework that will consider the organization’s existing cross-functional capabilities, operations, and processes, and assess technical and operational requirements to identify gaps that need to be filled to support the successful execution of the project portfolio.

The project tam will:

  • Monitor risk: Establish the context of the risk identified in the strategic plan with the project portfolio and additional risks that have been identified in the portfolio. Update mitigation plans as required based on discussions with executive team.
  • Adhere to organizational governance: The project portfolio will follow the guidelines of corporate culture, transparent communication, accountability and integrity.
  • Assess capabilities: Identify the required capabilities through short-term and long-term program and project scenarios to ensure the required resources will be available when needed.
  • Delineate operational and technical requirements: Based on the prioritization and sequence of programs and projects defined in the portfolio, define the requirements with a holistic portfolio view and bind them with the strategic plan.
  • Establish metrics: Integrate metrics across operations and technology using industry baseline metrics in order to provide credibility to measurements and a route to quantification.

The project group will interact on a frequent basis with the operations group to ensure projects will deliver the expected benefits, and define how those benefits will be “harvested” and used as an input to subsequent phases of the protfolio and strategic plan.

The Operations Group

The operations group will support program and project teams during implementation and will be the recipient of the benefits delivered by the programs and projects. The execution of the strategic plan is a cross-functional effort and every function in the organization will need to contribute to its success.

The operations group may encompass many of the functions of the organization and will be active participants throughout project implementation. But this group’s participation is most important in the post-implementation phase to ensure a sustainable environment for the achievement of the strategic goals.

This group will work closely with the project group on the ongoing management of the portfolio to monitor benefits realization, and will play an active role in the orchestration of demand management and capability management to ensure resources will be available when needed in order to avoid any delays in the portfolio.

If you’ve worked on strategic initiatives, how have you collaborated with these groups in your organization? What advice can you share?

 

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: April 18, 2017 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Are You Documenting Smartly?

by Christian Bisson, PMP

 

Documentation—at least on IT projects—is one of those great project challenges. Documenting everything (and then keeping it updated) can be tedious, and requires a lot of time and discipline. But documenting nothing can leave people lost as a project evolves.

Like many things in life, balance is everything. Documentation doesn’t need to be a pain. It just needs to be relevant, easy to find and reliable.

Relevant

Documents can easily (and quickly) become obsolete, therefore it’s important to limit documentation to the information that can help the team save time and avoid errors. Stick to the most important elements, such as project scope, important links, FAQs, key decisions, approvals, etc.

Easy to Find

If information is scattered between emails, a server, a computer and a filing cabinet, chances are team members will skip looking for it and simply ask around (most likely starting with the project manager) to find what they’re looking for.

There are several software options out there today that are great for storing and organizing documentation, like Google Drive or Confluence (part of the Atlassian suite). Each allows you to consolidate documentation in one spot and provides access to simultaneous editing and commentating features.

Reliable

If you follow the first two tips, you should only have to maintain a limited amount of information in one easy-to-find location. This is essential because documentation that is not updated can have negative consequences on your project. It can mislead team members and accidentally force them into working off of outdated information.

Where do you store your important project documents? How do you ensure they are relevant and reliable? Share below!

Posted by Christian Bisson on: April 07, 2017 12:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

How Storytelling Can Improve Your Presentations

by Wanda Curlee

I often write about neuroscience and its affects on project management. So I spend a lot of time scouring academic research, trade journals and even LinkedIn for new information on the topic. That’s how I came across this recent Business Insider article about what makes a good speaker.

Neuroscience is the very first thing mentioned in the piece, which makes the cognitive case for storytelling. It argues that understanding how our brains work can make us better speakers.

According to the article, you have about 15 seconds to grab your audience—and the average attention span is about 5 minutes. So how do you keep people engaged?

By using stories, says Princeton University researcher Uri Hasson. Mr. Hasson and his colleagues used fMRI machines to measure blood flow to regions of the brain of a speaker and the audience while a story was being told.

This research “found that the brains of a speaker and his or her listeners ‘exhibited joint, temporally coupled, response patterns.’ Simply put, the listeners' brains mirrored the speaker's brain—only when the speaker was telling the listeners a story.” The implication? Our brains are wired for story.

While I was in the Navy, stories were often used as a learning tool. And as a university professor, I’ve seen this approach work with students, as well. But what does this mean for people working in project management?

Relate and Resonate

Project professionals need to be storytellers. We may not all be on a large stage speaking to a big audience, but we’re always presenting, whether it be to stakeholders, sponsors, senior executives, etc. And think about the mundane information we often have to report.

An effective presenter is able to tell a story that will resonate with his or her audience and make mundane information more interesting.

Recently, I was a speaker for the Human Capital Institute (HCI). I used stories to make neuroscience resonate with the audience. I was delighted with the feedback I received. Each person that approached me remembered one of my stories that stuck with them and even resurfaced previous memories.

So when it’s your turn to talk to the C-suite, interject stories. You will be remembered by your ability to relay the information well—and that may serve you well when the next difficult assignment comes up.

What’s one of the best presentations you’ve ever heard? Did the speaker use stories to illustrate his or her presentation?

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: March 31, 2017 07:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (32)

The Elements of Team Interaction, Part 1

by Lynda Bourne

I’ve always thought the McKinsey 7-S framework is one of the most effective approaches for understanding team interaction. Originally focused on large organizations, the concepts are equally valid for smaller groups, such as project teams. Let’s take a look.

Developed in the early 1990s by McKinsey & Co. consultants Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman, the basic premise of the McKinsey 7-S framework is that there are seven internal aspects of an organization that need to be aligned for a company to succeed.

These elements are considered either “hard” or “soft”. The hard elements are easier to define, and management can directly influence them. They are:

  • Strategy: The agreed-upon approach to accomplishing the project’s objectives
  • Structure: The way the project team is organized, including who reports to whom
  • Systems: The tools, techniques, and processes used by the team to execute the strategy

The project’s strategy shapes the other hard elements, as the systems and structures used by the team need to support the implementation of the strategy — not work against it. The optimum structures and systems used in an agile project will be quite different, for example, than those used in a more traditional project.

The soft elements are more difficult to define, measure and document because they are influenced by personalities and company culture. They are:

  • Style: The behavior patterns of the team, how people interact, and their approaches to leadership and authority
  • Staff: The makeup of the team — “having the right people on the bus,” as Jim Collins writes in his book Good to Great
  • Skills: The existing skills and competencies of team members

The soft elements are probably more important than the hard elements. When you have a team made up of the “right people” (staff) with the “right skills” working in the “right way” (style) to achieve a shared vision, deficiencies in strategy, structure and systems can be mitigated.

At the center of both the hard and soft elements are Shared Values — the core values of the team that are evidenced in its culture and general work ethic.

As shared values change, so will all the other elements. But when all seven elements are aligned they have enormous power to generate project success.

Have you used the McKinsey 7-S model or something similar on your projects? How can this type of approach help drive team performance improvements?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: March 24, 2017 06:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)
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