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

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

Recent Posts

Lessons Learned From an Inspiring AI Project

The Project Initiatives That Influenced My Career

Seek Better Questions, Not Answers

A Home for Transformation: Lessons From Fannie Mae’s PMO

Indulge Your Audacious Curiosity—Even if It Means Failing

Lessons Learned From an Inspiring AI Project

By Christian Bisson

When I was asked to write about a project that inspired me in the last 50 years, I didn’t have to look back further than last year. That’s when I had the chance to act as scrum master for a newly formed team.

The Challenge

We had seven weeks to build software from scratch that would be demonstrated at a conference and used by hundreds of people. Since the conference was centered on artificial intelligence, it was mandatory that our demo used AI. Our idea was a game where the player spelled words using real sign language. The game was displayed on a television hooked up to a camera, which filmed the player’s hand.

The hand’s position was then recognized and matched to a letter of the alphabet. The player received points based on the speed at which he was spelling the words displayed on the screen.

The Team

We had a great team composed of two developers, a designer, two AI researchers, a product owner and me (scrum master). Our small, dedicated team would empower us to deliver the software we needed to build from A to Z.

Although concerned about the short time available, everyone was motivated and excited to build this amazing software, knowing the visibility it would get.

How We Would Work

Since the scope wasn’t fully defined and the user experience was key, we needed to deliver usable increments to test. We needed a framework that would allow us to deliver quickly and adjust to the requirements as they were refined. Scrum was the obvious choice, even though most of the team was completely new to it. The majority of the team came from a software background, so they knew what it was on paper. However, for the AI researchers, it was completely unknown.

Where it All Came Together

Many start off with the team they need, but then obstacles come their way and prevent them from moving forward. These could be anything from unavailable stakeholders to people being pulled off the team to poor requirements.

However, in this case, it was everything you would want from agility/scrum:

  • A team collaborating together without anyone coordinating them
  • Busy stakeholders making themselves available for us to collaborate
  • Everyone following scrum, even though it was new to them
  • The team working at a sustainable pace
  • A usable increment of the game delivered every sprint
  • Continuous improvement through the retrospectives
  • A healthy backlog that was properly refined by the team

It was amazing to see the collaboration when we needed users to test; after a quick Slack message to everyone in the company, we would suddenly have a lineup of people available to play the game.

 

What Inspired Me

When I think back on our success, all I remember are the people working together to create something great. It wasn’t even about being “agile.” For the team it was, “Let’s get this done!” and for everyone who supported us, it was “Let’s help our colleagues!” There was nothing more, nothing less—exactly how it should be.

 

I’d love to hear about the most inspiring project you’ve worked on in your career. Please share below!

Posted by Christian Bisson on: November 13, 2019 03:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Project Initiatives That Influenced My Career

By Peter Tarhanidis, PhD

I’ve been fortunate to have a career that constantly challenges me and my team to apply new approaches to achieve an organization’s mission. I believe that adapting these contemporary management practices and innovative operating models has helped me become the project leader I am today. 

Below are select project initiatives that have helped me develop my skills:

  1. I integrated process and technology to drive staff productivity. Customer centricity is at the heart of the experience. While working in a call center, my team and I initiated a training process improvement for onboarding new hires. I drafted process steps and key instructions for each one, and then connected the technology opportunities to automate non-value steps. This resulted in reduced training cycles and onboarding staff time from eight weeks to two weeks. It also increased customer satisfaction.
  1. I quantified assumptions with data and facts. I remember one instance where senior leaders did not have the data to explain consumer behavior and decided to stick with the status quo of the same services at the same rate—not realizing consumer segments had changed. By applying statistical analysis and regression theories, I was able to identify pricing elasticity levels that formed a new strategy to increase revenues and attract new consumers.
  1. I leveraged standards-based solutions to scale growth and introduce emerging technologies. Prior to standards adoption, I relied on international standards bodies to align on the highest operating performance of disparate systems. This helped to standardize new telecommunication technologies that architected new building designs with IT infrastructure to integrate disparate HVAC, security, green services, data centers, retail systems and real estate development opportunities across the U.S. This led to increased revenue and operating efficiencies by creating an online retail catalogue and also reduced the cost of managing business services.
  1. I extended expertise across the globe by managing vendor partnerships. I established a vendor management practice to oversee strategic partnerships, outsourcing and offshoring to improve from hybrid technical data centers to Global Business Shared Services across non-core services in organizations. This extended needed services in local countries in their time, language and at lower costs—and also enabled increased market share for commercial operations.
  1. I designed business operating models to align strategy across an organization. This included key projects to benchmark customer market space, work with senior leaders and define a gap analysis to address via business cases. This allowed me to transform departments, business units and re-engineer organizations.
  1. I worked across diverse geographies and industries. For example, I drove cultural and change management in R&D, operations and supply chain. This exposed me to business development and mergers and acquisitions, and allowed me to learn the latest in designing user experiences, advanced robotic automation and AI technologies to connect to deeper business insights.
     
  2. I led a nonprofit organization of volunteers to develop my leadership skills. When individuals give their time, it is important to be clear and align the volunteers to action. These interactions and relationships are truly based on a work-at-will agreement. If you treat everyone with dignity and a set of behaviors that empower purposeful action, you will achieve a great leadership style that supports many environments and solves social and business needs.

What themes have you identified in your career? How have you broadened your range?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: November 13, 2019 10:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Tips for Project Success in a Functional Organization

Tips for Project Success in a Functional Organization

There are fundamentally two types of organizations: functional and projectized. Of course, between those there are various combinations of functional and projectized in the form of matrix and hybrid.

Every organization type has its own advantages and disadvantages, but from the project point of view, functional organizations are most challenging, due to their focus on individual functional work.

A typical functional organization has departments like R&D, operations, procurement, human resources, quality assurance and—on occasion—project management. Each department focuses on its own area.

The challenge is, projects are often multifunctional, crossing various functions and requiring contributions from all departments. In a typical functional organization, there is no one who looks after projects end to end and connects all the dots. A project manager has little authority over the resources of other departments. All told, this results in several challenges:

  1. The project manager has little or no authority over team members as they report to their respective functional managers.
  2. Team members may not give much importance to project work due to their loyalty towards their department.
  3. Team members may work in silos due to the loose coupling among departments and the missing connecting thread.
  4. Trust among team members may not be strong as they work in silos.
  5. Functional managers or resources may not have equal zeal to achieve project objectives as they don’t own the end results.
  6. Resources are not dedicated for a project as they support multiple projects at a time.
  7. The project manager may not have any say in selecting team members.
  8. Changing priorities of function groups independent of project priorities may bring changes in resource allocation and can impact project progress inversely.
  9. The project manager may not have functional managers’ buy-in.
  10. Various functional managers and the project manager may have conflicting opinions. They may take time to reach an agreement or do not achieve an agreement all together.

Despite all these challenges, a project manager still has the responsibility to make the project successful. How can they do this?

Let’s discuss some tools and techniques that a project manager can use:

  1. Stakeholder Analysis

Until you get to know the stakeholders and analyze their engagement, a project cannot be successful. The communication strategy is key to bind stakeholders, and any communication strategy without proper stakeholder analysis will be ineffective. Moreover, it will lead to chaos.

  1. Kickoff Meeting

A project launch, the kickoff meeting is an important event and may decide its fate. It helps in onboarding functional managers, securing their buy-in and building trust. Take time to ask each functional manager what they want from the project in order to support it.

  1. Trust-building

The project will become a struggle if trust is not built among stakeholders, especially in a functional organization. The kickoff is the starting point. Project managers need to build transparency and create opportunities for networking and exchanging ideas. Keep functional managers informed about project progress and seek their help when required. In turn, offer help when they need it. A helping mind set could be key to build trust.

  1. Networking

In a functional organization there is a fair possibility that people on the project work in silos. Therefore it is important for the project manager to create networking opportunities for greater interaction among contributors and supporters. Informal networking events could be more effective.

  1. Conflict Management

Due to the different goals of independent functions, varied personalities and the loosely coupled structure of functional organizations, different functional managers may have opinions that differ from the project manager’s. To get a functional manager’s buy-in, conflict management skills are essential. Please refer my post The Techniques That Don't Resolve Conflict. A project manager has to find a solution where both the functional manager and project manager feel they’re winning and achieving their goals.

  1. Communication

Communication is an underlying skill required to apply all the tools we’ve discussed so far. A project manager has to focus on two aspects: establishing an information system and ensuring effective interaction with team members and stakeholders. A project management information system keeps stakeholders informed and fosters collaboration. Effective interaction requires active listening skills. Here, refer to my posts Listen Up and 8 Steps for Better Listening. Listening skills help you understand others better, do stakeholder analysis, make up your mind and thereby communicate effectively.

I’d love to hear from you: How do you drive your projects to success in a functional organization? I look forward to reading your thoughts.

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: July 03, 2019 12:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

How to Lean In—and Thrive—in Project Management

By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

Over nearly two decades in project management, I’ve learned a number of strategies to make my voice heard and advance in my career. Much of that success has come by “leaning in,” as Sheryl Sandberg advocates.

As a woman in project management, I believe the following are key:

  1. Show grit. Demonstrate courage, show your perseverance and never give up in the face of obstacles. Know that it’s a multi-year journey, and you must demonstrate the passion to achieve your long-term goals as a leader in project management.
  2. Be the best. Knowledge, skills, abilities—you need to consistently demonstrate that you’re the best, and not be afraid to speak up and show it. Throughout my career, I have always assessed gaps in my knowledge or experience, and actively worked to close them. For example, although I started in IT, I wanted to transition to the business side to lead business transformation programs. I actively sought out progressive assignments by building a track record of successful projects that became larger in scope and team size with each project, until I achieved my goal of an enterprise-wide program impacting hundreds of thousands of users.
  3. Execute flawlessly. Execution is an art, not a science, and it requires creativity, impeccable organization, exceptional communication and most of all, follow-through. Many of these skills are intuitive in women, and the key is to understand that execution requires the leadership of large teams through four stages:
    1. Awareness: Create the right “buzz” around the project.
    2. Understanding: Teams need to understand their role and how their actions fit into the larger picture.
    3. Acceptance: Teams need to accept the message or change by changing their behavior and taking the appropriate action.
    4. Commitment: To demonstrate true commitment, teams should help champion the message throughout the organization.
  4. Build confidence and trust. Multiple studies support the notion that women are not only better at assessing risk, they are also better at guiding actions and decisions accordingly. Women should use this natural decision-making ability and risk management expertise to build confidence and trust as project leaders.
  5. Communicate clearly and concisely. Keep communications rooted in data and facts, not based on subjective information or personal preferences. Women in leadership roles tend to rate themselves lower than men on key attributes such as problem solving, influencing and delegating, and rate themselves higher than men on supporting, consulting and mentoring. How much time are you spending on communicating the right messages and influencing to gain commitment to your viewpoints versus supporting others?

International Women’s Day is March 8, and this year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter. Please share your thoughts on how we celebrate the achievement of women while we continue to strive for balance for women socially, economically and culturally around the world.

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: March 05, 2019 10:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

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 (17)
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