Project Management

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
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 Vald├ęs 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

Project Management Lessons From Soccer Teams

Plan for the Velocity of Change to Keep Increasing!

A Lesson About Communication in Times of Chaos

Innovation and Design Thinking, Part One

The Misunderstood Scrum Master

Plan for the Velocity of Change to Keep Increasing!

Plan for the velocity of change to keep increasing

By Peter Tarhanidis, Ph.D., M.B.A.

Today, developments in emerging technology, business processes and digital experiences are accelerating larger transformation initiatives. Moore’s Law means that we have access to exponentially better computing capabilities. Growth is further fueled by technologies such as supercomputers, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, Internet of Things (IoT) and more across industries.

Emerging Tech
The global IT industry is valued at $5.3 trillion in 2020 and is poised to grow 6.2 percent by 2021, according to tech market research firm IDC. Emerging technology like augmented reality and robotics will make up an increasing share of that growth.

Business Process Maturity
Organizations are improving the maturity of their business processes. They’re doing this by automating tasks, eliminating them, improving performance or finding the lowest-cost way to perform a task. Organizations are connecting with experts to collaborate across a wider network of colleagues. This enables strategies to be integrated across the value chain to quickly drive business outcomes.

According to market research group IMARC, automation and the IoT are driving growth in business process management (BPM); the BPM market is expected to grow at a 10 percent compound annual growth rate between 2020 and 2025.

Customer Experience
In addition, having a formidable customer experience strategy can make the difference between customers choosing your brand or your competitors in 2020. That’s according to Core dna, a digital experience platform vendor.

Customer experience is redefining business processes and digitizing the consumption model to increase brand equity. Gartner reports that among marketing leaders who are responsible for customer experience, 81 percent say their companies will largely compete on customer experience in two years. However, only 22 percent have developed experiences that exceed customer expectations.

Economic Forces
Lastly, the potential for cash flow growth remains high in 2020, despite economic risks, according to the U.S. Corporate Credit Outlook 2020. This will likely lead to capital investments and a fair portion of companies funding transformational projects.

The Way Forward
While transformations have evolved, they encapsulate the way we think and operate. Old methods may seem encumbering and administratively difficult, creating bureaucracy and delays in decision making. The challenge is the velocity of change, which is very disruptive to organizations.

I’ve developed a few guidelines to help navigate this change:

  • Work with an agile mindset.
  • Fail often and fast to ultimately filter out winning initiatives.
  • Define the cultural attributes that propel staff and colleagues to succeed on their endeavors.

Change is now inherent and pervasive in the annual planning process for organizations. Given that, I like to ask: What is the plan to prepare staff and colleagues to compete in this hyper-transformation age?

What observations have you made to keep up with this new era’s velocity of change?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: February 13, 2020 04:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Exploring the Philosophies and Principles of Planning Approaches

Categories: Project Planning

By Lynda Bourne

Any output from a planning process is an embodiment of the planners’ fundamental principles and philosophies. They apply these principles, or approaches, to develop their plans. And different people will develop different plans to achieve the same objectives.

As early as the 1950s, James Kelley, one of the developers of the critical path method (CPM), reflected on this theme. He noted that in a class of 20-plus people learning the new CPM approach to scheduling, developing a 16-activity schedule from a set class exercise would result in nine to 10 different schedules. Clearly, different people use different approaches and assumptions.

What Shapes Approaches

The planner’s approaches may be explicitly stated, or they may be implicit and affected by:

  • The values, preferences, beliefs and culture of the organization and its planners
  • The circumstances under which planning is done

The conundrum facing organizations is deciding the best approach to develop a plan—one that’s accomplished in the most efficient way within a given set of circumstances, in a given cultural environment, that results in the best outcomes. There is no one right answer to this question, or one way of knowing if the chosen options have delivered the desired result. Each project is unique, making tests and comparisons impossible.

Some of the approaches that can be used in combination, or isolation, include:

This diagram pairs opposite approaches; it’s up to you to determine where on the continuum is best for you in the current situation.

Applying the Approaches
Each of the dimensions diagrammed has two extremes—formalized versus improvised. In some situations, one extreme or the other may be best; most of the time, a more balanced approach is likely to be better.

The challenge is understanding the choices open to you and then making informed decisions about where on each of the dimensions is best for you in the current circumstances. Making overt choices rather than just doing the normal thing will generally lead to better planning outcomes.

For example, an agile project will require a planning approach that leans toward using non-rationality, incrementalism, contingent, emergence, improvisation, utopian, pluralistic, democratic and continuous approaches to the planning activity. A traditional “hard dollar” engineering contract, on the other hand, tends to require the opposite.

My recommendation is you think through these options. This offers you an opportunity to improve your planning practice, as one approach will not suit every project and simply doing the same as last time will inevitably lead to a suboptimal outcome.

How do you think about your approach to planning?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: December 19, 2019 07:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

What Can We Learn From the Movies?

By Ramiro Rodrigues

 

I'm 50 years old, which means I was born the same year PMI was founded. The last half century has seen a lot of interesting projects across industries, but today I’m going to focus on one area in particular: cinema. 

I’ll start with a question: What swept the Oscars in 1969? You may know it was Oliver!—a British musical based on the work of Charles Dickens. In addition to best picture, the movie also won the awards for best director, musical score, art direction and sound.

The magic of cinema progressed in parallel to the 20th century at large, and I’ve long admired its ability to create fantasies and magnetize audiences. These same capacities evolved as technology and investments provided more technical resources for the enchantment of the audience.

The delivery of a movie has always impressed me, as it has all the ingredients of a project. There is conception, planning, execution, control and conclusion—all with the added complexity of dealing with human emotions even more so than in other business segments. 

Today's major productions involve hundreds of professionals, suppliers and deliveries, so they require a well-structured project management model. And if the delivery of a movie provides all these difficulties, imagine what it takes to deliver a saga of 23 films? Well, this was the case for the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Why should we consider this a grand project? Starting with the first movie, Iron Man, in 2008, you can find several “Easter eggs” referencing the other Avengers. And in the post-credits scene (a practice that started there), Nick Fury appears to talk about the Avengers initiative. Thus begins an intricate sequence of characters and films over 12 years, which translated into the largest franchise and box office phenomena of all time.

If it was not enough complexity to produce a single film of this nature, imagine the magnitude of a long-term project that would involve scores of producers, suppliers and actors. And this was accomplished while delivering a structured and coherent plot that lived up to the expectations of a global audience.

This gives us clues into why more and more cultural producers are looking to specialize in the best practices of project management. These principles have much to contribute to ensure organization and control, without interfering with the magic and emotions that art provides. After all, the show must go on!

I’d love to hear from you. Do you see movies as projects? Share why or why not below.

Posted by Ramiro Rodrigues on: October 26, 2019 10:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

3 Project Management Lessons From a 70.3 Ironman

By Conrado Morlan

I’ve been running for eight-plus years—ever since my son suggested I do a half marathon in San Antonio, Texas, USA. So when a friend suggested I try a triathlon, I was ready for it. At that point, three years ago, I had 10 full marathons and 15 half marathons under my belt.

The triathlon includes three disciplines in a single event: swimming, cycling and running. It was the athletic challenge I needed, similar to the professional challenge I encountered when I moved across industries to keep leading and managing projects.

To get ready for the triathlon, I had to go back to the pool and start swimming after a long time away. I borrowed a road bike from a friend to start the formal training. We worked out on our own on weekdays and as a team on weekends.

That first experience transformed me into a triathlete enthusiast, which led me eventually to the Ironman 70.3. The "70.3" refers to the total distance in miles covered in the race, consisting of a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run.

The short distance triathlons helped prepare me for the Ironman 70.3. And as I’ve come to realize, learnings I’ve made along the way also apply to project management. These are my three main findings:

1. Expertise and Experimentation

Mastering all three disciplines in a triathlon can be difficult. My background is in running, but I was new to swimming and cycling. My coach gave good tips and workouts that helped me manage my bicycle on hills, navigate sharp turns and use all of my leg muscles to have a better stroke.

For swimming, I followed my instinct and experimented with the breaststroke. I soon felt confident in the pool and gradually in open waters. My experiment worked out, as I finished my swim in the Ironman 70.3 about 20 minutes ahead of the cut-off time.

As a project management practitioner, you may have mastered an industry-standard methodology and need to catch up with the new trends. In the triathlon, you may not transfer skills from swimming to cycling or running, but in project management, you can.

Communication, time management, and people management are required regardless of the methodology or best practice that will be used in the project. This gives you room to experiment. At project checkpoints, you can inspect, adapt and make the required changes to improve your project and be successful.

2. Transition Is Key

The transition is where the triathlete moves from one discipline to another, changing equipment. The area should be prepared in advance, with the gear set up in a way that helps the athlete have a smooth and fast transition. The time spent there may define the winner of the competition.

I would compare the transition area with the risk registry. The more prepared the project manager is, the less impact there will be to the project. The “gear” in your risk register will include the most impacting risk(s), the risk owner and the actions required to mitigate the risk if it arises. It’s a working registry, so the project manager should keep adding risks during the project as required.

3. Anybody Can Help You

A triathlon is not a team event, but that does not restrict the triathlete from getting support from others. Before the competition, the athlete may have followed a training plan supported by a coach, they might have been mentored by fellow triathletes and, last but not least, they likely benefited from family support.

It’s common for some triathletes to have a race sherpa on the competition day. The athlete and sherpa will discuss beforehand what tasks each will take on during the race. In short, a race sherpa will lend a hand whenever necessary and cheer for the athlete during the competition.

 

As a project manager, you have your project team, stakeholders and sponsor(s), but that does not restrict you from getting help from people outside the project. You may have an internal or external mentor, somebody in your organization who can be influential and help you address issues. I used to have a list of people in the organization I contacted in advance. I let them know about the project and asked them if I could ask for support if needed. That simple action helped me on several occasions when I faced a challenge.

If you are an athlete and a project manager, what lessons have you learned from practicing your favorite sport? Please share your thoughts below.

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: August 29, 2019 11:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (26)

Follow These 3 Steps to Validate a Variance

By Lynda Bourne

As you may know, any monitoring and control process has three components. The first is establishing a baseline that you plan to achieve, the second is comparing actual progress to the plan to see if there are any differences, and the third is taking corrective or preventative action. Corrective actions fix existing problems, while preventative actions stop problems from occurring in the future.

This post looks at the middle phase. Before taking action to bring performance into alignment with the plan, make sure the variance you are seeing in the control systems is real. Corrective and preventative actions take time and usually involve costs, and there is no point in expending effort where it is not needed. 

The variance is the difference between two imprecise elements: the planned state and the actual situation. The plan is based on estimates and assumptions made some time ago about what may occur in the future. All plans and estimates have a degree of error built in; it is impossible to precisely predict the future of a complex system such as a project. Similarly, the measurement of the actual situation is prone to observational errors; key data may be missing or the situation misinterpreted.

So how do you decide if the measured variance is real and significant enough to warrant corrective action? I suggest considering the following:

1. Does the reported variance line up with your expectations?

2. Is the variance significant?

3. Is a solution viable?

Let’s explore these in depth.

 

Does the reported variance line up with your expectations?
If a cost report says there is a profit of US$10,000 in a work package where you expected to see a loss, there’s a high probability some of the actual costs have been missed. It’s likely either your expectations were misplaced or the measurements contain data errors. You need to resolve this question before moving on. When the variance and your expectations agree, you can be reasonably confident the information as measured is correct.

Try looking at a couple of different monitoring systems, such as cost and time. Do the two systems correlate, or are they giving you very different information on the same group of activities? If they correlate, perhaps your expectations are misplaced. If they are giving you different information, there may be data errors.

Is the variance significant?
Next, look at the significance of the difference. Point measurements are prone to error simply because you have to assume a lot. For example, you may be sure a 10-day activity has started, and equally sure it has not been completed. But if the work is about half done should you record it 40%, 50% or 60% compete?   

If the predicted slippage on the completion date for a key milestone over a series of reports is bouncing around, any single measurement within the noise factor is likely to be insignificant.

Trends, on the other hand, highlight issues. Sensible control systems have range statements that indicate the variance is too small to worry about if it is inside the allowed range. This general rule is modified to take trends seriously and to require action to correct negative variances close to a milestone or completion.

Is a solution viable?
This third question looks at viability. Can you take action to resolve the variance for a sensible cost? Some issues are simply outside your control, such as changes in the exchange rate. Risk planning and mitigation may have been able to minimize the issue in the past, but if you need the import this month, for example, you have no option but to pay the current price. 

Other situations are simply not worth the cost. There is no point in spending US$10,000 to correct a -US$5,000 variance. However, this decision has to take into account any effect on the client and your organization’s reputation. Cost overruns are generally internal, whereas late delivery and quality issues may have a significant reputational cost, affecting stakeholder perceptions.

Where a viable option exists to correct negative variances, corrective and preventative actions need to be planned, prioritized and implemented.  There is no point wasting time on a controls system that does not generate effective controlling actions.  

Closing Thoughts
I’ll leave you with two final thoughts. First, don’t forget about positive variances. Similar questions need to be asked in order to amend the plan to lock in gains. If your supplier is going to deliver some equipment three weeks ahead of schedule, can you reorganize the plan to make sure the installers are available three weeks sooner? If this is viable, make sure it happens in order to lock in a three-week gain. If you fail to take action, the installers will turn up on schedule and the gain generated by your supplier will be lost.

Second, implementing corrective and preventative actions requires the resources working on the project to do something different. Variances don’t correct themselves, and simply telling someone to catch up is unlikely to have any effect. Sensible management action, decisions and leadership are needed to physically change the situation so there is a correction in the way work is performed. This is a core skill of every effective manager.

I’d love to know: How do you deal with variances in your projects? Please share below.

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: August 23, 2019 04:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)
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