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

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The Reality Behind a Deadline

The Reality Behind a Deadline

By Christian Bisson, PMP

A deadline is the project objective defined in terms of time. But on some projects (a lot of them, unfortunately) the delivery date is not necessarily realistic.

When projects get delayed, the obvious solution is to push back the deadline. But it’s not so simple for every project.

Here are a few factors to weigh before deciding how to move forward when facing project setbacks:

The Client Relationship

Assuming the agency runs client-facing projects, not internal products, this is typically the most important reason to deliver a project on time. Happy clients bring in more projects—and other clients by word of mouth.

Determining whether or not your client will react negatively to a project delay may depend on the cause of the holdup. Is the delay related to client actions, such as adding new requirements or delivering assets late? Or is it due to internal errors, such as poor estimating or planning?

Keeping clients happy also presents a sort of balancing act for many agencies. You have to keep clients happy because they bring in the money that runs the agency. But, on the other hand, you don’t want your team members so bogged down with additional requests and revisions that they become tired or frustrated to the point they will leave.

The Cost

Projects often have what we call hard deadlines, meaning the date cannot be changed under any circumstances. For example, in e-commerce, there are projects tied to holiday sales and, obviously, those dates cannot move. Missing those opportunities can have a drastic impact on sales. In these cases, it might actually be more cost-efficient to invest in more resources to speed up the project and have it ready on time.

The Big Picture

Delaying a project can have a direct impact on other projects, as well. Team members may be scheduled to move to another project once the first is completed, for example, so delaying that transition date can have a chain reaction on an agency’s planning. Talk to someone with a wide-angle view of the organization’s portfolio to better understand these potential implications.

There’s no magic solution for dealing with a delayed project. All you can do is balance the pros and cons and make a judgment call.

What factors do you typically weigh when deciding whether or not to push back the deadline on a delayed project? What advice do you have for other project managers facing a delay?

 

Posted by Christian Bisson on: January 28, 2017 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

3 Steps to Outsourcing Success

By Peter Tarhanidis

When leaders use outsourcing it is often in an effort to enhance the organization’s value proposition to its stakeholders.

Outsourcing allows leaders to focus on and invest in the firm’s core services while using cost effective alternative sources of expertise for support services.

When services are outsourced, management and employees need to prepare for a transformation in organizational operations—and project managers must establish a strategy to guide that change.

 

Creating an Outsourcing Strategy

Project managers can help to create an effective outsourcing strategy based on a three-part structure:

1. Assess the current state

This assessment should define the firm’s:

  • Labor expertise and associated labor costs
  • Value versus non-value support services
  • Baseline of operational measures and service levels

 

2. Consider the “to-be” state

The to-be state should be designed based on a comprehensive evaluation and request for proposal, including a good list of best alternatives to negotiated agreement items.

The to-be state must consider:

  • Access to low cost, high expertise labor and the marketplace arbitrage. This may evaluate onshore, right-shore, offshore and hybrid labor models.
  • Whether the firm should invest to “fix and ship” its processes or to “ship and fix” and adopt the providers processes.
  • Productivity gains that may be measured via the labor arbitrage, process capability improvements, speed to software application and deployment, automation of processes and IT management services, robotics, etc.

 

3. Consider the governance required to sustain the future state

A new internal operating model needs to be formed. This includes establishing teams to manage the contract, such as senior sponsorship, an operational management team or a vendor management team.

Then the outsourcer and the outsourcing organization should focus on continuous improvements that can be made to the process.

 

Avoiding Outsourcing Pitfalls

Project managers can avoid a few common pitfalls in their outsourcing projects:

  1. Add procurement and legal outsourcing experts on the project team to construct the agreement.
  2. Engage senior leaders to steer the initiative and align it to the business mission.
  3. Garner senior leadership support with change management actions to help guide the organization across this journey.

Overall, if done with a defined end in mind, leaders can capitalize on outsourcing by reducing operational costs, reinvesting those savings in core services, and providing access to expertise and IT systems that would normally not have been funded via capital appropriation.

Have you been a part of any outsourcing efforts? What advice would you offer to project managers involved in similar projects?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: August 26, 2016 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Getting Risk Identification Right

By Mario Trentim 

While uncertainty can influence project outcomes, contingency and proper risk response planning can decrease the potential sting. But, despite the rich theoretical background and defined best practices that have been developed for risk management, it remains a struggle for most organizations and project managers.

Why? Here are three reasons I often see:

  • It is not always well understood what a risk is—that it is an uncertain event that impacts one or more of the project objectives. Risks must be specific. Economy, for example, is not a risk; it is a category of risks. Instead, a specific risk might be currency exchange rates if you are importing expensive equipment from abroad.
  • Most project managers perform risk management to comply with organizational standards—in other words, they execute it because they have to, not because their projects would benefit from doing so.
  • Risk identification demands proper tools but the most widely used tool for risk identification is the least effective: brainstorming.  Facing a blank flipchart and imagining what could possibly go wrong in the project is a huge waste of time if used alone because it is sure to leave many risks uncovered.

Effectively Identifying Risks

Risk identification demands effort and time. It is easy to overlook risks in the first pass. That’s why it should be reviewed periodically throughout the entire project life cycle.

According to Rita Mulcahy in her book Risk Management, Tricks of the Trade, if you identified less than 300 project risks, you did a poor identification. To identify more risks (and exceed Ms. Mulachy’s target) try these three tips:

1) Review all documentation, including:

  • Contracts, agreements, quotes and specifications
  • Project charter and project management plan
  • Project documentation (WBS, schedule, resources, etc.)
  • Assumptions and constraints analysis

2) Utilize various information-gathering techniques:

  • Delphi technique, facilitated workshops, interviews or questionnaires
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Benchmarking
  • Expert judgment
  • Risk Inspection
  • HAZOP: Hazard and Operability Studies
  • HAZAN: Hazard Analysis

3) Try different diagramming techniques, such as:

  • Cause and effect diagrams
  • Fault Tree Method
  • Flow charts (system or process)
  • FMEA: Failure mode and effects analysis
  • Influence diagrams (graphical representations of situations showing causal influences or time ordering)
  • Organizational process assets
  • Checklists and categories
  • Risk Breakdown Structure
  • Historical information
  • Lessons learned
  • Hazard indices

How familiar are you with these tools? Which do you find the most useful? Is there another you would recommend? I look forward to your comments!

Posted by Mario Trentim on: August 13, 2016 07:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Here’s How to Make Sure Digital Projects Boost Customer Experience

By Peter Tarhanidis

 

Happy customers are better customers. Savvy organizations develop a customer experience strategy to make them happy, and savvy project managers understand that the customer experience should drive digital projects forward. Smart digital practices should enable a better customer experience by re-evaluating the customer value of processes and the performance of operational teams.

Here are three tips for project managers delivering digital projects tied to a customer experience strategy:

1. Align the attributes that drive customer experience across projects. Once identified, chart these attributes back to customer journey maps, processes and service level measurements, and integrate them into technology investment decisions. This will ensure funding for digital projects.

2. Automate customer experiences to simplify the journey maps. Analyze the pain points across the customer journey map. Empathize with how they interact with the channels to obtain your product or service. Hone in on the negative areas that drive the experience and create a portfolio of improvement opportunities. These improvements should have a complementary operational cost reduction. Moving away from intense labor-driven activities to automated customer self-service approaches achieves operational excellence.

3. Create a service culture in your organization. While transitioning a project into operations, train teams on providing superior customer service, recognize service representatives who model best practices, and integrate customer experience measures into performance compensation systems to drive behavior changes and reinforce the new culture.  

 

Thankfully, technology advancements in customer relationship management have created measurement tools that make it easier than ever to understand what customers are thinking and want changed. Look to these three categories to help target improvement efforts:

Net Promoter Score defines the voice of the customer and an overall satisfaction rating.

Tools that scan social media platforms (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to gather brand feedback.

Channel content management tools that highlight the performance and value of various types of customer interactions—whether via email, websites, or phone, for example.

 

The bottom line: Let the customer experience guide the selection and execution of customer-facing digital projects—and then look for boosts to customer experience scores.

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: July 19, 2016 08:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Is Your Agile Communications Toolkit Up to Snuff?

By Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina

A lot of things change when moving from traditional project management frameworks to agile ones. But what doesn't change (or shouldn't!) is how much and how often teams communicate. 

Agile frameworks don't actually require daily stand-ups or regular retrospectives. But you should consider adding some new trade tools and a few other staples to your project management toolkit if you’ll be working in an agile context. You may find that they quickly become essential to keeping communication flowing through your team—and your project on track.

Here's a short list of tools I've used on all of my projects.  

Sync-ups/Planning Meetings: This helps me start a project off right by making sure the product owner and execution team are on the same page. We set expectations, talk requirements and the direction for deliverables in areas such as UX, design, marketing.  

Daily Stand-Ups: Quick check-ins with the entire team help gauge project health and bring roadblocks to the forefront sooner rather than later. This is also where we address scope creep, taking note of good ideas that need more exploration before being included in the backlog.

Retrospectives: After each sprint and after each project, a retro helps the team ensure processes are working— and decide if we want to carry over those processes to the next iteration.

Wiki: These often get a bad rap but can act as an excellent centralized location for real-time documentation editing and sharing. In my experience, it can serve as a digital asset management (DAM) system for sharing web copy and design assets. While not a perfect DAM solution, it will do in a pinch.

Instant Messaging: Whether collocated or remote, teams sometimes need quick answers to questions—and a meeting can be overkill as a way to get answers. The challenge with instant messaging, though, is to make sure teams are on the same page about how and when to use an IM tool.

Email: This tool still reigns supreme when it comes to quickly keeping a lot of people in the loop about what's going on. Even if it's an email directing people to a wiki, it's still one of the best tools for mass communication. But maybe not for decision-making!

What tools am I missing? And do you find any of the tools mentioned particularly good or bad for certain kinds of communications? Share your thoughts below.

Posted by Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina on: March 24, 2016 12:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)
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