By Kevin Korterud
It’s quite possible that, if asked to remember every project I led over the years, I would be hard-pressed to do so. Our typical project management journey takes us down a new road when we complete a project, so we’re never really stopping to take a retrospective on how each one shaped who we are today.
A much easier exercise for me is to recollect which projects played a significant part in shaping my journey as a project manager. These projects, not unlike silver polish, brighten our skills and capabilities to a shine that allows us to undertake even larger and more complex projects.
Here are three projects that had a profound impact on my capabilities, and what I learned from each:
Up till a certain time in my project management career, I felt that my work included some rather large projects in terms of team members and scope. However, nothing prepared me for the massive construct that is a transformation program involving almost 2,000 people.
Transformation programs extend well beyond the realm of what project managers normally lead. They involve significant changes to business processes and technology, as well as altering what people do on a day-to-day basis. In addition, there are many project and team members involved with multiple, parallel tracks of work. All of this makes a project manager feel as small as the tiny people in Gulliver’s Travels.
Transformation programs pushed me to think and engage externally beyond my assigned project, especially when it came to dependencies between projects. I also realized it was essential that project managers collaborate and cooperate in order to maintain progress for the overall transformation program.
2. Technology Is in Everything
Over the years, I have followed with great interest the increase in the proportion of a project that involves technology. On my first projects many years ago, the level of technology was quite modest, relying mostly on data inputs, online screens and reports that augmented existing business processes. Today, technology permeates nearly all facets of a project.
When asked to assist with the estimation and implementation of a new type of airliner, my initial assumption was that there would be some form of enabling technology and the airliner would still operate as before. For example, there would be some technology support required, but the fundamental functions would not really change.
After reviews and discussions, I was astounded at the depth of technology that was found in this new model. The flight deck had provisions for laptops to be used by pilots to both prepare and operate the airliner. Flight operations and integration tasks that were once managed manually were now conducted automatically and at high speed, all of which reduced pilot and ground crew workloads. The technology found in this new airliner caused me to dramatically re-think the level of rigor required to estimate and plan its implementation. In addition, it raised my expectations of the effort required to estimate and plan today’s projects in order to ensure quality delivery.
As we consistently execute project delivery over and over across a number of projects, our growing confidence can sometimes cause us to view project delivery as commonplace. We can begin to lose our sensitivity towards project outcomes as we proceed through a seemingly endless stream of phases, sprints, tasks, activities and artifacts of project management.
A big wake-up call for me occurred when I led a project to process calls from customers of infant nutritional products. Customers would call in on a variety of topics ranging from inquiries about the right product to use as well as potential infant health issues. Before I formally began the project, the sponsor reviewed with me existing customer cases showing both simple inquiries as well as potential emergency health issues. I realized then that my efforts on this project could potentially save the life of an infant.
It’s easy to think about projects as two-dimensional entities that refine business processes and technical capability. From the dialogue with the project sponsor, I came to appreciate how this project could improve both the time and quality of response on an inquiry related to the health of an infant. This motivated me and the team to always be thinking about how this project would interact with the customers in the most effective and efficient manner, especially when the life of an infant could be at stake.
As we all proceed through our project management careers, we tend to remember the distinct impact these projects had on us. Some of the projects affect how we plan projects, others influence project execution and still others will be remembered for how they served as key waypoints in our project management journey. In addition, these “waypoint” projects are well-suited as experiences to share with the next generation of project managers following in our footsteps.
What projects on your project management journey have shaped who you are today?
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.
By Conrado Morlan
“Hybrid” is commonly used in biology to designate the offspring of two plants or animals of different species or varieties. For example, a mule is the hybrid of a donkey and a horse.
But the word has also been adopted in different contexts. Perhaps when you hear “hybrid,” the first thought that comes to your mind is a hybrid vehicle, which relies on two or more distinct types of power to stay in motion.
The world of project management has its own hybrids. New delivery approaches, frameworks and skills can come together in a hybrid form to create something different and valuable.
In different project management forums, I’ve recently participated in discussions about the hybrid project manager. Some proponents were concerned with the technical side of project management, focusing on which method or approach—such as waterfall (predictive) or agile—is better. Others interpreted hybrid as bringing together the best of two worlds to provide results for the organization.
Here are my takeaways from those discussions.
Some project management practitioners think about the profession in purely technical terms. They have devoted themselves to learning new methods, best practices and frameworks that they consider innovative, trendy and useful to support the needs of the projects in their organization.
But some project managers who approach their work in this way tend to think that the method, best practice or framework they most recently mastered is a "silver bullet," pushing previous knowledge they acquired into obsolescence.
Just like any other profession, project management is evolving. There is no escaping the fact that today, many organizations see portfolio, program and project management as the way to link projects with their overall strategy.
Therefore, project practitioners need to consider the heterogeneous elements from the business side of the house to better understand the inextricable link between strategy and execution—regardless of the method, practice or framework. This is how they will deliver unparalleled value to the organization.
This type of practitioner is paying more attention to the PMI Talent Triangle® to identify the skills they will need to be a successful hybrid project manager.
The Hybrid Advantage
Organizations with the right mix of hybrid project managers will:
Do you consider yourself a hybrid project manager? If not, would you accept the challenge of becoming one?
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?
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:
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.
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?