I don’t have a classic project management background, so I spend a lot of time thinking about ways non-traditional project managers can offer up great ideas to people with more traditional backgrounds.
Sometimes I find that easy.
Sometimes I find that rather difficult.
I also spend a great deal of time trying to push people past conventional wisdom.
Again, sometimes that is easy, but most of the time it is incredibly difficult.
This got me thinking about what I wanted to talk to you about this month: While the truth remains the same, the interpretation of the truth can change.
What does that mean to project managers? A lot, actually.
Here are a couple of the things we have always felt were true and how they can be interpreted differently.
1. Project management is about implementation. As my 8-year-old son might say, “True! True!”
The reality is that project management is about implementation of a project plan with a desired outcome in mind.
Yet, as we have seen general business matters change, we have also seen that project managers aren’t just involved in implementation — they’re also involved in strategy.
How is this possible?
Because we don’t just do things, we also have to be in touch with the skills and desires of the organization and our teams.
This means we do need to implement. But as much as we implement things, we also have to have business acumen that will allow us to offer up ideas, be confident in our ability to think strategically and drive our team toward the results.
Like improv comedy, a project manager is all about the “yes, and…”
2. A project manager’s most important skill is communication.
Communication is likely the most important skill for anyone today. But, for project managers, it’s not simply about communication, but communication that enables people to set priorities and take action..
Let me explain.
Poor communication has stopped more projects from being effective than any other thing in project history.
But good communication alone won’t fix every issue. Sometimes communication isn’t the real issue — instead it’s about also doing the right things.
That’s why we need great communication in service of doing the right things and getting things done. Communication is key, but communication without commitment to the right things is the real issue.
The idea that communication and implementation are super important is still true, but why they are true is up for debate.
What do you think?
BTW, if you like this blog, why don't you get my Sunday newsletter. There I focus on business acumen, value, and leadership...along with under ideas. If you'd like to get it, drop me a line at Dave@davewakeman.com with "newsletter" in the subject line.
by Kevin Korterud
The technology found in today’s automobiles is simply amazing. Front and side traffic radar units, anti-dozing head movement detectors, driving timers that alert drivers when they should stop for a break — all good examples of accident prevention mechanisms.
Projects to some degree are like automobiles: They are on a journey to deliver passengers (the project team and stakeholders) to a pre-determined destination. However, despite the introduction of many modern project management technologies, research shows that we continue to experience project accidents. These accidents result in extensive and costly rework to get a project back on track.
I think part of the solution to avoid these potential problems is to borrow from recent automobile technologies as a way to detect troublesome signals. These signals are not readily perceivable from traditional project management methods.
Here are a few examples of anticipatory signals that portend the onset of a skid that often leads to a project accident.
A core competency of a project manager is to determine the schedule, budget and progress trajectory of a project. The project forecast is essential to determine where the project will finish for these measurements. Schedule, budget and progress forecasts from team members that exhibit great degrees of change over prior reporting periods are indicative of trending to an accident. This downward spiral is exacerbated when the forecast measurements come with great uncertainty; e.g., “I don’t know what this will take to finish.”
Several techniques can be employed to reduce the volatility of forecasting. Some of these techniques include initiating a peer review of the forecast with another project manager or supplier subject matter expert, as well as pausing the project to recalibrate the forecast in a dedicated working session. Taking time to implement these and other techniques to mitigate forecast volatility will get the project back on track before an accident.
2. Static Project Status
Project status reports can offer a tremendous amount of value to a project manager. They accumulate both qualitative and quantitative data that sheds light on the current project state. But, despite the visibility status reports provide, they’re just a snapshot. That limits their ability to show progress trends. In addition, a project status report that does not show content changes week over week indicates that the project is likely stalled and headed toward an accident.
To increase the anticipatory value of a project status report, introduce trending and predictive data for risks, issues, deliverables and milestones. This allows the project team to determine what level of progress has been achieved, as well as what progress to expect. It also better positions the project manager to escalate mitigations to avoid an impending project accident.
At the beginning of a project, stakeholder engagement and enthusiasm is typically high. This is not unlike the start of a road trip. But, as time passes on a project, the level of enthusiasm and engagement can begin to wane. Stakeholder engagement over time will face tough tests from project risks to resource challenges to dependency conflicts. Each can sap the energy levels of stakeholders. This leads to passive engagement at best and complete disengagement and absenteeism at worst.
To keep stakeholder engagement at the proper level, stakeholders need to be treated like any other resource on a project. Their time needs to be managed in work plans to avoid oversubscribing their capacity. In addition, their work should be focused on higher value activities that promote project progress. Providing the team access to project support staff to maximize productivity also helps further stakeholder engagement and leads to persistent engagement.
Perhaps one day in the future there will be technology solutions that provide anticipatory signals for projects headed for an accident. Until that day comes, however, project managers still need to think organically and look for hidden signals of dangers to project budgets, schedules and progress.
What do you see as the leading indicators that a project is trending toward disaster?
A project is a planned and coordinated piece of work that requires considerable effort to deliver a specific result.
According to PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), a project is a temporary endeavor to create a unique result. And it is performed by people, constrained by limited resources, planned, executed and controlled.
Project management is an interdisciplinary approach to balance the conflicting interests and constraints of a project: well done (scope), fast (time) and cheap (cost).
Although there are other important aspects of managing a project that will be covered in subsequent posts here, the triple constraint (scope, time and cost) implies that a project, large or small, addresses at least the following areas:
Project managers perform four primary management functions:
1. Planning: This encompasses project initiation and detailed planning, involving processes to identify needs and requirements, define deliverables and tasks, estimate resources and develop the project management plan.
2. Organizing: This function prepares for execution, it is a supporting and administrative function to provide project structure and governance. Most of the time, organizing involves staffing and procurement, but other preparation activities might be included here.
3. Directing: This is the management function of getting the work done, managing execution according to the plan. It encompasses stakeholder engagement, team management and communications management.
4. Controlling: This function takes care of project performance monitoring, preventive and corrective actions and the integrated change control.
These functions might be performed in parallel and should not be understood as sequential.
Outside of these functions, project managers should also focus on managerial aspects of the project, including leadership. Although it is desirable that the project manager possess some knowledge in general business management, business analysis and the technical aspects of the project, they are usually supported by other experts in a number of project management related disciplines including systems engineering, requirements engineering and specialist engineering disciplines, quality assurance, integrated logistic support and more depending on the project and industry.
But, are these best practices really universal given all these factors? Please leave your comments below. We’ll be looking further into this question in subsequent posts.
The Secrets to Business Transformation Success
In the world of business transformation, there is usually a lot of enthusiasm surrounding the start of the transformation among the team.
But it quickly gets crazy and stressful thanks to tenders for third parties, recruitment, preparation for executives’ meetings, changes, wish lists, vague strategies and aggressive key performance indicator promises already made to the board.
Typically, the transformation team has a list of to-dos and we go running around building the empire around achieving them—and off goes the train.
Some of the pitfalls that transformation teams fall into are:
Assume success: Business transformation is usually about a list of changes we make to the business—whether with systems, people, processes, strategy, or all of these. We build the portfolio, write the briefs for our third parties, start the projects and setup the meetings and steering committees.
We plan our work with success in mind. But what if that doesn’t happen?
When we don’t account for failure it means we don’t really have the recovery mechanism in place both at the human and team level and at the tactical level.
That leads us to the second pitfall.
Inability to stop and reflect: In transformation, there is a lot at stake. That means a lot can go wrong quickly—and the trust that the transformation team once had can be put to the test.
Because there are a lot of moving parts—and what you knew at a point in time may not be as valid or as accurate as it is at a later point—time to reflect and adjust course is essential.
At the end of the day, these teams work for their customers and when the customer needs change, so should the direction and the approach that the team takes.
Can’t or won’t say “no”: In successful and strong transformation teams, the ability to say “no” is crucial. That does not mean rejecting business requests, but rather working to prioritize and justify why things can or can’t be done.
Not understanding the capacity available can put the transformation team at risk. Senior managers and executives often look for a sounding board and an independent review of what might be possible. Don’t be shy to speak your mind and seek to understand and learn.
Transformation is about saying “no” as much as it is about saying, “Yes, we can.” It’s important to keep the organization honest to its true ability to implement change and work together with your customers to create something that works.
And finally, during a transformation it’s important to stay humble and always seek to learn. Don’t let your ego stand between you and a successful business transformation. But that’s another topic for another day.
By Wanda Curlee
There are two triangles commonly referenced in the project management discipline: The Iron Triangle (sometimes called the Golden Triangle) and PMI’s Talent Triangle®. Each provides insight into the complexity of even the simplest project.
However, I think there is a big component missing: the human psyche. Let’s look at both triangles.
The Iron Triangle
The Iron Triangle has many versions that have been enhanced by subject matter experts to help define how to manage a project. On the triangle’s sides, you’ll find time, cost and resources. Quality and/or scope, which was added later, can be found in the middle of the triangle.
My preference is to put time at the bottom part of the triangle as it is constant. When time has passed, it’s gone for good (until time travel is invented). All other sides and the interior of the triangle change and often do.
Some would say the scope is constant because there is a statement of work that defines the scope. A good theoretical basis, but reality normally prevails. For instance, out of ignorance, incompetence or “doing a favor”, the scope can change. It may also change because of a customer or vendor request. All these changes affect the other axis and interior of the triangle. However, your time is gone no matter how the scope changes. Quality may go up or down depending on scope, resources and time.
The Talent Triangle
PMI’s Talent Triangle acknowledges that the project professional must have soft and hard skills. These skills include leadership, a technical knowledge and an understanding of the strategic and business alignment of the project, program and portfolio—while also ensuring that projects stay within the Golden Triangle.
Understanding the industry helps project professionals realize the importance of the endeavor for the company. Finally, understanding the politics and strategic fit of the project or program is a must. If the project or program manager cannot articulate how the effort drives the company’s strategic objective, it might be time to move to a different project or maybe find a new profession.
The Human Psyche
While these two triangles are good, they don’t incorporate the missing link—the human psyche.
We need to understand how to drive the project team to make sure no sides of the triangle fail. What does this mean? If one side of the Iron Triangle falls short or goes long then the triangle fails. The same could be said for the Talent Triangle.
Three inherent manners can help: integrated reasoning, strategic focus and creative thinking. I want to look at integrated reasoning.
According to neuroscience, there are three ways a person thinks. He or she can be a rock star, coach/playmaker or rainmaker.
The rock star is the junior to the experienced project manager and is normally focused on one or two tasks. Think budget timelines, schedules and risk management, among other things.
The coach/playmaker is the senior project manager and junior to the experienced program manager. These individuals see the forest. The coach knows how to lead to the final goal.
Finally, there’s the rainmaker. These are the senior program managers, portfolio managers and C-suiters. They can see years into the future. The rainmakers know how to decide which projects and programs make sense for the strategic objectives. They see success.
Why is this important? It leads to integrated reasoning. Project and program managers should recognize where members of their team fall on the spectrum. He or she then needs to encourage and provide the opportunity to jump into a new reality so they can be more effective on all sides of the triangle.
For example, I am very comfortable in the rainmaker role. However, I force myself into the coach and rock star role. This allows me to see the organization, strategy and people from many angles, which increases my political rationality.
So, what is the political reality of your project or program? Does your reality agree with that of the sponsor? How about the project management office or portfolio manager? If you do not understand your political rationality from all angles you will fail yourself, your team and the triangle.
Stay tuned for the next post in which I will put integrated reasoning into reality to help drive the strategic focus of your project or program.