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
Jess Tayel
Ramiro Rodrigues
Linda Agyapong
Joanna Newman
Soma Bhattacharya

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

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The Project Initiatives That Influenced My Career

Seek Better Questions, Not Answers

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 (7)

My Three Most Influential Projects

 

 

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: 

 

 

  1. There Is Big and Then There Is BIG

 

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.

 

  1. Projects Impact People

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?

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: October 27, 2019 11:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Why Employees Leave Culture

by Jen Skrabak, PfMP, PMP

Most people leave organizational cultures, not managers.

Organizational culture is defined as the collective behaviors, thoughts, norms and language of the people in the organization that signifies the "way of working." It represents the overall support system and resources of the organization. 

For example, if employees regularly start meetings late, then the culture of the organization may be to begin meetings late ("it's just the way things are"). Newcomers quickly learn this unwritten norm, and adapt to the late meetings, further propelling the status quo.   

It's important to understand that people leave organizational cultures because portfolios and programs can represent significant change to the organization—requiring new ways of working, behaviors and new operating agreements defined to support the change. However, if the organization is resistant to change—and the traditional ways of working remain—how do you change the culture?

First, let us understand why people leave the organizational culture and what we can do to model the right behaviors as leaders:

1. Misaligned Vision and Leadership

A common complaint is that there is "no perspective of where the organization is headed and not being able to see how my role fits into the bigger picture."

Leaders, starting at the top, must role model the behaviors they expect. Rather than simply talk about the vision or the strategy, they must roll up their sleeves to translate the vision very specifically and tangibly into everyone's work.

This is typically done through the strategic portfolio—employees identify with a stack ranking of strategic initiatives that communicate the most essential programs and projects of the organization. Each executive sponsor must then clearly translate the vision into day-to-day actions that the program or project is implementing. 

The strategic portfolio represents the "better state" of the targeted culture— what are the behaviors, ways of working, thinking and norms that need to be in the future. This is codified typically through team charters, operating agreements, and ground rules so that everyone on a team follows the same rules and ways of working.

2. Compromised Values, Beliefs and Increased Toxicity

When employees feel they are being coerced into doing things that don't align with their values, they will find other places to use their talents. Behaviors that result during large scale change may be burnout, rumors, and change fatigue.

Mediocrity may have been accepted as good enough, resulting in high performers, leaving the organization due to lack of challenge and opportunities. However, for those that remain, it may be difficult to absorb change since they never had to. 

As a portfolio or program leader, you don't need permission, budget or authority to start acting in ways that model high performance. Recognize and reward the right behaviors and call out the wrong behaviors. 

Growth needs to be the focus—desire is a powerful emotion—more than the fear/doubt that is often the first reaction when encountering change. The first emotion is Fear/Doubt. Left unmanaged, this can spiral into water cooler conversations, negativity and constant churn. 

However, having a growth mindset means that there are opportunities created from changing and learning new skills that can propel that organization to embrace new ways of working.

 3. Organizational Structures and Processes that Create Stagnation 

Not having structured processes that support high performance creates an environment that people leave. No one wants to stand out when something new is introduced—it's almost like a virus where the antibodies (the current organizational culture) start attacking it. There needs to be a core group of high performers that embrace and spread the targeted organizational culture across the organization.

High performers can't stand waste—wasted time in meetings, wasted use of resources, and wasted opportunities. Is the strategic portfolio management or program management office reporting to the executive leadership team level, or is it buried somewhere within the organization under a functional organization? 

Growing organizations embrace change as a constant and adopt a growth mindset. 

A growth mindset means that the organization is continually learning and sees change as an opportunity to learn new skills and gain new experiences. Rather than sit back and accept the status quo, we seek out how to design and build the change rather than be just the recipient of the change. Thoughts and mindset ultimately translate into behavior. Motivation and attitude are skills that are just as important as the technical portfolio or program management skills and can be developed over time. 

How are you developing your growth mindset?

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: September 22, 2019 12:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Unlock the Value of Artificial Intelligence

By Peter Tarhanidis

Artificial intelligence is no longer a tool we’ll use on projects in the future. Right now, many organizations are formalizing the use of advanced data analytics from innovative technologies, algorithms and AI visualization techniques into strategic projects.

The maturity of advanced data analytics is creating an opportunity for organizations to unlock value. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates AI’s global economic impact could climb to US$13 trillion by 2030.

As an example, in the healthcare industry, Allied Market Research reports rising demand for data analytics solutions due to the growth in data from electronic health records, among other factors. The global healthcare analytics market was valued at US$16.9 billion in 2017, and the report forecasts it to reach US$67.8 billion by 2025.

The Evolution of AI Maturity
Gartner describes four growth stages of analytics and value activities. The first is descriptive analytics, which gains insight from historical data on what occurred in the firm or a project. This includes key performance measure reports and dashboards. Second, diagnostics analytics allow you to learn why something happened and the relationship between events. Third, is the use of predictive analytics to develop viewpoints into potential future outcomes. Finally, prescriptive analytics allow you to provide users with advice on what actions to take.

Everyday examples of these solutions range from simple automated dashboards, remote check deposit, Siri-like assistants, ride-sharing apps, Facebook, Instagram, autopilot and autonomous cars.  

Tips on Successful Transformation
Leaders must consider advanced data analytics as a transformational journey—not a complex project. Without thoughtful consideration of the implications of managing AI projects, one may create chaos in adopting these new services.

As a project leader, take these steps to avoid key pitfalls:

  1. Develop your understanding of data science tool kits and technologies and identify any centers of excellence. Start with basics such as descriptive statistics, regression and optimization techniques. You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with technology such as machine learning and natural language processing.
  2. Determine how these AI initiatives integrate into the organization’s mission and vision. This may require a new strategic business plan, optimizing an organization, culture change and change management.
  3. Establish a data governance body and framework to ensure accountability, roles, security, legislative and ethical management of consumer, patient, customer and government data.
  4. Develop strong multiyear business cases that clearly indicate cost versus revenue or savings.
  5. Maintain an agile mindset and leverage design thinking methods to co-create the pilots into products alongside stakeholders.

Please comment below on what approaches you have taken to enable advanced data analytics in your role or in your organization.

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: August 12, 2019 01:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Adventures in Leadership

By Cyndee Miller

Going to PMI EMEA Congress is a little bit like going back to school. You pick your sessions, learn a ton and (hopefully) come out with some new ideas on how you want to do things. But sometimes it’s good to be in on the action, too.

I personally was ready to bust out for some real-world adventure, so I headed over to One Microsoft Place. Part of Dublin’s burgeoning tech scene, Microsoft’s European HQ in Leopardstown, Dublin is still relatively new—it only made its grand debut last year. Home to some 2,000 staff members of roughly 70 nationalities, it was specifically designed to be a physical manifestation of the company’s digital transformation. So along with a rooftop garden with some pretty sweet views, the 34,000 square-meter (365,973 square-foot) digs include a “digital lake” comprised of 125,000 LEDs, a DreamSpace for teaching school kids all about tech—and plenty of collaborative spaces aimed at uniting the company under a common vision.

I wasn’t the only one checking out Dublin’s project scene. Some other adventurers headed over to the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. That one had to be interesting. I was there last summer to film a video case study about how the 235-year-old school revolutionized its training program—winning a 2018 PMI Award for Project Excellence along the way. Yet another group of congress attendees ventured over to Teeling Distillery to get all the technical details on how the upstart makes a whiskey good enough to take on local stalwarts like Jameson. (Probably best I left that one to others.)

Back at the convention center, my fellow attendees engaged in some more immersive sessions.

Opening keynoter Jamil Qureshi kicked off his interactive workshop with quite the question: If everyone in the world were to suddenly change genders, how would that transform how we act? How we lead? The decisions we make? Would there be more parity for women? Would there be less war? The workshop put into practice one of the key concepts from his Monday presentation: To act differently, you must first think differently.

Mr. Qureshi wasn’t the only one pushing attendees to change the way they think. Karin Hurt and David Dye of Let’s Grow Leaders challenged attendees to root out what incites a fear of speaking up at their organizations. Project managers drew those fears on index cards, then looked for commonalities among their fellow attendees. One thing that doesn’t work? An open-door policy, said Mr. Dye. Instead, leaders should get out there and ask questions—not wait for answers to come to them.

In another workshop, attendees faced a whole other kind of adventure with Mission Possible: Escape from Earth—Agile Edition. Santi Alcaide, PMP, of Play To Growth, and Alfred Maeso Aztarain, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, PMP, of Netmind, used the game to spark new ways of leading virtual teams.

And Maria Fafard, PMP, of Capital One introduced role-playing scenarios to teach project professionals how to be better facilitators, especially when conflict or tensions arise. “Before you facilitate any meeting, consider and mitigate any risks that may take your discussion off track,” she said.

The common denominator in all this immersion therapy? Project leaders are faced with a barrage of change, forcing fundamental shifts in how we think, work, play—and lead. How have you changed your leadership style?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: May 15, 2019 07:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
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