By Conrado Morlan
Project management practitioners know the importance of communication during the project execution, hand-off and operations stages. For each of these, the communication plan should cover all the different forms of communication and the target stakeholders.
The frequency of communication during project execution often has a defined cadence and uses different artifacts to deliver the message to stakeholders, who usually are internal.
During the operations stage, the project is usually in production and practitioners are communicating directly with customers, either internal or external. While the specifics depend on the situation, communication with customers must be regular, concise and delivered in a timely manner through the proper channels.
How Not to Communicate
As I did not meet the pre-registration requirements, the open registration was my only option. On registration day I was ready: My account was available, all my personal information was filled out, and I had my credit card on hand. At the designated time I visited the registration website to compete for a spot with thousands of runners from across the world.
I thought I would be directed to start the registration process, but instead, I was directed to an electronic queue page. After a few minutes, my expected waiting time was listed as 25 minutes. I got a little anxious thinking that the limited number of entries would sell out in less than that time. A few minutes later, the waiting time changed to 40 minutes, then to more than an hour; all of a sudden a message about “experiencing technical difficulties” was displayed.
In the meantime, upset runners from across the world took to social media to vent their frustration and dissatisfaction. But the organizers did not acknowledge the blast of posts until three hours after the designated registration time. That’s when they posted a message stating that they were trying to figure out the problem, and if they were not able to resolve it soon, a new registration date would be announced.
That message ignited the runners, who inundated social media with posts venting their resentment.
By this time, the organizer’s website was down, and the homepage showed the “experiencing technical difficulties” message. I stayed away from the postings on social media and kept refreshing the website persistently.
Finally, five hours after registration began, the website came alive and the new registration time was posted. I checked social media for postings from the organizer but found nothing. Right at the new posted time, I started my registration process while thousands of runners kept venting their frustration. This time it only took me 20 minutes to complete my registration for the Popular Brooklyn Half.
The Project Management Takeaway
In general, production problems have a resolution time window, which may vary depending on the seriousness of the issue. This is usually unknown for customers, but that does not hinder the communication process. We as project management practitioners need to consider that we are living in times dominated by instant gratification; customers expect that issues will be resolved immediately. At the same time, they expect frequent progress status reports.
As a project management practitioner, have you experienced a similar situation? If so, what did you do to keep your stakeholders/customers informed? What channels of communications did you use? How effective were they? Share your experiences with the community.
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:
What themes have you identified in your career? How have you broadened your range?
There are fundamentally two types of organizations: functional and projectized. Of course, between those there are various combinations of functional and projectized in the form of matrix and hybrid.
Every organization type has its own advantages and disadvantages, but from the project point of view, functional organizations are most challenging, due to their focus on individual functional work.
A typical functional organization has departments like R&D, operations, procurement, human resources, quality assurance and—on occasion—project management. Each department focuses on its own area.
The challenge is, projects are often multifunctional, crossing various functions and requiring contributions from all departments. In a typical functional organization, there is no one who looks after projects end to end and connects all the dots. A project manager has little authority over the resources of other departments. All told, this results in several challenges:
Despite all these challenges, a project manager still has the responsibility to make the project successful. How can they do this?
Let’s discuss some tools and techniques that a project manager can use:
Until you get to know the stakeholders and analyze their engagement, a project cannot be successful. The communication strategy is key to bind stakeholders, and any communication strategy without proper stakeholder analysis will be ineffective. Moreover, it will lead to chaos.
A project launch, the kickoff meeting is an important event and may decide its fate. It helps in onboarding functional managers, securing their buy-in and building trust. Take time to ask each functional manager what they want from the project in order to support it.
The project will become a struggle if trust is not built among stakeholders, especially in a functional organization. The kickoff is the starting point. Project managers need to build transparency and create opportunities for networking and exchanging ideas. Keep functional managers informed about project progress and seek their help when required. In turn, offer help when they need it. A helping mind set could be key to build trust.
In a functional organization there is a fair possibility that people on the project work in silos. Therefore it is important for the project manager to create networking opportunities for greater interaction among contributors and supporters. Informal networking events could be more effective.
Due to the different goals of independent functions, varied personalities and the loosely coupled structure of functional organizations, different functional managers may have opinions that differ from the project manager’s. To get a functional manager’s buy-in, conflict management skills are essential. Please refer my post The Techniques That Don't Resolve Conflict. A project manager has to find a solution where both the functional manager and project manager feel they’re winning and achieving their goals.
Communication is an underlying skill required to apply all the tools we’ve discussed so far. A project manager has to focus on two aspects: establishing an information system and ensuring effective interaction with team members and stakeholders. A project management information system keeps stakeholders informed and fosters collaboration. Effective interaction requires active listening skills. Here, refer to my posts Listen Up and 8 Steps for Better Listening. Listening skills help you understand others better, do stakeholder analysis, make up your mind and thereby communicate effectively.
I’d love to hear from you: How do you drive your projects to success in a functional organization? I look forward to reading your thoughts.
By Wanda Curlee
Portfolio management is slowly being adopted by corporations. Or is it? I am speaking from my perspective, which admittedly is narrow, but I wonder if company leadership has what it takes.
I have worked at different organizations—from retail and legal to medical and government—and they all say yes, they are ready to do the hard work. But when you try to start developing requirements or even do a gap analysis, there are many reasons why it doesn’t happen: leadership is not in sync, resources aren’t available or there’s not an appetite for change. Or even worse, there is only one person who champions the cause, and he or she does not have the political momentum to push the effort.
The pushback can be major or minor. Leadership might say they had no idea you would need their people to develop the processes, templates and tools. Or leadership might ask if the company can just get a tool instead? There are solutions to all of these points, but leadership may not want to hear them.
So, how do you get over these hurdles?
For some, it’s a matter of providing training and knowledge. Leadership may truly have no idea what portfolio management is. In their eyes, it’s simply knowing what all the projects are in their area. That is one aspect, but there are several steps before you even get to that spot.
For instance, will you look at all projects in the organization, or only those of a certain budgetary value or length? Perhaps a combination of both?
Then there is the question of how to slice and dice the projects.
To slice and dice, you need to understand how to relate projects to strategy. Does your organization meet several of the corporate strategies or only one? If you have a project that is not allocated against a corporate strategy or sub-strategy, then why are you doing it? It’s taking resources and budget away from projects that do have strategic value. Even operational projects, such as upgrading software to a new version or implementing new enterprise software, need to map to a strategy.
For example, imagine your company has a strategy to increase sales by 20 percent in three years. The current sales tool has received well-deserved criticisms, and the tool is too small for the current sales volume. Implementing a new sales tool probably makes sense. However, the new tool would require the company to be running the latest version of operating software. The portfolio manager would recognize this, along with IT, and the portfolio manager would argue the case that these are interrelated. The opportunity exists here to make these two software projects and all the peripheral workstreams, such as training, into a program.
Do you have what it takes to push portfolio management forward? Or will you just succumb to pushback?
Don’t be afraid to speak up. If project portfolio managers don’t advocate for the correct way to do project portfolio management, organizations will suffer in the long run. The wrong way to do something is expensive and not beneficial.
Don’t let your company fall into that trap.
What experiences have you had when pushing portfolio management forward? Please share below.
By Christian Bisson, PMP
I recently had the privilege to participate in the 9th Montreal agile coach gathering. Along with meeting great people and having a chance to exchange ideas with them, I had the opportunity to learn about “liberating structures”, a concept developed by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless.
Liberating structures are 33 alternative structures for facilitating meetings, work sessions or retrospectives. Unlike conventional structures, such as status reports or presentations, liberating structures are meant to distribute control of the conversation so that all participants are part of shaping direction. This ultimately helps everyone work together while feeling more in control. According to Lipmanowicz and McCandless, conventional structures are either too inhibiting or too loose and disorganzed to achieve this.
Within your organization, liberating structures can be used to organize and facilitate work sessions, retrospectives or other types of meetings. These structures range from simple and fast exercises to those suited for more structured and longer meetings, giving a diversified toolset for various circumstances.
One evening during the 9th Montreal agile coach gathering, everyone gathered into small teams, picked one of the liberating structures randomly, and took 25 minutes to understand and discuss it with the objective of presenting it to everyone else afterward within a three-minute timebox.
Our team picked “critical uncertainties”, which makes you focus on essential and uncertain realities, and then plan strategies according to different possible futures. Among brainstormed ideas, you need to identify the most robust strategies (i.e., the ones that would work with the most possible futures). You can then plan action items based on what was discussed.
Another one that caught my interest is “1-2-4-all.” It is simple and can be used in so many circumstances, yet it is efficient to help a group of people (small or large) communicate and share great ideas.
For anyone out there who is a fan of liberating structures, I’m curious to find out which ones you used, in what context, and how was the result. Please share and discuss!