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?
Reflections on My Favorite Projects
Categories: Lessons Learned
by Dave Wakeman
Happy birthday, PMI! You gave us 50 years of projects, and all I’m giving you is this column with three of my favorite projects of all time? I kid. But reflecting on the impact of PMI and project management over the last 50 years got me thinking about how projects are at the core of so many improvements, big and small.
The three I want to highlight this month reflect the ambition that project managers can have, the global impact of a great project, and where the next huge project innovations may be. Let’s take a look at my three favorite projects:
Putting a Man on the Moon
Can I really start anywhere else? For my money this is the best example of what great project managers, an excellent PMO and strong leadership can create. While it isn’t just one project, I think putting a man on the moon highlights several things that PMI pioneered over the years—two I want to highlight specifically.
First, vision. When U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower first proposed the idea of Project Apollo, it was all about getting a three-man crew into space. By the time the project was complete, the United States had sent men to the moon seven times, successfully landing and completing their mission six of those times.
Second, innovation. The scope of Project Apollo changed over time, growing from the initial plan of putting a few men in space to putting man on the moon. That meant we needed new technologies and new ideas to get us there. One of the hallmarks of a successful project manager is the ability to create something out of nothing, knowing what the goal of the project is and having the framework to work within to achieve success.
Project Apollo showed us that with the right goals, vision and sponsorship, we can accomplish almost anything.
The Debut of the iPhone
I’m torn on this, probably like a lot of folks, because we’ve seen that as much as technology has helped us connect, learn and communicate, we have also seen the negatives. I’m going to keep the iPhone on my list of favorite projects for one simple reason that should be important to project managers: It had a clear and great project scope.
What was termed Project Purple 2 was Steve Jobs’ attempt to create a computer with a touchscreen that you could use to directly interact with your device. When he came up with the idea of building it into a phone, the technology was new and the capacity of achieving a phone that would work without a keyboard was untested.
But the ambition and scope of creating a computer that doubled as a phone that you could type on with your fingers won out, and our lives have never been the same.
Tesla and Electric Cars in General
I’ll claim bias here because I know there were electric cars before Tesla came along, but Tesla was the first electric car that made it cool to drive electric.
We can look at the original Tesla roadster as the project that launched it all. The concept was for Tesla founder, Martin Eberhard, to create a high-mileage sports car, solving a need for himself. When Elon Musk got involved in 2004, he helped move the company towards using the proceeds of the car to help fund the development of mass-market cars.
All of this is fine, but the real importance of the project shows up in the way that the company wasn’t happy with the way that the motor and transmission worked in the chassis, forcing Tesla to build its own engines and power sources.
What followed was the most advanced rechargeable battery for cars that the world has ever seen—revolutionizing what is possible from an electric car.
This final project highlights how things build off each other and how projects are the basis of all good things that come to us. Because if we hadn’t developed the technology to put a man on the moon, we may have never been able to uncover the components and the technologies needed to put a computer in our pocket. And if we didn’t have a computer in our pocket, how would I ever be able to use my phone as my car key!
While that last point is a reach, my final point is that the greatest gift PMI has given all of us as professionals over the last 50 years is a chance to learn, grow and repeat the process in a way that we can build off of all the people that came before us. For that we should all be grateful!
Happy 50th, PMI: Here’s to the next 50! Please share your thoughts on these impressive projects below.
As a project manager, there’s perhaps nothing better than starting a new project. With it comes a fresh start and the promise of a successful conclusion. To me, it’s akin to starting a new year in school with new notebooks, where nothing has been written to spoil the fresh sheets of paper.
However, as we become more experienced as project managers, we’re called on more and more to assume control of a project already in motion. This might be triggered by a happy event, such as a promotion for the existing project manager, or a less-than-happy situation, such as a lack of progress on the project.
Assuming responsibility for a project that has already launched is a lot different than starting from the beginning. You won’t have the benefit of starting with a clean sheet of paper, and there will be things you need to do—and undo.
Here are three tips I always follow when assuming control of an existing project:
1. Assume Nothing
When starting a new project, you have the opportunity to perform mobilization and initiation activities to effectively set the project on a path to success. In addition, there are some early checkpoints where you can perform structured control actions to further assure the proper trajectory of the project.
While the existing project status reports can show the assumed disposition of a project, they may not reveal essential missing activities needed for project success. For example, an existing project might not have had the benefit of a thorough mobilization and initiation effort to properly set its course. In addition, there may be hidden or under-mitigated risks, emerging issues, stakeholder challenges and hidden dependencies that have not yet come to light.
When taking over an existing project, the first thing I do is review it in the same way I would a new project. Introducing a pause in project activities to perform a “soft reset” allows both confirmation of assumptions and validation of project progress.
In addition, this activity can reveal unseen factors that put the current project position in doubt. This is a good time to reforecast the remaining work. By assuming nothing about the project, the “soft reset” serves as a basis to properly transition the project towards success.
2. Match the Team to the Realistic Remaining Work
One of the most important facets of a soft reset is reforecasting the amount of remaining work. Use the existing forecast as a foundation for considering other factors that may influence the future progress of the project. These may include effort, scheduling conflicts (e.g., year-end holidays), upcoming business process changes and technology-readiness dependencies.
From the reforecast, compare these factors against the capacity and capabilities of the existing project team. Review whether you have the requisite skills and team members available for each phase of the project. In addition, consider the availability of key resources who cannot be readily substituted in case they are not able to work on the project. This examination of project resources by phase should include not only individual team members, but also team leads and third-party suppliers.
3. Engage More Frequently With the Most Accountable Stakeholder
While there are many inorganic components of a project, such as deliverables and status reports, often the most critical components revolve around the organic nature of people. Having strong executive sponsorship, a structured governance engagement model and open communication all enable project success.
When you are introduced as the new project manager on an existing effort, some change management work will need to be done to ensure a smooth transition.
Given the myriad stakeholders involved in a project, who should you start with? The typical consideration is to start with the most senior leadership stakeholder, who is typically also the project sponsor.
I think, however, a better place to start is with the most accountable stakeholder. This would be the person who after the project is implemented would manage the new solution to achieve the project objectives. In addition, this person would likely have the greatest knowledge of requirements and implementation considerations, which would be valuable to your soft reset.
Set Your Team Up for Success
Assuming control of an existing project should have that same level of attention to detail and precision. Now that you are leading this existing project, be sure to consider the factors shared above that confidently allow you to say, “I have the controls.”
When assuming existing projects, what sort of activities do you perform as part of a transition? I’d welcome other thoughts to help make us all better project managers.
by Dave Wakeman
I recently came across some of management guru Peter Drucker’s thoughts on project management.
As often happens with Drucker’s writing, the lessons he wrote about many years ago are still applicable today.
In his thinking about project management, Drucker came up with the idea that it really came down to three ideas: objectives, measurements and results.
Let’s take each of these areas and think about how we should approach them today.
Objectives: Many projects get stuck before they even begin, due to a poor framing of the project’s objectives. We should be undertaking our projects only when we have moved through the project-planning phase to such an extent that we have a strong grasp of what we are hoping to achieve.
These objectives shouldn’t be fuzzy or wishy-washy. They should be solid and rooted in the overall strategy of the organization you are performing the project for.
This means you have to ask the question: “Does this project move us toward our goals?”
If the answer is “yes,” it’s likely a project that should be launched.
If the answer is “no,” it’s likely a project that needs to be fleshed out more, rethought or not undertaken at all.
Measurements: Drucker is famous for this adage: What gets measured gets managed.
In thinking about project management, measurements aren’t just about being able to improve project delivery. They’re also essential to ensure the project is headed in the right direction.
To effectively measure our projects, we need to have laid out key measurements alongside the project’s objectives.
The measurements should be specific, with expected outputs and completion dates, so you can affirm whether you are on schedule, behind schedule or ahead of schedule.
At the same time, the measurements should inform you of your progress as it compares to your strategic goals.
Results: Ultimately, projects are about results.
To paraphrase another great thinker, Nick Saban: If you focus on doing your job right on each play, you’ll put yourself in a position to be successful at achieving your goals.
Saban coaches U.S. football, but this works just as well for all of us in project management.
If we are focusing our energy on tying our projects to our organization’s strategy, through this strategy we focus our project efforts on the correct objectives in line with our strategy. Then we use those objectives to measure our progress against the strategy. We should be putting ourselves in a position to get the results that we need from our projects.
These results should be measured as positive outcomes. In Saban’s case, that’s wins. In your case, it might be a new technology solution, a successful new ad campaign or a profitable fundraising effort.
To me, reviewing Drucker’s thoughts on project management is a reminder: Even though there is a constant pull of new technologies, never-ending demands on our attention and a world where change feels accelerated, sometimes the best course of action is to step back, slow down and get back to the basics.
By Ramiro Rodrigues
Is risk management just an exercise in paranoia?
That’s the question I’m often asked. I like to respond by saying there are both negative and positive risks.
A risk is a situation in which it cannot be certain whether a specific result will happen. That potential cannot be discounted. Thus, any risk hypothesis—whether for small or large risks—is subject to some sort of management strategy. While we often think of negative risks, positive risks present opportunities for organizational or project gains.
Risk management strategies can be applied to our daily lives. Take, for example, my own experience.
A few years ago, I was invited to hold a workshop on project management best practices for a service company. Concerned about the event, I decided to invite a colleague whom I trust to share the work (strategy: share) and increase the chances of the workshop being successful (strategy: improve). When checking his schedule, my colleague realized that he would be returning from a trip at 6 a.m. on the day of the workshop, which was scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Even knowing that flight delays are more common than we would like, we decided to take the risk (strategy: accept).
In the weeks leading up to the event the preparation flowed well. We met with the client and tested the presentation dozens of times (strategy: explore), but the possible flight delay did not leave my mind. For this reason, I studied not only my part of the presentation, but also that of my colleague (strategy: eliminate).
When the day arrived, I woke at 6 a.m. to find two messages from my colleague on my phone. The first one said, "I've landed?” This gave me a sigh of relief. The second said, "I'm really ill. I'm going to a hospital.” I called my colleague and verified the illness.
What a great irony! All my fears arising from my colleague's risk of a delayed flight were realized, but not because of that event.
Some changes were necessary. First, I had to substitute the car journey with a taxi (strategy: transfer). Second, I had to remove specific parts from the presentation to reduce the impact of my colleague’s absence (strategy: mitigate). Even without doing so through a documented plan, I had used all of the recognized risk response strategies.
For me, it became clear that the great gain from risk management is in the exercise of thinking beforehand and being able to choose the best options available.
The outcome of the workshop? I imagine it would have been better if my colleague had been able to attend. But judging from the applause and words of praise, I believe that it was a success.