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

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Managing Your First Strategic Initiative? Here’s What You Need to Know

 

By Kevin Korterud

 

Beware: Strategic initiatives aren’t the same as typical projects—they tend to be considerably more complex. For example, strategic initiatives are usually bound by some form of dramatic urgency around schedule (regulatory, market), costs (process improvement) or consumer satisfaction (subscription, satisfaction).

But the differences don’t end there. Let’s look at some other complex dimensions that must be considered when leading a strategic initiative:

 

1. Stakeholder Management

The stakeholder landscape is much more broad on a strategic initiative than a project. In strategic initiatives, stakeholders typically span multiple departments within a company, creating multiple primary stakeholder groups. And these stakeholder groups will often have nearly equal shares in the success of the initiative, thus creating potential authority conflicts.

In addition, there are also governance functions—risk management, legal, etc.—that will have either a primary or secondary stakeholder role.

 

2. Communications

The complex stakeholder landscape necessitates communication processes that serve vastly different audiences. There exists both a two-dimensional communications problem: one dimension is horizontal (i.e., across stakeholders) and the other is vertical (i.e., involving higher levels of leadership). What once was a linear communication process on a project now becomes more of a matrix process to deal with the breadth and depth of stakeholders.

Communications will need to be carefully tailored to different functions and levels of stakeholders. For example, more detail for operational functions, and simple, high-level summaries for leadership consumption. 

 

3. Progress Tracking

Strategic initiatives bring with them inherent complexities that can quickly overpower the progress report tracking processes that are commonly used to manage projects.

For example, strategic initiatives will typically have more suppliers than on a typical project. These additional suppliers bring with them different commercial arrangements, delivery methods, status reporting formats and progress metrics. On top of that, all of these progress tracking components need to be harmonized across the various suppliers in order to achieve a cohesive and durable view of progress position.

Project managers will need to review, refine and agree on common progress tracking processes, reporting and metrics that are universally accepted by all suppliers. By creating this single harmonized view of progress tracking, you are more readily able to identify and address delivery volatility.

 

When first presented with the prospect of leading a strategic initiative, project managers need to balance the excitement of leading a high-visibility engagement with the practical realities of effectively and efficiently managing delivery. By putting essentials in place, project managers can successfully move on to the next step in the career journey: leading their second strategic initiative!

What essentials can your share with project managers new to strategic initiatives that will put them on the path to success?

 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: November 20, 2016 12:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

3 Steps to Outsourcing Success

By Peter Tarhanidis

When leaders use outsourcing it is often in an effort to enhance the organization’s value proposition to its stakeholders.

Outsourcing allows leaders to focus on and invest in the firm’s core services while using cost effective alternative sources of expertise for support services.

When services are outsourced, management and employees need to prepare for a transformation in organizational operations—and project managers must establish a strategy to guide that change.

 

Creating an Outsourcing Strategy

Project managers can help to create an effective outsourcing strategy based on a three-part structure:

1. Assess the current state

This assessment should define the firm’s:

  • Labor expertise and associated labor costs
  • Value versus non-value support services
  • Baseline of operational measures and service levels

 

2. Consider the “to-be” state

The to-be state should be designed based on a comprehensive evaluation and request for proposal, including a good list of best alternatives to negotiated agreement items.

The to-be state must consider:

  • Access to low cost, high expertise labor and the marketplace arbitrage. This may evaluate onshore, right-shore, offshore and hybrid labor models.
  • Whether the firm should invest to “fix and ship” its processes or to “ship and fix” and adopt the providers processes.
  • Productivity gains that may be measured via the labor arbitrage, process capability improvements, speed to software application and deployment, automation of processes and IT management services, robotics, etc.

 

3. Consider the governance required to sustain the future state

A new internal operating model needs to be formed. This includes establishing teams to manage the contract, such as senior sponsorship, an operational management team or a vendor management team.

Then the outsourcer and the outsourcing organization should focus on continuous improvements that can be made to the process.

 

Avoiding Outsourcing Pitfalls

Project managers can avoid a few common pitfalls in their outsourcing projects:

  1. Add procurement and legal outsourcing experts on the project team to construct the agreement.
  2. Engage senior leaders to steer the initiative and align it to the business mission.
  3. Garner senior leadership support with change management actions to help guide the organization across this journey.

Overall, if done with a defined end in mind, leaders can capitalize on outsourcing by reducing operational costs, reinvesting those savings in core services, and providing access to expertise and IT systems that would normally not have been funded via capital appropriation.

Have you been a part of any outsourcing efforts? What advice would you offer to project managers involved in similar projects?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: August 26, 2016 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

3 Tips For Strong Executive Support

by Dave Wakeman

As project managers we are charged with balancing the needs of the C-suite with the needs of the day-to-day project implementers.

The problem is that this central role often lacks any clear or formal power. So we must rely on strong and meaningful executive sponsor support.

But how can you cultivate that support? Here are three tips.

1) Talk to your executive about the project’s ROI.

Tell them why the project is important now, where it fits into the organization’s long-term goals and what it will mean to the executive and the organization if you succeed.

Then listen to your executive sponsor’s perception of the project and why they see it as important. This will ensure you are on the same page and will give you the ammunition you need to have productive conversations moving forward — especially handy if you end up needing additional resources during the project.

2) Set a schedule for project updates.

Don’t let the momentum built during your first conversation die. Keep the executive engaged in the project through regular communications. And let your team know you will be discussing the project with your executive sponsor on a regular basis — this will help you have more productive conversations on both sides. Regular conversations with your team and executives helps you avoid the messy and time-consuming challenge of bringing people up to speed when they have been out of the loop for long periods.

3) Come forward with solutions.

When your project hits a rough patch, you can ask for help, you can wait to be told what to do or you can come forth with solutions.

The choice is easy: Always lead with solutions based on your expertise as the project lead. You are likely to get more buy-in from your executive sponsor with this approach because you have made the decision easier for them and you are acting like a partner, and not just a subordinate.

And that’s it from me. What advice do you have for engaging executive sponsors throughout the project lifecycle?

(And, if you’re interested, PMI’s Executive Sponsor Engagement report has some additional info on this topic.) 

If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. It is my most personal and strategic content delivered each Sunday morning to your inbox. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: August 08, 2016 01:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

When Project Benefits Erode

By Conrado Morlan

The project you led is complete! You are celebrating with your stakeholders and other project managers. The company is right on track to achieve its strategic goals based on the benefits delivered by your project.

After handing over the project to the business functions, you are now ready for your next move. You are nervous and excited about discovering your new assignment, so you don’t worry about your recently completed project. Somebody else will be following up on the project’s contributions to the organization. You’re done, right? Well, let’s find out.

During the first six months of your new assignment, you overhear that the benefits of the project you recently completed are not at the expected level. In parallel with your current assignment, you start looking for clues about what’s gone wrong.

Your findings reveal that related processes supporting the product or service delivered by your project are not aligned and are producing damage and losses, resulting in the erosion of benefits. Examples may include:

  • Regulatory fines—The project’s support processes did not provide regulatory reports on time or were missing data requested by federal and/or local authorities. The lack of compliance results in fines.
  • Overtime—The lack of clarity about the process and the changes brought by your project led the operational areas of the business to continue to do work as usual, producing incorrect results that had to be redone.
  • Overlooked tax deductions—The finance department was not notified of the new process, and the organization continued to pay taxes that were supposed to be exempted after the project was completed.
  • Union disputes—The implementation of the new project impacted union workers’ duties that weren’t contemplated in the current contract. New contract negotiations tend to be long and have a large impact to the organization.

So what should you do? Focus on your current project assignment and ignore the benefits erosion? Or work on a solution with the project’s stakeholders?

Whatever your answer, one thing you will need to do for sure is update the project’s lessons learned. The project may be over, but benefits didn’t reach the expected levels. So as the former project manager, you’re obligated to document what went wrong to support efforts at establishing a solution.

Have you ever learned of benefits erosion after completing one of your projects? If so, how did you react?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: May 25, 2016 01:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Want to be a Strategic Project Manager? Communicate Better!

by Dave Wakeman

In recent months, I’ve been talking about how to become a more strategic project manager on this blog (see here, here and here). I thought it would be a good idea to circle back and talk about how being an effective communicator will help you be more strategic.

Here are three tips to remember:

1. Communications is at the base of performance.

Never lose sight of the fact that as a project manager, you are basically a paid communicator. And, as a communicator, you have certain responsibilities: being clear, keeping your message concise and making sure you are understood.

If you aren’t meeting these requirements, you are likely going to struggle to achieve success in your projects. In addition, poor communicating may mean you miss the message about why this project is important to the organization. You also may miss information from the team on the ground that would shape the organization’s deliberations about the project.

So always focus on making sure that your communications up and down the organization are clear, concise and understood.

2. A free flow of communications delivers new ideas.

Managing a lot of communications and information is challenging—I get that. But by the same token, if you aren’t exposing yourself to information from many different sources (both inside and outside the organization), you’re likely missing out on ideas that can transform your opinions and open you up to new ways of looking at things.

While being a strong project manager is about having a good, solid framework for decision-making, you aren’t going to have all the technical expertise yourself. In addition, your team may be only focused on the one area that they are in charge of. So it’s important that someone is open to the flow of ideas that can come from any direction and that may have the power to reshape your project in unimaginable ways.

You can achieve this by making sure you have conversations up and down the organization and pay attention to things outside of your scope of work. You never know where a good idea is going to come from.

3. Relationships are the key to project success—and they’re built through communication.

If we aren’t careful, we can forget that our project teams are groups of people with wants and needs. Remember: at the heart of our work are real people whom our projects impact.

That’s why it’s essential that you focus on the human aspect of being a project manager, especially if you want to become a top-notch, strategic project manager. Our human interactions and relationships are the key to our success as project managers.

This is something you should be taking action on all the time. Maybe you start by pulling someone on your team aside for a conversation about what’s going on. Maybe you find out a little more about the person’s home life. Or, you just make sure you have an open-door policy when it comes to information on your projects.

The key is to make sure you give your personal relationships an opportunity to thrive in the project setting.

Let me know what you think in a comment below! 

By the way, I write a weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: April 10, 2016 02:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)
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