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

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

Recent Posts

It’s Time for a Long, Hard Look at Processes

Trust: The Secret Ingredient to Project Success

The Traps of Textbook Scrum

Assessing Risk in the Real World

Keep These 3 Priorities In Focus

Assessing Risk in the Real World

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.

Posted by Ramiro Rodrigues on: December 13, 2018 12:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Find Purpose to Unlock Exceptional Performance

Find Purpose to Unlock Exceptional Performance

By Peter Tarhanidis, MBA, PhD

Purpose

There are three common maturity levels in developing project management leadership:

  • In the first level, the project leader becomes familiar with PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) and begins to implement the methods in their initiatives.
  • In the intermediate level, project leaders broaden their abilities by implementing more complex projects and demonstrating a strategic use of the methodology.
  • And in the most mature state, project leaders demonstrate high performance by using advanced project methodology and leadership competencies to take on an organization’s most critical initiatives.

It takes many years to cultivate the skills necessary to execute complex initiatives of all sizes and types. And project leaders may find gratification in the personal development to sustain their performance, as well as their project achievements. 

However, over time, it’s not unusual to lose sight of that passion, excitement and engagement for executing initiatives. Instead, the project leader may default to simply providing the project management administrative activities of project execution. This reversal of development is a leadership pitfall and creates a chasm between high performance and exceptional performance.

One way to bridge the chasm is to be purpose-driven. A defined purpose distinguishes oneself as a distinctive as a brand. A brand is underpinned by one’s education, abilities and accomplishments. By identifying what is central to your interests and commitments, project leaders can re-engage with purpose and unlock exceptional performance. This can be broad or can be very specific in a subject expertise.

I have use the following method to find my brand and define my purpose:

  1. Develop a purpose statement—this is your elevator pitch that quickly and simply defines who you are and what you stand for as a project leader.
  2. Assign annual goals to achieve the purpose and watch your performance increase.
  3. Create a network of relationships that support your purpose and brand.

Having used this approach to define my purpose, I learned I enjoy the macro view of the firm. I regularly coach leaders and help them develop their teams. Therefore, I like to simultaneously drive toward exceptional performance to achieve a firm’s mission and to advance the needs of society.

Please share your purpose and any examples of exceptional performance you achieved toward that purpose.

 

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: September 14, 2018 09:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

The Worst Project Manager I Ever Worked For Was Me

 

by Kevin Korterud

 

I always enjoy hearing about the early careers of the project managers I meet. In almost every conversation, the subject turns to when they were team members being led by a highly capable senior project manager who provided guidance in starting up, executing and sometimes turning around projects.

 

It’s also not uncommon to hear stories of the worst project manager they ever worked for. These stories, while not as glowing, also influenced their careers around what not to do. By probing a bit deeper, they offered up observations of certain behaviors that created havoc, dissatisfaction and quite often failed projects.

 

From these observations of the worst-ever project manager, I started to put together my own thoughts on who I would select for this inglorious label. After careful consideration, I arrived at the only logical choice: me. In my early years as a project manager I managed to consistently demonstrate all of the behaviors of poor project managers.   

 

Here are my votes for the most significant behaviors that led to consistently poor performance as a project manager early in my career:

 

 

  1. I Wanted the Title of “Project Manager”

 

When I was a project team member I relished the thought of one day having a business card with an impressive title of project manager. My thought being once I received that lofty title, it would allow me to be successful at whatever project I was assigned to lead. In addition, the acquisition of that title would instantly garner respect from other project managers.

 

I failed to realize that most project managers are already quite proficient at leading teams and producing results. The title comes with a heavy burden of responsibility that was exponentially greater than what I had as a project team member. As a team member, I didn’t realize how much my project manager shielded me from the sometimes unpleasant realities of projects.

 

The satisfaction of acquiring the title of project manager can be very short-lived if you’re not adequately prepared. My goal became to perform at the level at or above what the title that project manager reflected.

 

 

2. I Talked Too Much

 

Perhaps I was wrongly influenced by theater or movies where great leaders are often portrayed in time of need as delivering impressive speeches that motivate people to outstanding results. I remember quite clearly some of the meetings I led as a new project manager that quite honestly should have won me an award for impersonating a project manager.

 

Meetings were dominated by my overconfident and ill-formed views on what was going right and wrong. In addition, I also had the false notion that I had the best approach to all of the risks and issues on the project. No surprise that this mode of interaction greatly limited the size of projects I could effectively lead. Essentially, it was a project team of one.

 

After a while, I started to observe that senior project managers spent a fair portion of the time in their meetings practicing active listening. In addition, they would pause, ponder the dialogue and pose simple but effective probing questions. When I started to emulate some of these practices, it resulted in better performance that created opportunities to lead larger projects. “Less is more” became a theme that allowed me to understand the true problems and work with the team to arrive at effective mitigations.

 

  1. I Tried to Make Everyone Happy  

One of the most critical components of any project is the people that comprise the team members and stakeholders. As a new project manager, I tended to over-engage with stakeholders and team members by attempting to instantly resolve every issue, whether real or perceived. My logic was that if I removed any opportunity for dissatisfaction then project success would be assured.

I failed to realize this desire to completely please everyone quite often resulted in pleasing nobody. In addition, I also managed to pay insufficient attention to the key operational facets of a project: estimates, forecasts, metrics and other essentials needed to keep a project on track. Furthermore, the business case for the project gathered almost no consideration as I was busy trying to make everyone happy as a path to results.

Over time I began to adopt a more balanced approach that allowed me to spend the proper level of engagement with people, processes and the project business case. This balanced approach allowed me to have a broader span of control for factors that could adversely affect a project.

For all the things we have learned over the years as project managers, it sometimes causes me to wish for a time machine to go back and avoid all of the mistakes we made. But then, we would not have had the benefit of the sometimes-traumatic learning experiences that have made us the project managers that we are today.  

Did you ever consider yourself to be the worst project manager you ever worked for? I think we all were at one point in our careers.

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: August 10, 2018 06:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (33)

Machine Learning Isn’t Magic

Categories: Innovation, IT, Lessons Learned, ROI

By Christian Bisson, PMP

Machine learning is one of today’s hottest tech topics.

It’s essentially a type of artificial intelligence (AI) in which you give your software the ability to “learn” based on data. For example, you probably notice how YouTube, Netflix, Amazon and many other companies suggests videos or products you should check out. These suggestions are based on your previous online actions, or those of other people deemed “similar” to you.

For some time now I’ve been working on projects that involve this technology. We often have clients who want machine learning even though they do not know if it’s even relevant to them. Since “everyone is doing it,” they want to do it too.

Calibrating a project sponsor’s expectations is often a good idea. While the automated services generated through machine learning may seem magical, getting to that point involves challenges—and a lot of work.

1. It needs quality data.

The machine will learn using the data it has being given—that data is the crucial starting point. The data that’s available is what drives how the machine will evolve and what added value machine learning can bring to your project/product. For example, if you are trying to teach the machine to recognize vehicles on images it scans, and all you can teach it with are images of small cars, you are not set up for success. You need a better variety of images.

The machine’s ability to learn is directly tied to the quality of the data it encounters.

2. It needs lots of data.

Once you have quality data, you need it in high quantities. If you can only provide the machine with the website behaviors of, say, hundreds of users per month, don’t expect it to have enough information to be able to recommend the best products based on user trends. Its sample will be too little to be able to be accurate.

3. It needs to be tested continually.

Once you have the necessary data, the journey is not over. The machine may learn on its own, but it’s learning based on how it was built and with the data it’s being fed. There is always room for improvement.

4. It’s costly.

As amazing as machine learning is, it is not cheap. So keep an eye on your project’s budget. Machine learning experts can command high salaries, and there is a lot of effort involved with researching the best approach—creating the models, training them, testing them, etc. Make sure the ROI is worth it.

Have you had a chance to work on a project involving machine learning? What challenges have you faced?

Posted by Christian Bisson on: July 14, 2018 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

This Much I Know Is True

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. 

Posted by David Wakeman on: June 25, 2018 12:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)
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"The power of accurate observation is often called cynicism by those who don't have it."

- George Bernard Shaw

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