Viewing Posts by Kevin Korterud
Life is full of surprises…they always seem to show up unexpectedly. As project managers, we rely on our PMI certification training—as well as our experiences—to both detect and mitigate the effects from surprises, such as missed milestones, new regulatory requirements and quality issues.
But what happens when the surprise turns out to be a short-term outage of the project manager? This can come about for a variety of reasons, including family, health and other personal matters. A recent health issue that took me away from a project for a few weeks got me thinking about how to address this special type of surprise.
In my early career days on projects, the short-term loss of a project manager meant the project was typically put on hold until the PM returned. In today’s complex, high-speed technology delivery environment, stopping a project is less viable due to market needs, dependencies, specialized domain knowledge, engaged suppliers and many other factors.
So, in addition to all of the usual risk factors, one has to consider a risk mitigation plan for the project manager should a surprise occur (this plan also applies to other key roles such as the delivery, test and PMO leads).
Let’s look at a few questions to help you prepare for surprises when they occur to the PM role:
1. Who could be a backup PM? The process of finding a backup project manager usually falls into two categories: easy…and not so easy. If there are project track leads with prior PM experience, rank order them as to the size and complexity of the prior projects they have managed. Discuss the project(s) with them and create a plan for the areas that you look to build out as part of their duties in being a backup.
If nobody on your project has any prior PM experience, another option could be to consider an existing program management office lead. With today’s complex program office operations, it’s common to have program management office leaders with prior project management experience. They could assist as a backup PM.
2. When should you have a backup PM? As one never knows when surprises will occur, the best time to identify a backup project manager is during mobilization of the project. By having a person identified early in the project life cycle, it better positions the backup PM to be successful should a surprise occur.
If it’s not possible to identify and develop a backup at the start of a project, consider an approach that takes advantage of the upcoming or current phase of the project. For example, if the project is headed into the design phase, consider your functional lead as a potential backup. Just be cognizant of the additional burden the backup PM role places on an existing team member; consider additional program office resources to help with the execution of project operational processes.
3. How do you make someone a backup PM? After selecting a backup, create a list of topics to educate them in the many facets of the project. This can start with operational topics such as risk/issue reporting, status report and work planning, and cross-training. From there, they can start to be immersed in domain-related topics with the project (e.g., how does a month-end financial close work?). The domain-related topics may require some specialized training if they have not been exposed to them before.
Keep in mind that the backup PM still has their core project duties to execute, so they should not be overburdened with immersion activities. Keep the window for these activities to a few hours each week, and continue them through the life of the project. It is also helpful to bring the backup PM along to attend key project meetings to make them aware—as well as to make other project team members aware of their provisional role in the event of the unexpected.
The days of having a project being placed on hold due to the short-term loss of a project manager are long behind us. In particular, with the highly integrated technology project ecosystem that exists today, the stoppage of one project can impact several others—thus affecting the overall progress of a company portfolio.
Knowing who your backup project manager is offers a mitigation path when surprises occur. In addition, it’s also an essential form of career building by exposing the backup PM to the next level of delivery stewardship.
How have you selected and groomed a backup project manager for your delivery efforts?
In this high-demand/low-availability labor market, we all have to start re-thinking about how to staff one of the increasingly most pivotal roles in large, complex technology delivery: the program PMO lead.
In the past 10 or so years, we have all seen the size and scale of delivery dramatically increase as the business and technology landscape becomes more complex with multiple solutions, architectures, geographies, suppliers and organizations—and enabling layers such as cloud platforms. For new technology solutions as well as transformations, program delivery leads now spend more time than ever navigating this highly complex landscape—which leaves less time for traditional program management activities.
This situation has put an increased premium on the PMO lead role, which typically was portrayed as more of an administrative function. Ever more frequently, the PMO lead role has become closely integrated with the program delivery lead role in terms of guiding the trajectory of delivery…to the point where they resemble an adjunct delivery function to the program delivery lead.
The common dilemma today: Where does one find a PMO lead that can oversee the typical delivery operations activities such as risks, issues, workplans and tools—as well as assist the program delivery lead with critical delivery assurance efforts? In addition, how can we fill a PMO lead role with the right person in a timely manner as not to impair the mobilization progress of a delivery program?
As opposed to the traditional approach of trying to staff at the last minute when demand arises for a PMO lead role, the most effective path is to have the next generation of PMO leads on hand before you need them. Keep these three points in mind:
1. Recognize that large, complex and transformation PMOs require a unique mix of leadership skills. Programs are typically known to be a collection of delivery projects that directly fulfill a unified set of business needs. However, the landscape of programs has changed over the years where they now have to be implemented in a highly integrated, more complex technical and business environment. In addition, there can be transformative enablement capabilities such as value realization, organization change management and dependency management.
Given this landscape, PMO leads that solely oversee the execution of serial recurring PMO processes will not be successful. The PMO lead of today needs to have skills that transcend pure administrative execution by serving as a broker of conflicts, predictor of delivery volatility, as well as an organizational enabler of progress. In addition, to do so PMO leads now engage at a much higher level in an organization.
To achieve success, PMO leads need to have prior experience with complex delivery leadership, senior executive engagement as well as an ability to quickly grasp the delivery “big picture” in order to take action in a proactive manner. Traditional administrative backgrounds are not enough to prevail in today’s delivery environment.
2. Domain and local knowledge is highly valuable. In addition to delivery leadership, executive engagement and the ability to sense prevailing conditions, it’s very helpful to have additional knowledge in the areas of business domains, as well as localized organizational characteristics.
For example, the learning curve of a PMO lead that spent most of their career in healthcare would have to be enormous to grasp the terminology and concepts of energy exploration; the converse is also true, when an energy exploration PMO lead serves on a healthcare program. In addition, organizational entities in companies may differ between regions and product lines.
There are a few methods to help ensure that domain and local knowledge needs are fulfilled. Where possible, prioritize PMO leads that have prior business experience in a specified domain area. To assist with understanding the organizational entities, consider the PMO lead shadowing the overall program delivery lead in recurring leadership meetings.
Where there are no available PMO leads with the necessary business domain nor local knowledge, consider providing business domain training as well as conducting immersion sessions for the prospective PMO lead in advance of their start of their role. It’s much quicker to take PMO leads with the right mix of modern-day competencies and incrementally bring them up to speed in these areas than it is to try and instruct a business domain lead on complex delivery.
3. Rotational PMO lead roles build more effective delivery leaders. In order for PMO leads to stay ahead of the game, their role needs to start in advance of delivery activities. In today’s complex environment, any delay in staffing a PMO lead will be detrimental. The best way to avoid this problem is to make the PMO lead role a rotational staff function. This enables it to be a training ground for future delivery leaders.
In the military and other organizations, the notion of a rotational staff assignment is quite common. In addition, it is highly prized given the visibility it provides—as well as the ability it creates to foster further career growth (which might not be found in a traditional assignment).
Current delivery leadership that needs to gain experience with more complex delivery, as well as experienced new joiners, are both examples of candidates for modern-day PMO lead roles. In addition, standard PMO lead training should be designed, built and deployed. Organizations that identify, groom and deploy PMO leads in a timely manner are already starting out ahead of their competitors. This model is not limited to employees of an organization; performing the same function with suppliers is also valuable to reduce the chance of late PMO lead fulfillment.
The function of a program management office has been both an integral and essential component of complex industrial delivery for almost 100 years. Over the past few decades, technology delivery leaders—as well as stakeholders—have gained a similar level of appreciation for the importance of the program PMO lead.
As demand continues to increase with no end in sight to the shortage of capable PMO leads, it’s best that companies start to build their own cadre of future PMO leads; this is essential for both staffing this role in a timely manner, as well as to ensure the growth of delivery capability.
I welcome any comments on what others are doing to help both staff program PMO roles, as well grow this function in your own organization.
As part of starting my technology career, I augmented my undergraduate degree in computer science with a minor in economics. Over the years, I began to appreciate more the inherent wisdom of the demand and supply relationships as it pertains to labor forces. In particular, the laws of economic supply and demand are playing themselves to new heights in these uncertain times.
We see it every day in the news: Jobs by the thousands of all types are going unfilled with nobody stepping forward to fill them. In our industry, we are seeing multiple factors converging to create difficult times for project and product managers. The exponential growth in technology, changing demographics in work forces as well as COVID-19 have all greatly impacted what we do on a day-to-day basis.
For project and product delivery, I am observing that labor shortages that impact our delivery efforts take on two different forms:
As a project and product manager, these market conditions create a confounding set of risks that need some refreshed thinking in order to mitigate their impacts. Here are a few of my thoughts on ways we can manage around these challenging times:
1. Up Your Game on Scope, Schedule and Resource Management
In addition to giving more emphasis to these areas than ever before, project managers need to look beyond their project for external threats. By taking more of a portfolio manager mindset and looking for external threats including other projects, they can better anticipate and address challenges to their own delivery commitments.
For high-speed, iterative agile product delivery, labor shortages make for even more challenging times. One of the benefits of a dedicated set of resources for an agile product team is that over time they reduce the learning curve and improve decision-making efficiency. Swapping resources in and out of agile product delivery due to labor shortages creates damaging disruption to both schedule and quality. This environment compels agile product managers to be even more vigilant when it comes to managing scope, schedule and resources.
2. Get Back to Basics
While the increased frequency and depth of examination improves stewardship and has helped with early detection of delivery volatility, in these times there may not be enough capacity to warrant this level of detail.
To help mitigate impacts of labor shortages while not adversely impacting delivery, take a good hard look at the project and product metadata that is currently being produced. For the level of uncertainty and risk on your project or product, can the frequency of reporting, analysis and review meetings be reduced in order to spend more time on activities that directly impact delivery?
For the depth of metadata, explore simplified methods for conveying progress against a plan. For example, the use of additional done/not done milestones to measure progress would take less effort than gathering timesheets to calculate total effort. Rationalizing where it makes sense, the frequency and breadth of supporting metadata creates more capacity for direct project and product activities.
3. Restore Real-Time Individual Engagement as a Norm
Pre-pandemic, there was a lot of personal interaction in an office or site; these days, we rely on online collaboration tools as a primary means of connection and communication. Despite the ability as a group to remotely connect audibly and visually through the use of these tools, difficulties remain in terms of the effectiveness and efficiency of personal engagement, especially at an individual level. Individual connection has always been a means of identifying both new ideas as well revealing challenges that may not arise in a group setting; all the more reason to make it an increasingly frequent activity when managing projects and products.
While modern times present new challenges, it’s still possible to connect on a person-to-person level. Outside of the normal cadence of group meetings, set up recurring individual connection sessions with team members. These can still be done with collaboration tools—but they have all the advantages of what private conversation can provide. I’m finding these individual meetings have a great propensity to really help us understand the underlying dynamics of project and product delivery. (If you happen to live in reasonably close proximity and abide by any local regulations, that doesn’t mean an espresso in person to stimulate conversation would be out of the question!)
These are indeed challenging times, the likes of which I have never before seen in my project and product management career. Labor shortages as well as volatility from resource overcommitments are all causing us to rethink our day-to-day activities on how we interact with people. While we can long for the days when walking down the hall in an office to connect with a team member was the norm, we as project and product delivery managers still need to take steps to overcome these challenges in our drive for successful delivery outcomes.
I welcome any comments on what others are doing to help reduce the impact of labor shortages with creative project and product management techniques. Share your insights below!
In my project management career, I’ve been very fortunate to have worked on different projects all over the world. As with most things in life (like having a flat auto tire or forgetting to pay the electric bill), projects mirror the practical realities of life. One of the takeaways from those experiences has been the commonality of successful project management approaches no matter the geographical location of the projects.
A key characteristic that I have observed over time is how projects and project management resemble a meritocracy independent of personal bias. Projects need to be complete with desired outcomes in a specific period of time. As one completes ever more large and complex projects, one grows in their career as a project manager. This career growth occurs regardless of the race, gender or other characteristics of the project manager.
As with many other merit-based professions such as healthcare, aviation, athletics and science, the introduction of personal bias with project management would be detrimental to the completion of any project. That’s why project management as a profession is a great equalizer given its heavy dependence on the skills and capabilities of a project manager.
In thinking about how project management is a great equalizer, I offer the following thoughts:
1. The project doesn’t know who is managing it. Projects are an interesting construct that is hard to categorize under the typical laws of physics; they don’t have weight, exhibit motion or temperature. Projects do have the characteristic of being a collection of activities and assets that need to be brought together to produce desired outcomes.
In this regard, a project by definition is immune from any personal bias; it’s a matter of solving a three-dimensional problem using people, process and technology. A project manager needs to be skilled at resource, schedule, dependency and stakeholder management in order to solve for desired outcomes. The project itself does not prefer the personal background of the project manager; it awaits the proper project management disciplines to be employed in order to complete its required objectives.
2. Successful project managers find the best people. People represent one of the key factors in any project. When compared against process and technology components, the acquisition of the best people plays a more significant factor in the success of any project. However, the acquisition of people for a project also poses the possibility for personal bias. As a project manager, you have to be able to find the best people for the project independent of subjective perceptions.
A CEO of a global company once said it took him 20 years to get a point where he could identify good people more than half the time. My observations of project managers early in their careers bear this out; they tend to be more subjective in selecting resources that they like and perceive would work well on their team; read this behavior as easier to manage. The more experienced project managers more discreetly evaluate competencies than subjective factors; this is key, as no matter the personal affinity or how easy (or difficult) the person is perceived to manage, the most critical dimension of people for a project is their competencies.
3. Project management metrics show no bias. One of my favorite quips about project metrics, especially when they are not favorable, is “You can’t beat the laws of physics.” If metrics show a project to be over budget or with late milestones, those are intractable project “laws of physics” that need to be addressed by the responsible project manager.
To a great degree, project metrics are designed to not show any personal bias. They are a physical expression of project reality that can’t be influenced by personal factors of the project manager. Metrics are equal in every regard to serve as an unbiased foundation from which remedial project actions are taken.
In my early years as a project manager, I have to admit I made every possible project management judgement error on my projects. Over time and with some valuable guidance from experienced project managers, I grew into leading ever larger initiatives. As part of that growth path, I observed that the most experienced project managers had left any notion of personal bias behind in their project management execution. Their focus on the core dynamics of a project, finding the best people and anticipating conditions that would lead to unfavorable metrics were key factors in their success.
I welcome any commentary on the concept of project management being one of the purest forms of meritocracy that by design can’t rely on personal bias to achieve success.
by Kevin Korterud
It used to be that projects that were typically small in size, localized to a single team, and compartmentalized to the point where they didn’t collide when it came to schedules and resources. Over time, projects began to be packaged into programs that involved larger teams as well as a greatly expanded technology footprint. To manage these complexities of modern-day project delivery, organizations are increasingly turning to enterprise program management offices (EPMOs) or enterprise delivery management offices (EDMOs) that span waterfall and agile initiatives.
The need—and demand—for enterprise PMOs and DMOs is only growing with the pandemic. Here’s why:
The business process landscape has become more imbued with technology— to the point where there’s no such thing as a business or technology project anymore … just delivery. And while the meteoric growth of tech has fueled success, it also creates challenges. It’s now common to have multiple delivery initiatives underway across a technically integrated landscape that can include everything from centralized enterprise resource planning systems down to personal mobility apps. In addition, project/program delivery and agile product delivery are taking place at multiple speeds and frequencies. Design, deliverables and testing all become much more demanding. All of this leads to the strong probability for delay on one initiative to cause schedule and resource conflicts.
EPMOs and EDMOs can provide technology enablement and assurance functions needed to keep delivery on track. For example, enterprise-enabled testing and scheduling tools whereby delivery teams can form, execute and implement requirements and user stories—without having to spend effort to acquire tools and train team members—saves precious time.
Early in my career, a senior project manager told me the best way to reduce costs on projects is to finish them on time. That advice remains relevant. As companies rely on technology as well as project, programs and transformations to create a competitive market edge, any sort of schedule delay reduces value. Delaying a market launch of a new mobile product entails parking resources, additional communication efforts, etc. Plus, given today’s landscape, a delay in one initiative can cause a chain reaction that affects other dependent initiatives, thus exacerbating the overall negative impact to business value.
Through integrated schedule, resource and dependency planning across delivery initiatives, EPMOs and EDMOs trigger early warning mechanisms and help marshal senior leadership decision-making to help mitigate delays.
Today’s delivery landscape is dramatically different from the past. Along with the size, scale and varying modes of project, program, transformation and product delivery, multiple third-party labor and hardware/software suppliers are more deeply involved. It’s also more common for delivery initiatives to have a global footprint, adding another layer of complexity. And COVID-19 further exacerbates these challenges by inhibiting communication, collaboration and impacting hardware/software supply chains.
Let’s use the analogy of a busy airport, where there’s a need for a centralized function to help harmonize the way different people, processes and technology components work together. In that case, distinct sector, tower and ground controllers organize the flow of traffic, minimize delays and in some cases avert potential disastrous conflicts.
The same rationale holds true for EPMOs and EDMOs, which are uniquely positioned to provide essential services such as: common delivery methods, third-party supplier and supply chain management, enterprise-level risk management, integrated scheduling management, resource management and dependency management.
I sometimes long for the simplicity of small, compartmentalized projects that could move at their own pace to completion. However, we all have to face today’s delivery reality. Some ways of working we were all used to may come back with the pandemic under control, but in the meantime we still have delivery responsibilities—and EPMOs and EDMOs can be a big help in making sure we meet those responsibilities.
To what degree are you seeing the need for enterprise EPMOs and EDMOs?