Project Management

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
Lynda Bourne
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
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Ramiro Rodrigues
Soma Bhattacharya
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Recent Posts

Do You Foster Imposter Syndrome in Your Team?

3 Ways Project Managers Can Build a Competitive Advantage

Building Team Synergy and Resilience

The Entropy at the Heart of Project Management

5 Symptoms—and 5 Solutions—For Excessive Self-Confidence as a PM

Building Team Synergy and Resilience

By Peter Tarhanidis, PhD

As the pandemic stretches on, work-from-home programs continue to keep teams working virtually. During this time, we have performed courageously to deliver our strategic and business outcomes. Here I will share a select review of advice from industry experts as they explore how to build a post-pandemic response strategy.

According to McKinsey (2022), organizations have pivoted to deliver sustainable and inclusive growth toward building a better world. And Harvard Business Review (2020) notes that all types of companies have navigated the pandemic by pivoting their business models in the short term to survive—becoming more resilient in the long term.

Yet not all pivots generated an improved business outcome. Three trends in particular can help ensure a successful pivot:

  1. Align the pivot to a long-term trend driven by the pandemic
  2. Extend the firm’s existing capabilities, further solidifying the strategic plan
  3. Sustain profitability, which preserves and enhances the brand’s value to the customer

PWC’s Global Crisis Survey identified three key lessons that businesses can adopt for long-term resilience:

  1. Plan and prepare for inevitable disruption by establishing a crisis team
  2. Integrate teams and cross-company competencies to enable effective responses
  3. Build resilience governance into the organization’s culture

An opportunity, therefore, exists to consider how to prepare your team’s competence in driving synergy and resilience in order to lead post-pandemic growth strategies—and simultaneously pivot from those same strategies.

Here is a shortlist of what leaders can do to prepare for a post-pandemic recovery and support an organization:

  1. Develop mental agility to pivot among key strategies and deliver business outcomes as key shifts and business challenges arise
  2. Allow the process of learning to take effect across key leadership levels
  3. Integrate PMI and agile frameworks to ensure flexible planning activities
  4. Employ data analytics to support key insights in customer and marketplace forecasts
  5. Clarify the governance of key plans and what event would trigger a decisive strategic pivot
  6. Develop talent to migrate into new areas of company strategies and projects
  7. Gather teams in person in order to create synergy and move from “norm” to “perform”

In the end, the teams that are ready to execute and can pivot as necessary will be ready for the post-pandemic competitive environment.

Let me know if you have uncovered additional successful strategies—or any pitfalls to avoid—in building team synergy and resilience.

References

  1. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/risk-and-resilience/our-insights/covid-19-implications-for-business
  2. https://hbr.org/2020/07/how-businesses-have-successfully-pivoted-during-the-pandemic
  3. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/issues/crisis-solutions/covid-19.html
Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: April 27, 2022 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Should We Have Longer Sprints?

Categories: Agile, Teams

by Christian Bisson

 

I’ve recently been part of a discussion concerning changing the length of sprints from two weeks to three weeks, and the product increments (“PI” from SAFe) from 10 weeks to 12 weeks. Hearing the arguments throughout the meeting made me realize how the impact the sprints have on teams is greatly underestimated. Also, it’s important to note that in this case, the sprint length is aligned for all teams—meaning all teams need to change.

In the discussion I was in, the arguments for having longer sprints were that it would reduce the number of meetings (therefore deliver more value), and that we would have better sprint reviews. Let’s review those arguments, and other factors to consider

 

The Number of Meetings

Assuming we are only referring to “agile” meetings, it’s true that the events (ceremonies) will occur once every three weeks instead of two weeks. However, aside from the daily scrums, the length of each of those meetings is expected to be extended accordingly. 

For example, a good rule of thumb for sprint planning length is about one hour per week in the sprint, so a two-week sprint would have a two-hour sprint planning meeting, and a three-week sprint would have a three-hour meeting—making it an average of one hour per week, and thus not really saving time. The same goes for the review and the retrospective.

The daily is the exception; that would remain at a maximum of 15 minutes every day, so no gain there either.

 

Better Sprint Reviews

In theory, since sprints would be longer, teams should deliver more within them (more on that under “Predictability” below)—and that will allow teams to present more accomplished work.

Depending on your circumstances, one could even argue that stakeholders would need less travel time to attend the review since it’s once per three weeks instead of two (although these days, even that argument has lost its value!).

But let’s look at the other side of the medal. The review is a key event to gather feedback from stakeholders and obtain precious information to move forward. That now happens less often, and could risk gaps in communication. In some cases, releasing an increment of work is not possible without having approvals within the review, meaning that value could be delivered slower.

So for this argument, I would caution analyzing your circumstances properly before deciding it’s a good idea to change the length of the sprints.


Predictability

This argument was the “con” discussed in our meeting, which I felt was underestimated. For organizations and teams, having good predictability means delivering all (or almost all) of what we forecast to deliver within a specific timeframe. This is key for planning product roadmaps, aligning dependencies, forecasting budgets, etc.

Predictability in our world is a challenge though; as we know, things change, and what we thought would bring value is only confirmed by empirical information that allows us to adapt as needed. This means that the longer the forecast is needed, the less chance we have to be accurate.

Don’t get me wrong—teams that have gained a certain maturity are expected to get to a point where they can accurately forecast the work they’ll accomplish within their sprint, and moving to a longer sprint would be viable for them. 

But the maturity of the team may vary, and in our case, we were talking about brand new teams that had a decent amount of carry-over from sprint to sprint already, so it was a no-brainer that they would struggle with longer sprints.

 

Scope Stability

Another element to take into account when selecting the length of sprints: Are the circumstances related to the scope stable enough to be able to focus on a sprint that doesn't (or barely) changes? The longer the sprint, the longer a potential “change” would have to wait—and if it can’t, then the sprint’s scope risks being changed.

 

Estimating and Splitting Stories

In order to properly plan and deliver sprints, it’s a good practice to split stories so that they fit within a sprint. Therefore, the smaller the sprint, the more it’s important to split stories—and that’s a habit teams develop as they grow.

On the flip side, if a team has not yet developed a good habit of splitting stories, a larger sprint will give it the impression that “it can be delivered within a sprint.” This results in a higher risk of having a backlog of large items that the teams struggle to deliver.

 

Conclusion

The length of a sprint largely impacts the ability for teams to forecast and deliver accurately. It’s not a decision that should be taken lightly. It’s also important to involve team members in the discussions.

What factors do you consider when deciding the length of your sprint? Any lessons learned to share?


 

Posted by Christian Bisson on: March 05, 2022 02:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

AI To Disrupt Project Management

By Peter Tarhanidis, PhD

Technology has demonstrated tremendous benefits and efficiencies (many of them unstated) over time. The technology lifecyle enhancements that started with our initial computers, software programs and the internet of the past have given way to the modern-day cloud, Big Data and artificial intelligence.

Throughout this maturing landscape, technology has affected all industries—especially how we collaborate. According to Peng (2021), here are some key impacts to consider:

  • Digital transformations spending will exceed an estimated $2.39 trillion by 2024.
  • Collaborative tools and technologies increased operational efficiency by 131%.
  • Technology will displace an estimated 85 million jobs globally by 2025.
  • AI augmentation will increase global worker productivity hours to an estimated 6.2 billion hours.

Project management has benefitted from the overall technology lifecycle, either by implementing aspects of it or by being a user of its collaboration outputs. Yet project managers are at the doorstep of being part of the next wave of AI disruption.

What a PM organization must consider is the methods and concepts used in managing past programs and become proactive in shifting to an AI-enabled PM organization. There is no doubt that the role of PMs and our methodology will be augmented with AI-enabled assistance.

PwC identified five areas of AI disruption and decision making in project management:

  1. Business insights: Filter data to gain actionable perceptions
  2. Risk management: Develop the ability to run multiple risk scenarios and outcomes
  3. Human capital: Optimize teams and leverage staff skills or new areas of training
  4. Action-taker: Provide analysis and optimization of schedules and staffing needs
  5. Active assistant: Augment the collection process of information to generate progress reports

To prepare for these changes, project managers should:

  • Invest in data sciences and digital skill sets
  • Create a culture that adopts digital disruption
  • Enable the use of digital tools and approaches to limit manual efforts and drive value-added work.

In order for these changes to emerge, there are a few considerations that may hold one back from the changes—such as organizational readiness, employee skills assessments, and the state of technical tools.

PwC outlines a change approach to assist in the transition that relies on updating project management strategy, leveraging technology investments, integrating digital and AI, and a comprehensive communication plan to generate awareness through adoption by the future project management workforce.

What other approaches have you used—or should be considered—to manage AI disruption in project management?

Reference:

  1. https://www.pwc.com/m1/en/publications/documents/virtual-partnership-artificial-ntelligence-disrupt-project-management-change-role-project-managers-final.pdf
  2. https://writersblocklive.com/blog/technology-in-the-workplace-statistics/
Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: January 07, 2022 10:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Do You Miss the “Old Way” of Communicating?

By Conrado Morlan

In project management, communication is a core competency that significantly impacts the outcome of a project. Most likely, you have worked hard to master your communication skills. Then all of the sudden, the way we communicate changed. The style had to adapt, evolve and amplify with the support of technology during the pandemic.

We were accustomed to more traditional ways of communicating, such as in-person meetings (with groups, or one-on-one with stakeholders), spontaneous conversations around the office, and conference calls, among others. But most of these methods were totally erased when, by necessity, we started to work remotely.

In a matter of weeks, we had to close the communication gap by learning on the fly how to use new technology tools featuring virtual rooms with a mosaic of participants, featuring screen sharing, tool chat, or instant messaging (IM). We faced the challenge of having to define new rules of communication and common ground (like having cameras on or off during the meeting, and muting your microphone if you aren’t talking).

In just a few months, we adjusted to a new way of communication: online calls instead of phone calls; recorded online meetings with automatic transcripts instead of handwritten meeting minutes typed out afterward; more IM communication instead of email communication.

For many project managers who are still remote, this continues to work well; for others who have returned to the office, they are starting to readapt to (or are missing) the “old way of communication.”

Readapting to the “way things were” won’t be an easy task. Many people have lost that sense of personal interaction, and it is becoming more difficult to bring several people together at the same time in a meeting room to discuss the project. People’s preferences have also changed, and many prefer a virtual meeting as they think that there will be no difference to a meeting’s outcome if the meeting is in-person or virtual.

Perhaps the outcome of the meeting will be no different, but what about in-person human interaction—a key element for communication? Reading non-verbal cues is becoming more difficult, a valuable element that will confirm if a “yes” is truly a yes or instead a “maybe.”

As a project manager, what has been your biggest challenge in adopting and adapting the “new way of communication” in your projects?

After a recent project progress meeting with my team, one of the senior members and I discussed the face-to-face communication challenges we have with other members. We concurred that when the person receiving the information has low retention, it results in false assumptions and a misunderstanding on the topic of discussion.

Why is this happening? If the person receiving information confirms that everything is clear, why do we still have communication issues in projects? Usually, it's because taking notes in a meeting is going away, as many team members wait for a meeting recap that summarizes their action items.

In face-to-face communication, we spend most of the time listening—and apparently, we're not good at it. We filter what we want to hear, and that may result in a broken message.

That senior member of my team is part of the silent generation. He mastered his listening skills in an environment without all of the ways to "replay" conversations that we use today. In addition, he mentioned that the communication environment before was "less polluted" than today, where we are bombarded with things that affect our ability to pay attention.

I asked the senior team member what the key elements of good listening skills are, based on his experience. He recommended:

  • Pay attention to the dialogue and receive the message.
  • Acknowledge the message using positive expressions, such as "Okay" or "I see."
  • Confirm the message was received by summarizing what was discussed.
  • Ask questions to the person giving information during and after the discussion.

What are the face-to-face communication challenges you have experienced with your team? Do your team members pay attention when you speak? What advantages and disadvantages do virtual meetings have?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: November 25, 2021 01:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

What’s In Your Return-To-Work Contract?

During the long duration of the pandemic, each of us had to shift our work/life balance. We had to curate a new workday schedule, perhaps adding more flexibility to support multiple needs between work and family. A changing focus with customer and colleague engagement, repurposing commuting time, tending to family needs, caring for those affected by COVID-19, and supporting relief efforts are just some of the changes we had to adapt to. The pandemic forced each of us to make personal and conscious ethical decisions on the tradeoffs, but most have of us have set into a new work/life balance.

After almost 20 months, the world is deploying COVID-19 vaccines under health authorities like the U.S. FDA and Europe’s EMA, who have expanded access protocol for emergency use. The world is hopefully on a trajectory toward a post-pandemic world. Many organizations have established their return-to-work policies, criteria, and expectations of colleagues. One may observe a continuum of return-to-work guidelines built by organizations as a highly collaborative model focused on high-touch customer experience, an innovation-driven design model, or task-based transactional work. Each organization is calling to us to spend some time back in the office or in front of our stakeholders.

How does this affect us, and what do we do to prepare? Our choices can be to simply go back to a pre-pandemic “normal”; stay in the work-from-home pandemic style; or re-engage in a post-pandemic style. Regarding this last choice, we should consider how to maneuver ourselves into a post-pandemic style while still maintaining the agility of working from home. This disruption to our current way of working creates a sense of stress and anxiety as it asks us to re-engage. One must re-learn and adapt to new behaviors and approaches.

One opportunity to be better prepared may be to create a personal contract for the post-pandemic work world. The contract can be a statement or a list of priorities. Here are some tips that I will use to help make the transition better and reset myself:

  1. Revisit what you and your colleagues are professionally devoted toward, and why.
  2. Curate the difference of a workday at home versus in the office (or traveling).
  3. Coordinate specific dates and times for in-person versus virtual meetings.
  4. Make lunch plans with newly hired colleagues.
  5. Start a back-to-work focus group to help facilitate colleagues’ transition back.
  6. Be clear about your constraints on social distancing, work hours, and time off.
  7. Schedule healthy eating times, sleeping and exercise habits, family needs, etc.
  8. Identify your new peeves and triggers; be mindful of behavioral changes (from both you and your colleagues).
  9. Start a journal and chronicle your path and learnings.
  10. Remember: Everyone has a different path—but together we will get through it!

What would your list include to enable a post-pandemic transition back to work?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: July 20, 2021 12:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)
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