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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3 Ways to Improve Project Management In The Time of Labor Shortages

 

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:

  1. For new projects and products, the ability to find new resources is extremely difficult. Staffing durations are taking longer and it’s ever more challenging to find skilled, experienced team members.
  2. In addition, existing project and product resources are being consistently overcommitted, which leads to multiple negative outcomes—including their potential loss as they explore other options due to burnout.

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
One of the hallmarks of a great project manager is their ability to synthesize threats to scope, schedule and resources. They rigorously examine and take action to curtail creeping scope, aggressively monitor planned versus actual schedule progress, as well as frequently check resource utilization.

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
As the complexity of project and product delivery grew over the years, the amount of supporting reporting, analysis and review meetings grew in lockstep. In addition, the complexity of indicators, metrics, narratives and other project metadata increased as well—the intent being to quantitatively identify delivery volatility before it becomes an issue.

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
People are both the most valuable and the most fragile when it comes to project and product delivery. One of my post-graduate professors in an organizational design class once shared, “The greater the level of uncertainty, the closer the level of interaction is required between people.” Loosely translated for modern times, this means: Don’t try to solve complex problems by email.

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!

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: November 16, 2021 05:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Look Out! What’s Ahead for Project Management in 2018

Categories: PM & the Economy

By Cyndee Miller

It’s the fundamental quandary facing anyone looking to futureproof: How does one separate a serious business trend from a fleeting flight of fancy? Matters get even murkier considering it’s the nascent ideas living on the edges that intrigue the most — those things just starting to bubble up that threaten (or promise) to change everything. Predicting how all of it will play out requires an almost surreal level of intuition tempered with down-the-rabbit-hole research.

Just a few weeks into the new year, we’re already seeing some interesting stats. The World Economic Forum is predicting a “critical period of intensified risks in 2018,” with respondents pointing to extreme weather events, natural disasters and cyberattacks as the most likely culprits. But the group also pointed to the prospect of strong economic growth that presents leaders with a “golden opportunity to address signs of severe weakness in many of the complex systems that underpin our world.” Quick translation? Projects — lots and lots of super-cool projects, like Saudi Arabia’s US$500 billion new Neom mega smart city. This, in turn, will mean even greater demand for project management expertise.

Now much of that expertise belongs to women. So if we’re looking at trends, there’s no ignoring this one. Women in the workplace — their roles, their compensation, their career paths — has been a conversation for decades. Yet even the most forward-looking pundits couldn’t have predicted how the issue would explode late last year — and continue to reverberate in 2018. The project management profession is no exception. “No matter how hard you work, as a woman, you will always be expected to work harder to prove yourself,” Paige Barnes, PMP, senior IT project manager at the American Medical Association, says in an upcoming issue of PM Network. And even with that added work, most women will make less. In Brazil, for example, the average salary for male project managers is BRL157,073 versus BRL141,601 for women, according to PMI’s 2017 Project Management Salary Survey. Australia follows a similar pattern: AU$149,698 versus AU$137,756 for females.

Smart organizations know the payoff for closing the gender gap is real: A recent paper in Financial Management posits fostering diversity makes a company more innovative, a necessity in the current disrupt- or-die business environment. Machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and all sorts of things that once seemed strictly for sci-fi flicks are fast becoming de rigueur in project portfolios. Just look at Adidas’ robot-powered factory that lets the sneaker giant unleash a whole new generation of mass personalization projects. It’s sexy stuff, but those projects must also be aligned with a strong strategy.

No doubt, some of the more bleeding-edge projects are the province of early adopters. Yet Deloitte found only 9 percent of respondents believe cognitive development and AI is overhyped. Indeed, those “who had implemented more projects, invested more and employed more sophisticated technologies” showed the highest satisfaction rates.

The shifting landscape means new challenges — and opportunities — for project and program managers. Theories abound on what it will take to get ahead in 2018. Some, like the growing mainstream appeal of agile, are essentially a continuation from 2017. But there are also some wild cards, like Amy Hamilton, PMP, on The Girl’s Guide to Project Management, declaring civility as the new must-have.

This year’s PM Network Jobs Report not only looks at skills, but dives into the hot (and some not-so-hot) sectors and geographic regions for both full-timers and those who want to try their hand at the gig economy. Overall, though, it looks pretty darn promising: PMI’s research predicts employers will need 87.7 million people working in project management-oriented roles by 2027.

The profession itself is also gaining more serious credit. On the very first day of the new year, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, added “project management specialist” to its Standard Occupation Classification system. Sounds pretty wonky, but it’s a powerful testament to the value project managers deliver to the overall economy.

Don’t make me futureproof on my own. What are your predictions for project management in 2018?

Posted by cyndee miller on: January 22, 2018 09:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

In the Rearview Mirror: The Year in Project Management

By Cyndee Miller

It’s time to hit the rewind button on 2017 and look back on the year that was in project management.

And dang, it was a big year — full of ambitious projects that packed a punch. I’m still processing the €700,000 Museo Atlántico, an eerily beautiful underwater collection of 300 sculptures off the coast of Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands — only possible with the project team navigating complex requirements and skeptical stakeholders. And though not without its challenges, the first phase of the Hyderabad Metro Rail — a massive public-private partnership project — pulled in more than 200,000 passengers on its first day alone.

That wow factor sometimes extends to what some might view as more mundane matters like the schedule. Elon Musk’s latest project adventure, for example, called for installing the world’s largest lithium-ion battery within 100 days — or it was free. Somehow scheduling matters don’t seem so pedestrian when there’s US$50 million riding on the project’s outcome. For the record, Mr. Musk and his team pulled it off.

The project is part of a plan to make Adelaide, Australia the world’s first carbon-neutral city. That push to sustainability is nothing new, of course. But it got real in 2017. Sustainability is no longer swathed in gauzy green layers. It has real strategic objectives — and is held to real metrics and governance.

The U.K.’s Crossrail team, for example, recently released a treasure trove of documentation highlighting its efforts to minimize disruption and pollution on the £14.8 billion rail project, which is expected to be completed next year. The results are impressive and could serve as a blueprint for embedding sustainability in other megaprojects. “Crossrail not only set a new precedent for delivery of a truly ambitious 21

st century infrastructure project, the strategic approach they took in managing the many environment and sustainability challenges was exceptional,” Martin Baxter, chief policy adviser for the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, told Railway Technology.

Even as the United States pulled out of the Paris Agreement, dozens of the country’s mayors signed their own accord on climate change. And U.S. business leaders — at companies across all sectors and sizes — didn’t miss a beat, launching their own projects to address the issue.

Yet such political disruptions — along with the Brexit bombshell — are clearly rattling the business world: More than half the CEOs in a KPMG survey said the uncertainty of the current political landscape is having a greater impact on their business than they’ve seen for many years. And those same business leaders know they must adjust their strategies. “All of these political events can have consequences on project planning,” John Greenwood, PMP, founder of Grand Unified Consulting, told PM Network.

There’s a reason disruption is such a buzzword: It’s everywhere. Today’s project environment demands an extra dose of innovation and agility (and probably a few extra shots of espresso). Just look at how many retailers and restaurants are experimenting with pop-ups — and relying on project management to tame the chaos. To achieve that so-in-demand-yet-so-elusive agility, you may want to check out the latest PMI Thought Leadership Series.

This is the stuff of Silicon Valley — and it’s fast becoming business as usual. Take cloud computing. Born in the valley, it’s now infiltrating every sector and forcing old-school businesses like telecoms to respond. Next-gen tech is being woven into the DNA of once-Luddite sectors, like agriculture and construction. Even the ultra-staid financial services sector is realizing full-on digitization is the only way to survive. Indeed, that push has spawned the fintech industry that extends to even emerging markets like Nigeria and India. The latter recently launched a project that saw 86 percent of the country’s cash go out of circulation overnight to be replaced by digital payment systems. Demonetization is the wave of the future, Gilles Ubaghs, principal analyst at Ovum, told PM Network. “It is already changing India, and it will change the world.”

That’s the truly spectacular thing about project management. It really does have the power to transform. No big shocker then that organizations are looking for the talent that can deliver those results.

A study by Anderson Economic Group and PMI found the project-management-oriented labor force is expected to grow by 33 percent in 11 countries through 2027. That’s 22 million new jobs. Whoa.

And as the first members of Gen Z are hitting the workplace, they’re already scoping out project management. They appreciate what they see: “I like the way you have to incorporate organizational skills along with people skills,” Myles Wilson, a junior project manager at Virtual1, told PM Network. “The idea that I could interact with many different people on a daily basis to achieve the same goal is something that inspired me to pursue project management.”

So at least one thing didn’t change in 2017: Project management still rocks.

Posted by cyndee miller on: December 15, 2017 10:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Fast Forward: A Peek at Project Management in 2017

Categories: PM & the Economy

by Cyndee Miller

Now I love a good futurism piece as much as the next person. The illustrious and insightful folks at Forbes, take a decent stab at predicting 2017. But the reality is that no one can predict what’s really going to happen. (It’s a heck of a lot easier to look back. Hence, my last post on the good, the bad and the ugly in project management 2016.)

Still, there are some pretty safe bets. Project managers can certainly expect some of the bleeding-edge innovations—machine learning, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, predictive analytics—to leave the theory room and enter the profession in a much more meaningful way. Even now, we’re seeing project managers combining IT and infrastructure to build smarter cities that not only deliver benefits to citizens, but also help urban areas address climate change and massive population growth.

And project management left 2016 with a massive win: In the United States, for example, President Barack Obama signed a law aimed at improving program management practices and bolstering workforce development through a formal career path for federal program managers.

What’s next? Well, that’s where the art of making predictions gets a little sticky, thanks to a little thing called disruption. Yes it’s an over-hyped, borderline ridiculous word. But it’s also a pretty succinct way of summing up the stuff that happens that no one saw coming—and changes everything.

One survey found nearly three-quarters of CFOs cite uncertain economic conditions as the top risk to their companies in the coming year. Even a small twitch in the geopolitical landscape can fundamentally alter the project landscape—for better or worse. Will Colombia’s bold commitment to peace translate to a boom in project investment or not? How will U.S. president elect Donald Trump’s wildly ambitious infrastructure vision play out? And then there’s Brexit, which one think tank predicts will result in a decade of disruption for the United Kingdom. Uncertainty continues to swirl and the repercussions are real. Yet at least one PMO director spotted an opportunity to showcase the value of project management.

Indeed, in such a volatile environment, companies, NGOs and governments around the world increasingly recognize the power of project management—if it’s done right.

The new program management law sparked some serious celebration. But the big question for 2017: Will it inspire similar action in other governments and corporations? Over at A Girl’s Guide to Project Management, Elizabeth Harrin put a focus on professionalism as one of her list of top trends to watch in 2017. “Project-related work and jobs are growing too quickly for our approaches to professionalism to keep up. I think we’ll quickly see companies that don’t have professional methods for project management in place wanting to shift away from planning on the back of a postcard to taking more robust approaches to doing projects,” she writes.

The PM Network 2017 Jobs Report shows strong demand for top project talent, especially in growing economies like India, Germany and the United Arab Emirates, not to mention upstarts with rocketing GDPs like Vietnam and Botswana. Organizations want people with strong strategic thinking, leadership, change management and communications skills. But what they really need are forward-thinking project, program and portfolio managers who understand that things aren’t always black or white. (Gray should be their favorite color.) In an age of ambiguity, organizations will seek out the project professionals who don’t just deliver on time and on budget, but have the agility to adjust on the fly.

No matter their sector or level of experience, project professionals must actively anticipate future needs. That requires far more than integrating the latest and greatest trends into project plans. It means finding creative ways to juxtapose long-term strategic thinking and day-to-day execution.

Project, program, portfolio and PMO managers have the power to change the world. What have you got planned for this year? Dare to share what you see on the horizon and how you’re future-proofing for 2017—and beyond?

Posted by cyndee miller on: January 03, 2017 12:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

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 (7)
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