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
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Christian Bisson
Yasmina Khelifi
Sree Rao
Soma Bhattacharya
Emily Luijbregts
Lenka Pincot
cyndee miller
Jorge Martin Valdes Garciatorres
Marat Oyvetsky
Ramiro Rodrigues
Wanda Curlee

Past Contributors:

Rex Holmlin
Vivek Prakash
Dan Goldfischer
Linda Agyapong
Jim De Piante
Siti Hajar Abdul Hamid
Bernadine Douglas
Michael Hatfield
Deanna Landers
Kelley Hunsberger
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Alfonso Bucero Torres
Marian Haus
Shobhna Raghupathy
Peter Taylor
Joanna Newman
Saira Karim
Jess Tayel
Lung-Hung Chou
Rebecca Braglio
Roberto Toledo
Geoff Mattie

Recent Posts

3 Agile Disconnects We Need to Address

What to Expect: Anticipating and Adapting to Dynamic Economic Trends

Governance Models: The Secret to Successful Agile Projects

3 Valuable PM Lessons I Learned in 2023

The 4 P’s of Successful Modern PMs

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What to Expect: Anticipating and Adapting to Dynamic Economic Trends

By Peter Tarhanidis, Ph.D.

In the ever-evolving landscape of corporate strategic planning, organizations face the perpetual dilemma of choosing between capital spending for growth—and optimizing operations for efficiency. Striking the right balance amidst economic trends and leveraging organizational strengths becomes paramount when navigating through strategic projects. Meeting shareholder and stakeholder needs, while aligning with the organization's mission, presents a constant challenge.

To anticipate potential initiatives, project managers must consider global macroeconomic conditions and CEO outlooks. A preliminary assessment based on the United Nations World Economic Situation and Prospects and OECD Economic Outlook reports for 2024 reveals a projected global economic growth slowdown from 2.7% to 2.4%. This trend suggests a delicate balance between slow growth and regional divergences. Key considerations include:

  • Global inflation showing signs of easing from 5.7% to a projected 3.9%
  • Slowed global investment trends due to uncertainties, debt burdens and interest rates
  • Fading global trade growth attributed to shifting consumer expenditure, geopolitical tensions, supply chain troubles, pandemic effects and protectionist policies
  • Notable regional examples include the United States expecting a GDP drop from 2.5% to 1.4%, China experiencing a modest slowdown from 5.3% to 4.7%, Europe and Japan projecting growth rates of 1.2%, and Africa's growth expected to slightly increase from 3.3% to 3.5%

Examining the corporate landscape, a survey of 167 CEOs in December 2023 indicated a confidence index of 6.3 out of 10 for the 2024 economy—the highest of the year. The CEO upsurge assumes inflation is under control, the Fed may not raise interest rates and instead reverse rates, setting up a new cycle of growth. Furthering the CEO agenda, McKinsey & Co. identified eight CEO 2024 priorities:

  • Innovating with GEN AI to dominate the future
  • Outcompeting with technology to drive value
  • Driving energy transition for net zero, decarbonization, and scaling green businesses
  • Cultivating institutional capability for competitive advantage
  • Building out middle managers
  • Positioning for success amidst geopolitical risks
  • Developing growth strategies for continued outperformance
  • Considering the broader macroeconomic wealth picture for identifying growth

As project managers, navigating the uncertainty of economic shifts necessitates staying vigilant. The year may bring variables and predictions that impact the execution probability of strategic projects. Shifting between growth plans and efficiency drivers demands different preparation. To stay prepared, consider the following:

  • Regularly monitor global economic indicators and CEO outlooks
  • Foster agility within the team to adapt to changing priorities
  • Develop scenario plans that account for potential economic shifts
  • Collaborate with key stakeholders to gather real-time insights
  • Continuously reassess project priorities based on evolving economic conditions

In an environment of perpetual change, proactive monitoring, adaptability and strategic collaboration will be key to successfully steering projects through the dynamic economic landscape.

How else can you stay prepared as the demands shift on you and your team?

References

  1. JP Morgan: Economic Trends
  2. Economic outlook: A mild slowdown in 2024 and slightly improved growth in 2025
  3. UN: World Economic Situation and Prospects 2024
  4. McKinsey: What matters most? Eight CEO priorities for 2024
  5. CEOs Gain Confidence About 2024 On Hopes Of Lower Rates
Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: January 26, 2024 12:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

3 Valuable PM Lessons I Learned in 2023

By Sree Rao, PMP, PgMP, PMI-ACP

We are almost at the end of 2023! As I take a moment to reflect on this wild ride of a year, here are three key lessons I learned that I wanted to share with you all.

1. Embrace change: Projects are like a box of chocolates…you never know which ones might get canceled.
As program managers, we are no strangers to change. Yet some types of changes are easier to deal with than others. 2023 has been a turbulent year for me with multiple project cancellations right before releasing them to production.

It was super demotivating. But as technology continues to evolve, customer needs shift and market trends change, it's essential to stay flexible and change course as strategy demands. If you ever have to deal with such a situation, rather than feeling demotivated you should embrace it as an opportunity for growth and learning. By doing so, you'll be better equipped to lead your team through the ups and downs.

One of my mentors gave this perspective, which has helped me immensely: “We get paid to do the work without promises that the features/projects will be released to production. So as long as you get paid and you are continuing to learn, do your best work and leave the rest.”


2. About pursuing your passion: Stop comparing yourself to others.
You might have heard this advice from several people: If you pursue your passion, your work will be more enjoyable. For the longest time, I have been beating myself up because I don’t have any passions (unless binge watching TV counts as a passion? :)). I personally do not find this advice to be practical, so I made peace with the realization that it is important to be content with myself rather than compare myself to others who are “pursuing their passion.”

What I realized is that we can pursue our interests in other ways and means instead of completely switching careers or trying to turn hobbies into a living. We can pursue our passions/interests in small ways like finding opportunities in the domain that we are interested in. As an example, if your hobby is photography and photo editing, perhaps you could continue being a program manager but find a job in a company that specializes in photo editing software like Adobe.

Find the domain or area that brings you joy—whether it's event management, innovation or team building—and find opportunities in that domain. When you enjoy what you do, everyone benefits—not just your own well-being, but also your program's success.


3. Attitude of gratitude: The secret ingredient to well-being, in both your professional and personal life!
Last but not least is cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Sure, there are always things that could have gone better (like projects not getting canceled), but be grateful for what we have.

As a program manager, we have the privilege of working with talented team members who contribute their skills and expertise to our projects. Rather than thinking “they are doing their job,” make it a point to express gratitude toward them regularly. A simple "thank you" or acknowledgement can go a long way in building positive relationships within your team
and fostering a supportive work environment. Additionally, practicing gratitude can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being.

By embracing these three lessons, you'll be better equipped to navigate the challenges of program management in 2024 and beyond. Remember, as a program manager, our role goes beyond managing projects; it's about leading people, fostering collaboration and driving impactful results.

As we bid farewell to another year, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of you for your thoughtful comments and engagement. (A special shoutout to our editor Cameron for inspiring me to write and for shaping my musings a better way). Wishing you all a blessed 2024!

Posted by Sree Rao on: December 11, 2023 11:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Who Is Your Backup PM?

 

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?

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: October 26, 2023 08:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

AI Disruption to Transform Project Success Rates

By Peter Tarhanidis, Ph.D.

One of the impacts artificial intelligence has had is prompting a reconstitution of project management. Here I look to leading industry experts to explore the benefits to project management systems due to matured AI software; and the maturity of the project manager as a data- and fact-driven champion of business outcomes and innovation. This combination of advanced project systems performance and leadership competence will significantly transform project success rates.

As a background to the current state of project management, HBR states that $48 trillion is invested annually in projects. The Standish Group notes that only 35% of projects are successful, and 65% of projects waste resources and have unrealized benefits.

Additionally, Proofhub attributes project failure to firms that lack project management delivery systems; they are prone to miss targets and overspend. It noted that 67% of projects fail because project management is undervalued; 44% of all managers do not believe in the importance of project management software; and 46% of firms place a high priority on project management. Also noted: Utilizing a good software program reduces failure by 10%, and scope creep by 17%.

More specifically, a PMI Learning Library article noted some reasons for project failure:

  1. Unclear goals and objectives
  2. Lack of resource planning
  3. Poor communication across the organization
  4. Inadequate stakeholder management
  5. Poorly defined project scope
  6. Inaccurate cost and time estimates
  7. Inadequate risk management
  8. Inexperienced project managers
  9. Unrealistic expectations

Maturing Systems
An HBR article suggests that poor project success rates are due to a low level of available mature systems. Many firms continue to rely on spreadsheets, slides and other applications that haven’t matured current practices. While the current tools are adequate in measuring project performance, they do not allow for the development of intelligent automation and collaboration across the portfolio of projects. The opportunity to apply AI to project management could improve the success ratio by a quantifiable 25%, or trillions of dollars of newly realized benefits for firms and society.

Gartner Inc. analysts predict that by 2030, AI software—driven by conversational AI, machine learning and robotic process automation for gathering data, reporting and tracking—will eliminate 80% of all project management office tasks. Gartner identifies project management disruption in six aspects:

  1. Better selection and prioritization
  2. Support for the project management office
  3. Improved, faster project definition, planning and reporting
  4. Virtual project assistants
  5. Advanced testing systems and software
  6. A new role for the project manager

PwC envisions AI-enabled project management software will improve a project leader’s decision-making process across the following five key areas crucial to success:

  1. Business insights improvements by filtering better data for relevant knowledge
  2. Risk management assessing scenarios that offer mitigation strategies
  3. Human capital in allocating resources more appropriately to meet the business priorities
  4. Integrating various technologies and specialists to improve project outcomes
  5. Active assistance by enhancing administrative tasks and stakeholder progress communications

PwC posits the advancements in project management software are an opportunity for firms and leaders that are most ready to take advantage of this disruption and reap the rewards.

PM Competence
PMI’s Project Manager Competency Development (PMCD) Framework provides an assessment and development of a project manager’s competence. It is based on the premise that competencies have a direct effect on performance. A project manager’s competence can be categorized in terms of project management knowledge, project management performance and their accomplishments, and personal competency in performing the project activities and personality characteristics. This combination is the stated success criteria for a competent project manager.

AI’s capability to assess disparate sources of big data to obtain actionable insights arms project managers with improved decision-making competence throughout the project lifecycle. However, a challenge noted by PwC’s recent analysis of OECD data (covering 200,000 jobs in 29 countries) warns that AI’s job displacement effect will automate 30% of jobs involving administrative manual tasks by the mid-2030s. This indicates a clear need to upskill project manager competence in order to thrive in the future.

In order to succeed, a firm’s culture of adaptability and lifelong learning is a cornerstone for shifting today’s project management roles into the future. They will need to expand competence in soft skills, business and management skills, technical and digital skills—all working in concert with each other.

IAPM states project managers will face fundamental changes over the next 10 years with job descriptions and roles. It suggests AI will make logical analysis and decisions, allowing the PM to focus their main area of responsibility on creativity, resolving conflicts, and innovation.

Lastly, with any transformation or disruption, one must consider the actions and obstacles—whether financial, management support, or workforce ability—to embrace and enact change. Here are some key considerations to reflect on:

  1. Does your firm value project management?
  2. Is your firm a quick adopter of intelligence-based project software?
  3. Will your firm invest in your competence development?

Post your thoughts in the comments!

References

  1. PMI: Project Management Competency Development Framework—Second Edition
  2. PMI: Why do projects really fail?
  3. HBR: How AI Will Transform Project Management
  4. Gartner Says 80 Percent of Today’s Project Management Tasks Will Be Eliminated by 2030 as Artificial Intelligence Takes Over
  5. IPAM: Will project managers soon be replaced by AI?
  6. PWC: A Virtual Partnership? How Artificial Intelligence will disrupt Project Management and change the role of Project Managers
  7. Proofhub: Top 10 Reasons Why Projects Fail (And How to Solve Them)
Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: August 22, 2023 10:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

4 Pitfalls of an External Product Owner

Categories: Agile, Best Practices, Teams

By Christian Bisson

Within the realm of agile project management, the composition of a team greatly impacts its success. While all team members play a vital role, the inclusion of an external product owner (as opposed to an internal one) poses challenges that can hinder teams’ potential to deliver value to users. 

In this post, I will highlight four potential pitfalls of having a product owner external to the team, with real-life examples underscoring the benefits of an integrated team approach.

 

1. Misalignment and Unclear Vision

When a product owner is external to the team, misalignment and an unclear vision can arise. The absence of direct day-to-day collaboration stifles the shared understanding of project goals, priorities, and user needs. This lack of alignment makes it difficult for the team to make informed decisions and deliver a product that meets customer expectations.

Example: Imagine a software development project where the product owner is external and has limited interaction with the team. This separation hinders effective communication and prevents the product owner from gaining in-depth knowledge of the project domain. As a result, misaligned priorities and a fuzzy vision emerge, leading to a disconnect between the team's efforts and the desired outcomes.

 

2. Inefficient Prioritization and Decision Making

An external product owner often leads to inefficient prioritization and decision-making processes. Without a direct line of communication, the product owner's expertise and insights may not reach the team effectively. As a result, crucial decisions regarding scope, timelines and trade-offs may be delayed or misinterpreted, leading to project inefficiencies and missed opportunities.

Example: In a marketing campaign project, an external product owner who lacks real-time interaction with the team may struggle to grasp the evolving market trends and user preferences. Consequently, delays in decision making occur, preventing timely adjustments to the campaign strategy, ultimately impacting its effectiveness and return on investment.

 

3. Communication Gaps and Feedback Delays

With an external product owner, communication gaps and feedback delays become commonplace. The limited availability and reduced involvement of the product owner hinder continuous communication and the timely exchange of information. This results in a slower feedback loop, preventing the team from promptly addressing concerns, adapting to changing requirements, and delivering high-quality increments.

Example: In a mobile app development project, an external product owner may have competing priorities and limited availability for sprint reviews. As a result, feedback on delivered iterations may be delayed, preventing the team from incorporating valuable insights—and potentially leading to inefficient use of development resources.

 

4. Detached from User-Centric Mindset

When the product owner is external, the team risks losing touch with a user-centric mindset. The direct contact between the product owner and end users diminishes, inhibiting the team's understanding of user needs, preferences and pain points. Without this critical insight, the team may struggle to develop solutions that truly resonate with the target audience.

Example: Consider an e-commerce project where an external product owner has limited interactions with actual customers. The team, lacking direct access to user feedback and insights, may fail to anticipate user behavior, resulting in an e-commerce platform that falls short of meeting customers' expectations and inhibits business growth.

 

Conclusion

In the agile realm, the inclusion of an external product owner introduces several pitfalls that can hinder project success. Misalignment, inefficient decision making, communication gaps, and a detached user-centric mindset are among the challenges an integrated team approach aims to mitigate. By recognizing the drawbacks of an external product owner, agile teams can foster collaboration, transparency, and a deep understanding of customer needs, ultimately leading to more successful project outcomes.

The above points assume there is one external product owner for the team. However, if there are multiple external product owners in a team, all the challenges mentioned earlier become even more significant. It not only amplifies the existing issues, but also adds to the tension and confusion within the team.
 

Posted by Christian Bisson on: July 18, 2023 09:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
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