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?
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
Post your thoughts in the comments!
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.
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.
Supercharging an Organization’s Performance to Achieve its Mission
IT Project Management,
Categories: Social Responsibility, Portfolio Management, Tools, Best Practices, Strategy, Mentoring, Metrics, Career Development, Stakeholder, Innovation, Change Management, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Program Management, Benefits Realization, Complexity, IT Project Management, Teams, Programs (PMO), Communication
By Peter Tarhanidis, Ph.D.
There is a dramatic increase in the strategies corporations implement to meet the needs of their stakeholders. Driving value from all parts of an organization and its functions may seem like repetitive exercises—and even feel more like a medieval gauntlet with only a few successful programs. HBR (2021) wrote that by 2027, about 88 million people will be working in project management—with economic activity reaching $20 trillion USD. Also noted: Only 35% of projects are successful, leaving immense waste of resources.
There are many reasons projects fail. HBR (2021) states of the 70% of failed projects, and after exhaustive root-cause analysis across all industries, one can identify common themes such as undervaluing project management skills and methods, and poor performance. Yet organizations that apply project management methods recognized their performance had a 2.5 more times chance to be successful, and organizations can waste 28 times less resources. As such, when applied, the implementation of PM methods works.
Yet in a world filled with a variety of project taxonomies, many organizational boards are now contemplating the need to implement environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. Forbes states the benefits of ESG and CSR initiatives include:
Therefore, to ensure success for ESG and CSR programs, an organization’s top leaders need to prioritize and align across all the organization’s businesses. Leaders can use the balanced scorecard to achieve this alignment, and can extend its use across the entire project portfolio.
This theory was developed by Kaplan and Norton, which state the balanced scorecard method converts the organization’s strategy into performance objectives, measures, targets and initiatives. Linking the concept of cause and effect, the balanced scorecard covers four perspectives:
Marr (N.B.) reported over 50% of companies have used this approach in the United States, the United Kingdom, Northern Europe and Japan. One clear benefit has been to align the organization’s structure to achieve its strategic goals.
In conclusion, applying project management methods and aligning an organization’s performance through the balanced scorecard can unlock ESG and CSR benefits that can supercharge a company’s efforts to achieve its mission.
by Dave Wakeman, PMP
On a recent visit to Reddit, I noticed a trend from some project managers—who were asking questions about how you can tell if your company is doing project management all wrong.
That got me thinking about some signs that an organization doesn’t have a healthy PM culture—and three big ones came to mind. Do you experience any of these where you work?
1. No idea why the role of project manager is key to a project’s success: I believe we’ve all been there—we see someone assigned as the project lead due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Why do I say that? Because just throwing out the PM assignment is never a case of being in the right place at the right time.
This is truly the biggest warning sign that an organization isn’t project manager ready—they just have no definition of why the role of PM is so important to a project’s success.
Instead of having a clear expectation of the PM’s role with a defined process in place to help with achieving specific goals (including communication expectations, a definition of success, and an understanding of how the project ties into the organization’s strategy), the organization basically sticks its hand into a paper bag with pieces of paper, drawing one name out. (Or worse.)
2. No clear definition of success: This one seems to take hold in a lot of organizations, and it is usually coupled with the impression that “I’ll know it when I see it.”
This kind of attitude almost guarantees failure. There are exceptions where a project comes together well without this definition in place—but that is very rare.
Why? Because without an understanding of what success looks like, any direction is a good direction.
This can be frustrating for all stakeholders, because when pressed for objectives or measures, a lot of time the feedback comes back as fluffy terms that aren’t related to the project’s success like “man hours,” “activities” or something else.
Bad project organizations judge success by “feel.” Good project organizations judge success with metrics.
That way, you can say, “We hit our target. Here is why…”; or, “We missed the mark. Here’s why, and here is what we can do to change it next time…”
3. No resource investment tied to specific projects: This is one I’ve been blindsided by in the past.
Why? Because I’ve fallen prey to the answer, “Whatever it takes!”
Trust me: “Whatever it takes!” is never actually “Whatever it takes!”
Organizations without a project culture underestimate the resources needed to make a project successful. This leads them to offer “commitments” or “promises.”
Most of the time, when a PM tries to cash in on those “promises” and “commitments,” it is impossible. The resources aren’t actually available.
This stands in contrast with an organization that is built for project management—where you have the scope, you know what success is going to look like, and you have a clear understanding of the resources that are going to be needed to hit the project’s objectives.
Does this mean that there are never changes or limits to the resources available? No. Not even close.
What this does mean is that a good project organization starts with some base level of commitment of resources, not just “commitments” and “promises.”
To me, every project requires these minimums from an organization in order to give success a chance:
I’m curious what things you have noticed that set an organization’s projects up for failure. Let us know in the comments below.