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
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Do Modern PMs Rely on Charts Too Much?

By Lynda Bourne

Ptolemy's world map (source: Wikipedia)

Do modern project managers and their clients rely on their charts and reports too much? We all know that project schedules, cost reports, risk assessments and other reports are produced by sophisticated computer software, these days increasingly enhanced by artificial intelligence. But does this sophisticated processing mean the charts are completely reliable?

The modern world is increasingly reliant on computer systems to direct and control many aspects of life—from self-driving cars, to autonomous warehouses, to the flight control systems in aircraft. But can this reliance on computer systems be translated to project controls information, or do we need a more ancient mindset?

Modern navigators rely on the accuracy of their GPS to know exactly where they are and where they are going. The autopilots are better than the human, but the data being used is precise and validated.

The same level of reliability and accuracy cannot be applied to project controls data. Every estimate is an assessment of what may occur in the future based on what happened in the past. Even when a sophisticated risk model is built, the P80 or P90 result is based on subjective range estimates taken from past events.

The future may unfold within the expected parameters, and it may not. We simply cannot determine the future in advance. While the quality of the project predictions is based on the quality of the data being used in the modelling processes (and the only guaranteed fact is the model will be incorrect), predictions do not control the future. The key question is: How useful are the models in helping navigate the project through to a successful conclusion? [Remember GIGO (garbage in, garbage out)?!]

In days gone by, navigators did not need accurate charts and satnav systems to reach their destinations. The Viking and Polynesian navigators crossed thousands of miles of open ocean to land on small islands using observations of the natural environment and tacit knowledge passed down from earlier generations. They knew certain seabird species only ventured relatively short distances from land, how clouds formed and changed over land, etc., augmented by primitive technologies.

Fast-forward a few centuries, and the early European navigators (Columbus, Magellan, Drake, Cook and countless others) had steadily improving charts that made navigating easier—but they also knew the best charts available were not accurate. The general shape of the world had been mapped since the time of Ptolemy (circa 150 CE), and as better information became available, better maps and charts were created. But these are still continuing to be improved into the 21st century.

So how did people navigate the globe without accurate maps and charts? I suggest there were four core elements in the approach, all of which can be applied to modern project management:

  1. Recognize the chart is a guide, get the best possible chart available and use it to plan your course—taking into account as much additional information and tacit knowledge you can access.
  2. Then, assume the chart is incorrect. Keep a sharp look out for unexpected issues and dangers, adjust course as needed, and keep collecting information along the way. You only run into the rocks you do not see!
  3. Keep adapting and adjusting your course to make the best of the current circumstances, using both known and emerging information—the destination does not change, but how you get there may.
  4. Then use the new information you have gathered to update the chart to benefit future voyages in the same direction.

To move from assuming controls information is correct, to seeing it as a useful guide that can be improved as better knowledge becomes available, requires a paradigm shift in thinking that sits comfortably alongside many of the concepts of agile.

The future is inherently uncertain and we can learn a lot from the way early navigators used imprecise charts to sail the oceans. Navigating the globe in past centuries and leading a project to a successful conclusion are both risky endeavours; this fact needs to be accepted, and the risks minimized by using the best available charts—while being aware of their limitations.

What do you think?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: September 14, 2023 09:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Are You Documenting Smartly?

by Christian Bisson, PMP

 

Documentation—at least on IT projects—is one of those great project challenges. Documenting everything (and then keeping it updated) can be tedious, and requires a lot of time and discipline. But documenting nothing can leave people lost as a project evolves.

Like many things in life, balance is everything. Documentation doesn’t need to be a pain. It just needs to be relevant, easy to find and reliable.

Relevant

Documents can easily (and quickly) become obsolete, therefore it’s important to limit documentation to the information that can help the team save time and avoid errors. Stick to the most important elements, such as project scope, important links, FAQs, key decisions, approvals, etc.

Easy to Find

If information is scattered between emails, a server, a computer and a filing cabinet, chances are team members will skip looking for it and simply ask around (most likely starting with the project manager) to find what they’re looking for.

There are several software options out there today that are great for storing and organizing documentation, like Google Drive or Confluence (part of the Atlassian suite). Each allows you to consolidate documentation in one spot and provides access to simultaneous editing and commentating features.

Reliable

If you follow the first two tips, you should only have to maintain a limited amount of information in one easy-to-find location. This is essential because documentation that is not updated can have negative consequences on your project. It can mislead team members and accidentally force them into working off of outdated information.

Where do you store your important project documents? How do you ensure they are relevant and reliable? Share below!

Posted by Christian Bisson on: April 07, 2017 12:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

How Does OPM Fit In?

by Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina

In a small business, like a startup, organizational project management (OPM) may seem too big. At a large blue chip, layers of OPM may be standard operating procedure. But what if your org is somewhere in between? On one hand, you're past the days of moving furniture yourself, on the other hand, you're not yet cutting paychecks for 2000+ employees.

First, let's establish that OPM is a good thing. Linking strategy with implementation across an organization to deliver on portfolio promises and realize value is, trust me on this one, a good thing. But OPM at scale is even better. And that is because if you don't scale OPM to where your org is right now, it may seem that OPM is too complex to even attempt at all.

And if OPM is a good thing, then no OPM is probably not so good.

I've seen what happens to a business that doesn't have an OPM strategy in place. The business is moving along successfully but then the stumbling starts, and then maybe stops, but then it starts up again and continues unabated. Teams are frustrated that progress has halted and find they're taking the blame or blaming each other. Leadership pushes the same answers to newly arisen problems—work harder, faster, longer.

The Benefits of Scaling

OPM at scale ensures the strategy that your entire enterprise is about to adopt is the right fit.

Too light (but it may work for a startup), and your undertaking becomes inconsistent, priorities become ever-changing because there's no clear focus. The entire system is not reliable enough to deliver.

Too rigid (but it may work for a Fortune 500), and you may get in your own way with bottle-necking processes, decision-making by committee, waiting for an approval exit gate that never arrives, wasting time because the system is not flexible enough to deliver.

Where too much process is a hindrance (but may work for a large org) and too little is volatile (but may work for a fledgling company), start with some core principles that are key for your org and build from there.

An OPM at scale strategy could look something like this:

  • Decide how projects in your portfolio are managed across your enterprise. That means an off-the-shelf OPM solution may not be where your answer lies—instead grow your solutions for areas like governance, change, prioritization and resource management, as organically as you can.
  • Implement a few standard workflows that support delivery throughout a team and between teams. Are some processes already working? Keep 'em. Notice a couple gap areas? Partner with teams to design a workflow that solves your specific problem.

  • Create consistency with standard, formal processes, but also allow project managers and teams the freedom to make good tactical choices.

  • Focus on picking a few benchmarking criteria.

  • Make space for continuous communication, provide visibility and support working toward improving the core you've got—not necessarily adding anything new.

At your next quarterly review, examine how your custom OPM framework is doing. Are you all still aligned on, not just the goal of your portfolio, but the goal of your OPM strategy? Ready to go bigger and start maturing your framework? Or instead do you need to scale back?

What experience do you have with implementing OPM to scale?

Want to see a fully baked standardized model, take a peek at PMI's Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3®).

Posted by Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina on: October 05, 2016 06:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Why Email Is Not Your Friend (part 2)

By Christian Bisson, PMP

In my last post, I discussed why you should manage projects via project management tools rather than via email. Let’s imagine you’re making the transition—a wise choice, congratulations! But it may not be smooth sailing as you embed the tool into day-to-day team life.

This post talks about challenges you might encounter a long the way, and how to address them.

1. Cannot use the tool

Not everyone can pick up a tool and learn how to use it on their own. And more often than not, training given to people is not fine-tuned to each individual’s needs.

Some will struggle, meaning they will avoid the use of the tool and revert back to emails or other means to get their work done. In this instance, you might even be asked to stop using the tool yourself because others struggle.

Although abandoning the tool might seem like a quicker way of fixing the issue, it’s actually addressing a symptom, not a cause. Avoiding the use of the tool is not going to be beneficial to anyone long-term.

Instead, take the time to help anyone who struggles, or prepare customized training for your team members. Ask them where they are having trouble, and show them how they can achieve what they need to do.

2. Annoyed by notifications

Oddly, one recurring complaint of using a project management tool instead of emails is receiving too many emails. For instance, when people comment within a task, the tool might email once per comment.

There are two ways you can mitigate the amount of emails:

  • Guide people toward their notification settings so they are configured to meet their needs. Some like to have lots of emails; others prefer to use activity feeds or a notification dashboard within the tool.
  • A project management tool should not replace a conversation. Invite people to discuss issues in person or via a conference call instead of having 10 back-and-forth debates within an item of the tool.

3. Partial access or multiple tools

Many organizations work with more than one tool, which can be very effective in some cases. However, what often happens is that team members are confused because they do not know where to go to see their tasks. In addition, sometimes team members in other locations do not have access to the tool.

All this means the project manager struggles to manage all the work of a project since tasks can’t be assigned to everyone or tasks are split into different locations.

This can be tricky to deal with if the project manager cannot select tools and access. However, the objective is to have everyone on board use one project management tool only. This lets all team members know where to get the information they need and allows the project manager to have a complete view of the project in one place.

4. Email lovers

There are some who feel they cannot live without email. Even when the project management tool has all the information and properly archives it, some team members still want that information emailed to them. Project managers should not resort to sending information within the tool and also sending an email to that person, which is duplicated effort for nothing.

In these cases, it is important to show the person that the same objective can be met with the tool. Show him or her how to access the information easily and how to archive a project workspace if that is a long-term concern when closing a project.

Posted by Christian Bisson on: June 22, 2016 07:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

Why Email Is Not Your Friend (part 1)

By Christian Bisson, PMP

In the world of project management, you will encounter the “email philosophy” and the “project management tool philosophy” of how project tracking/communication should be done.

Emails can be an effective way to communicate or keep written documentation to refer to. Heck, I love emails. But ultimately, a properly used project management tool will be more efficient for your team. Here’s why:

1. Documentation Efficiency

Email might be a great way for you to track your written communications, but how properly it’s used and archived depends on the recipient. In contrast, with a project management tool, the “documentation” will be stored somewhere within a task or other type of item within the tool. Everyone can refer to it, and it should be easily found in the appropriate location instead of somewhere in someone’s inbox.

For example, I once took over a project from another project manager who used emails to manage the project. To help me get up to speed, the project manager had extracted a dozen emails and sent them over. I had to go through all those emails threads, most of which were out of context or outdated.

A better option would have been to have the relevant information within a project management tool where I could have reviewed the available information and known exactly who was doing what.

2. Task management

You could send someone an email listing tasks to accomplish, but unless that person replies with a status or you regularly ask for one, you will not get an update. If an update does come, only you and maybe others from the team will be aware, assuming they even read the email.

A project management tool will allow you to track all those tasks, with a proper assignee and status. It will be simple for someone to have all his or her tasks displayed and ordered in priority, including a description of each task/issue. In the meantime, the project manager can easily track the status of the project without having to constantly ask for one.

In my next post, I’ll talk about how to overcome challenges when switching from managing via email to managing via a project management tool. 

Posted by Christian Bisson on: June 21, 2016 07:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)
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