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
Peter Tarhanidis
Conrado Morlan
Jen Skrabak
Mario Trentim
Christian Bisson
Yasmina Khelifi
Sree Rao
Soma Bhattacharya
Emily Luijbregts
David Wakeman
Ramiro Rodrigues
Wanda Curlee
Lenka Pincot
cyndee miller
Jorge Martin Valdes Garciatorres
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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 (4)

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)

4 Things You Should Include During a Team Setup

by Christian Bisson

 

For far too long, I've seen new teams being set up with barely any time allowed to actually enable their success. There are many aspects of creating a new team that people forget or underestimate, and it can create short-term and long-term problems.

With all of the different topics the team should cover at the beginning, an effective setup could easily take two or three full days.

 

Here are several aspects that should be included:

Meet & Greet

If there’s one thing I've seen being left aside because "it takes time we don't have," it is allowing the people who will work together to actually get a chance to get acquainted with each other. This is an important aspect as it helps to build trust among team members, and trust is the foundation of any efficient team. Trust will not be built overnight, but planning a team-building activity to allow people to share about themselves will at least give it an initial boost.

The team-building activity can take many forms. Regardless of what is chosen, it should be something anyone would be willing to jump into. Some people will be shy at the beginning and not everyone will feel very open, so make it something accessible. 

 

Identify a Framework

Another important aspect is to identify the framework the team will be using. Is it scrum, Kanban, waterfall? Typically, this is already decided. Assuming everyone is an expert in the framework, the team just "jumps" in it. It's important to plan time for training on the topic, and a decent training could easily take a full day or more.

Let's use scrum as an example. Training should include an overview of the framework and other aspects like the roles within a scrum team, backlog management (ex. writing user stories, how to properly split them, etc.), how context switching can affect productivity, etc.

 

Discuss Ways of Working 

Along with the framework, there are other aspects that the team members need to agree on. These will vary depending of the framework and the team's circumstances, but here are a few examples:

  • Team agreements: The team should agree on day-to-day aspects of how they will work. For example: What time are the scrum ceremonies? What's the decision-making process? What tools will be used? What are the communication channels? What standards dictate how to work (ex. coding standards)? 
  • Definition of ready: This is a definition agreed upon by the whole team on what is required for an item in the backlog to be considered "ready" to start working on it. For example, it would need a properly formatted summary, acceptance criteria, etc.
  • Definition of done: Another important definition the team should agree on is what is considered "done" for a backlog item. For example: test coverage, approved by someone, code review was done, etc.

Agreeing on these can easily take a few hours depending on the size of the team and the maturity of good practices.

 

Knowledge Mapping

Clearly identifying each team member’s skills is likely the most forgotten aspect of setting up a team that I've seen so far, and yet it's crucial to:

  • Identify missing competencies
  • Identify the gap between team members
  • Track team development
  • Identify missing resources

Once this is mapped, it's easier to plan accordingly on how knowledge will be gained. For example, if a technical skill is only known by one expert among the team, it could be planned for that person to train the others. It might be knowledge about the system the team will be working on that will require ramping up. You might also notice that some expertise is completely missing from the team and needs to be acquired from a source outside the team.

Having the team discuss what skills are required, having them map out their strengths and weaknesses, and then discussing next steps is not in itself very time consuming, yet many teams skip that part and thus risk hitting roadblocks along the way.

 

Conclusion

I've written a few examples of what should be part of a team setup agenda. You can see that for it to be an efficient setup, the team will need time—which will pay off immediately. So "just do it!" 

How are you setting up your teams? What topics are necessary? 

Posted by Christian Bisson on: November 10, 2021 08:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

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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