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?
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 Peter Tarhanidis, Ph.D.
Never has the new year’s greeting “wishing you health, wealth, and prosperity” rang truer. Over the last several years, we have all lived through uncertainty. This year, we hoped to lurch out of a post-pandemic crisis into a new normal with a vibrant outlook…yet quickly staggered into a slipping economic uncertainty that sharply cut short the prospects of our envisioned “normal” state.
JP Morgan’s 2023 economic outlook for the United States indicates a slowing growth rate, monetary tightening, and curbing inflation, while healthy consumer and business balance sheets could offer some growth prospects. The Conference Board observes longer-term geopolitical, environmental, labor, and inflation risks beyond 2023.
Many organizations will ebb and flow within this shifting cycle. Organizations that are well-positioned will have a better chance to adapt to the external challenges of shifting global markets to meet customer needs. They must simultaneously find the agility necessary to mitigate the internal challenges of a reduced workforce, increasing costs for goods and services, climbing interest rates, and the overall health of a company’s finances and workforce. This will challenge organizations to stay focused and chart a path forward.
This is reminiscent of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew of the Endurance, which embarked on a daring expedition from the UK to Antarctica and the South Pole in 1914. Along the voyage, the crew became stranded for over two years. The Endurance became trapped in the ice while the crew waited 10 months for spring and the warm weather to thaw them out—only to be horrified by shifting ice that damaged the ship’s frame, finally sinking her.
To survive, Shackleton mounted three lifeboats to traverse 800 miles of open sea to reach help on South Georgia Island—then return to the makeshift camp to rescue all 27 men who suffered frigid conditions, hunger, chaotic seas, and mental distress. This journey is one of the greatest examples of leadership, grit, and epic survival.
In order not to succumb to the current economic and global undertones, leaders must:
Project leaders have always been confronted with the likelihood of project failure—yet they have developed a track record of delivering results. Project leaders are adept at converting strategies into clear tactics, ensuring team and stakeholder alignment, and executing projects to achieve the goals. At the core of the project leader’s success are the character attributes of authenticity, trust, resilience, focus, and courage.
What else can you do to support your teams and move forward during this year’s challenges?
Building Team Synergy and Resilience
Human Aspects of PM,
Categories: digital transformation, Agile, Human Resources, Portfolio Management, Best Practices, Human Aspects of PM, Facilitation, Roundtable, Strategy, Mentoring, Career Development, Stakeholder, Innovation, Change Management, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Program Management, Benefits Realization, Complexity, Talent Management, Teams, Programs (PMO)
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:
PWC’s Global Crisis Survey identified three key lessons that businesses can adopt for long-term resilience:
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:
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.
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:
What would your list include to enable a post-pandemic transition back to work?