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

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

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3 Ways to Lower Your Stress at Work

3 Common Complaints on Scrum Teams

How to Improve the PMO Lead Role in Your Company

How Are You Finding Information?

Categories: Communication

By: Lynda Bourne

We now live in an age where Google search is ubiquitous, and the “find” function in Word and PDF documents is almost instantaneous. The challenge for most people is sorting through the long lists of information returned from a search to locate the most useful items. This was not always the case. As Dennis Duncan—a British writer, translator and lecturer—set out in his book Index, A History of the: A Bookish Adventure[1], the need for indexing first emerged in the 13th century and has been evolving ever since.

There are basically two indexing systems. The simplest is a listing of the important words that occur in a reference book, identifying the pages or sections in which the word is used. The more complex system is built around topics and identifies the section of a book in which the topic is discussed, often indexing multiple publications. Both systems were developed around the year 1230, and marks the change from a time when books were a valued artifact to be read and enjoyed, to one where books became an information repository to be used as a resource. The invention of the printing press would not occur for another 200 years (1440), so in 1230 books were an incredibly valuable resource in limited supply.

The word “index” was invented in Paris by a Dominican Abbot named Hugh of Saint-Cher. The Dominicans are a preaching or mendicant religious order, founded in 1216. Their calling was to have Friars live among the people in big cities and preach sermons to stop the flock from going astray.

To help his Friars write their sermons, Saint-Cher instructed a group at the Dominican Friary of Saint-Jacques to create a word index, or a concordance, of the Bible. Every single word in the Bible was put in alphabetical order with a locator indicating where that word appears. The friars listed about 10,000 individual words and 129,000 locations. As a consequence of this work (that still exists), the preaching Friars writing new sermons were able to find the information they needed reliably and consistently.

Figure 1: Source British Library - On Line ExhibitionA parallel driver for indexing was the creation of universities, with Oxford being one of the earliest. Robert Grosseteste, a medieval English scholastic philosopher, taught at Oxford until his appointment as Bishop of Lincoln in 1235. Grosseteste read widely, and to help locate materials for his lectures, invented an indexing system based on symbols made up of curved and straight lines, circles, E-shapes, etc., which were added as annotations in each of his books. Different symbols represented different subjects, and in a separate general index he kept a record of where they were located. The result was a kind of parchment Google—once he's read and annotated a book, he knew where information on a subject was for future reference. This type of index is still called a general index.

In the 13th century, very few people could read, and books were scarce, making the oral delivery of information vital either as a lecture or a sermon. But delivering a lecture (or sermon), required information to be sourced, organized, synthesised and written down in preparation for the delivery. This means the presenter needed to use books—not just read books, but to be able to go back and use the contents of books as an information resource.

Engaging with a book transitioned from being a linear process where the reader had all the time in the world to journey from end to end, to one where books became seen as storehouses of morsels of information. The invention of indexes allowed people to use and research their books more efficiently, enabling them to preach or lecture at short notice.

800 years later, these concepts are still evolving. Unfortunately, the traditional concept of indexing is rapidly disappearing. The fundamental requirement for an index is a page number, and e-books don’t have set pages; the page a word appears on changes depending on the font size and screen size selected by the reader. This is a pity; creating a good index is both an art and a craft, requiring interpretation and judgement to look at each passage and decide what words a person would use to look for that specific text.

On the other hand, Robert Grosseteste’s concept of the general (or subject) index has moved from the world of academia to mainstream. Google indexes millions of pages of new information every day. Both Google and the various feeds to your PDA index then select what you see based on the topics you are interested in, filtered by the application of a liberal dose of artificial intelligence (AI).

The challenge for everyone in the modern era is being able to filter and validate the thousands of returns from a typical Google search and to make sure their feeds are not too limited. The various systems will order the information you see in a way its AI systems calculate will give you the best experience. But best from the system’s perspective is that you like the result and will therefore use it again. This is not the same as offering the most accurate selection of information, particularly if there are contradictory viewpoints.

How reliable do you find the search engines and indexes you use to find information?


[1] Index, A History of the: A Bookish Adventure, Duncan, D. Allen Lane, UK, 2021. ISBN: 9780241374238

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: February 09, 2022 06:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

A Lesson About Communication in Times of Chaos

By Conrado Morlan

Project management practitioners know the importance of communication during the project execution, hand-off and operations stages. For each of these, the communication plan should cover all the different forms of communication and the target stakeholders.

The frequency of communication during project execution often has a defined cadence and uses different artifacts to deliver the message to stakeholders, who usually are internal.

During the operations stage, the project is usually in production and practitioners are communicating directly with customers, either internal or external. While the specifics depend on the situation, communication with customers must be regular, concise and delivered in a timely manner through the proper channels.

How Not to Communicate
As you may know from my past posts, I have been running for several years and have often thought about connections to project management. One of my running goals for 2020 is to run the Popular Brooklyn Half, the largest half marathon in the United States.

As I did not meet the pre-registration requirements, the open registration was my only option. On registration day I was ready: My account was available, all my personal information was filled out, and I had my credit card on hand. At the designated time I visited the registration website to compete for a spot with thousands of runners from across the world.

I thought I would be directed to start the registration process, but instead, I was directed to an electronic queue page. After a few minutes, my expected waiting time was listed as 25 minutes. I got a little anxious thinking that the limited number of entries would sell out in less than that time. A few minutes later, the waiting time changed to 40 minutes, then to more than an hour; all of a sudden a message about “experiencing technical difficulties” was displayed.

In the meantime, upset runners from across the world took to social media to vent their frustration and dissatisfaction. But the organizers did not acknowledge the blast of posts until three hours after the designated registration time. That’s when they posted a message stating that they were trying to figure out the problem, and if they were not able to resolve it soon, a new registration date would be announced.

That message ignited the runners, who inundated social media with posts venting their resentment.

By this time, the organizer’s website was down, and the homepage showed the “experiencing technical difficulties” message. I stayed away from the postings on social media and kept refreshing the website persistently.

Finally, five hours after registration began, the website came alive and the new registration time was posted. I checked social media for postings from the organizer but found nothing. Right at the new posted time, I started my registration process while thousands of runners kept venting their frustration. This time it only took me 20 minutes to complete my registration for the Popular Brooklyn Half.

The Project Management Takeaway
As project management professionals, we can face similar situations in the course of a project and need to be prepared with mitigation plans. In the case described above, communication with customers was not regular and sufficient, perhaps because the project team was too focused on solving the problem. This affected the customer experience.

In general, production problems have a resolution time window, which may vary depending on the seriousness of the issue. This is usually unknown for customers, but that does not hinder the communication process. We as project management practitioners need to consider that we are living in times dominated by instant gratification; customers expect that issues will be resolved immediately. At the same time, they expect frequent progress status reports.

As a project management practitioner, have you experienced a similar situation? If so, what did you do to keep your stakeholders/customers informed? What channels of communications did you use? How effective were they? Share your experiences with the community.

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: February 07, 2020 08:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

The Project Initiatives That Influenced My Career

By Peter Tarhanidis, PhD

I’ve been fortunate to have a career that constantly challenges me and my team to apply new approaches to achieve an organization’s mission. I believe that adapting these contemporary management practices and innovative operating models has helped me become the project leader I am today. 

Below are select project initiatives that have helped me develop my skills:

  1. I integrated process and technology to drive staff productivity. Customer centricity is at the heart of the experience. While working in a call center, my team and I initiated a training process improvement for onboarding new hires. I drafted process steps and key instructions for each one, and then connected the technology opportunities to automate non-value steps. This resulted in reduced training cycles and onboarding staff time from eight weeks to two weeks. It also increased customer satisfaction.
  1. I quantified assumptions with data and facts. I remember one instance where senior leaders did not have the data to explain consumer behavior and decided to stick with the status quo of the same services at the same rate—not realizing consumer segments had changed. By applying statistical analysis and regression theories, I was able to identify pricing elasticity levels that formed a new strategy to increase revenues and attract new consumers.
  1. I leveraged standards-based solutions to scale growth and introduce emerging technologies. Prior to standards adoption, I relied on international standards bodies to align on the highest operating performance of disparate systems. This helped to standardize new telecommunication technologies that architected new building designs with IT infrastructure to integrate disparate HVAC, security, green services, data centers, retail systems and real estate development opportunities across the U.S. This led to increased revenue and operating efficiencies by creating an online retail catalogue and also reduced the cost of managing business services.
  1. I extended expertise across the globe by managing vendor partnerships. I established a vendor management practice to oversee strategic partnerships, outsourcing and offshoring to improve from hybrid technical data centers to Global Business Shared Services across non-core services in organizations. This extended needed services in local countries in their time, language and at lower costs—and also enabled increased market share for commercial operations.
  1. I designed business operating models to align strategy across an organization. This included key projects to benchmark customer market space, work with senior leaders and define a gap analysis to address via business cases. This allowed me to transform departments, business units and re-engineer organizations.
  1. I worked across diverse geographies and industries. For example, I drove cultural and change management in R&D, operations and supply chain. This exposed me to business development and mergers and acquisitions, and allowed me to learn the latest in designing user experiences, advanced robotic automation and AI technologies to connect to deeper business insights.
     
  2. I led a nonprofit organization of volunteers to develop my leadership skills. When individuals give their time, it is important to be clear and align the volunteers to action. These interactions and relationships are truly based on a work-at-will agreement. If you treat everyone with dignity and a set of behaviors that empower purposeful action, you will achieve a great leadership style that supports many environments and solves social and business needs.

What themes have you identified in your career? How have you broadened your range?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: November 13, 2019 10:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Tips for Project Success in a Functional Organization

Tips for Project Success in a Functional Organization

There are fundamentally two types of organizations: functional and projectized. Of course, between those there are various combinations of functional and projectized in the form of matrix and hybrid.

Every organization type has its own advantages and disadvantages, but from the project point of view, functional organizations are most challenging, due to their focus on individual functional work.

A typical functional organization has departments like R&D, operations, procurement, human resources, quality assurance and—on occasion—project management. Each department focuses on its own area.

The challenge is, projects are often multifunctional, crossing various functions and requiring contributions from all departments. In a typical functional organization, there is no one who looks after projects end to end and connects all the dots. A project manager has little authority over the resources of other departments. All told, this results in several challenges:

  1. The project manager has little or no authority over team members as they report to their respective functional managers.
  2. Team members may not give much importance to project work due to their loyalty towards their department.
  3. Team members may work in silos due to the loose coupling among departments and the missing connecting thread.
  4. Trust among team members may not be strong as they work in silos.
  5. Functional managers or resources may not have equal zeal to achieve project objectives as they don’t own the end results.
  6. Resources are not dedicated for a project as they support multiple projects at a time.
  7. The project manager may not have any say in selecting team members.
  8. Changing priorities of function groups independent of project priorities may bring changes in resource allocation and can impact project progress inversely.
  9. The project manager may not have functional managers’ buy-in.
  10. Various functional managers and the project manager may have conflicting opinions. They may take time to reach an agreement or do not achieve an agreement all together.

Despite all these challenges, a project manager still has the responsibility to make the project successful. How can they do this?

Let’s discuss some tools and techniques that a project manager can use:

  1. Stakeholder Analysis

Until you get to know the stakeholders and analyze their engagement, a project cannot be successful. The communication strategy is key to bind stakeholders, and any communication strategy without proper stakeholder analysis will be ineffective. Moreover, it will lead to chaos.

  1. Kickoff Meeting

A project launch, the kickoff meeting is an important event and may decide its fate. It helps in onboarding functional managers, securing their buy-in and building trust. Take time to ask each functional manager what they want from the project in order to support it.

  1. Trust-building

The project will become a struggle if trust is not built among stakeholders, especially in a functional organization. The kickoff is the starting point. Project managers need to build transparency and create opportunities for networking and exchanging ideas. Keep functional managers informed about project progress and seek their help when required. In turn, offer help when they need it. A helping mind set could be key to build trust.

  1. Networking

In a functional organization there is a fair possibility that people on the project work in silos. Therefore it is important for the project manager to create networking opportunities for greater interaction among contributors and supporters. Informal networking events could be more effective.

  1. Conflict Management

Due to the different goals of independent functions, varied personalities and the loosely coupled structure of functional organizations, different functional managers may have opinions that differ from the project manager’s. To get a functional manager’s buy-in, conflict management skills are essential. Please refer my post The Techniques That Don't Resolve Conflict. A project manager has to find a solution where both the functional manager and project manager feel they’re winning and achieving their goals.

  1. Communication

Communication is an underlying skill required to apply all the tools we’ve discussed so far. A project manager has to focus on two aspects: establishing an information system and ensuring effective interaction with team members and stakeholders. A project management information system keeps stakeholders informed and fosters collaboration. Effective interaction requires active listening skills. Here, refer to my posts Listen Up and 8 Steps for Better Listening. Listening skills help you understand others better, do stakeholder analysis, make up your mind and thereby communicate effectively.

I’d love to hear from you: How do you drive your projects to success in a functional organization? I look forward to reading your thoughts.

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: July 03, 2019 12:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Combat Pushback—and Protect Your Portfolio

By Wanda Curlee

Portfolio management is slowly being adopted by corporations. Or is it? I am speaking from my perspective, which admittedly is narrow, but I wonder if company leadership has what it takes.

I have worked at different organizations—from retail and legal to medical and government—and they all say yes, they are ready to do the hard work. But when you try to start developing requirements or even do a gap analysis, there are many reasons why it doesn’t happen: leadership is not in sync, resources aren’t available or there’s not an appetite for change. Or even worse, there is only one person who champions the cause, and he or she does not have the political momentum to push the effort.

The pushback can be major or minor. Leadership might say they had no idea you would need their people to develop the processes, templates and tools. Or leadership might ask if the company can just get a tool instead? There are solutions to all of these points, but leadership may not want to hear them.

So, how do you get over these hurdles?

For some, it’s a matter of providing training and knowledge. Leadership may truly have no idea what portfolio management is. In their eyes, it’s simply knowing what all the projects are in their area. That is one aspect, but there are several steps before you even get to that spot.

For instance, will you look at all projects in the organization, or only those of a certain budgetary value or length? Perhaps a combination of both?

Then there is the question of how to slice and dice the projects.

To slice and dice, you need to understand how to relate projects to strategy. Does your organization meet several of the corporate strategies or only one? If you have a project that is not allocated against a corporate strategy or sub-strategy, then why are you doing it? It’s taking resources and budget away from projects that do have strategic value. Even operational projects, such as upgrading software to a new version or implementing new enterprise software, need to map to a strategy.

For example, imagine your company has a strategy to increase sales by 20 percent in three years. The current sales tool has received well-deserved criticisms, and the tool is too small for the current sales volume. Implementing a new sales tool probably makes sense. However, the new tool would require the company to be running the latest version of operating software. The portfolio manager would recognize this, along with IT, and the portfolio manager would argue the case that these are interrelated. The opportunity exists here to make these two software projects and all the peripheral workstreams, such as training, into a program.

Do you have what it takes to push portfolio management forward? Or will you just succumb to pushback?

Don’t be afraid to speak up. If project portfolio managers don’t advocate for the correct way to do project portfolio management, organizations will suffer in the long run. The wrong way to do something is expensive and not beneficial.

Don’t let your company fall into that trap.

What experiences have you had when pushing portfolio management forward? Please share below.

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: March 29, 2019 11:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)
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