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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Get Out of the Way

by Cyndee Miller

Project leaders aren’t exactly known as rebels.

And Luke Williams pulled no punches on why that needs to change, calling out project and program managers as frequent barriers to anything beyond incremental change. Too often, he said, they stick to established systems.

“Project management can exacerbate this path dependence,” the New York University professor said in his closing keynote at PMO Symposium. “You’re the ones enforcing this path.”

There’s far too little emphasis on delivering discontinuity, he said, which puts most organizations in a bad spot: Complacency is literally the most dangerous attitude in business.

So go ahead, chuck the best practices and traditional success measures and embrace your inner rebel. Forget reasonable predictions. Go for unreasonable provocations‪, Mr. Williams told attendees.

In his eyes, that’s the biggie: The most important thing a project leader does is manage the organization’s ideas. 

Not every idea is going to work—there are bound to be some spectacular flameouts. So he encouraged project leaders to give themselves and their teams permission to be wrong.

That mindset can admittedly be a wee bit unsettling. But if you're going to commit to disruptive change, he said, your job is not to make everyone happy—it’s to make everyone uncomfortable.

The upside, according to Mr. Williams: Truly unexpected ideas have less competition—which means a longer lead time for execution and a stronger chance of success.

Who’s ready to embrace their inner rebel?

Posted by cyndee miller on: November 16, 2018 03:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Evolve, Rinse, Repeat: Next-Gen PMOs In Action

by Cyndee Miller

Disruption isn’t just change on steroids. It signals a fundamental shift in an organization’s DNA and how it sees itself—like say, when Australia’s largest telecom Telstra set out to become a world-class tech company.

It was a bold move—that was fizzling. So after an external assessment revealed 30 percent of Telstra’s capital investment projects were missing the mark, the company created a central PMO. Fast-forward about five years: 100 percent of its benefit KPIs are on track—and Telstra is named the 2018 PMO of the Year.

It certainly didn’t happen overnight, said Rob Loader, PMP, as he accepted the award at PMO Symposium with Peter Moutsatsos, PMP, the company’s chief project officer. The PMO had to transform the entire company culture, introducing a enterprise-wide gating model and creating a team of engaged sponsors.

“It’s been five years of blood, sweat and toil but also tears of joy and satisfaction as well,” said Mr. Loader.

But he also acknowledged that the PMO will need to “continue to evolve in a very different world both for telecoms and for project management.”

Kudos to Telstra and other two finalists that deftly navigated disruption in their own right:

Financial services companies, cutting-edge innovation—now there are two phrases that rarely go together. But Sloenvian insurance company Triglav Group knew a tech transformation was the only way to address changing consumer habits. To avoid the failures it had seen with past large-scale digitization projects, Triglav elevated its PMO giving it a direct link to the C-suite and the board of directors. Already one of southeastern Europe’s largest financial institutions, Triglav is now in a prime position for future growth, with the PMO’s digitization efforts helping the company post a 160 percent jump in online sales—and a 15 percent drop in operating costs.

PMOs are fairly de rigeur in just about every sector at this point, but a PMO in a school district definitely got my attention—especially when I saw the results. Tacoma Public School District serves more than 30,000 students in the U.S. state of Washington, but educators were struggling to keep kids engaged. With the PMO’s help in running innovation projects, though, the district saw graduation rates jump from 55 percent in 2010 to 86 percent in 2016. And they did it with hyper efficiency, raising the project completion rate from 10 percent to 90 percent over four years. With those kinds of numbers, the PMO is turning into a model for other school districts—and has spurred an interest in project management among administrators, teachers and even students

Look for in-depth features of the three PMOs in upcoming issues of PM Network and check out video case studies on PMI’s YouTube channel.

Or perhaps your PMO is ready for the spotlight? Check out how to apply for the PMO of the Year Award here.

Posted by cyndee miller on: November 16, 2018 01:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Go Ahead and Fail—It Could Be the Way to Succeed

by Cyndee Miller

Talk all you want about the “critical elements to business success.” What people—including me—really want to hear about is failure. We want the spectacular flameout. And we want all the gory details. Some of this is just human nature. But it’s more than that. Tales of failure are also wildly educational. Would the story of Steve Jobs be nearly as compelling—or informative—if he wasn’t fired from his own company? I think not.

Yet as a reporter, I know most people don’t like to discuss their mistakes. So imagine my delight when former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo told attendees at PMO Symposium® that failure isn’t just an option—it’s an option that should be exercised frequently.

As one must suspect, that shift has to start at the top. “By getting in front of your team and pointing out when you make a mistake, they start to get it and will start taking more courageous risks,” he said.

That will most likely lead to some dissent, which Mr. Costolo also said it’s perfectly acceptable.

“The goal isn’t social cohesion, it’s to get to the right answer,” he said. “Open debate toward the right answer is a good thing.”

But once a decision is made, Mr. Costolo expects the full team to fall in line.

The contrarian in me loves to see common business wisdom upended. But his advice also just seems inevitable in today’s fast-paced, disruption-happy environment.

Slow and steady doesn’t win the race. There’s a fresh urgency to execution and that means leaders need to be willing to try new things.

“In any organization as it grows, the default answer to any question increasingly becomes no,” he says. “What we developed inside Twitter was a common saying: bias to yes. There have to be many paths to yes inside the company for any idea. Any function is not allowed to tell a different function, ‘You’re not allowed to do that.’”

Taking Mr. Costolo’s lead, Twitter slashed the time it took to get new ideas in front of users from months to days.

At that pace, mistakes happen. But what we’re hearing over and over again at symposium is that that’s okay. In the very first session, self-proclaimed project management nerd Jonathan Gilbert, PMP, challenged project leaders to think fast, learn fast, fail fast.

Jan Musil, chief product owner at SAP America, took it one step further, saying project leaders shouldn’t even think of a project misstep as a failure. It’s continuous improvement.

How are you helping your teams fail, er, I mean, “continually improve”?

Posted by cyndee miller on: November 13, 2018 09:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (18)
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