The Critical Path

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Welcome to The Critical Path--the home for community happenings and events on ProjectManagement.com! This is where you'll find community news, updates, upcoming events, featured member posts and more. We'll also be showcasing hot topics in the project management arena and bringing you interviews with industry experts. The Critical Path is our primary way of getting news out to members, so be sure to check back for updates!

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View Posts By:

Marjorie Anderson
Kimberly Whitby
Laura Schofield

Past Contributers:

Carrie Dunn
Danielle Ritter
Kenneth A. Asbury
Craig Dalrymple
Rebecca Braglio
Kristin Jones

Recent Posts

A Story of Monks, Trees, and New Horizons for the Evolution of the PMBOK® Guide

Navigating Complexity in Project Management

Register for our next “Discover PMI - Ask Us Anything! Webinar

The Communication Net: Navigating Project Teams with an Active Listening Approach

Stakeholder Engagement

Viewing Posts by Marjorie Anderson

A Story of Monks, Trees, and New Horizons for the Evolution of the PMBOK® Guide

By Maria Cristina Barbero, PMI Standards Member Advisory Group

The Black Monks, so called in reference to the color of their religious tunics, are monks of the monastic Catholic religious order who follow the Rule of Saint Benedict. This Rule provides some guidelines for monastic life where reading is one of the compulsory activities built into a monk’s very regimented schedule. In the 6th century one of them, Cassiodorus, pushed the practice of copying texts of all kinds over just reading them. Copying texts became an important part of life in monasteries.

So, in the Middle Ages monasteries and monks were hubs of culture. Monks were sharing a seat and desk with other monks in “scriptoria” (open spaces for writing activities) where they were dedicated to conserve the biblical knowledge over a world of wars, famine, and epidemics simply through copying texts. To be honest, it was not just about biblical texts but also grammar and later encyclopedias that constituted the body of knowledge these monks wanted to conserve with their work. And, again, it was not just copying. It was also about adding or integrating these texts with something new they could capture during other monks’ travels. The final aim was to transfer this knowledge to posterity as well as have a base for training young pupils, usually sons of princes, kings, and other nobles.

 Let’s focus on how the bodies of knowledge were growing,   transforming, and adapting to new discoveries. In medieval   Christianity all that was known was represented as a static   pyramid having few possibilities of evolution (for example, the   Great Chain of Being is a hierarchical structure of all matter and   life, derived from Plato and Aristotle, and thought to have been   decreed by God). Later, the most common representation of   knowledge changed to a tree—the pyramid had been rotated. The tree can expand and evolve. You can add branches and leaves. Seeds generate new trees.

Nowadays a body of knowledge is intended to be a complete set of concepts, terms, and activities that make up a professional practice, as defined by the relevant learned society or professional association. These bodies of knowledge in general evolve in accordance with the “tree model.” The body of knowledge of project management (PMBOK® Guide) is defined by PMI “as a term that describes the knowledge within the profession of project management.” PMI recognizes that the body of knowledge of project management has no definable limits and that “no single book could contain the entire PMBOK.” Therefore, PMI developed and published the PMBOK® Guide which is intended to be a guide to this vast body of knowledge.

The PMBOK® Guide has been for years perceived and used by trainers, consultants, and project managers worldwide as a “golden box” where the knowledge of project management was maintained. Since 1996, like other bodies of knowledge, it is a tree that continuously evolves. More content is added periodically to the constellation of knowledge elements that a project manager should know and use (practices, tools, techniques, skills).

The “tree model” survived for centuries. It is just in the last thirty years that things dramatically accelerated the demand for a new model of representing knowledge and bodies of knowledge. Change enablers include the web, user media and devices, micro-computing, 3rd party platforms, Internet of Things, availability of large volumes of data, communications strengthening, and overall the willingness of humanity to share their own experiences and contribute directly to the growth of knowledge in most sectors and industries.

 Several new contents are available and today each   single body of knowledge potentially collides with other   bodies of knowledge and requires a representation that   is a web where new branches of the original tree draw   over branches of other trees.

Therefore, the evolution of the PMBOK® Guide had to be rethought and that’s what PMI and volunteers did over the last couple of years. My colleagues already introduced areas of change in the PMBOK® Guide and in The Standard for Project Management.

What I want to remark on here is my thoughts on the intrinsic why of this big shift that is not a whim but, more than ever, a need. PMI cannot evolve the body of knowledge following a “tree model” simply adding branches and leaves to the body of knowledge, but must open it to future evolutions in a modern multidisciplinary and digitized context. The structure has to support the evolution of knowledge while at the same time providing a framework that better represents the interaction of a system of systems that influences project performance.

I think this approach to the evolution of the PMBOK® Guide will enable the reasoned and appropriate maintenance of the evolving knowledge and practice of project management.

 

Posted by Marjorie Anderson on: November 08, 2019 10:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Navigating Complexity in Project Management

by: Federico Vargas Uzaga, PMBOK® Guide-Seventh Edition Development Team member

Much is being talked about Value Delivery nowadays. As a matter of fact, many would consider that this is THE major discussion today in the world of project management. If you think about it, value delivery is actually nothing new. Organizations have always embarked on projects to create products (outputs) that would allow them to achieve benefits (outcomes) and hence create value. However, the discussion and positions around the topic have created a division between those who believe a particular way of delivery is the right one and those who disagree as they believe a different approach is needed.

I personally believe that the conditions in which projects are being developed today, with higher levels of uncertainty and complexity, are the cause of such discussion, and that the same conditions require project leaders to make better strategic decisions within their projects to cope with and balance risk exposure in them.

As we know, the risks associated with a project depend, among other things, on the work that needs to be performed and uncertainty determined by the level of clarity or definition of the project’s output and the level of expertise that the project team has.

Taking those two aspects into account, the complexity of the work can be overwhelming and, if not navigated consciously, lead to poor or failed outcomes. The role of the project manager has certainly changed and transmuted requiring a more strategic focus to make better choices regarding delivery life cycles, organizational structure, and development methods. But the focus must remain on delivering outcomes that lead to value creation.

I believe that project management practitioners who survive, thrive, and transform the world are the ones that understand how strategic their role is. These project leaders will navigate through complexity while balancing risk exposure. I suggest that navigating complexity is a fundamental requirement of all projects to one degree or another and is, therefore, a core principle of project management.

Posted by Marjorie Anderson on: October 30, 2019 07:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

The Communication Net: Navigating Project Teams with an Active Listening Approach

by Maria Isabel Specht, PMBOK® Guide-Seventh Edition Development Team member

When I retired from the petroleum industry after 31 years as a researcher and project manager in Venezuela’s hyper-inflated economic conditions, it would have been easy for me to accept my son’s offer to support me and stay at home. Instead, I took on the new phase of my life with a curiosity that has left me continuing to develop as a project manager, an educator, and even a mom and a grandma. That journey, and the growth I’ve experienced, have inspired me to develop a new project management mantra: projects are led by people, done by people, and made for people.

I entered my retirement with an intellectual curiosity that led me to pursue education in neuro-linguistics programming (NLP). I realized that I could still improve the way that I communicate, even after a full career in a competitive industry. I learned to develop active listening skills that allowed me to do something I call “designing my conversations.” This means I work to listen and respond in my interactions, and to understand the unique circumstances of the people I communicate with. It also means I focus on achieving specific goals through my conversations. My colleagues at NLP School noticed my interest and recommended I consider additional training as an ontology coach. I began to have a realization: communication and project delivery are deeply related.

I began applying more of my communication tools in project environments. With the help of two philosopher mentors, I envisioned projects as a net of conversations. In these conversations, people are bringing their own backgrounds, their emotions, their fears and their personal goals. By understanding the people’s motivations, I am able to listen and understand better–and this has led me to better project outcomes. When project leaders view their projects as nets, they can coordinate efforts and understand impacts across the project. They become more effective.

On the other hand, when I looked into projects that showed no success, I considered that there must be something we were not considering. I asked myself, “What if we are not considering that a main focus of projects is people?” The success of projects is based on people–and people can be successful if they have empowering conversations.

As project leaders, we need to endorse our team members by actively listening to them and valuing them. We have an opportunity to create this environment on our teams, which will increase the team’s effectiveness and lead to better outcomes. Even though we are in a hostile economic environment in Venezuela, we are still having fun on our project teams because we have a sense of community, we are working in collaboration, and we deserve it.

I see messages about the communication processes – emitters and receivers, but what about the emotions? I propose that a fundamental principle of project management is to nurture a project environment that values individual commitment, collaboration, and communication.

Now, I work at the university level as a “divergent teacher”—I do not deliver a master class of lectures to my students. I teach my students, aspiring mechanical engineers, through projects. And as I teach them, I encourage them to apply active listening techniques and to design their conversations. Sometimes, they apply these skills on our in-class project teams. Other times, they take these skills into their personal lives and report out on communications with their others. I joke with my students that even my son is one of my stakeholders. The next generation of project leaders will be more impactful—and better off—if they are able to navigate in the complex web of project communications using active listening and designed conversations. This leads to the coordination of actions for making decisions, building relationships, evaluating new possibilities, and creating new realities.

Posted by Marjorie Anderson on: October 22, 2019 11:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Stakeholder Engagement

Categories: PMI, standards

By: Maricarmen Suarez, PMBOK® Guide–Seventh Edition Development Team member

Is project management a science or an art? While we could debate this fun question for decades, I think we can all agree that there are elements of both. Our profession continues to evolve with a focus on quality, globalization of reach, and the velocity of change—we have seen it all. But first things first, at the center of it all, we see one thing in common—people. I genuinely believe that it is those human interactions that help us deliver value through project management. Consequently, a fundamental principle of project management seems to be stakeholder engagement.

Anyone that is impacted by changes can be considered a stakeholder. It is critical to define who our stakeholders are, acknowledge their motives and define their engagement, as well as understand their level of involvement and sphere of influence. As a practitioner who is continuously assessing the stakeholder pool, I ask myself daily that old question: “where should I spend my time and energy? With the optimists? The naysayers? Or the ones sitting on the fence?” I’m not sure there is a right answer to that, but my experience has taught me that the best solution is “all of the above.”

The optimist will always have a positive, can-do attitude. They help you move your initiative forward and, depending on their level, they can prove to be an invaluable resource to influence others.

As for the naysayers, it is essential to understand their drivers, i.e., what motivates them? Why are they against the project? What would it take to get them to a middle ground? Is there an unidentified risk, either opportunity or threat, that may have been overlooked? By no means, am I suggesting that everyone can or should be converted to the “right” side of an initiative; but as a project leader, my role is to ensure that everyone has a voice and that needs are met. I guarantee that while the naysayers may never be cheerleaders beaming with support, they have enough to be able to compromise and not derail or stop our initiatives.

That leaves the ones on the fence—those on the middle ground that can go either way but are choosing to stay on the sidelines to see what happens next. These stakeholders are the ones I find myself spending more time and energy with. Simply because I consider them sponges. The fence-sitters feed off of other stakeholders. While I can’t control every channel and every interaction of these stakeholders, I can ensure they have the right amount of information to make an informed decision.

Some best practices I use to proactively engage stakeholders include:

  • Creating awareness: let the person know how their behaviors can impact others on the team and help them identify remediation strategies.
  • Reposition negative statements: model your positive responses and don’t let the negative comments stand unanswered. When they come (and they will, believe me!), try to rephrase them in a positive or neutral light.
  • Involve the whole team: ensure everyone is working to the same outcome and that all stakeholder contribution is heard.

I consider stakeholder engagement a pivotal principle—projects are undertaken by people, for people. As practitioners, we have a unique opportunity to engage and serve stakeholders proactively. As they say in the flight safety briefings, always put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others.

Posted by Marjorie Anderson on: October 14, 2019 08:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Change is a Given. How we Respond is the Issue.

Categories: content, PMI, standards

Nick Clemens, PMBOK® Guide–Seventh Edition Development Team member

As a project manager I find myself immersed in uncertainties and change. People roll on and off my program teams, my management chain changes frequently, and my customer base is in flux. I am a contractor for a larger US Federal Department and even within the US Federal bureaucracy change comes quick and often. I think for large bureaucracies the problem is not change, it’s here and must be dealt with. The problem is adaption and response

The same is true for projects. Project leaders must adapt and overcome. Our response as project leaders must insure the on-time delivery of our products and services within project constraints. This is how we deliver benefits that create value for our customers and companies alike. And for those who like to deliver incrementally, I’m also talking to you. Implicit in the idea of a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) is the delivery of a benefit that creates inherent value for both the user and the supplying enterprise. 

So how do we keep track of where we are going with everything changing around us? To paraphrase the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, If you don't know where you're going, any road can take you there. The answer is to go back to basics. Basic project management principles provide us with a framework to guide us when our projects are troubled. The PMBOK® Guide–Seventh Edition development team is taking just that approach in updating The Standard for Project Management. We are looking at a better way to guide project leaders using a principles-based approach that will allow flexible responses to an environment fraught with change and uncertainty.

So, what’s a project management principle that could help us to navigate our complex environments and keep track of where we are going? It has to do with “systems thinking” and is related to a management principle from the risk area, “work to balance threats and opportunities.” The principle I am thinking of is around the idea of Think Holistically. 

Holistic thinking tells us to get out of the weeds, to see the forest for the trees. In other words, as a project leader have a vision for your project. That vision should include your project’s purpose, value to be delivered, impact to the business environment, and its effect on the people involved. Holistic thinking also includes understanding the trade-off space to ensure the team delivers outputs that will drive outcomes. It allows self-organization of work but keeps the pieces integrated. Holistic thinking challenges assumptions and mental models to broaden the possible solution space.

Whether managing a group of work packages to a project plan or integrating a couple of scrum teams to deliver a MVP according to a release plan, the challenge to the project leader is the same—keeping on track to meet our customer’s vision and expectations and delivering outcomes, even if the precise end goal is not fully defined at present. I didn’t say it would be easy. In most cases the days of the practically perfect project plans went out with the departure of Mary Poppins, not in the most recent Disney sequel, but in the original 1964 movie! To say the least, a principles-based approach to project management has been a long time coming. 

So, think holistically to keep the focus of your project 100% aligned with your customer’s vision and expectations. Remember as the project leader your job is to deliver and create value for your customers and company. Everything else is in the weeds. The key is to recognize, evaluate, and respond to the dynamic circumstances within and surrounding the project delivery systems as the systems interact and react with each other.

Posted by Marjorie Anderson on: October 08, 2019 11:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)
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