Project Management

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

Changes Coming to the Online Community!

Apply Now for a PMI Sponsored Research Grant

Project Teams—The Whole is Greater than the Parts

4 Ways to Earn PDUs—and Reach Your 2020 Career Goals

Uncertainty. Really?

Viewing Posts by Laura Schofield

Apply Now for a PMI Sponsored Research Grant

The PMI Sponsored Research Program awards grants of up to US$50,000 per project to support research whose themes and perspectives have direct application to theory and/or practice of project management.

The 2021 call for proposals is now open through 25 April 2020.

We encourage proposals on research involving multi-disciplinary teams of investigators or teams consisting of academics and practitioners who bring new ways of thinking and related bodies of literature to the field of project management. Investigators are welcome from both within and outside the field of project management, including management, organizational psychology, sociology, education, linguistics and others.

To learn more about the program, including eligibility criteria, submission guidelines, key dates, and more, visit https://www.pmi.org/learning/academic-research/sponsored. You will also find published research from past PMI Sponsored Research Program-funded projects at https://www.pmi.org/learning/academic-research/published.

Proposals can be submitted directly at https://pmi.submittable.com/submit.

Posted by Laura Schofield on: February 19, 2020 09:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Project Teams—The Whole is Greater than the Parts

by Betsy Kauffman, PMBOK® Guide-Seventh Edition Development Team member

Teams are the lifeblood of any project. The dynamics of the team can either make or break the effort and, as such, it is essential we work to ensure the team is well cared for and the needs of the team are met. Therefore, it is essential we put great emphasis on teams when delivering projects—they are a critical component in all projects. I have worked with multiple organizations and teams and seen what a high performing team can accomplish when given the environment, leadership, and resources to be successful.

When assembling a team, it is important to not only identify the skillsets necessary to do the work but also consider the personalities and dynamics to ensure they are complementary to each other. The goal with any team is to get them to become high performing in order to consistently and predictably deliver the work. Characteristics of a high performing team include, collaboration, trust, transparency, autonomy (to make decisions which impact the performance of a team), and working toward the same common goals.

I am a big fan of creating teams where each individual is dedicated to the team. Work is brought to the team rather than breaking up the team and re-assembling new teams for each new effort. While this model may be tough due to current corporate structures where capacity and utilization are the main focus or how projects in the organization are currently funded, studies have shown we actually get greater output (and better outcomes!) from individuals when they are able to stay focused and not split across four or five different efforts. Also, from a human perspective, when we are part of a team we believe in and enjoy working together, and it causes us to “up our game,” both individually and collectively. We win or lose as a team.

Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results. — Andrew Carnegie

 

There are times when a team is not really a team but instead just a group of people working together, and its critical to know the difference. A team is able to have a healthy debate and resolve differences, they respect each other, they become accountable for delivering the work as a team, they learn and improve from each other, they are not afraid to speak up, they cover for each other when a conflict arises, they laugh together, and have spoken and unspoken team norms. However, when a group of people is just a collection of individuals working together, their individual interests and work are greater than the goals and output of the team. As a result, individuals are not accountable for delivering the work together, and often are focused on completing their individual work and handing (or throwing) it over to the next person to complete the next “step.”

I see this phenomenon a lot when individuals are “silo’d” in their roles and are measured accordingly or split across multiple teams due to their skillset. For example, in a software project, we may have a “team” consisting of front-end developers, back-end developers, testers, business analysts, etc. The mindset of everyone is to complete their piece of work and hand it over to the next person while continuing on to the next task. Each individual is measured based on their individual output rather than the overall outcome of the project or story (if working in an agile manner), and it becomes a blame game when the work doesn't get completed within the time box.

I have had the pleasure of working on high performing teams as well as coaching teams to high performance. All these teams were high performing because they were somewhat cross-functional in nature meaning they were encouraged and coached to come out of their lanes and learn new skills so they could complete the work as a team. They also were involved in the decision making for the team, they understood the big picture and outcomes of the project and had a voice in the best way to complete the work/project. Lastly, they collectively “owned” all phases of the work from design to development to release to post-production support, so they were accountable to producing and maintaining a high-quality product/project.

As a leader, your role is to create, develop, and support teams to work collaboratively in order to achieve a project’s desired outcomes. A good leader values the capabilities and efforts of each individual and understands the difference between a successful and a failed project lies within the power of the whole team.

When the development team was identifying and debating concepts for the performance domains for the PMBOK® Guide–Seventh Edition, there was no question or debate about the critical role teams play in project and product delivery. The only debate was do we focus on people and individuals or teams. Unanimously, we agreed the power was in the team and I believe it was the first domain we all agreed needed to be included in the new edition. For us to be able to deliver successful and valuable outcomes, we need to make sure we take the time and put great emphasis on building high performing teams. A team will deliver an outcome which meets (and probably exceeds) their customer’s needs when the team is:

  • aligned to the mission and the goals of the project,

  • provisioned with an environment and resources where the team is set up for success,

  • supported by leaders, and

  • provided the information and autonomy to make decisions.

Given the impact that teams have on project success and delivering desired outcomes, I believe it is a project performance domain for any project that deserves intentional nurturing and development.

Posted by Laura Schofield on: February 18, 2020 11:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

4 Ways to Earn PDUs—and Reach Your 2020 Career Goals

Many project managers find themselves too caught up in deadlines to focus on their long-term careers and professional growth. But there are plenty of reasons why you should carve out time for your own professional development, no matter your industry or experience level.

For starters, professional development is key to gaining the skills and making the connections that advance your capabilities. Getting outside of your usual day-to-day—whether in-person or online—exposes you to innovative tools and best practices that broaden your understanding as a project manager. You can hone specific skills and acquire new ones that help you work more efficiently and solve problems more easily.

Professional development empowers you to increase your value to your organization—and ultimately your earning potential—by mastering the latest disruptive technologies, forecasting trends, and enhancing your leadership abilities. You can even bring clarity to your own career goals.  

At PMI, professional development units (PDUs) are an important part of your certification maintenance, but it’s not just a formality. PDUs show that you’ve actively pursued educational and philanthropic opportunities. In an increasingly competitive market, these factors can set you apart from your peers.

PMI offers four ways to earn PDUs based on your schedule and preferences:

  1. In-person events

Getting out of the office for in-person professional development exposes you to tools and tactics that you may not even know exist.

Offered in multiple locations, PMI SeminarsWorld offers unique professional development through small-group training courses. Choose from more than 60 seminars designed to meet personal and organizational needs, earning up to 28 PDUs in the process.

Other in-person events from PMI include EMEA Congress, Global Conference, and PMO Symposium®. These events feature diverse education opportunities, innovative keynotes, cutting-edge global perspectives, and networking with others who share your challenges and goals.

  1. Online courses

One of the most convenient ways to earn PDUs, PMI’s online courses cover hundreds of topics in every area of project and program management skill development, from basic to expert levels.

  1. Webinars and virtual events

Earn PDUs quickly—often at no cost—with webinars and virtual events offered through ProjectManagement.com. You can tune in live or listen to the recording when your schedule allows.

You’ll find thousands of options with a how-to for just about any subject, including stopping workplace bullying, approaching a tech-savvy board of directors, and designing more effective project management systems. Narrow your search according to industry, popularity, PMI certification, even language.

  1. Giving back

Help others while growing personally and professionally by earning Giving Back PDUs. These aren’t required for recertification but remain a great option for those with altruistic motivations. You can earn Giving Back PDUs by working as a practitioner, creating content, mentoring, or volunteering.

Make time to grow with PMI

Expand your capabilities and increase your value this year with PMI’s wide range of professional development opportunities. Earn PDUs with options designed to suit your individual objectives, schedule, and learning preferences.

Posted by Laura Schofield on: February 12, 2020 09:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Uncertainty. Really?

Categories: standards

by Jean-Luc Favrot, PMBOK® Guide-Seventh Edition Development Team member

What could be the three most representative concepts of project management? Personally, I would choose Value, People, and Uncertainty.

Why Uncertainty?

Let’s think about it. Uncertainty is the essence of Life! It is therefore not surprising that a project, evolving in real life, also has to face uncertainty. Anywhere, anytime, and any way.

Many project management activities are aimed at reducing, exploiting, or simply coping with uncertainty—Is the vision clear and shared? How long will it take? How much will it cost? What will we do next month? Will the team be cohesive and performing? Will all of the stakeholders be involved? Uncertainty raises so many questions, and there are a lot of approaches to deal with them throughout a project.

In some cases, you will have no choice but to try to minimize uncertainty from the very beginning of the project—detailed scope, detailed estimates, detailed long-term planning, detailed budget, detailed risk management plan. Then you will establish baselines, manage progress against those baselines, and formally manage change throughout the project.

In other cases, you will start with a clear vision and a rough scope, and detail it along the way as you learn and discover. You will make detailed estimates and plans as late as possible, seek frequent feedback, and foster engagement. You may even fund a project as it progresses and produces results. You will manage risks through a series of short-term experiments, and welcome change.

I have just described two approaches which are at the extremes of the possible spectrum, but they are not mutually exclusive. Mixing and balancing these approaches according to the context is probably the most effective way to lead a project to success. For example, one of the challenges in any project is to identify the right level of effort to be devoted to managing risks. Sometimes, willing to over-secure a project with a comprehensive risk management plan can take too much time and energy at the expense of focusing on delivering value quickly. Working too hard on defining Plan B may prevent you from achieving Plan A. Conversely, thinking that all risks can be managed through experiments is not always relevant. Some risks may be beyond the project team’s reach, and when stakes are high and critical, conducting some specific experiments may be dangerous and lead to an irreversible situation. Therefore, it will probably be more effective to formally manage some risks and to use experiments only on a few, relevant areas.

When you are managing a project, uncertainty is often seen as a never-ending source of impediments. But don’t forget that it also can be considered as a chance to capture new opportunities. Managing opportunities is sometimes as important as managing threats. So be prepared to exploit some unexpected events and take advantage of them!

We project practitioners should be curious, willing to discover and learn many approaches, and also be able to fully understand context, in order to tailor the most appropriate approach to managing uncertainty on a given project.

By definition, uncertainty will never be 100% controllable. That’s why I think that dealing with it is one of the most challenging and exciting activities in project management. As it is part of any project, regardless of its type, industry, environment, and delivery approach, I think that Uncertainty is a key project management performance domain—Really!

 

 

Posted by Laura Schofield on: February 07, 2020 09:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Measuring is Important for Project Work, but Beware of the Traps

Categories: standards

by Laurent Thomas, PMBOK® Guide-Seventh Edition Development Team member

As project leaders we have to understand where we are and, with the help of the stakeholders, take decisions to keep project work on track. Measures, most often numbers, are the usual way to identify and communicate the current state of the project, and upon which to base discussions and decisions. Unfortunately, numbers can be deceptive. Pitfalls in selecting the informative measures, errors in analyzing them, misinterpretation when communicating them can lead to less than optimal decisions. 

Cognitive biases, misapplication of statistics, cheating (gaming the numbers), or simply plain ignorance are all impediments to the benefits of using measures. Finding the relevant metrics, the right way to measure, to analyze, to understand and interpret their variance, and finally communicate metrics require a set of skills that every project team must possess.  

There must be agreement between the project team and organizational leaders or governance associated with the metrics and their associated measures. But it is also important to consider who will use specific measures. Consider velocity. This metric is an internal team measure to help the team consider ways to improve its performance.  But this measure is not intended for sharing with external stakeholders.   

Measurement, whether collecting, analyzing or communicating metrics, is considered an acquired skill. Every project team member and stakeholder is supposed to know how to deal with numbers. But one thing to consider is that a measure may not be necessarily a number. For instance, using letters rather than numbers to select an answer in a customer satisfaction survey would indicate more clearly that average is a meaningless representation of the centrality of the responses. 

As project leaders, one of our (numerous) responsibilities is to correctly assess the situation based on free-from-bias observations and interpretations, present it in a non-equivocal manner, and help the team take the right decision based on a rational analysis. Not a simple feat.  All hope is not lost, however. To reach a reliable understanding of the status of the project or facilitate decision making, project team members and project leaders alike must improve their ability to grasp the consequences of our human cognitive biases and limited statistical skills.  We must acquire the knowledge and capabilities that will help us navigate the complexity of number crunching. For instance, mastering the difference between causation and correlation is not out of reach, nor is identifying a Simpson paradox occurrence in a set of project data. Making sense of p-value will certainly help projects in forecasting the expected level of the quality of the next release. 

Measurement is necessary for every project, and measurement done right is useful and informative. However, we should not forget that measures are not the ultimate aim of a project; but a means to reach a much more important goal: delivering business value.  

Correctly interpreting measures is thus an essential skill for understanding elements of project work and has direct bearing on the ultimate outcome of the project. This skill must and can be learnt.  It is critical to know what to measure, when to measure, and how to interpret and present the measure without falling prey to the cognitive biases that lead to distortion or illogical interpretation. 

Therefore, I believe measurement should be considered as one of the Performance Domains for project success for any project. And I strongly urge my fellow project leaders to master basic statistics and be aware of our human brain deviation from rationality. By doing so we will rely upon sound project status to help our projects achieve their targets and generate their expected business value. 

Posted by Laura Schofield on: January 31, 2020 10:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)
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