Project Management

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Uncertainty. Really?

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)

Planning is Thinking ... But Don't Think About it Too Much

Categories: standards

By Giampaolo Marucci, PMBOK® Guide-Seventh Edition Development Team member

Planning is a common activity in everything we do. We could say that we plan because we think, or we think so we plan. Planning is thinking on what we have to do in the future (near or far) to get to an objective or to achieve a goal.

One of the core activities and functions in project delivery is planning, which is a Performance Domain in the new PMBOK® Guide. (See earlier blog post by Cynthia Dionisio on what are Performance Domains.) In project management, planning produces a common understanding of why we need to get to some objective and what to do next to get it. Common understanding is achieved by sharing of the information with all the stakeholders especially the delivery team. Planning activities can have output artifacts like “plans”—but not necessarily.

Plans can be:

  • at a high level like a Master Plan or Roadmap;

  • at a low level with much detail and fully predictive;

  • partially completed like a Release Plan; or

  • detailed only on some parts like an Iteration Plan, Sprint Backlog, or a Phase Plan.

We can also “plan to plan” like in Rolling Wave Planning. In any case we need to pay attention to the balance of effort we spend in planning with the threat of market erosion because of delays in having spent too much time in planning.

Planning is closely related to the project delivery approach and tailored for the project to realize the product, service, or result with benefits for the community of people who will use the end result. Planning activities are always in parallel with control activities. A plan is effective only if it is frequently/continuously verified by control actions to understand whether or not the plan remains aligned with the expected benefits the project is expected to realize.

At the start of a project we select a project delivery approach and we tailor it for the needs of the project based also on:

  • volatility of requirements,
  • level of knowledge of the base technologies and physical resources needed,
  • number of people involved, and
  • uncertainty of the context (i.e., market conditions or emergent risks—what we don’t know so we cannot predict).

Then we need to apply an appropriate planning strategy/approach.

If requirements are estimated to be nonvolatile, base technologies are well known, and the number of people is not many, then a full, advance predictive planning strategy could be applied. The adaptation of the “Plan,” artifacts, and re-planning activities during the project occur on the basis of the change control process defined for the project.

On the other hand, requirements can be volatile and base technology not well known, so we might use a project delivery life cycle with frequent feedback from stakeholders. For this kind of project, we need frequent adaptation of plans during development and many re-planning actions.

Also, projects that are closely aligned with “operations” functions, like continuous delivery of value, can apply Lean Kanban practices commonly used in IT or R&D projects. These types of projects need planning activities that adapt the plans continuously on the basis of feedback from experimentation. Adaptation here is so frequent that we could talk also about reactivity. But reacting to an event requires a short and prompt re-planning action immediately after the trigger event is recognized.

Objects to plan inside a project include cost allocation, time scheduling, physical resources, delivery, and many others. The way in which the planning takes place varies depending on the life cycle approach taken, but planning remains a key activity throughout the project. Planning could be led by a project manager, a Product Owner, or the whole project team. Self-organized and cross-functional delivery teams might plan from a backlog of prioritized items.

Planning, and generally speaking project management, is the application of knowledge, and it is important for the entire team to share in the planning regardless of who leads or the form the planning takes.  In any kind of project, planning activities are always required. Planning is a fundamental skill inside any project and has enormous impact on the delivery of intended outcomes. That’s why I consider it to be a performance domain for all projects.

Finally, planning is a passion, a knowledge we need to love if we want to apply it well, and a skill we need to improve continuously...Think about it.


Posted by Laura Schofield on: January 24, 2020 12:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

The Standard for Project Management is Open for Comment

Categories: standards

by: Cynthia Dionisio, Co-leader PMBOK® Guide–Seventh Edition Development Team

Over the past few years we’ve seen the emergence of a broad range of approaches to project and product delivery with a stronger focus on outcomes rather than deliverables. These changes and more have created an opportunity to reconsider perspectives to help support the continued evolution of The Standard for Project Management.*

As part of the evolution of project and product delivery we have realized that a process-based approach to the Standard is not as useful as a principle-based approach. Thus, you will see a different standard than you have in previous editions. Rather than presenting Process Groups with processes, inputs, and outputs, this edition focuses on the core principles associated with project delivery.

In several workshops conducted around the world over the last year, the global project management community explored and identified underlying guiding principles for the practice of project delivery. A global community of over 70 practitioners used the results from these workshops and other sources to develop and/or provide feedback on drafts of the Standard as it evolved for this edition. Several development team members also posted to The Critical Path their reflections as the work progressed. The principle statements that emerged capture and summarize the generally accepted actions and behaviors of project management practice, as well as provide broad parameters within which project teams can operate and remain aligned with their intent.

The Standard also takes a systems view of project management. The new Value Delivery System section changes the perspective from one of simply managing projects, programs, and portfolios to one focused on the value chain that links those and other business capabilities to advancing organizational strategy, value, and business objectives. Projects enable realization of benefits to drive outcomes that ultimately deliver value to organizations and their stakeholders.

Help shape the next edition of The Standard for Project Management by providing feedback on the draft. The draft of the Standard will be available for comment 15 January – 14 February. Follow this link to contribute to this exciting update of the Standard.

*The Standard for Project Management is part of, but not the whole of, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). Only the Standard is being exposed for public comment in alignment with PMI’s standards development procedures.

Posted by Laura Schofield on: January 15, 2020 08:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

The Value of a Principle-based Standard for Project Management

by Dave Violette, PMP

Those engaged in the discipline of managing projects can attest to rapid changes in approaches, methods, and techniques being introduced. The global evolution of how project management (PM) is tackled has been significant, and the pace of change continues at a head-spinning rate. These changes have made it difficult to keep up with developments; and even more, challenges efforts to link existing PM standards to new approaches. No sooner is a standard updated than some new subsuming approach or technique is developed.

Standard setting organizations are now starting to embrace the concept of defining Principles to guide the fundamentals involved in the practice of managing projects and delivering outcomes. Unlike process or approach-centered standards, which lists a series of process recommendations to meet the challenges of effective PM, focusing on Principles provides broader and more adaptable delivery guidance.

My view of PM Principles is that they represent the fundamental essence or norms that guide behavior and thinking at all levels of managing projects. Adhering to Principles helps project managers deliver better outcomes. Principles provide guidance, without imposing uniform adherence to a set of prescriptive processes or approaches.

So, where does the value of following these Principles arise? A set of Principles are used for guidance, rather than dictating how decisions are made or appropriate approaches adopted. Principles remain solid, provide stability, and focus on adapting behavior and thinking in the rapidly changing world of PM. Principles capture and summarize concept(s), action(s), condition(s), or consideration(s) generally recognized as necessary for guiding or influencing PM delivery success.

An example of using a fundamental Principle could be around the proactive engagement with stakeholders. This type of Principle would guide the selection of the specific approach for effective identification of stakeholders—those who have significant influence on project delivery outcomes. It would also provide guidance for the selection of processes to allow for stakeholder interests, rights, and expectations to be understood at a level where stakeholders are effectively engaged. The approach or processes to use needs to be flexible and adaptable to the specific delivery/business environment, so as to effectively engage the stakeholders. Following a stakeholder engagement Principle versus being tied to specific processes, techniques, or tools outlined in process-centered standards would help to ensure effective stakeholder engagement happens. Principle-based decisions can allow for varying situational or environmental adjustments needed for that project.

A second example could be around a fundamental Principle of maintaining a focus on value. Realizing value is a key determinant for project delivery success, the organization either realizes intended value or it does not. An underlying tenet of this focus is continuous evaluation during project delivery considering both the benefits and the costs to realize them—this is Benefits Realization Management. Adhering to a value-focused principle helps the project team ensure alignment with the business objectives and intended outcomes rather than a specific deliverable or result. This sets up an approach where the outcomes help assure the expected benefits from the project work are realized and the intended value to the organization is achieved. In setting up the metrics for tracking project progress, the focus on the value principle requires a means to measure and evaluate whether the project remains on track to deliver the intended value. Each project is unique so no prescriptive metric or evaluation process can work in all cases. Following a value-focused principle though allows the project team to craft metrics and processes that work in their specific environment.

Principle-based standards offer greater flexibility within and adaptability to the project delivery environment. PM Principles guide the thinking and behavior of those engaged in the delivery of a project’s outcomes. Those involved in selecting and following an approach, method, or technique for delivering a specific type of project result can look at agnostic Principles to guide their thinking and behavior versus following a set of prescriptive approaches or processes that may not satisfy the unique challenges of a given project.

Appropriate Principles provide guidance without imposing uniform adherence to a set of prescriptive processes or approaches, whilst embracing differing organizational, cultural, and industrial environments. I firmly believe that standards based on Principles remain solid, provide stability, and focus on adapting behavior and thinking in the rapidly changing world of project management, and is the best approach for the future.

Posted by Marjorie Anderson on: January 08, 2020 08:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

"If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas."

- George Bernard Shaw