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Marjorie Anderson
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Laura Schofield

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Mighty Fight: The Importance of Stakeholders in Achieving Project Outcomes

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Mighty Fight: The Importance of Stakeholders in Achieving Project Outcomes

Categories: standards

by Maricarmen Suarez, PMBOK® Guide-Seventh Edition Development Team member

At the center of every project effort, we find people. Stakeholders in various positions can and will impact the outcome of our endeavors. As practitioners, it is essential to engage these stakeholders early and often to understand their needs and interests. Active engagement will be a critical success factor in realizing the intended value of the project. Simply put, choosing whether or not you want to engage stakeholders is not an option—engagement is a must!

An example that comes to mind is a project to contain the further spread of a virus outbreak. There are certainly millions of stakeholders that would have to be considered in this case. A public health crisis not only impacts patients and healthcare workers on the front lines, it also includes the media, medical supply providers, and many others inside and outside of the healthcare industry. Think about the supply and demand challenges should manufacturing plants have to close for an extended period of time. Yes, an outbreak has the potential to disrupt entire markets, and the stakeholder impacts are immense. This can be overwhelming!

While planning the stakeholder engagement, it is crucial to recognize that the stakeholder landscape is rarely static. Individuals or organizations will morph throughout the life cycle of the project; new actors will appear while others move to the background. Their degree of influence will also have ebbs and flows. Focusing on the response to the virus outbreak, we can identify the World Health Organization as a stakeholder with a high degree of influence. This specialized agency is concerned with global public health and leads the collaboration of many other segments to ensure the highest possible levels of health around the globe. Understanding the influence a stakeholder has can help us develop a specific engagement approach.

Another criterion to consider is the impact or the degree to which a stakeholder can effect change. In our example, think of the clinicians and public health officials. They can positively impact the outcome with their clinical management decisions or their ability to share clinical data in a timely fashion. Project leads can act as a force multiplier by being aware of stakeholders’ needs, interests, and opinions. This will allow the project lead to facilitate a shared solution, focusing on delivering value.

People fuel project delivery. Often we can think of this in terms of the “what” and “how” of efforts. The “what” is the result that the project aims to deliver, the outcome ultimately leading to value. The “how” is the behaviors or skills that foster a collaborative stakeholder landscape. Some tools that would help a practitioner in this area include:

  • Interpersonal skills: Things like integrity, honesty, and respect are essential to fostering healthy relationships.

  • Communication: Open and transparent, a practitioner should be able to flex their style as needed to ensure everyone is engaged and informed.

  • Collaboration: We win or lose as a team. Being able to function in a cross-functional environment and craft shared solutions is pivotal to success.

Ultimately, the impact of engaged stakeholders can lead us to develop better response strategies and project outcomes. In our example, engagement can lead to better understanding, carrying out a plan, and communicating effectively. These are certainly steps to achieve the outcome of containing the spread of a virus!

Over the years, I have shifted my perspective from stakeholder management to stakeholder engagement. Humans, unlike widgets, can’t be managed, and attempting to do so is an exercise in futility. They can be engaged within the context of the project type, industry, environment, or delivery approach. Correctly engaging stakeholders, understanding their individual needs and levels of influence, and aligning the project efforts to support those needs is essential. This critical focus area will lead to the achievement of a much stronger outcome. This is why I believe stakeholder engagement is an essential project performance domain for all projects regardless of type and approach.

Posted by Laura Schofield on: February 25, 2020 09:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

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)
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