My Professional Journey

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Sharing Insights from my Professional life , where I have been a Sales Engineer, A Health Professional and now , a Project Management Professional. These blogs encompass my observations or experiences. They may be regarding the Projects that I have led or been a part of or something close to our daily lives like Mindfulness and health which may affect our productivity as Project Managers.

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Define "Digital Project Manager" for me

The Pain of Legacy Systems

How a PMP® helped me improve my PMSpeak

Selling Ice to an Eskimo

The Local Coffee Shop - My Conversation Catalyst

Define "Digital Project Manager" for me

(image courtesy : - thedigitalprojectmanager. com

Digital Project Manager ! Here we go again ! Another Tech Jargon of the day or perhaps the decade?

Another flashy term misused/abused/modified/bruised/battered by umpteen number of companies and hot shot young recruiters in their brand new suits to throw at the pool of Project Managers looking to find meaningful Project Management assignments , to add value using their real world "Project Management " Skills.

Here is an extract of a conversation, that I am having with a certain learned Digital Project Manager:-

"So what is a Digital PM? One who works remotely from a home office and never shows their face? One who works on Online Projects? "

Their response , " A Digital PM needs to have good communication skills, influencing, being a good leader, identify issues...." 

Stop !! Stop Right there !!!

How is that different from what a Project Manager is expected to do anyways?

Pin drop silence..........

And then arguments such as ...."Oh you know , Wire-framing , Debugging...organizing source code repository...."

"But that's not what a Project Manager does ...That is what a Developer is supposed to be doing".

They will not back down ..."Ah yes , digital refers to any project that deals with the internet and web technologies to deliver anything from websites to mobile apps, videos to games, eCommerce to emails, social media campaigns to search engine optimization (SEO), rich media advertising to digital outdoor advertising."

"But isn't that similar to IT Project Management?"

"No it's different . Budgets are tight , we just need to get it out the door’.Agile and Waterfall will not work ...we need Digital. It simply describes a specific context – often marketing related, within a digital agency, with quicker turnaround and smaller budgets."

By this stage, I have given up ! suffice to say , I am no wiser about Digital Project Management than I was about 10 minutes ago when I started discussing with this smart looking gentleman.

My friend continues ..." You know, digital project managers can be a Project Manager, digital strategist, web product manager, producer, sales and business development, as well as quality assurance"

I now wake up from my siesta.

"In short, what you are saying is that you need someone to replace five jobs....Or are you thinking that knowledge and use of latest technology suddenly makes human beings so intelligent that they are able to perform all the jobs themselves? Why does anyone need to work as a Project Manager then? We might as well work for ourselves from the comfort of our own home."

Okay , that conversation did not give me what I wanted so I researched more online. (Hint : I am using my Digital PM skills .....)

Another gentleman by the name of Osman Gani explains Digital Project Management

“It’s a streamlined process of managing online projects from concept to execution within budget and in a timely fashion. The end result is ensuring that businesses utilizing the service reach their online marketing goals and other goals that were put forward. This is accomplished by utilizing creative and technical skills, providing proper support and maintenance, as well as closely working with designers, developers, and other specialists as a unified team. Managing web projects involves certain steps to ensure successful completion. Scoping, cost estimation, risk and issue analysis, resourcing, identifying strategies to be employed, quality assurance are just some of the elementary considerations.”

I can sense that your reactions on reading the paragraph above are no less cynical than my own. All I am asking here is " Tell me something that I currently don't do as a Project Manager, or even an IT Project Manager?"

So what questions should you expect in a job description, expect to be asked in an interview /or are expected to list in your resume,  should you desire to apply for a Digital Project Manager's job ?

  • Do you use Social Media like facebook, twitter, linkedIn ?
  • Have you managed virtual teams? ( Code word for "Talk to people through Video Conference or Skype for an hour a week and build relationships to ensure a successful project ) - This incidentally also takes me back to a George Clooney Movie "Up in the Air", where Anna Kendrick suggests firing the employees virtually, with total and complete disregard for human emotions. 
  • Do you use Collaborative tools like Sharepoint , Office 360, Confluence, Jira..<> ? ( Code word for "push out project documents and pray that someone looks at it in the near future and comments on them )
  • Have you managed Cloud and SaaS projects? Or IaaS, or PaaS ? ( excellent code words for "I will let someone else manage my data and infrastructure and keep my overheads low. I will never know where exactly my data is , but I don't really care because I am making lump sum payments".
  • Do you use CMS tools like Wordpress? Drupal?  (Code word for "Hey ! it seems you are good at developing websites. We really don't need the developer that will charge $100K and we will pay you 80K to be the PM as well as the developer" )
  • Do you use Google Analytics? ( Don't worry about auditing the efficiency or quality  of work or the resources, or even get to know your team . After-all Management needs to look at Statistics and Tools provide the statistics. What good is a PM without reporting tools , right?
  • Do you understand FTP ? (Code word for "You will send your scope and requirements across the Atlantic Ocean to some country which will do all the grunt work for you and they will send back another file which you will ask your team to review".
  • Are you good at MS Office Suite  eg Visio/Powerpoint? ( Code words for " Do you know how to draw pretty pictures digitally to pull wool over the eyes of your sponsors and mask the real status of your projects or cleverly package your project to show them what they want to see?" )
  • Finally , the question that sets us Traditional "boring" PMs apart from the Digital PMs? They know how to use an automated Project Management Tool , A piece of software that does absolutely everything for them with regards to project management. "Hurray !" Now you can say goodbye to that fat paycheck that you have been demanding because the Software Application can do everything that a PM does. 

So how exactly companies promote their online Project Management tools? 

" Teams work best when 'Resources' collaborate in the one location ....."

Hang on ? What's a resource?  Oh Yes ! These are human beings of flesh and blood but we don't need to know about them. we can simply slide a task from one resource to the other and voila ! we have just Leveled this resource, fast tracked or crashed the project !! We did not even have to call them up and confirm ! We have saved the company $$$.

Okay fine , How do your "resources" collaborate in the one location ? Ah Yes ! they login to your online software and need to fill in their bits and see what is happening in the project .

So what problem am I solving by using this Project Management Software? ah yes ....the resource does not know about the project priorities and has no oversight of the schedules. So As a "Digital Project Manager" I am making them see the "light " . 

Not to mention that while I am using this tool ,  I am also crossing fingers that due to such effective "Digital Project Management" , I will keep all my stakeholders happy and miraculously all my "resources" will be motivated and contribute to the success of the projects.

So coming back to either reading the Job Description or attending the interview and while you are contemplating on taking a couple of aspirins for your throbbing migraine, you come across, or are asked, the most important bits in the "Desirable" (not Mandatory) skills for the job role. Hallelujah ! this is what a PM does in reality !!

  • Do you have Formal Project Management qualifications like Prince2 or PMP?
  • Can you demonstrate Stakeholder Management and Negotiation skills?
  • Do you do Financial Management? 
  • Are you good at developing strategic Partnerships and Vendor Management?

I have used most of  the collaborative tools above, sometimes with cynicism, sometimes with appreciation, barring the automated "Project Management System" which I am sure a future employer may force down my throat and I may be compelled to use it out of whatever situation I am in at that time.

Does this make me a Digital Project Manager?  How am I different to a normal Project Manager who uses technology to complement their work?

We have already seen how social media has already made us into robots and now we are a far cry from dating or interacting with friends the traditional way.

The advocates of Online Project Management Tools go one step further to drive the dagger deeper in your heart with this announcement "Traditional Project Management is dead . click on the button below to see how easy it is to manage projects using our revolutionary new software ".

Posted on: December 13, 2017 08:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

The Pain of Legacy Systems

We have all come across Computer Systems in our workplace that have been collecting cobwebs since time immemorial.

Management comes and goes , but that squeaky wheel in the corner continues to turn. The legacy system has innumerable problems:-

  1. It is bandaged, resuscitated from the dead and continues to perform critical business functions like Payroll , Quality Management or Finance.
  2. It has undergone that many version changes and upgrades, there is no documentation that can clearly explain the functions of this system.
  3. The system has metamorphosed into something that it wasn't intended to be doing in the first place.
  4. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are paid every year in support , maintenance and employee salaries to keep this system running.
  5. It is extremely difficult to produce reports out of this system because it's built using archaic code that no current employee has knowledge of or the vendor smartly chose not to expose any APIs.

There can be myriad number of reasons why the company is in this situation:-

  1. The management of the company endorses this system and their "favorite" employee has developed it in-house or has been instrumental in bringing this Vendor/system in-house and is still with the company after 30 years.
  2. In the company's culture there is a strong resistance to change
  3. 20 employees are on the payroll because of this application and they justify pretty strongly , their existence through a lobbyist, who perhaps sits in the higher management of this company and quashes any attempts to upgrade or change.
  4. Previous attempts at upgrading or replacing the system have failed or have been made to fail.
  5. Due to the lack of in-house technical experts, the vendor  has been milking this company for many years and this company has been made to realize that there is no better option out there in the market.
  6. There is a fear that the Business may stop functioning if this system breaks down so every effort is made to keep this system running.

Other departments in this company desperately struggle and build point solutions to take away the sting from this all important system , thereby costing this company zillions of dollars which could have been easily avoided if the right hand knew what the left hand was doing  by implementing a consolidated ERP system.

There are silos, duplication of data, customer dissatisfaction until one day a meteorite that falls and everything grinds to a halt.

We have all attempted to highlight this scenario and escalate it to management but it seems to fall into deaf ears.

We continue collecting our daily pay package, go back home to our loved ones , hoping that something different may dawn upon us the following day.

Posted on: December 11, 2017 08:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

How a PMP® helped me improve my PMSpeak

Throughout my Project Management career and my preparation for the PMP® exam, my respect for lessons learnt kept on increasing incrementally. As soon as I passed the exam, I shared my lessons learnt from my journey towards passing the PMP® exam  with fellow aspirants on the LinkedIn group.

While I was updating my resume, as you do when you achieve a new skill or qualification , I looked at my role descriptions for the various projects and noted words like "Work with the project team, customer and management to implement product features in the XYZ software". I instantly realized that I was under-selling myself by not using the appropriate level of PMSpeak. I don't know if this term even exists but that's the best I could come up with to explain how a PM would describe what they do to gain more respect from others in interviews or professional circles. 

When I thought how PMBOK would describe what I do, it dawned on me that I was adding a lot more value on my projects than I was expressing in words.

I am delighted to say that my several months' worth  of hard work in not just preparing for the exam, but understanding the PMI way of running projects, has certainly taught me a more effective and a more efficient way of  presenting my work and packaging my skills.

I then presented the same information as :- 

"Work with the Project Management team and key business stakeholders to define and refine project and product scope, highlight risks, define project and product quality expectations and build the Software solution to customer satisfaction"

In the above sentence I have just made use of the objectives of the following processes from the PMBOK

  1. Direct and Manage Project Work
  2. Define Scope
  3. Validate Scope
  4. Manage Stakeholder Engagement
  5. Identify risks
  6. Perform Qualitative Risk Assessment
  7. Plan Quality Management

I then looked at another  sentence in my position description that read "Signed SOW and contracts with external vendors to deliver solution".

Yes, we did agree on the SOW and sign a contract with the external vendors, But I did not do it alone and I had not expressed my function as an "integrator" and a "facilitator" in the above sentence. Nor did I establish that I successfully engaged and collaborated with other teams to achieve project objectives and how I held the vendor accountable for delivery. 

I them repackaged the same sentence as:- 

"Worked with the Procurement management and Legal Teams to establish and negotiate contracts and payment milestones with the vendor and continuously monitored vendor performance to deliver to the agreed Statement of Works"

I have thus, made a better use of the "Conduct Procurement" and "Control Procurement" processes in the above sentence and indicated how I have engaged successfully with other teams in the matrix organization and conducted performance assessments in order to complete my project deliverable. 

These valuable lessons learnt are no doubt, going to stand me in good stead for the rest of my working life and my project management career. 

 

Posted on: September 15, 2017 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Selling Ice to an Eskimo

 

As a Graduate Electronics Engineer, fresh out of university in 1999, the very first job I landed was a Sales Engineer to sell Non-Destructive Testing(NDT) Equipment.  The basics of NDT is sending Ultrasonic Waves through Materials to detect internal cracks and imminent failure. For example at an Oil Refinery,  If pieces of metals used to build pipelines had cracks beyond limits set by the Quality control departments, those pieces of metals will need to be either discarded or repaired.

Having equipped me with the training and the technical knowledge of NDT through various training courses and product demonstrations , My Team Leader decided that I was ready to start my foray into selling my very first Ultrasonic Flaw Detector.

For my very first field trip, He came along with me to meet the Quality Assurance Manager at a refinery with the agreement that he will be a silent spectator while I will be required to do the sales pitch. 

Walking into the refinery towards the QA Manager's office,  I noticed the following:-

  1. Pieces of metals and tubing in the plant
  2. People with protective clothing inspecting materials with equipment
  3. Some other Flaw Detectors similar to ours but of a different make and model, lying around
  4. Some other Electronic Machines lying around.

I then met the QA Manager , introduced ourselves  and this is what I did:-

  1. Showed all our Pamphlets of all our machines.
  2. Started comparing the technical features of our Flaw Detectors with his machines and said how our machine was superior to his.
  3. Described our after sales -service facilities , range of costs , How much warranty we gave, How big was our Service staff strength,  How long will the equipment take to arrive at his premises.
  4. Asked him how many flaw detectors he needed . He said that their department had no current budget and that they had enough for that financial year.
  5. Promised to send him a quotation for different models that we had so he could let us know if he wanted any at a future date.
  6. Agreed to show him a demonstration of our equipment and promised that he will like what I  show him.

We shook hands and took leave of our prospective client and I was replete with excitement. My team leader noticed my beaming face and said "good job" and decided to be quiet about it.

Back at the office , he called a private meeting with me and told me that I was trying to "Sell Ice to an Eskimo". When I looked puzzled , he asked me the following questions:-

  1. I had seen pieces of metals and tubing in the plant, did I ask the QA Manager what they were meant for?
  2. Did I try to understand the overall Quality Assurance function of the refinery and how and what portion of  NDT fit into it?
  3. I saw a competitor's flaw detector in the plant? Did I look curious and ask the QA Manager what he was using the existing equipment for? Did I ask him about what the other electronic equipment were meant for?
  4. Did I ask the QA Manager about his real requirements? that is, If he were to buy a flaw detector, what technical features was he looking for and what was he going to use it for? What were the pain-points not being addressed by his current equipment?  Whether he knew of other departments that may need the equipment? 
  5. Did I ascertain how their Department procures equipment? Open Tender? Private Sale? When is the next purchasing cycle? Is their budget for their department to buy something? Could he give an indication of what price range he was looking at? Was he the person that could influence buying or was there another person I really needed to talk to ?
  6. When I did not even establish If he was interested in buying, why would I wan't to give him a quotation? What if he just shows that to the competitor during a private sale negotiation and the competitor undercuts me?
  7. Why would I agree to show him a demonstration if I don't even know If he will buy it or how he is going to use it?
  8. Did I try to establish rapport with him? Did I listen more and talk less? Did I ascertain If he was happy with the current after sales support or was he expecting something more that we could provide?
  9. If I had asked him more questions, I may have found out about another bigger equipment that we could sell? May be he wanted an Industrial X-ray machine, a Magnetic Crack Detector

Long story short, My brilliant sales pitch was unlikely to get us the sale .

And when he saw me totally frozen from head to toe and feeling like an amoeba he said with a smile "Welcome to the world of sales my friend, Now that you know that you almost always deal with Eskimos in the sales world,  let me teach you how to sell Ice to them."

(image courtesy :- rgva.co.uk)

Posted on: May 18, 2017 07:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

The Local Coffee Shop - My Conversation Catalyst

(image courtesy :- www.linkedin.com )

 

The importance of a morning pick-me-up cannot be understated. Even after I shower and get ready for work , I am not really awake until that shot of Java hits my veins.

Lately I have been reading a lot of books on Emotional Intelligence and Conversational Intelligence on the tram on the way to work. Before I reach work, four days out of five, I do not have my caffeine fix.

While I am reading , the words seem like worms wriggling on the page and I tend to see myself reading the same paragraphs over and over again. Some of the examples and stories presented in the books are easy to understand, yet for the larger part of what I read, My pre-frontal cortex or the "sensible" part of my brain tells me that none of these messages about improving Self Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness and Relationship Management are making sense. Still I persist with the book as I persisted with some of my course notes at University.

I get to my favorite coffee shop and I am greeted warmly by the same friendly barista. "Warm" ? where did I see that word last? Oh Yes, I was just reading "Conversational Intelligence" by Judith Glasser on the tram. What was the reference to warm? Ah ! yes, something about you feeling warm towards the other person when you have a warm drink in your hand ? Bang !!! there it is ! All makes sense.

And all of a sudden, I am talking to the barista about the weather, whether I will be having a busy day, did I do something exciting over the weekend . I have established trust with this person. What was that acronym again? Ah ! FORCES are at play ! Fairness Ownership Reciprocity Cooperation Expression Status . I see Fairness in the conversation, I can take ownership of this communication, I can reciprocate the other person's feelings, I can Cooperate with them, Express myself and feel high self esteem.I have ended up implementing some thoughts presented in this book.

At the same time , subconsciously I have found myself becoming more self aware of my inner thoughts . I have started deciding what I should or shouldn't feel .I am self managing myself by coming out of my shell and thinking about what I should and shouldn't say. I have started observing the body language of the barista and tailoring my relationship management skills to converse with them. Bang ! I have now also used tips from the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves. If I can do this with the barista, who is pretty genial and jovial nine times out of ten, why can't I use the same with any person I interact with? " Is this a coffee or an elixir of life ? " I ask myself.

I then reach work and give a big broad smile to the first workmate I find either in the lift, in the corridor or in the office. I even greet everyone "warmly" in the office. In the few minutes between getting out of the tram and having a few sips of coffee, I have applied the principles of Conversational Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence and the local coffee shop has just become my conversation catalyst.

Posted on: May 15, 2017 08:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
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