Project Management

Random Thoughts

by
Uniting the passion for writing and project management

About this Blog

RSS

Recent Posts

Unfolding failure. Lessons from a melting iceberg

Unmasking the dark side: traits of a toxic manager

Harmony in Leadership: Unveiling the resonance between Project Managers and Orchestra Conductors

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

Project success... predicted?

Categories

74-343, Agile, Artificial Intelligence, basadur, Budget Management, Certification, Change; Change management; Team management, Chapter, conceptualizer, data management, Decision Making, generator, Goal Setting, Human touch, implementer, machine learning, MS Project 2013, Negotation, optimizer, Organizational behavior, personal growth, pharmaceutical; lifecyle management; agile; waterfall, PMI, Problem solving, Product Owner, Project Communication, Project Management, PSM I, PSPO, Scheduling, Scrum, self-development, Stakeholder management, Team Building, Teams, test, training, Volunteering

Date

Unfolding failure. Lessons from a melting iceberg

Ever faced situations where ideas varied in execution quality? There are good ideas poorly executed, bad ideas well executed, and then there are bad ideas executed even worse. Let me share an example of the latter. In July, the eighth edition team of the "Arctic Challenge" expedition set out from Costa del Sol to Greenland. Their goal? To document climate change effects and undertake the "Iceberg Operation" — transporting a 15,000-kilogram (approx. 33,000-pound) glacier chunk to Spain, exhibiting it in central Malaga, where it would gradually melt.

Noble intention to raise climate awareness, right? Well, it stirred controversy, especially drawing criticism from Ecologistas en Acción, labeling it counterproductive and mere PR by authorities.

The Project

Led by Málaga explorer Manuel Calvo Villena, the expedition ran from July 17th to August 3rd. The plan? Ship the massive ice chunk in a refrigerated vessel at -22°C from Greenland to southern Spain. All seemed well until the shipping company reported a mishandled load, leading the ice block to impact the container doors, breaking into four pieces. Despite this setback, they decided to continue. After days at sea (more than initially planned), the captain confirmed the iceberg wouldn't arrive, sharing a picture where the largest piece resembled a watermelon. Everyone was astonished. The project went belly up... or maybe not?

Success or failure

Ever heard the Spanish saying that it's better people talk about you, even if negatively? The gist: attention, even if negative, may hold more value than being completely forgotten. The failure gained worldwide notoriety, featured in over 180 international media outlets. One could argue that the goal of raising awareness about global warming succeeded, albeit through an unexpected path. Speaking about the project's failure meant talking about the underlying issue of climate change.

The Sydney Opera House project is another example — initially a failure later considered a success. The difference? Sydney Opera House was a good idea poorly executed, evident in its massive cost overrun and delays. In contrast, bringing a massive Arctic ice chunk was flawed from the start. There wasn't enough time or common sense applied to analyze the energy cost of hauling such a load at sub-zero temperatures across such distances — about 1500 metric tons of CO2 contributing to the very climate change the project aimed to address. It's a classic case that should've gone back to the drawing board before diving into such foolishness. In a way, it's reminiscent of world leaders jetting off in private planes to climate summits with entourages of gas-guzzling cars.

Conclusion

Next time you're offered a lead or participation in a project, take the time to reflect on the idea's validity and purpose behind it. What some call the "higher purpose" or the "why". 

Thanks for reading!

Posted on: November 17, 2023 08:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Unmasking the dark side: traits of a toxic manager

You're probably well-acquainted with the timeless adage: "People don't leave bad jobs; they leave bad bosses". Over my two decades of professional experience, I've had the privilege of working with inspiring leaders who propelled me to new heights, as well as those whose management style left much to be desired.

Reflecting on this journey, I've distilled the characteristics that define a less-than-ideal manager into the ten commandments of poor leadership:

1. Empowerment evasion. Fails to foster empowerment and trust among their team, effectively stifling growth and potential.

2. Micromanagement mayhem. Tends to micromanage, thwarting the creative and autonomous spirit of their team members.

3. Delegation dilemma. Struggles with effective and equitable delegation, leading to imbalanced workloads and frustration.

4. Team neglect. Places personal success above team development and growth, leaving the collective potential untapped.

5. Superior obsession. Prioritizes appeasing superiors over the well-being and satisfaction of the team, sowing seeds of discontent.

6. Feedback fiasco. Offers vague or unconstructive feedback, acting as a roadblock to individual and collective progress.

7. Time disregard.  Demonstrates a casual approach to punctuality, often arriving late to meetings or canceling them at the eleventh hour, impacting team efficiency.

8. Arrogance abyss. Radiates arrogance and a profound lack of empathy, fostering a hostile work environment.

9. Responsibility reluctance. Shuns accountability and readily pins blame on subordinates when issues surface, eroding trust within the team.

10. Credit conquest. Seizes all the glory when things go well, conveniently sidelining the contributions of the dedicated team.

I invite you to contribute any additional negative traits that you believe deserve a spot on this list! 

Thanks for reading :-)

Posted on: October 27, 2023 08:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Harmony in Leadership: Unveiling the resonance between Project Managers and Orchestra Conductors

Describing the role of a project manager is no easy task, and drawing parallels with well-known professions can aid in this endeavor. While a film director, a sports team manager, or a choreographer do share certain similarities with the role of a project manager, the most fitting parallel can be found in the position of an orchestra director.

Below is a list of six key skills and features shared by both roles, essential for achieving excellence:  

1️⃣ Vision and Direction. Both have a clear vision of the final outcome and set the direction for their respective teams. The conductor interprets the composer's score, shaping the performance's artistic interpretation, while the project manager aligns the team's efforts with the project's objectives, ensuring everyone understands the desired outcome.

2️⃣ Coordination and Collaboration. The conductor's role is to synchronize the musicians, ensuring they start and stop together, maintain proper timing, and play in harmony. Similarly, the project manager coordinates the team's activities, assigns tasks, and facilitates collaboration among team members, ensuring everyone is working together towards a common goal.

3️⃣ Leadership. The conductor inspires and motivates the musicians, sets the tempo, and brings out the best in each section of the orchestra. Likewise, the project manager provides direction, supports team members, resolves conflicts, and empowers individuals to perform at their best.

A cartoon of a person holding a stickDescription automatically generated
4️⃣ Communication and Feedback. The conductor uses non-verbal cues, such as hand gestures and facial expressions, to communicate with the musicians during the performance. Similarly, the project manager facilitates effective communication within the team, provides feedback on progress, and keeps stakeholders informed about project status.

Posted on: July 20, 2023 04:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

Leonardo de Vinci said these words some 500 years ago. The words of a visionary. Fast forward to 1960, the KISS principle – Keep ISimple, Silly (or Stupid, depending on the source) – states that most systems work best if they are kept simple. In other terms, unnecessary complexity must be avoided. This postulate resonates well with other famed quotes of Albert Einstein "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough" or French writer Antoine de Saint-Éxupery “It seems that perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”. We aim for simplicity in an increasingly Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world (VUCA, an acronym coined in 1987). As a society and as individuals, we face a constant challenge: to be able to simplify in a complex environment.

 

In the recent history one can find examples of how simplicity has led to successful stories. I recall that my first cell phone, back in the mid-90s, came with a thick booklet of instructions. Operating the phone – not yet smart – required some serious reading and testing. As technology advanced, phones became smarter and simpler. As a matter of fact, Apple’s cofounder Steve Jobs developed a phone with a revolutionary user interface that made an instructions booklet unnecessary. The user was able to operate the phone and test its functionalities in a simple manner. The customer valued the iPhone’s simplicity. It is not surprising that the message displayed on the wall of Apple’s marketing department reads “Simplify, Simplify, Simplify…” with the first two words stroked-trough…

 

Project management is a discipline affected by the shift towards simplicity. An example of this can be seen in the evolution of the number of pages in one of the most used resources, the PMBoK (Project Management Body of Knowledge, from the Project Management Institute). From the 1st ed., released in 1996, until the 6th ed., released in 2017, the number of pages has steadily increased until reaching an staggering 978 pages for the 6th ed. The 7th and last edition to date, released in 2021, has knocked this figure down to 370. The decrease of the number of pages is a consequence of a shift towards simplicity and a focus in performance over processes; the 49 (!) processes in PMBoK 6th ed. have turned into 8 performance domains and 12 project management principles. It is a step in the good direction and opens up the door to further simplicity in the coming years.

 

Along these lines, I would like to recommend the Project Management Handbook by Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez (Harvard Business Review), who is able to address project management from an outsider’s perspective in a pragmatic and hand-on manner. As he writes, a simple framework and a common language are key elements to the success of almost any endeavor.

 

Last but not least. Simplicity derives from a standard with which we are all equipped: common sense, although Voltaire said in 1764 that common sense is not so common. Surely we have experienced conversations at work that have spiraled towards complexity. Before we know it, parallel arguments and theories are thrown in about topics that add little in solving the real issue; on the contrary, they add up complexity. In these cases, applying a dose of unbiased fact-based common sense is often the first step in the right direction. It is not my intention to claim that the application of simplicity is a silver bullet for all issues. But amid a bombardment of  dozens of methodologies and practices, it is important to make sure that we do not neglect something as valuable as common sense.

Posted on: July 11, 2022 10:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Project success... predicted?

I recently came across an attention-grabbing paper titled “Dance hit song prediction”. In this research, the authors developed a predictive model to evaluate the likelihood of a new tune making it to the chart’s Top 10. For that purpose, a vast database containing dance hit songs from 1985 to 2013 was built; attributes such as tempo, duration, loudness, energy and danceability were measured. Amazingly enough, the model showed a success predictability of more than 70%!

Could a homologous predictive model for project success be successfully developed (pun intended)? In a world that spends $48 trillion every year on projects, a success ratio of only 35% is not acceptable (data published by the Standish group). Invigorating the success rate is not a trivial task. Before a model can be developed - not in the scope of this humble article - it is indispensable to identify the key parameters that play a role in project success.

The list below captures my Top 10:

  1. Familiarity of the performing organization with similar projects. Certainly, one can expect a decreasing success rate with increasing project complexity and/or uncertainty.
  2. Strength of business case and association of the project with a higher purpose. Broadly put, projects are initiated to exploit opportunities or to solve issues. The project's ultimate purpose must be summarized in a concise statement agreed upon by all stakeholders.
  3. Alignment of the project within the performing organization strategy. Although projects are conceived and executed in a dynamic world (the infamous VUCA acronym), this should not be used as an excuse for accepting chaos. Some projects will need to be cancelled and others are swerved to the fast lane. Whichever case, the decisions must be consistently aligned with the organization's overall strategy.
  4. Commitment from the project sponsor and the rest of the project team. The role of the sponsor is critical and goes beyond funding the project. In fact, the sponsor must challenge, support and steer the project. Sponsoring a countless number of projects at a time is inefficient and can lead to delays and frustration. 
  5. Selection and usage of appropriate and meaningful project performance indicators. Think of Einstein when defining KPIs; he wrote, "If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid".
  6. Organizational set-up (for example, siloed vs. non-siloed). Companies are gradually shifting towards non-siloed fluid structures with more room for interaction and shorter communication lines. This pragmatic way of working allows frequent feedback from project stakeholders and can significantly contribute to its success.
  7. Resource availability & competencies. The management of projects is all about people: people are key! For the sake of success, it is essential to understand that a higher variance - people involved in several projects at a time - will take a toll on project success.
  8. Truthfulness and accuracy of project schedule and budget. Even agile projects have plans, albeit susceptible to frequent change or pivoting.
  9. Availability of a project management plan or its subsidiaries, depending on project size and inner project characteristics (communication plan, risk management plan, etc.). Like Benjamin Franklin wrote, "Fail to plan and you are planning to fail". 
  10. Clarity in project deliverables. The image below describes this well:

Do all ten items above have similar weights or is Pareto playing a role? Are there other factors missing? Have your saying in the comments section below. 

Posted on: April 04, 2022 05:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)
ADVERTISEMENTS

"Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first."

- Mark Twain

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsors