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November 2008 Archives

Make the Effort

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I often find that communication between project managers and senior management is very limited or nonexistent. There are several reasons. One reason is the busy schedule of executives. And other reasons might be the lack of interest shown by the project managers, as well as the need to perhaps hide something that project managers feel should not go up to senior management.
    But it is an important part of keeping up with project progress.
    Reviewing progress and profitability should not be something that waits until year's end. Instead there should be some monthly or quarterly checkpoints in between. This regular communication should also include client feedback--both good and bad.
    In most organizations, senior managers or account managers require project managers to conduct daily/weekly status meetings and publish the minutes of meetings. These meetings are usually kept internal to the team and there is rarely communication with the senior manager or account manager about the discussion.
    Senior Management Review (SMR) reports--which lists things such as project risks milestones achieved--prepared by project manager for senior management and other support/effected groups also do not promote accountability as they can be manipulated for convenience.
    How can project leaders and senior management solve this problem? By having someone independent of the project of someone on the client side (e.g. business analyst) prepare a monthly status report. The report should include:
1.    Resource Utilization
2.    Billing Done for the Month (to be provided by project manager and this should match with the value submitted to accounts)
3.    Earned Value generated by the Team (to be provided by project manager and this should match with the value submitted to accounts)
4.    Work Projection for Next Month
5.    Testing Quality (mainly for IT projects)
6.    Highlights/Lessons Learned
7.    Operation Decision that need SM/Account Manager's review
8.    Items to be taken in company's Interest
    By doing this, senior management will have an insight to the project and can act accordingly before it gets too late. Project managers should not behave like a stranger in a crisis situation.

Skills Shortage in South Africa

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Talent management is a big issue for organizations around the world--especially when it comes to the project management profession. While companies in some parts of the world are dealing with budget cuts that lead to people cuts, others are dealing with a shortage of the right people.
    South Africa is one country experiencing major problems from the latter. An article on AllAfrica.com declares:
    "Project Management is now regarded as the fastest-growing form of management worldwide, with its multidisciplinary skills in particular demand in [South Africa], which is in the throes of the biggest infrastructure development programme in its history. ...   
    In the current South African climate, critical skills shortages are being experienced both in the public and private sectors. A recent study showed that the crisis is compromising competitiveness and spurring poorer service, inhibiting [South Africa] from responding positively to changing market conditions both locally and abroad.
    Many of the infrastructure developments are a direct result of the country being named as host of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Earlier last week, the South African government allotted another $140 billion for the event preparations--pushing the budget even further past original estimates made in 2004.
    But with skilled project managers being lured to other locales with the promise of better pay, are there any positive signs for project management in the country? According to that AllAfrica.com article, colleges are seeing an upswing in the number of students going through the project management program.     

Beware the Implementation Trolls

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Those project managers who have accepted the quest of advancing project management capability within your organization need to be aware of a very real threat on their path. Implementation Trolls are skulking all about you, ready to bring you down.
    For example, one favorite troll tactic is to lurk beneath a bridge and attempt to eat unwary travelers who attempt to cross. If we take the action of walking across a bridge as a metaphor for initiating any change, then the Implementation Trolls destroy you in transit, usually by ginning up to the organization's nominal resistance to change. While it is beyond debate that the amount of time and energy that goes into setting up a very simple earned value management system (EVMS) pays huge dividends in useful management information, the Implementation Trolls will complain long and loud about how even that small amount of effort is overly arduous. These beings complain so excessively about largely contrived grievances they should be made honorary members of the Trial Lawyers Association.
    Then, once you've crossed the bridge and approached the castle that serves as the keep for your sought-after treasure, an advanced project management information system, you will encounter an entirely different breed of Implementation Troll.
    Far from picking off your comrades for making people do stuff that's supposedly way to hard, these trolls will insist that anything you bring them is not good enough. These Implementation Trolls are invariably armed with clubs that have the infamous 32 EVMS criteria etched into them, and they take great pleasure in pummeling all those who approach. The infuriating thing about these trolls is that they will often present themselves as erstwhile allies to your cause, but will then gleefully destroy your efforts as being sub-standard. Like their notorious counterparts from Norse mythology, Implementation Trolls have what can only be described as bizarre senses of proportion and perspective, and will inflict their damage while pretending to occupy the intellectual high ground.
    I'm very interested in finding out what the project management blogosphere thinks about Implementation Trolls.

Overturning "Myths"

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One of the most irksome debating techniques has to be the use of a straw man--the practice of misrepresenting an opponent's position and then attacking that misrepresentation. The straw man's first cousin in the management world is the device of writing a piece that supposedly overturns commonly held perceptions that aren't really commonly held at all.
    An associate of mine sent me an e-mail with a link to an article that purported to overturn project management myths, but I had never heard of any of them.
    One of these myths being overturned was that project managers are only concerned with scope, schedule and cost, and routinely ignore other parts of their projects, like stakeholders or resources. I must have read or heard hundreds of papers and classes on project management, and I've never, ever heard anything like this, but I suppose the article's authors felt such a perception was so widespread that they needed to spend a few hundred words correcting this wrong-headedness.
    I don't want to be left behind if this is where the management world is headed, so I'll do some my debunking myself. The commonly held perception that all accountants are weasels is provable false. I am familiar with many accountants, and I know for a fact that at least some of them have a minimum of one human parent.
    Another myth? The idea that risk managers are attempting to seize control of the project management world by baffling their opponents with statistical jargon until they give in for fear of looking ignorant simply can't be 100 percent true, as risk managers themselves would have to agree.
    The short answer here is that making a point about project management by overturning myths that nobody holds to involves a certain amount of making assumptions about readers' presumptions, and that is an unsatisfactory approach.
    Full disclosure: I once presented a paper entitled The Bottoms-Up Myth, where I argued against the practice of re-estimating the remaining work in a project, adding that figure to the cumulative actual costs, and declaring the result to be a better estimate at completion than the calculated version. I felt confident in describing such a practice as a myth, since almost everybody I've ever met in the estimating world seems to think that it's just great to do things that way, even when it's provably loopy. I'm interested in seeing what all of you think.

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