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July 2010 Archives

One Program To Rule Them All

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Program management refers to the process of integrated governance of several related projects to achieve an aggregate result that cannot be delivered by conducting these projects separately.

It may not seem like it, but you can learn a lot about the synergy available through effective program management from The Lord of the Rings.

In the novels and films, the characters of Gandalf, Theoden and Aragorn inspire and command others to be courageous and achieve great feats. Even before a battle starts, these mythical leaders inspire confidence in their men, carefully positioning them in accordance with their skills. Each man has tasks for each stage of the upcoming battle. But they are only effective when coordinated with an understanding of their individual strengths and weaknesses, and knowledge of how they can be used to support and protect each other.

Under a wise leader -- acting as a program manager -- the power of these warriors can be multiplied when coordinated properly. This synergy ensures that every battle they engage in, and every war they fight, victory is at hand. Yet if badly coordinated, the strength and courage of these bands of cavalry, archers, spearmen or swordsmen -- the leader's resources -- is wasted, despite whatever heroic skills they possess individually.

Program management is mainly concerned with managing stakeholders, which in the case of an entire program is a larger, more diverse and more complicated group of than is involved in an individual project. Their interests are different, sometimes contradictory, and their individual impacts -- whether big or small, for good or bad -- may be very significant to the success or failure of the entire program.

The daunting scale of such programs are often not fantasy -- but may appear to demand wizards and heroes to manage them, let alone manage them so that a proper synergy takes place from the different projects involved.

What kind of projects can be managed through a program?
  • Projects with a common outcome, that can create collective capability and share the same resources
  • Projects that have the same tasks, that serve the same customer 
  • Projects where their risks can be reduced when managed together
In such cases, "One Ring (Program) To Rule Them All" can bring advantages, not hordes of rampaging orcs and trolls.

Project Management in Action at the Shanghai World Expo

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There's big -- and then there's mind-blowingly big! Everything about the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China defies easy definition. Covering a total area of 5.28 square kilometers (2.04 square miles), the site is divided into five zones spread along both sides of the Huangpu River in downtown Shanghai. The CNY18 billion extravaganza includes gardens, wetlands, paved walkways and hundreds of buildings.

The expo is not only a triumph for project managers from the Shanghai region and the Chinese construction industry, but also from all of the nations that built and fitted out their pavilions. The design, construction and management of the Shanghai 2010 World Expo projects went beyond the traditional iron triangle of "time, cost and quality" to include sustainability and safety.

The projects represented a true integration of Western and Eastern cultures, demonstrating project management as a truly global profession crossing all sectors. There are more than 200 countries and international organizations represented, ranging from Tuvalu to the United States; the World Bank to the International Council of Museums, as well as numerous corporations and Chinese provinces.

In one long day, I only managed to see a small section of the total experience, but could start to appreciate the overarching purpose of this great festival.

The remarkable British Pavilion's "dandelion" is made up of 60,686 acrylic rods, each 7.5 meters (25 feet) long, to allow light into the inside of a 20-meter (66-foot) cube. Embedded in the end of each rod are one to 10 seeds representing Chinese plant species growing in the United Kingdom. Project managed by Mace Construction Group, the remarkable "seed cathedral," is already winning awards.

In the two months since opening, the Expo has hosted more than 25 million visitors. And organizers expect 70 million will get a glimpse of the urban vision before the Expo closes in October.

My visit was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see project management on such on a grand and global scale. If you can't make the trip personally, you can be a virtual tourist online at http://en.expo.cn/. It's well-worth the visit.

Pushing the PMBOK® Guide to Include Acknowledgment

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On page 229 of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)--Fourth Edition, under "Project Human Resource Management," I'm happy to see the following:

"Project managers should continually motivate their team by providing challenges and opportunities, by providing timely feedback and support as needed, and by recognizing and rewarding good performance."

I salute and encourage this. Yet I would advocate taking this statement one step further. Teamwork is based on validating all members for their contributions and making sure they feel valued.

Rewards and recognition let people feel special and know that what they do is appreciated. Acknowledgment, however, goes right to the heart. It lets people know that they make a difference, that the success of a project would not be as great without them.

A heartfelt and authentic acknowledgment can be spontaneous or it can be planned. Send an e-mail to a team member's manager about what a great job the person is doing -- and copy that person on the message. Or just look the person in the eye and tell them how much you value his or her continuous contribution.

If you feel moved when you do it and see the person light up as you communicate, you'll know you're on the right track. You don't need to order a plaque or buy a gift card when you're overcome with gratitude to have that person on your team. Just let them know -- from your heart, in a truthful way -- and the impact will be phenomenal. They won't be able to do enough to make the project a success!

So, in the PMBOK® Guide--Fifth Edition, I hope to see a reference to the power of acknowledgment. I will even help draft it, if invited!

Tribute to a Giant in the Field -- Report from the PMI Research Conference

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The PMI Research and Education Conference that wrapped up yesterday in Washington, D.C. is getting rave reviews from everyone involved -- including trainers, university educators, students and practitioners -- groups that are represented in record-high numbers. Altogether, more than 550 people have attended over the course of four days.

Tuesday night was one of the highlights of the conference. As part of the 2010 research awards ceremony, PMI paid tribute to a project management icon -- David Cleland, PhD, PMP and PMI Fellow.

Many people gave audio or video tributes to Dr. Cleland, an instructor and author who has been in the field for more than 40 years. Among those who paid tribute were Gene Bounds, PMP, PMI Chair; Rebecca Winston, former chair; Dr. Cleland's frequent co-author, Bopaya Bidanda, PhD; Mike Rapach, PMP, PMI Pittsburgh Chapter President; and Larry Hager, senior editor for McGraw-Hill Companies. This was an appropriate venue for the tribute, as Dr. Cleland was a co-founder of the PMI Research Conference.

Among the comments were that Dr. Cleland was the writer of the definitive text of the profession for two generations of project managers. Dr. Bidanda said that every project manager knows Dr. Cleland because of the volume, quality and content of his books.

PMI's knowledge strategy was built on foundations created by Dr. Cleland, added Mr. Bounds. "He helped shape the project management profession as much as anyone alive today," he said.

Others honored with awards at the ceremony included Professor Janice Thomas, PhD, receiving the 2010 PMI Research Achievement Award; Terence Cooke-Davies, PhD; Lynn Crawford and Thomas Lechler, PhD, for the 2010 Project Management Journal® Paper of the Year Award; and Jefferson Leandro Anselmo, PhD, PMP for the PMI Student Poster Award.

Greg Balestrero, president and CEO of PMI, set the bar for this conference with his opening remarks. "It's all about the pipeline," he said. The pipeline is "your involvement from when you first think about the profession to your retirement." Training and academia is an extremely important part of feeding the pipeline, meeting the demand of organizations and government agencies, and making the profession vibrant and growing.

Attendees were excited to hear a plenary talk by one of the biggest names in management strategy research, Kathleen Eisenhardt, PhD, discussing case study research and how best to employ it.

The Monday plenary was a panel discussion on project management in government, much appreciated by the many practitioners from the local Washington area attending.

New for this year's conference was student presentations of 20 minutes in length -- time enough for doctoral candidates to get great feedback from the audience. Professional poster sessions were also new.

One practitioner who attended from the Netherlands was thrilled to be there. Daniel Amunwa, PMP, said, "it's fascinating to see that whimsical thoughts I may have had about project management have already been addressed by academics and taken to a higher level." Mr. Amunwa, a newer PMI member, said he's "proud to be a part of this organization that holds such a tremendous conference, and I wouldn't expect anything less."

See more on special recognition and awards bestowed at the conference.

The Project Manager as Intel Processor

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The Intel Core i7-980X Extreme Edition processor is one heck of a piece of technology. It has six physical cores. Its base clock speed is 3.33 GHz. It supports three channels of DDR3-1066 memory and has 12 threads for your application to work with. It also has 12MB of L3 cache shared across all six cores.

I'm not sure I understand all of that but here's something I understand perfectly: To become the proud owner of one of these will set me back US$999. I also understand perfectly that if I were to drop US$999 for one, I will have wasted my money.

That processor, out of the box, is utterly useless.

Unwrap it and set it on your desk. There it will sit. It will accomplish nothing. In practice, it will be completely indistinguishable from a stone of roughly the same proportions.

Let's look at what it will take to get our US$999 worth out of this little jewel.

First, it needs to be directly connected to a source of power, something that will bring it to life and keep it alive. It also needs to be connected to and communicate with memory and storage, with a keyboard, a mouse, a display, speakers and a printer. It requires software, too, of course.

And even then, it can't really do anything. The real power of that processor can only fully be realized when the computer it runs in is connected to a network of computers.

Power. Contacts. Connections. Input. Output. Software. Communications. A network.

You, the project manager, are that processor.

As necessary and valuable as your technical and project management skills may be, they're not enough to ensure project or career success. It's impossible for you or the stakeholders on your projects and in your career to realize the value you bring unless you are well and fully connected, playing a central role in your stakeholder networks.

We increase the value we bring to our stakeholders by increasing the number and quality of our contacts, by developing strong connections, by creating input/output channels and cultivating communication skills, and by being connected to sources of power and influence. To the extent that we can increase our own value proposition, we can make ourselves more valuable to our stakeholders and in the marketplace.

Risk Simulation

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When we prepare our risk management plan, we believe it will work. The irony is that its effectiveness is only revealed when the risk actually occurs. But have you ever thought of simulating the risk?

Let's start with two very basic risks that can occur with any IT project:

1.    Critical project worker goes on emergency leave
2.    Database server goes down one week before the release

How would you simulate and manage those risks?

In the first scenario, the best option could be just asking the worker to go on leave and see how you manage the work and team. Ask your team members to take leave on alternate schedules so you can measure the impact of each one of them.

In the second situation, ask your team to shut down the server and verify your mitigation plan. It may seem foolish, but this is best way you can determine the effectiveness of your mitigation plan if the risk actually occurs.

What do you say?

Lessons Learned About Lessons Learned

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Many teams benefit from reflecting on their process after they complete their project. Any errors in the process, however, have already had their impact. Agile software development includes ways we can improve our lessons learned - not just for software, but for any project. These lessons from agile projects may help your projects too.

Lesson 1: Perform lessons learned sessions during the project.

This lets you benefit from your ideas in time to make a difference.

Lesson 2: Smaller, more frequent meetings flow better.

There aren't as many items to discuss and it becomes easier to focus on observations.

Lesson 3: Don't whine, refine.

Avoid spending a lot of time digging into why problems happened. There won't be enough time to plan for positive changes.

Lesson 4: Follow the cadence of change.
Sometimes we forget the team will be busy with work. Try limiting the changes to two actions. But nail those actions! And don't start new process improvements until the other ideas have been deployed.

Lesson 5: Changes should be by the team, for the team.
Lessons learned should not be viewed as a scorecard -- it will make all the metrics climb to suspiciously good levels. Management should have visibility into the process used and some lessons learned, and anonymous examples of triggers that led to their discovery. But the retrospective itself has to be a judgment-free zone where all problems can be discussed.

If you're using scrum or another agile method, this might sound familiar. Lessons learned or retrospectives are built into your iteration cycle.

How do these tips fit with your project's life cycle model? 

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