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October 2010 Archives

Resource Movement and Management

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The IT industry is growing—and that means more work for project managers. This is good news, but it also means teams need more people to complete the work.

While recruiting for new talent, project managers have to optimize existing team members as best they can. Some times people may be moved from one project to another, but such changes can make it hard to control the triple constraint of cost, quality and schedule.

Here are my observations on how so many moving parts can impact project delivery:

1. Long-running projects require more time for people to adjust. New team members need about six to eight months to understand the project and its processes.

2. Learning curves vary. An experienced newcomer can still take awhile to become 100 percent productive. Someone just starting out may take more than a year.

3. Getting the highest-quality team members may not be feasible because of the urgency, availability and cost involved. Leverage the strong resources you have.
 
4. Team leaders may have less time to devote to the project. Taking on new project members could force the team leader to focus on daily tracking, resolving team issues and client communication, and less time to work on the project.
 
5. Implement an induction plan. It can take three to four weeks to get a replacement for a team member who resigns or leaves the team. Teams can most effectively deploy new additions by following a regular induction plan to get them up to speed on the project and culture.
 
6. Be flexible. Some people may perform poorly because of the project's complexity, domain, technical knowledge or their interest level. However, that same team member might do well in a different project.
 
7. The estimate for completing a task always differs from the actual effort. This is more severe in long-running projects. The client expects us to have complete knowledge of the system, which is not always true because of internal movement among team members.

8. Teams can work smarter on projects on a fixed bid and when work approval comes in small modules. You can have multiple modules running parallel in different phases, but there will always be some idle time in between.

What do you say?

Does Work-Life Balance Really Exist?

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I spent a good part of a recent weekend doing a final edit of an upcoming project management book. Ironically, one chapter referenced a 2004 Fast Company article called "Balance is Bunk!" ('Bunk' being a slang term that basically means 'absurd.')

There I was, giving up my well-earned leisure time on a beautiful fall day, but wanting and needing to get the job done. So I went to the article, which states:

"The truth is, balance is bunk. ... The quest for balance between work and life, as we've come to think of it, isn't just a losing proposition; it's a hurtful, destructive one."


Now we're really getting to the core of the dilemma, I thought to myself. The author then quotes John Wood, who at the time the article was written, had been working seven days a week, 365 days a year. In regard to the elusive, so-called state of "balance," Mr. Wood said:
 
"I don't look at balance as an ideal. What I look at is, Am I happy? If the answer is yes, then everything else is inconsequential."
 
That made a lot of sense, I thought. I love and am passionate about what I do. I want to get this book published and out the door -- but what's on the other side of this supposedly unachievable quest for balance?
 
Rodney Turner, PhD, recently made a presentation entitled  "Work-Life Balance in Project-Oriented Organizations." A preview states:
 
"Companies should treat their employees with respect and allow them to have a work-life balance. It is good for their physical and psychological health and therefore good for social sustainability. ... The need for profit and responding to client demands often takes precedence over employee wellbeing."
 
Hmmm.

So is work-life balance bunk? I think the answer is both yes and no.
 
Sometimes when a project grabs us or is imposed on us, we have to say, "I surrender" -- either out of passion, guilt or intense pressure. I chose to give the book I was editing my all -- even when a "balanced" work-life scenario would have had me walking in the woods on that beautiful day. But I know it was worth it, and I know other beautiful days will come. I need to make sure I take advantage of them -- at least once in a while.

What do you think about the work-life balance challenge?

Deliverables Are Only the Beginning

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Simply supplying a project's deliverables is not enough.

Project managers must understand the goal of the project, the objectives to support that goal and the deliverables needed to fulfil those objectives.

Goals describe a project's overarching purpose. They tend to be wide-reaching and related to senior management and client expectations. A project's success depends on achieving its goals.

Objectives fall into two broad categories:

•    Objectives achieved by undertaking the project work in an appropriate way, such as addressing safety, sustainability, work force development and stakeholder management.

•    Objectives achieved as a consequence of completing the work of the project -- successfully creating the deliverables transferred to the customer to meet the requirements defined in the project's scope statement, for example.

Objectives are the direct responsibility of the project manager, and he or she should be assigned the authority, responsibility and resources to achieve them.

Deliverables are the final product from either the project management processes or the performing organization. A successful delivery hinges on achieving the specified requirements of time, cost and scope while satisfying the key stakeholder's requirements.

There's more to project management than just deliverables. Focusing on them exclusively to the detriment of the project's objectives and the organization's goals is counterproductive. Project managers must understand how their deliverables will contribute to overall goals of the organization.

If You Can't Keep Your Word, Honor It

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We often talk about keeping our word -- making a commitment and sticking to it, no matter what.

But we don't often talk about honoring our word -- acknowledging when we can't meet a commitment.

There will inevitably be times when we can't keep our word as circumstances change for one reason or another.

Say you've committed to meeting a milestone on a specific date, for example. To keep your word, you have to do whatever it takes to make that date. But to honor your word, you only need to follow up with the person you made the commitment to and clarify why you can't meet the deadline. I'd also recommend recommitting to a different date, time or scope.

This way, you're not simply hiding and hoping that things will work out, or that you won't be asked about a deliverable. Be confident enough to raise the issue directly, knowing that it will maintain a workable relationship.

Even if you're unable to deliver as promised, you can at least be relied upon to raise red flags early enough, without downplaying the severity, to allow the client or team time to align their activities accordingly. And that saves time and money.

To maintain a healthy relationship on your team, you must honor your word. It impacts the results of your work, your reputation, and your ability to earn a renewed trust from your clients and project team members.

Honoring your word restores your integrity and creates workability. But the better you assess estimated target dates for the project tasks and milestones and your ability to manage your day-to-day activities per your own commitments to others, the easier it will to keep your word and "do it right the first time."

Organizations Are Recruiting Project Talent—Finally

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The buzz at PMI's Global Congress 2010--North America was that organizations are finally looking to hire. And that's good news for project practitioners at any level.

Along with gearing up on the tools, techniques and trends that will give them an edge on the job market, practitioners also went to PMI's Career Central in the exhibit hall.

Recruiters and representatives from IBM, Boeing, Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC), Booz Allen Hamilton and Executive Innovations Inc. talked with practitioners from around the globe about employment opportunities.

Attendees chatted one-on-one with organization representatives about types of available jobs and the skills needed to qualify for those jobs. There was even an area for on-the-spot interviews.

Susan Ayers, PMP, director, business process management office at CSC, told us she talked with at least five people who were so impressive, she was tempted to hire them on the spot. She added she was very impressed by everyone's qualifications and credentials, making them prime candidates for the open positions at CSC.

IBM was there to recruit program managers and project executives, said Faried Abrahams, partner and distinguished engineer at IBM Global Services.

"There is a great need for project managers, especially for seasoned, experienced project managers," he said.

Mr. Abrahams advised job-seeking project managers to gain some real-world time in the trenches. "It's not about MIT or Harvard, it's about the experience," he said. "I'm looking for someone who's not going to run when projects get a little hairy, who will know what to do."  

Of course, congress also allowed practitioners to compare notes with their peers.

"Being at congress is really special. You have all these people with the same skills that you have, doing the same kind of jobs, and you can relate with them," said Gwenn Zoeller, systems development coordinator, Antares Management Solutions. "All of the conversations I've had have helped me with something."

For more resources to empower your career, visit PMI's Career  Central on PMI.org.

Great IT Projects Demand Great Governance

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As CIO of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Richard A. Spires oversees 91 projects, each with a budget of at least US$50 million.

And the first thing he did was conduct a review of each one of them.

"It took a while but it was extraordinarily useful," he told the audience at PMI Global Congress 2010 -- North America.

To transform great ideas into great project outcomes, you need great governance. But that only comes with the support of empowered executives who understand their role in keeping projects on schedule, said Mr. Spires.

It also helps to have a strong governance board that draws on the expertise of business, IT, procurement and finance leaders.

"I want them all in the same room, and I want them to buy into this program," Mr. Spires said. "A dynamic of trust and interrelationships are formed that can really help. You need governance to keep things moving, to get decisions made, and this way they're no longer working against each other."

In a bureaucratic setting that sometimes seems designed to slow progress, Mr. Spires likes to keep the entire process open.

"I always tell project managers, I want you transparent," he said. "I want the major risks brought up at the governance sessions so they can be dealt with."

Good governance goes hand-in-hand with good execution -- which means establishing an authoritative project management office with full-time, in-house leadership.

As with many presentations at congress, there was talk about agile.

Mr. Spires said people don't always know what they want when a project launches. So project managers should get projects out fast -- but be ready to shift.

Mr. Spires recommends IT programs incrementally deliver operational capabilities with a first release within the first 18 months after funding. But he also conceded implementing agile requires some attitude adjustment -- especially given that DHS is comprised of 22 separate government agencies.

Sometimes that sets off a "culture clash" between individuals who came up through the traditional large program model and those more comfortable with agile processes.

If executed well, IT can be a transformational agent, Mr. Spires said.

That sounds like pretty good advice whether you're working for a massive government agency or a small startup. Let the transformation begin...

Bill Clinton Says Project Managers Help Tackle Global Challenges

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Former U.S. president Bill Clinton sent out a powerful message: Project managers will play a significant role in taking on the toughest global challenges.

"If you're a project manager and you're a professional, there's always going to be something you can do for the next 50 years in the 21st century," Mr. Clinton told the audience Sunday night at PMI Global Congress 2010 -- North America.

Saying he was "fascinated" by project management, Mr. Clinton saw how the profession played a role in his own career.

"The more I thought about coming here, the more I thought about how much my life [in politics] and my work now revolves around good, or not-so-good, project management -- how to allocate money, time and people in a way that achieves the desired objective," he said.

Since leaving office in 2001, Mr. Clinton has headed up the William J. Clinton Foundation, which works to " strengthen the capacity of governments and individuals to alleviate poverty, improve global health, strengthen economies, and protect the environment.."

Mr. Clinton said in six years, the Clinton Global Initiative, one of his foundation's separate initiatives, has raised about US$63 billion in commitments over a 10-year period while impacting the lives of 300 million people in more than 170 countries.

"All these things require establishing and executing projects -- and recognizing when they don't work, because not everything does," he said.

Even projects aimed at the greater good must have a solid plan of action. You have to prove sustainability projects make economic sense, he said.

Turning good intentions into positive outcomes -- that's what project managers do, Mr. Clinton said.

Mr. Clinton identified three specific challenges facing the world today: 

 • Global instability 

 • Growing economic inequality between rich and poor countries 

 • The need for change in the way energy is produced and consumed in the world

"We've got to do something about these three things, and we have to decide who is going to do it and how," Mr. Clinton said.

Mr. Clinton also highlighted the challenges facing Haiti and the projects his foundation launched in the wake of the massive earthquake that rocked the country in January. Calling his efforts in Haiti "the hardest thing I've ever done in my life," Mr. Clinton encouraged project managers to do their part.

"Anybody that wants to come help me develop building standards to make sure that everything we do is both earthquake- and hurricane-resistant, I would be happy to have your help," Mr. Clinton said. "The good news is, every day I live I become more convinced that intelligence, ability and hard work are equally distributed [throughout the world]. Organization and opportunity are not."

As the world begins its economic recovery, Mr. Clinton says he remains hopeful and that "the process of digging out of it will be somehow purifying for us."

Updated October 19, 2010: Ricardo Viana Vargas, PMP, past Chair of the PMI Board of Directors, shares interesting details of President Clinton's remarks at congress in a podcast on his website.

U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra Says Process Continues to Trump Outcomes

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The US$80 billion U.S. federal IT project portfolio needs to escape the "deadly loop," said Vivek Kundra in the government keynote address at the PMI Global Congress 2010 -- North America.

Too often, people are spending more energy preparing reports than on executing, he said.

As the United States' first CIO, Mr. Kundra is charged with the strategic direction of IT coordination across the entire federal U.S. government.

On his first day on the job, Mr. Kundra remembers being handed a stack of PDF documents covering the government's vast array of IT projects, some of which dated back to the early 1970s. It wasn't that many were millions of dollars over budget or months behind - they were billions of dollars over budget and decades behind schedule.

The U.S. government was making massive capital investments that didn't produce business results.

The Department of State, for example, has spent US$133 million on security documents for 150 major IT systems in the past six years, he said. The documents comprise 95,000 pages and 50 feet of shelf space. They cost US$1,400 per page. Mr. Kundra joked that reports were filed away more securely than the very systems they were supposed to protect.

"The government has created a culture where process continues to trump outcomes," he said.

The U.S. government has focused on a three-step strategy to improve the process behind government IT projects:

1. Shine light.
"For too long, we've tried to sweep these problems under the rug," he said, but unless CIOs and project managers have candid conversations there will never be solutions.

Government must move away from "faceless accountability," he said. "Because everyone is responsible, no one is responsible."

The Obama administration is taking that directive figuratively as well as literally. It went so far as to put up pictures of every CIO responsible for an IT project along with the project status. "Very quickly, we started seeing change and people started focusing on those investments," he said.

Successful projects should get their share of the limelight, too, so best practices can be shared and simulated. Mr. Kundra called for the creation of a community where our project managers can "practice" in the same way a pilot might go through flight simulation.

It starts from the top. U.S. President Barack Obama, for example, is committed to making sure IT investments are producing dividends promised at the beginning. Mr. Kundra even posted a picture of the president monitoring the government's IT project dashboard.

2. Make tough decisions.
After identifying where problem projects are, the government has to be ruthless in deciding which projects to pursue, Mr. Kundra says. It "should not continue to throw good money after bad money." Instead, it must terminate projects that won't deliver dividends and focus on turning around troubled projects.

"People are too afraid of the color red. It's okay -- red is actually a nice color," he said. But project managers and CIOs must embrace and take on challenges --not pretend there aren't issues.

"The goal is not to be green, the goal is to drive outcomes."

3. Reform federal IT.
The U.S. government must rethink how it manages IT projects. It will look at structural challenges for how it funds and forecasts -- making sure project outcomes are customer-facing and have shorter deliverables.

Mr. Kundra said he'd like to introduce the threat of Darwinian pressure seen in the commercial sectors -- where IT companies are just one click away from extinction.

No matter what sector you're in, the pressure's on -- and the United States' first CIO is no exception. "If we can manage this $80billion portfolio effectively, we can solve a lot of problems."

Learning From The Best

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Structure, talent and fun -- those were the success factors behind the three finalists for the 2010 PMI Project of the Year.

Last night at PMI Global Congress 2010--North America in Washington, D.C., USA, the National Ignition Facility was named PMI Project of the Year.

Ed Moses, PhD, principal associate director at the facility, said the 12-year nuclear fusion project to build "a miniature star on earth" could not have been possible "without strict adherence to the basic tenets of project management."

"It was one of the most complicated projects ever undertaken by the federal government. Just about every step of this project was unprecedented in scope, scale and complexity," Daniel B. Ponemon, Deputy Secretary of Energy said last night. And still, the project managed to come in "just under budget and just ahead of schedule," he said.

The two other finalists were the Dallas Cowboys Stadium Project, built for the U.S. football team in Texas, USA and the Norton Brownsboro Hospital Project, Kentucky, USA.

This morning, we heard more about all three projects in a panel discussion. Joining Dr. Moses were Mark Penny, project executive for Manhattan Construction Company, which worked on the project to build the Dallas Cowboys stadium, and Janice Weaver, associate vice president, enterprise program management office at Norton Brownsboro Hospital.

Ms. Weaver credited structure and clear roles and responsibilities for helping the team bring in the project on time and on budget. Dr. Moses agreed with the need for process, but also said you need people to make it happen. And Mr. Penny called for a dash of fun -- the team stuck to process and hired experts, but was determined to have fun, too.

Stakeholder management emerged as one of the key challenges for all three projects. For the hospital team, it was the surrounding community.

"The pressure was on from the beginning. The community was watching," Ms. Weaver said. And the stakes were high. "If you don't do it right, it's really a matter of life and death," she said. "It's a new perspective for project management."

Dr. Moses was contending with an ever-changing lineup of government agency leaders, congress and scientists. The project endured nine congresses, three administrations and seven secretaries of the Department of Energy. Project managers can't look at politics as something they stay out of -- you have to find a way to make stakeholders happy, he said.

And for Mr. Penny, it came down to one stakeholder: the "very engaged" team owner Jerry Jones, who decided to add features that took the project from US$650 million to US$1.5 billion. "All the enhancements were from the owner, so did we stay in budget? Absolutely!"

Look for more awards coverage -- including the full list of winners -- on PMI.org.

How Project Managers Can Help Their Communities

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Tonight, I accepted PMI's Community Advancement Award--Organization category at PMI Global Congress 2010--North America.

Being the former president of the Institute of Taiwan Project Management, I feel very grateful. Unlike other personal awards, this award honors an organization, which gives recognition to the efforts made by ITPM, a collective labor made by 300 volunteering project managers. 
 
Community work enables people to live better lives. For project managers who enthusiastically dedicate themselves to their communities, project management tools and techniques can help them be more efficient and productive.

Po-Jen Huang, PMP, project manager and architect at Far Eastern Technical Consultants Co. Ltd., for example, volunteered to help re-build five village schools that were destroyed around Taoyuan in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Every aspect of the reconstruction work -- collecting and analyzing requirements, time and budget control, risk management and quality assurance -- was completed under stringent project management methodologies. The team reached its goals within budget, without significant delays while delivering quality outcomes.

Here are some ways project managers can use their skills to help their communities:

Effective communication: Using their team-building and conflict-resolution skills, project managers can help communities bring their ideas together. Project managers can also help their communities identify problems, set priorities, develop confidence and solve problems together.

Process management: Tapping into their shared language and knowledge of project management skills and practices, project managers can effectively establish guidelines and procedures. Project managers are very aware of the different categories of risks, risk triggers, and the procedures for quality assurance and quality control. The response to a community effort can be more efficiently guided, and the transition to different phases of community work or reconstruction can be managed smoothly.

Solid execution: Project management skills and practices ensure community work or construction is carried out quickly and efficiently. Minimal delays rest with what all Professional project managers are good at resource allocation, time and budget management. If they stick to that, the project should have minimal delays.

Networking Tips for Congress

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Learning is one reason for attending PMI® Global Congress 2010--North America. But there's another good reason to go, and I'm convinced it's the best one: to meet people and network.

The things I've learned in congress sessions have been valuable and helpful, certainly. But some of the people I've met have had an even more profound effect.

For example, as a result of meeting certain individuals at the PMI Global Congress 2006--EMEA in Madrid, Spain, a roundabout sequence of events led my wife, our five children and me on a two-year assignment to Rome, Italy.

I'm often asked, "What did you learn at congress?" But no one has ever asked, "Whom did you meet?" Yet I'm sure that the people we meet have far greater potential to radically change our lives than the content of even the best presentations.

Networking is about meeting people. Getting to know each other, finding common ground, staying in touch and, eventually, helping each other.
 
Here are 10 suggestions to help you maximize the value of networking at this year's congress:

1. Bring plenty of business cards. Have them handy, but not too handy. You want to be prepared, but not seem overly eager.

2. Go through business cards from previous congresses. This will refresh your memory so if you run into previous acquaintances, you'll remember their names.
 
3. Consider contacting people you've met at previous congresses. If they're returning, make plans to reconnect.

4. Go on the congress web site and visit the Meet Attendees section. Look for people you might know and set up a date to meet in person.

5. Practice your elevator speech.
Be able to describe your job briefly and succinctly -- short enough to deliver in the course of an elevator ride.
 
6. Attend the networking events and resolve to meet new people.
Avoid hanging with the same people all the time. Give lots of people the pleasure of meeting you.
 
7. Take a genuine interest in others. When you engage in conversation, you'll learn more about them and uncover points of common interest. Ask questions and listen for the answers. (Learn more about dealing with people in my session.)

8. Don't hesitate to ask for a business card. If there's something you want to remember about that person, note it on their card right away.

9. Don't squander the opportunity to meet people.
Your e-mail will be there for you to read at the end of the day. Don't let it prevent you from meeting the person who could change your life -- or whose life you could change.

10. When you get home, follow up.
After a few days out of the office, you might feel like you need to get right back into work, but set aside a few minutes to reach out to the people you met.

Long after this congress is over and much of what you learned in the sessions is long-since forgotten, you can still have a game-changing relationship with some of the people you met there.

Making the Most of Team Differences

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Some teams crash when there are differing personalities -- especially those teams that transition to agile methods.

The adaptive mindset is different than what many people are used to, and different than what some personalities may prefer by nature.

Team members come in with different skills, work styles and views of the world. When teams don't understand this, fights can erupt over simple issues. But when these differences are recognized, the team can leverage the diverse perspectives for better results.

People often view situations through a combination of four basic personalities, according to David Keirsey's temperament sorter:

Artisans prefer to use their skills to adapt to the situation at hand.
Guardians preserve scarce resources and rely on careful planning.
Rationals make decisions based on research data.
Idealists relate well to people's needs and feelings.

These are all legitimate approaches to situations. But strife may occur in teams that don't understand people are born with different inclinations.

What happens, for example, when someone asks a guardian to change a plan? What happens when one asks an artisan to plan too far ahead? Can the facts-based view of the rational inadvertently miss something or trigger some discord? Can an idealist's sensitivity miss a key fact?

All these scenarios are valid, as change, schedule, facts and feelings play out in a business situation. Everyone must realize their teammates may start at a different position when working problems together. Rather than being a source of friction, though, these different positions can be an asset, bringing all the options to light.

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