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January 2011 Archives

Mobile Project Management

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Emerging technologies are changing the dynamics of project team leadership and communication. And the way people have begun using mobile platforms is presenting some challenges. 

Prior to 2006, mobility had a very narrow landscape. Organizations that allowed their work force to have cell phones were usually restricted to one carrier, platform and equipment model. The majority of these phones were used for e-mail and conversations. 

Fast-forward to January 9, 2007 and the introduction of the iPhone, which introduced users to a world of new mobile capabilities.

While users immediately wanted to start using the iPhone at work, IT, security and cost issues made it impossible for many to do so. And to compound the problem, additional devices continued to appear with exciting, productive new features.

Over the last few years, many organizations have caught on and begun to take advantage of these mobile work force capabilities. Such resources have introduced many intriguing possibilities for project managers as well.
But this also means that now project teams are working across multiple platforms with unique requirements and configurations, which can cause performance and compatibility issues.
Some organizations are taking such steps as implementing mobile application program interface (API) layers in their infrastructure, referred to as "Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms" (MEAPs). They allow users to run software shells on their devices and overcome platform differences while providing access to disparate tools.
Other organizations have simply decided to continue to limit their work force to one standard device, choosing to take advantage of some new device capabilities and sacrifice others. Because this challenge is in its infancy, we've yet to see a solution.
Can all of your mobile project team members effectively interact with conflicting mobile platforms? If not, do you have a plan to mitigate this?  How is this situation affecting your project team?

Know Your Project Team Members

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One of the first steps you should take as a new project manager is team reconnaissance. And the most valuable information you can get at this stage is how your team members feel about their projects and the process of project management. 

Once you get past the pleasantries, ask each team member what they think of the current project slate. Are there too many projects or not enough? Which projects do they find interesting? Which ones do they feel are wastes of time? 

Take the time to find out how well your team thinks projects have been run in the past. You'll get your best information from the people who actually did the work. Find out what did and did not work.

Find out if your team members understand why some projects were championed and others canceled. This inquiry will show if they understand the sponsor's decision-making process. You'll also learn how far removed team members are from project sponsors (or decision makers).

Dig to see if members "get" what their role is in the implementation of projects. This shows whether they understand how they fit into the project management process and how important they are to the completion of successful projects. 

These meetings don't have to be interrogations. Grilling team members with too many questions at once may put them off. Slowly uncovering your team members' perceptions puts you in a better position to refine your approach. You can also gain buy-in for your approach, especially if you've sensed some reluctance to accepting a standardized project management procedure.

When you find out how far removed your team members feel from projects and processes, you'll be able to make an impact right away. By serving as the connection between the project team and the sponsors, you not only position yourself as the "go-to" person for information -- you also become the voice of the project. You can filter information from the sponsors to team members and take team members' feedback to the sponsors.

By doing a little investigating, you may find that it's the first time anyone has listened to the opinions of the team.

And as a new project manager, showing the team that you've heard them will take you a long way.

How have you gotten to know your new team?

Project Planning for Career Success

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In my December 21 post, I suggested that to have successful careers as project managers, we must manage projects effectively. And that depends on solid planning.

Imagine two project teams, Team A and Team B. They take on exactly the same work. Team A does a poor and hasty job of planning, and the project manager commits to complete the work in 12 months, at a cost of US$1 million. Team B does a more careful job of planning, and the project manager commits to complete exactly the same work in 14 months, at a cost of US$1.2 million.

Teams A and B deliver precisely the same result, at the same cost, in the same amount of time. Total project duration: 13 months. Total project cost: US$1.1 million.

But consider how they're evaluated:

"Project Team A Exceeds Budget by $100,000, Delivered Late. Project Manager is Fired."

"Project Team B Delivered Early and Under Budget. Celebration in Honor of Project Manager."

The essential difference between a well-managed project and a poorly managed one is, in my estimation, entirely in the planning. Planning is about the creation of expectations. In this case, expectations were created and then either fulfilled or not, with all other factors being equal.

What do you think: Does successful project planning create a successful project management career?

Improve Your Communication to Improve Project Outcomes

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New Year's resolutions are rarely maintained. But one simple action plan can dramatically improve your project outcomes.

Make a sign that says, "I will communicate better!" And then place it where you can read it aloud once or twice a day. After all, 90 percent of a project manager's time is spent communicating -- do it better and you can expect better project outcomes.

The first part of better communication is learning to listen for meaning, which goes beyond just hearing the spoken words. As the late U.S. State Department spokesman Robert McCloskey once famously said, "I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant!"

This applies to most people when they speak about technical subjects they're not totally comfortable with. Understanding that person's meaning taps into his or her expectations, emotions and requirements. Manage those three things and you are on your way to success.

The second part is learning to communicate what you mean effectively. A few ideas to help keep your message clear and concise:

•    Either avoid jargon and acronyms or make sure everyone understands them. Note that people are reluctant to admit they don't understand.

•    Remember Albert Einstein's advice: "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."  Clarity is inclusive and builds understanding.

•    Make sure your meaning is clear by checking for understanding before worrying about agreement, or disagreement. If your listeners misunderstood something you said, and agree to it, you have a problem.  

You've probably been doing the other 10 percent of your job right for a long time. Make improving communication a defined action plan for 2011 and see what happens when you get better at the 90 percent that involves communications.

What other project resolutions do you have for the upcoming year?
The new year has arrived, and some senior managers may face the pressure of troubled projects. Which projects must be scaled down? Which should get more support? Which should be canceled because market conditions have changed? Portfolio management demands these kinds of tough decisions.

In the 2006 version of the James Bond film, "Casino Royale," for example, the character named M is responsible for managing military intelligence projects and programs. She has to make the best use of the resources under her governance, whether they are programs or projects. When one of her projects is out of control, she corrects the deviation by removing resources and support -- in this case, from Mr. Bond's personal revenge-oriented task -- because it may not align with the organizational objective.

In the meantime, she also has to define what each operation or action should achieve and in what way. Should it be an interception done secretly by the SWAT (special weapons and tactics) teams or a detainment in a sumptuous gambling casino? It all depends on what effects an action aims to achieve and at what costs.

The basis of portfolio management lies in its top-down logic. Depending on what objective you want to reach, you combine the resources and organize the projects and programs to move toward that direction.

When it comes to personal investments, people often combine different products and methods to gain the maximum benefit based on the risks and available financial resources.

Similarly, project portfolio managers consider the resources that should be allocated to projects and programs based on what risks and benefits they can generate for an organization.

Programs and projects sharing similar risks or benefits may be put together for better management. The grouping facilitates decisions on further investments and resource allocation, as well as adjustments amid changing market conditions and organizational strategic plans.

By following effective project portfolio management processes, you can put together a business operation that makes your investment objectives more achievable. Just like M -- but leave the SWAT team at home.

Who's Really the Project Lead?

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On teams that work in creative services, like those found in advertising and in consulting agencies, often the person who serves as the project lead is not a project manager. 

This situation can be very tricky for a truly robust project manager who provides -- or wants to provide -- strong leadership and guidance to the team. It can lead to conflicts of interest and power struggles that can leave team morale in shreds.

When you see project managers in these environments, they've typically been relegated to a more administrative function. They essentially provide resource scheduling and reporting on data such as project profit and loss, rather than being empowered to provide much true leadership. (I discussed this in a little more detail in my first post.)

So should we eliminate the project management position and have the creative leads or account managers take on those responsibilities? Well, no.

Companies that attempt to eliminate the project management position from their ranks are ultimately just pushing this responsibility to other members of the existing team. Those members may believe they are able to take on the role of project manager, but more likely are too busy with their current responsibilities. Not to mention, they are nowhere near as knowledgeable or skilled in project management as they would like to believe.

The challenge lies in the perception of what it takes to manage and lead a project team from start to finish. If you were to ask your creative team or your account team, I'm willing to bet their description of leading teams would be inadequate. And much of the job they describe will be tasks they simply don't have an interest in performing.
So what do we do in these situations?

To me, the answer lies in accountability. If creative or account teams are going to claim leadership positions on projects, they need to be clearly identified by senior management as owning of the final, holistic project outcome. These project leaders must understand that their success -- and the project's success -- is tied directly to their ability to make all of the parts come together, even when many of the parts don't fall squarely in their functional purview.  

Have you experienced this kind of conflict? How was it resolved?

Instill Acknowledgment Into the Corporate Culture

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Normally, I encourage and promote the use of heartfelt and spontaneous acknowledgments. Now I want to talk about the possibility of instituting and practicing a more formal process of recognition simultaneously.

I recently held a webinar with about 60 project managers from Finland. I had been told before the webinar that they didn't believe acknowledgement even existed in their culture. Shortly after this webinar, though, I received an enthusiastic e-mail from Dean Pattrick, PMP, telling me about an internal program introduced at Nokia in Finland. It's called the Peer-to-Peer Recognition Award.

Below is a copy of the certificate he and the company's human resources department put together to recognize achievement in one of the company's four core values, Achieving Together.

Nokia.jpg"So I filled in this certificate for eight people and the response I got from each of them was jaw-dropping," Mr. Pattrick wrote.

Remember, acknowledgment supposedly doesn't even exist in Mr. Pattrick's culture. Yet people were thrilled and delighted with the recognition certificates and the heartfelt comments.

He achieved these results because acknowledgment is a human need, especially at work.

Many companies are starting to institute formal practices like Nokia's and I wholeheartedly applaud them. I also acknowledge Mr. Pattrick for putting this practice into action.

Does your organization have a formal process for recognizing its employees? If so, please share it with us and let us know how you think it is working.

Photo copyright of Nokia and was published with permission.

Young project managers are taking over senior management positions -- and some veteran project managers realize they're in for some changes, according to a recent article in PM Network® ("The Young and the Restless," October 2010).

The "younger generation bosses" act entitled or like they know everything, say some of the veterans. They also complained the new upstarts didn't earn their position, they micromanage, play favorites with younger workers and don't give enough direction to the veterans.

But the younger generation has plenty to offer, too. They generate a healthy mix of ideas and are usually more willing to try new ways of doing things that some veterans might consider too risky.

At the same time, seasoned pros can show young project managers a few of their own tricks. What's the game about if not about leaving the best of yourself in the hands of the younger generation?

Imagine the power of teams that emerge from this kind of cooperation and collaboration!

Both seasoned veterans and their younger counterparts can learn from each other. It's good for the organization, the project -- and your own development as a project professional.

Have you looked outside your own generation for advice? What did you learn?

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