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March 2011 Archives

Using Expert Stakeholders Wisely

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One group of stakeholders whose input is critical to most projects are experts -- subject matter experts, risk experts, quality experts. Project managers must know how to make effective use of these experts' knowledge.

The advantage of using an expert is of course his or her depth of knowledge. But not all experts are created equal and too many people simply accept an expert's views as a profound truth. Project managers may misunderstand the expert's area of expertise, for example. Or they fail to grasp the danger of 'group think,' which is a version of common sense held by a particular group of experts.

Instead, project managers need to be more engaged and understand the basis of the expert's opinion. What makes sense to the expert may not make sense to you or may not be the optimum solution to your problem.

One technique you can use to make sure the expertise is useful and applied effectively is asking the expert to explain his or her ideas in simple language. Then dig into the assumptions, evidence and methodology used to reach his or her opinion.

It also helps if you can make space for managed dissent. Allowing divergent views opens up alternatives that may allow new insights into the problem. By combining different ideas with more traditional tactics, you're likely to generate a wider range of options. And that often leads to a better solution than simply accepting a single expert opinion.

Experts confident in their knowledge are unlikely to be challenged by this approach. Instead, they will use the opportunity to learn new things and enhance their expertise.
How do you make use of an expert stakeholder's knowledge? 

Why Every Project Manager Should Know About Project Governance

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When I first started out, I wasn't familiar with project governance structure. I wasn't alone, though. Apparently in the world of governance, ignorance on the part of the project manager isn't surprising.

Project governance helps make sure that a project is executed according to the standards of the organization performing the project. Governance keeps all project activities above board and ethical, and also creates accountability.

A project governance structure will also help define a project reporting system. It outlines specific roles and responsibilities for everyone involved in the project. Project managers can leverage a governance structure in their projects to help with setting project priorities.

By understanding how governance fits into the larger organization, a project manager can choose which objectives to pursue. Or, he or she can gain support to change objectives that don't align with the overall organizational goal. By monitoring governance, the project manager helps ensure his or her project will stay in tune with organizational expectations and remains a good investment as it continues in its lifecycle. 

A project manager can also use the steering committees that are part of most governance structures to resolve conflicts. Because steering committee members don't work on the project on a daily basis, the can serve as fresh eyes to see what's causing the conflict and offer an outside voice of reason. They can also offer solutions on how to resolve the conflict and adhere to the standards -- while still sticking to the overall goals of the organization.

What do you think? How do you leverage governance structures?

Cost-down Activity: Portfolio or Project Management?

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Every project management office (PMO) should perform organizational cost-down activities, whether it's the overall business running cost-down by reducing inefficiencies or the cost reduction of projects or productions.

Some organizations think cost-down should be included as a part of portfolio management, while others regard it as just another part of project management. The answer depends on whether cost-down is executed to help realize the organization's objectives.

For example, let's take a look at Foxconn Technology Group, a manufacturing giant in Taiwan that manufactures several Apple products.

During the bidding process to manufacture the iPad, for example, Foxconn provides a quote to Apple that Foxconn's competitors are unable to match or undercut. Foxconn evaluates different efficiency plans in an effort to cut the price of iPad production as much as possible.

The design and specifications of the iPad are fixed. Choice of materials and manufacturing methods, however, can be managed in the way that Foxconn feels is most efficient. Foxconn can research less costly materials, more efficient production methods, and new vendors for less expensive services or components. Foxconn will also look to vertically acquire its competitors or vendors.

All of these factors allow Foxconn to calculate from quotes how it must manage production so that manufacturing matches the quote. This is Foxconn's organizational strategy: offering the lowest price to its buyer and attaining the most competitive cost.

This example shows how a cost-down activity meets the organization's business strategy of offering the lowest price. In this situation, the cost-down activity is absolutely part of portfolio management.

Projects, programs and portfolios are all about executive power. The appropriate use of a project, program or portfolio depends on its function. When a project, operation or task can be performed to further the organization's business strategy, it should definitely be regarded as a part of portfolio management, and not a part of project management.

Does your organization treat cost-down activity as a portfolio management activity?

Pragmatic Leadership in Stakeholder Management

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One of the key roles of a successful project manager is to provide effective leadership to a range of stakeholders, including the project team, suppliers and contractors. But leadership is not as simple as having a position in the organization chart and managing processes.

Pragmatic leadership is a choice you make to influence other people's thinking to act in the interests of the project and the organization. Pragmatic leadership adds the power of directed motivation and a commitment to success that significantly improves routine operations within the project and becomes essential when problems are encountered.

It's a balance between managing and leading. Management skills and technical knowledge are important in determining the appropriate work, but leadership generates the motivation that translates into willingness to do the work.

The art of leadership in project management is developing commitment from your stakeholders -- making the successful completion of your project important to each individual. This needs more than effective management processes.

Effective management defines schedules, work assignments and performance criteria. It's about compliance and procedures to ensure quality, safety and other key requirements are met. Management is largely taught and focuses on process skills.

Leadership is about creating commitment to the work. A great leader understands the task and inspires the team. Leadership is a more complex process derived from combinations of self-esteem, confidence, credibility, the ability to communicate clearly and a willingness to listen and engage with people.

Leadership skills can be learned, but they have to be based within a leader's inherent personal characteristics to be authentic.  

Leadership adds the power of directed motivation and a commitment to success that significantly improves routine operations within the project and becomes essential when problems are encountered. The bigger the disaster, the more important it becomes to have a committed team-- to survive a major setback, each individual needs to be willing to do what's necessary.

How do you see your pragmatic leadership skills developing?

Mutual Trust: Achieving Success With Your Sponsor

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Projects can be very complex -- a bit of a jumble of various considerations. As Wendy Mason's comment on my last post suggested, reducing project success to achieving scope, schedule and budget objectives is overly simplistic.

Success on a project has to be measured in many dimensions and according to changing circumstances. As Sergio Flores commented, there is risk inherent in every project. There are things beyond the control of the project manager and in some cases project managers simply make mistakes.

When a project manager takes on a project, he or she enters into a partnership with the sponsor. The sponsor depends on the project manager's ability to bring the project to fruition, and the project manager depends on the soundness of the sponsor's ideas. They share in each other's potential success and each must be willing to face the risk of failure.

It's human nature to inherently push ourselves beyond our limits. The willingness of a sponsor and project manager to enter into a partnership knowing that there are risks is a testimony to this spirit.

I believe that the very possibility of failure makes success all the more exhilarating. And because we're social creatures, I believe the possibility of mutual failure makes mutual success all the more exhilarating.

Is it a disservice to the sponsor for a project manager to enter into a partnership when there is a distinct possibility of failure? I think not. In fact, I think it would be a grave disservice to decline to do so for fear of failure.

At a personal level, I rather like the idea of my sponsor and I betting on each other to succeed. We could lose, sure. But the fact that we could lose, together, makes the possibility of winning together all the more compelling.

What do you think about mutual success and failure with your sponsor?

Finding the Shortest Path to Project Success

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What's the shortest possible path from project initiation to completion?

You might say it depends on the size of the project or the work involved. But there's always a shorter path than the one you have in mind -- even for larger projects.

There's always a solution that makes better use of resources while providing faster delivery times. It's like when you play Scrabble® and come up with a word combination that uses the fewest letters and still gives you the highest point value.

Say you walked into a job interview, for example, and you were hired on the spot. Although it seems impossible to get hired just by walking into the room, it's the ability to recognize the possibility that allows you to open yourself up to ideas that you'd otherwise discount.

So what's wrong with the way you currently manage a project from initiation to completion? Maybe nothing. But what if you could get there faster?

Try asking these questions to help you create the space in which actions towards the shortest path will arise:

  • What am I assuming about the project, team or requirements?

  • What am I considering as a roadblock? 

  • What decisions had I already made about the project before it started or before I took it on?

  • What are the actual project requirements?

  • What limitations did I already impose on my team, the organization and myself?
Consider this not as an insight, but as an exercise to get to the shortest path. What do you now see possible?

Are We Self-Organized Yet?

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The Agile Manifesto calls for teams to be "self organized," but this is often easier said than done. The manifesto states, "The best architectures, requirements and designs emerge from self-organizing teams." 

This can be a challenge for some team members. Project managers on traditional teams may be more comfortable working alone than working closely with each other, as Agile demands. So how can they implement self-organization?

Here are some ways to know if your team is self-organized:

1) Actions taken after Scrum meetings.
Good teams have frequent exchanges during the daily standup meetings. Are people mentioning problems and are teammates offering help? Do members take collaborative actions to solve those problems after the meeting? Watch for teams where people remain individually focused.

2) Flexible roles.
Members on self-organized teams will be able to support each other by handling tasks outside their usual specialties.

3) Communication.
Self-organized teams will use immediate forms of communication: text messages, instant messages, phone and even walking to each other's desk.

4) Role of the project manager.
On self-organized teams, the project manager will spend less time assigning work, and more time facilitating the team as work is "pulled" from the backlog.
5) Role of the manager.
The project manager's boss does less hands-on direct planning, but more coaching, rewarding and gathering resources for the team.

Teams may also benefit from better understanding of diverse personality styles (See my post: Making the Most of Team Differences).

The benefits of self-organization are not just a better product. You will sense renewed energy in the team.

Is your Agile team self-organized? What benefits do you find in that structure?

Valuing Your Employee Stakeholders

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Rewarding good performance helps keep employee stakeholders motivated during projects. But there's a difference between the methods many businesses use to motivate people and what actually works.

Simple financial incentives and other "carrot and stick" methods have been shown to be largely ineffective motivators, especially for employees on your team. And these incentives can be totally inappropriate if applied to stakeholders outside of the organization.

Instead, rewards should address our deep need for:

Autonomy: The desire to direct our own lives
Mastery: The urge to get better at our work and be successful
Purpose: The yearning to work in the service of something larger than ourselves

Rewards don't need to be huge, but they should be visible to the entire team. They can be as simple as acknowledging a job well done in a daily stand-up meeting. Or it can be more substantive, such as granting greater autonomy or responsibility.

As a leader, you must allow employee stakeholders the freedom to define their work within appropriate boundaries. Provide opportunities for them to develop new skills and link your team's work to the objectives of the organization or a larger social benefit, where possible.

So where can you start?

Rather than instructing the team member receiving the award on what to do and when to finish, offer a little bounded autonomy by asking how he or she can best achieve the objective of the task and how quickly it can be accomplished.

If the stakeholder is a senior manager, create a sense of purpose by linking your request for help to the manager's goals for the organization. You may be surprised at the positive reaction.

What do you think? Can autonomy, mastery and purpose be motivational rewards?

Know a Project Management Superstar?

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There's a lot of talk about the importance of acknowledgment. But many project managers in the trenches go unnoticed.

Here's your chance to change that by nominating a peer for the PMI Linn Stuckenbruck Person of the Year Award.

Named after Linn C. Stuckenbruck, PhD, this award recognizes a PMI member for outstanding contributions to the development and advancement of the profession, and his or her contribution to PMI during the previous calendar year.

Each nominee's contribution must:

1. Help recognize PMI as the world's leader in project management through activities completed in the previous calendar year (2010 for the 2011 award)

2. Expand and advance the knowledge, use and application of project management

3. Demonstrate broad, far-reaching implications for the profession

Nominees may work in any field, including but not limited to business and academia.

For the complete list of eligibility requirements and biographical information on Dr. Stuckenbruck, please download the nomination guidelines.

Nominations for the 2011 PMI Linn Stuckenbruck Person of the Year must be received at the PMI Global Operations Center by Friday, 1 April 2011.

Talk to your project team and PMI chapter colleagues about nominating a PMI member: four to six members must join together to nominate a candidate for this award.  

No one knows excellence in project management like you and your peers. Nominate a deserving colleague today.
Can someone please help me understand the hype surrounding crowdsourcing?

I understand the premise: Tasks are essentially outsourced to a large group of people through a call to action. (For more, see "The In Crowd" in the June 2009 PM Network®.)

This seems like a project manager's worst nightmare. The requirements and quality management alone must be a huge undertaking:

  • How do you ensure a team of people who aren't getting paid remain focused enough to see your project through to completion?
  • How do you ensure no one is trying to game the system?  
  • How do you reward those contributing more than others?
I found one marketing agency that claims to be the first built on crowdsourcing principles. I certainly applaud the innovation and outside-the-box thinking. But when I read the description of how they manage resources for projects, it sounds more like a large freelance bench model rather than a brand-new approach. That's not meant as a stab at the agency -- it appears to do good work. Rather it's meant to illustrate that there remains a great deal of confusion in the marketplace around what this methodology is and how to implement it.
With many highly visible crowdsourcing projects, for example, there seems to be a lot of press about individuals within the "crowd" who ultimately feel cheated or used for their skills, having been inadequately compensated -- or not compensated at all.
It looks like you take a big chance when you sign on to these projects, given that there's usually no contract to fall back on. I imagine this risk goes both ways.

I hope this will serve as a conversation starter. What does your organization think about crowdsourcing?  Have you ever participated -- or managed -- a crowdsourced project? I'm very interested in hearing the challenges and victories out there around this approach.

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