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May 2011 Archives

Finding a Project's Intangible ROI

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If you're new to project management, you might be surprised to learn that some projects -- maybe some of yours -- do not generate any actual profits.

That can make it difficult to demonstrate how talented you are as project manager and how great your project delivery team is. So, how can you show you've created value if you cannot show revenue or profits as a direct result of your project?

Look at ROI in a different light. Instead of using profits as a benchmark, consider intangible benefits, such as cost-savings that will result from the project, or a positive swing in public relations or team dynamics

My team and I were working on a project that involved automating a conference room. A user could walk into the room, push a single button and the automation would do the rest. The project didn't generate any profit, but the feedback from stakeholders was 100 percent positive: My team had created an environment that worked as advertised and made users' work lives easier and less frustrating. And that translated to a huge upswing in stakeholder influence.

When we needed buy-in on the next project, the stakeholders were more than happy to offer support. They even understood if the project would affect them negatively (i.e. space being unavailable for use during project, or a feature being disabled for a short time). It may be hard to say that stakeholders' good graces (for example) increased by exactly 42 percent, but it's very obvious when your ability to influence them has increased. Things seem to just run more smoothly.

Have your projects generated intangible ROI? How have your project teams benefited from it?

How Arguments with Stakeholders Hinder Project Managers

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Arguing with your stakeholders is never good.

The basis of an argument is to defend your position while defeating the other person's in the process. It's easy to suggest using active listening to understand the other person's viewpoint, but this advice overlooks the inevitable build up of emotions inherent in any argument.

Asking the help of a third party to mediate an argument with a stakeholder can be very useful. First, the presence of an observer helps contain excessive emotions. Secondly, a third-party observer can bring fresh insights to help move the argument to a constructive discussion and, ultimately, a solution.

Transitioning from a sides-based argument to an "us"-based solution does not require the third-party observer to necessarily solve the problem. Rather, the mediator should help those arguing to develop a solution.

An ancient legend demonstrates this concept beautifully:

A farmer died and left his herd of 17 camels to his three sons. In his will, he left half of the camels to his eldest son, one third of the camels to the second son and one ninth of the camels to his youngest son.

The three brothers were having great difficulty working out a fair way of implementing their father's will and could not agree on who would have more and who would have less than the amount willed. Before their relationship became too stained, the brothers went to visit a wise old woman who lived in their village to seek advice.

She told them she could not solve their problem but would give them her only camel if it would help.

The brothers thanked her and took the camel back with them. With a herd of 18 the problem simply disappeared; the first brother took 9 camels, the second six and the youngest two.

But, 9 + 6 + 2 = 17, so they gave the spare camel back to the wise old lady with their thanks.

The point of the story, from a project management perspective, is that belaboring arguments with stakeholders will only succeed in delaying the project. For the sake of keeping the project within the triple constraints, it's best to resolve arguments promptly and for the good of the project.

In your projects, how have you handled arguments? Do you seek help before positions become entrenched?

Reinventing the Project Management Career

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In my previous post, I said, "I can't be sure but I have a feeling that the nature of the project management game is changing." I'm becoming more certain of that all the time -- especially in terms of what that means for my career.

Recall that I articulated three trends that "give me pause:"

• Project management jobs are following other IT jobs to emerging markets
• Agile is gaining in popularity as a way to approach IT projects
• The way the global economy functions is said to be changing

Each of these injects a fair amount of uncertainty into my career plans.

In a project context, uncertainty is interesting in that it has the potential to positively or negatively affect project objectives. The same is true of career objectives, which makes those three trends very interesting to me.

So what are my career objectives? Simple:

1. Continue to manage projects
2. Have enough variety in those projects to keep things interesting

To what extent might the aforementioned trends affect those objectives? It depends on the timeframe. Thinking about the state of the profession over the next four or five years, two questions come to mind:

• Within that time, what is the likelihood that one or more of the three trends I outline will have an impact (positive or negative) on my two career objectives?

• What might that impact be?

You tell me.

What are your overall goals for the next five years, and how will the shifts we see in project management affect those goals?

Social Responsibility in Program Management

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Program managers are looking to the future and how best to serve business -- and society -- in a more responsible way.

Global trends in corporate responsibility now include sustainable energy, combining improvements in efficient use of energy and renewable energy sources.

Enterprises that join this trend will likely prosper. Program managers are responsible for aligning an enterprise's business with its long-term strategy, and for sensing emerging trends that need to be embraced.

"Green" technologies, for example, are one such trend program managers should recognize and plan projects and programs around.

Organizations like Nike, Taiwan Telecom, Delta and Corning have recently built "green" factories, for example, using such technologies. If program managers don't follow worldwide trends like this, it will affect the organization's long-term ability to compete and prosper.

In this way, program managers echo the role of the program management office (PMO).

The PMO and the program manager are the main force for business strategy alignment. They adjust the resource allocation and business priorities within projects and programs by launching projects they believe fit the organization's business strategy, and stopping those that don't.

The best that we have to offer in our profession is to be forward-looking and socially responsible. What are you doing to be socially responsible?

Project Delivery Teams are Stakeholders, Too

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We talk a lot about stakeholders. But we often forget that people who actually do the work within an organization's project portfolio and programs are stakeholders, too. And if they're to be effectively supported and motivated to help the organization's project delivery system succeed, you must recognize their needs and aspirations.

Here are four broad stakeholder groups that every organization should be paying attention to:

Team members: There should be clear direction and support to help project team members accomplish their work and earn the opportunity to grow into a leadership role.

Project manager: Success for project managers lies in planning and managing the overall project he or she is responsible for. Organizations can foster their success by providing a supportive environment with effective governance and access to project management skills development.

Program managers or project directors: This is a role focused on achieving organizational objectives through the work of other managers. Successful program managers will deliver organizational change and benefits that correlate with stakeholder and sponsor needs and expectations. Organizational support for these senior roles should focus on creating an environment where the managers can create value for the organization.

Portfolio management and project management offices (PMOs) support organizational governance structures. These management roles are focused on providing strategic advice to the executive. Portfolio managers assess current and planned projects and programs on a routine basis to recommend the optimum mix for future resourcing.  

The PMO manager provides input to the portfolio management process based on the performance of current projects. Additionally, he or she provides input to the organization's overall governance structure.

Success in the roles of portfolio and PMO managers is being a 'trusted advisor' to the executives in the organization. From an organizational perspective, effective stakeholder management focuses on supporting the managers and helping them support the business.

Recognizing the needs and aspirations of each of these groups of stakeholders is important if they are to be effectively motivated and supported so they can help the organization be successful.

Do you feel these brief descriptions fit the roles in your organization?

Do you consider members of project delivery teams as stakeholders?

Project Managers On The Go

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Project managers often travel a lot for work, but you don't have to disappear into some kind of black hole. It's a matter of claiming specific pockets of time based on what's most appropriate for that period.

When flying, for example, I might book myself for two hours of focused work on project documentation, like the project plan or strategy documents. If I'm stuck waiting for a connecting flight or in my hotel room, I use that time to catch up on emails.

Traveling is also a good way to network. Try to connect with people who might help you resolve project challenges or look at issues in a new way. You might even want to find out how they stay productive while on the go.

As a project manager or a team member, I can still be in action and engaged in the project -- no matter where I am. Is traveling a hindrance or a non-issue for you? How do you stay productive yet balanced during your business travels?

Former LinkedIn Exec Says People Have the Power in Social Media

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For all the hype about the massive transformation wrought by the social media revolution, it still comes down to individuals.

"We've all heard of social media. It's nothing new. It's about people and it's about their relationships," said Kevin Eyres, former managing director of LinkedIn Europe, in his keynote speech at the PMI® Global Congress 2011--EMEA in Dublin, Ireland.

And it's no different for project and program managers. They should be leveraging social media as a competitive advantage to build business relationships and gain professional insight.

"Social media gives us a different way to interact," he told attendees from around the world.

For the skeptics content to sit on the social media sidelines, Mr. Eyres issued a warning: "Is all this social stuff important? It is. This is not going away," he said. "Use social media for knowledge and information sharing with the right tools in the right context."

That could mean following project management thought leaders on Twitter for an early jump on trends. Or, it could mean joining a discussion on one of PMI's communities of practice.

No matter the social vehicle, there's a willing and able audience of project professionals ready to pitch in on project problems as a way to help "the greater good," Mr. Eyres said. He compared it to the community effort behind open source software.

For all the power of social media, though, you shouldn't just "hang out" on social media. Go in with a true purpose backed up by a plan -- using the same skills you would on any other project.

"You guys are project and program managers. You're good at this," he said.

To get started in social media, simply listen and then slowly build up who you are and what you're focused on for a consistent online brand image.

"If you start throwing out random things, you lose your authenticity," Mr. Eyres said. "Pick out things you're passionate about."

On LinkedIn, for example, it's not just about how many connections you have. Mr. Eyres set 50 as the minimum number to get value. But he encouraged project and program managers to remember the context.

"Don't be a promiscuous connector. It doesn't do you any good," he said. "Consciously build up a network of influencers."

Done right, social media can boost your career, too. "You're building a brand for yourself," he said. "You're an entrepreneur and you are your own best business."

For starters, make sure your online presence plays up what you want potential employers to focus on. PMI's Career Central LinkedIn Group can also provide tips and tools.

Mr. Eyres did acknowledge the risks of social media and advised people to "understand what information you're making public and choose friends wisely." If you make some mistakes along the way, that's okay -- but you need to put yourself out there, he said. "Your relationships and network matter more than ever."

Communicating Project Perceptions with Stakeholders

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When you deliver a message to a stakeholder, the impact that it has on him or her can vary depending on the individual. The same person can react quite differently to similar messages at different times.

For example, let's say you need to advise two senior managers about a US$50,000 reversal in an expected project outcome. One manager had no idea there was a problem in the first place. The other manager heard through the grapevine that your project was facing a US$500,000 reversal.

For the manager who thought that everything was OK, US$50,000 is bad news. But since the other manager's perception was that a major disaster was looming, US$50,000 seems like good news.

There are several factors at play in this situation. One is certain peoples' perception of the work you are doing. The perception may be unrealistic, but it's real to the person holding it.

Where your message falls in the stream of information the person is dealing with also plays a role. If yours is the one bit of good news in a bad day, for instance, you may get a much warmer response than if your bit of good news is swamped by other spectacular events in other parts of the business.

The challenge of communicating with stakeholders is not knowing the perceptions they currently hold of you and your project. You also have no control over the other news he or she receives in a given day. The only solution is to listen carefully to the feedback from the stakeholder. Then try to put your message and the feedback in context and adjust accordingly.

It helps if you are in regular two-way communication with your key stakeholders and if you are tapped into their grapevine as well. By being connected you will be able to understand a little of the "ambient temperature." You can adjust the way you communicate and the timing of the communication to increase the chance of a successful outcome. Then expect the unexpected.

How much time do you spend thinking about the impact of key communications? What are some of the ways you've found success in communicating with stakeholders?

Zooming In On Project Tasks

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A project that's broken down into milestones and tasks doesn't seem that difficult -- in fact, it seems more manageable to execute. But the tasks can be numerous, and they all compete for your time -- something there is almost never enough of.

I use a technique where I take one task and separate it from any others that should be worked on that day. The task comes from the project plan and my calendar, so I've already assigned a duration and specific date and time to work on it.

To actually execute the specific task, I separate it in my mind from anything else I need to do and focus on it completely. In other words, I zoom in.

If disruptions are present, try focusing on your task with these tips:

1.    Clear your mind of everything except what you're working on.
2.    Establish what your optimal environment is. Are you most productive when it's quiet? When there are people around? At your desk?
3.    Visualize the end result or completion of the task.
4.    Convert or break down the task into actionable items that you or someone else on the team can handle. Converting written tasks into actionable items pushes those items to completion much faster.
5.    Identify people who can help you get the task done or resources you need to get it done.
6.    Jump straight into the task until completion.

What tactics do you use to "zoom in" on your tasks?

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