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September 2011 Archives

Are Happy Project Managers More Productive?

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Fact: A happy person is more creative, productive and engaged than an unhappy person.

As project managers and leaders, we are responsible for optimizing our teams' productivity. One effective way for you and your team to achieve great productivity is to create a happy workplace.

Creating a positive environment is your responsibility as a leader. As the saying goes, "There are no bad soldiers under a good general."  

In his book, Full Engagement, Brian Tracy outlines a simple series of actions any leader can take to encourage positive contributions from everyone. These ideas are not new. Aristotle believed the underlying motive for every human action was the desire to be happy.

The golden rule for creating happiness is to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." But this requires a number of specific actions.

First, avoid destructive criticism. Destructive criticism sparks feelings of fear, rejection, anger and defensiveness. Leaders should resolve never to criticize, attack, insult or diminish another person -- including team members. Instead, look for good in everything that happens and learn to view problems as opportunities.

Second, stop complaining. When you complain about something you become a victim of the situation, diminish your self-confidence and open yourself to feeling inadequate. You hurt yourself much more than the target of your complaints.

Third, remove fear from the workplace. If you want people to be innovative and creative there has to be room for experimentation and failure. It is impossible to improve without risking failure. Remember: Fear of failure can prevent improvement.

Finally, do not condemn anyone for any reason. This can irreparably damage relationships.

Here are some positive actions you can take to develop a happy and productive project team:

  1. Smile when you see someone for the first time each day.
  2. Ask people how they're feeling. A genuine interest in your team members goes a long way.
  3. Listen attentively to others and be polite and courteous.
  4. Keep your team informed.
  5. Design work assignments so that each team member can be successful. Then acknowledge their successes.

Achieving Success through Program Management

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A report detailing the impact of the 2010 Taipei International Flora Exposition estimates that Taiwan brought in more than US$1 billion during the six-month event. These benefits were created by synergy, which was cultivated through centralized program management.

What do I mean by synergy? Cross-related projects benefit from efficiency and control when activities are combined rather than performed separately. The exposition is a good example of the kind of synergy that program management should bring -- an example worth considering if you want to manage projects effectively within a program.

The event had an organizing committee, which was set up like a program management office (PMO). Endorsement from the International Association of Horticultural Producers (IAHP) gave the organizing committee the freedom and authority to be effective. IAHP provided the committee with clear objectives, which allowed committee leaders to establish concrete goals for meeting stakeholder expectations.

The exposition involved 377 projects and more than 23,000 participants. With so many stakeholders involved -- all of whom were eager to stage events, exhibitions, shows and displays -- the event's success required all of their coordination and cooperation.

All of these stakeholders' concerns needed to be understood and met. This was only possible through the organizing committee, which worked closely with local tourism and cultural bureaus, as well as the government. The committee had to negotiate, mediate and monitor the projects, and assist the stakeholders to achieve their own benefits, so as to maximize the synergy effect.

But it is not just strong, centralized management that ensures a program's success. The program manger must also correctly identify clear objectives around which individual projects are organized.

As exemplified with IAHP and the committee, objectives of a program can only be defined from top to bottom, which requires a higher level of governance. Once the objectives of a program are set up, every project under the program shall be carried out in accordance with the objectives to ensure alignment between the execution and objectives.  

What do you think? Does centralized management ensure a program's success?

The 50-something Project Manager

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Nowadays, many of the seasoned project management professionals across the world are part of the baby boomer generation, a term often used for those born between mid-1940s and the mid-1960s. I'd like to talk about their contribution to the project management profession.

As a member of this generation, I can attest that baby boomers are competitive by nature. We are confident, independent and self-reliant. Although respectful of authority and hierarchy, baby boomers think that rules can be changed. Thus, don't be surprised if during a project meeting baby boomers argue about the project issues.

While leading a multigenerational team, baby boomer project managers will face conflicts due to the diversity of generational values. Addressing conflict in a multigenerational team will require for the project manager to master a multigenerational mindset.

That means you must:

•    Understand that beliefs and values are not easy to change. Learn about why other generations behave as they do.

•    Put yourself in someone else's shoes to get a better perspective on what motivates the multigenerational team.

•    Work with the generational differences rather against them. Establish an on-going and candid communication environment that fosters dialog among the team members.

Regardless of your generation, your purpose as a project manager is to lead and inspire your project team while leveraging the divergent point of views of your team members.
As a baby boomer project manager, how do you deal with generational differences in your project team? Are you doing something to master your multigenerational mindset?

See more posts about multigenerational teams.

Can PMOs and Centers of Excellence Coexist?

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Project Management Centers of Excellence (PMCOE) are becoming increasingly popular as a solution for organizations to streamline their processes while increasing efficiency, profit and competitiveness.

Generally, a Center Of Excellence (COE) is a business unit that has organization-wide authority. It coordinates continuous improvement initiatives, ensures that value is achieved in all areas, and fulfils the role of organizational thought-leader or consultant.

COEs are also created to capture an organization's best practices, standards and industry benchmarks. The COE facilitates the approval, transfer and integration of these best practices across the organization. For example, in a global manufacturing company, the COE may identify a best practice used in its European plant, tweak it, and implement the practice in its Saudi plant, too.  

There seems to be confusion between the roles of a Project Management Office (PMO) and a PMCOE. Some argue that the PMO sufficiently leads the organization to project management excellence. So, why would an organization with a well-structured PMO need a PMCOE?

In his book, Advanced Project Management: Best Practices on Implementation, Second Edition, project management expert Dr. Harold Kerzner states:

"The definition of project management excellence must extend well beyond experience and success ... Success is measured by having achieved performance that is in the best interest of the whole company, as well as having completed a specific project."

PMOs and COEs are only successful when they achieve the objectives for which they are created. Leaders in the profession note that the number of projects or years an organization has been delivering projects can't define project management excellence. Neither can the methodology it follows.

Larger, complex organizations may need a PMO and a PMCOE -- but their roles should be clearly defined.

A PMO is an important central hub with a mandate to coordinate and deliver all project activities as determined by the organization's needs.

PMCOE executives would operate as part of the business decision-making process. These individuals would report on the organization's project portfolio as a whole and provide the organization with project consultancy.

The PMCOE also supports the PMO through research, innovation and leadership initiatives and bridges the gap between PMO teams and business units within the organization.

What do you think? Are PMO's and COE's the same? Is a PMCOE just a glorified PMO? Have you come across a PMO and PMCOE in the same organization? Is there clear role differentiation?

Coaching Through Process Improvements

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Being involved in process improvements can feel similar to being audited -- not pleasant. So how do you make the period of process improvements more manageable for your team members, especially when they are project managers themselves?
When creating process improvement initiatives, look at it as an opportunity to motivate your team members. Morale is likely low and improvements should be made. Hand-hold your team members during the process. Instead of sitting in front of them like an interviewer would, sit next to them -- be a peer. This will help them see that you're making things better, not making their lives messier.
For example, I'm currently spearheading a process improvement initiative where the objective is to improve the current project management techniques for project implementation. Before I even started this project, I was told that I'd face some adversity. But I have a plan.
I want to make the initiative as painless as possible, so I plan to turn the investigative process into a learning process -- both for my team members and myself. I will take on a student's point of view, rather than as the instructor, because I'm learning, too.

I'll also try to be more open. I want my team to share their plights and success stories with me. I'd like to construct a scenario in which my team members learn new things from their experiences, seeing the areas that can be improved or approached differently for themselves.
It is a common saying:  Things will get worse before they get better. Managing team members during process improvement period is like that. They will dislike you before they like you. Adversity is to be expected, but as the saying goes, impossible odds make achievements more satisfying.

What do you think a project manager should do to garner cooperation from team members during a process improvement initiative? How do you turn process improvement initiatives into a learning process? How do you manage team member resistance to change or idea makeovers?

Mitigating Risk with Project Advocacy Consultants

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Besides scope, time and budget, the core of project management success is stakeholder acceptance of project deliverables. As such, the risk of stakeholders rejecting deliverables should be identified and mitigated in a project's early stages.
For example, stakeholders in infrastructural development projects, like members of a surrounding community, make certain choices about project execution, such as location, quality and schedule. But, this doesn't always happen. If residents, say, are denied vehicular access to their homes because of an ongoing road re-construction, it's clear there was no stakeholder representative during the execution planning of the project.

African governments often rely on public private partnerships (PPPs) for utility and infrastructure projects. But most proponents of PPPs settle for a design-bid-build business arrangement, in which a single vendor may win concessionary bids to develop, operate and transfer utility infrastructure schemes. In this instance, a concessionary bid is a solicitation process for PPP projects.
This kind of business arrangement increases the risk of eroding the values and interest of that community. Sponsors and vendors could decide to satisfy themselves to the detriment of the residents or other project beneficiaries.
One way to mitigate the risk of communities rejecting infrastructure projects could be to use project advocacy consultancies, which are composed of community and government representatives. The committees ensure that infrastructure projects address the needs of the communities and are accepted by them.
In Africa, it would be a major stride in project management if stakeholders approved of the deliverables of PPP infrastructure projects. Of course, projects would be more widely accepted if communities were involved during the planning and execution of deliverables.

In my opinion, highly leveraged infrastructure projects that are initiated under concessional business arrangements and executed without the involvement of the would-be users should be discouraged. In turn, profits made by promoters and vendors from infrastructure projects could be better justified vis-à-vis community acceptance of the deliverables.

If communities approve of infrastructure projects, post-project operations and facilities management, it would benefit everyone. Promoters would smile at the projected cash flows, vendors would satisfy both contractual and project obligations, and ultimately, the project would be successfully completed.
Do you think involving stakeholders at the outset eliminates project risks? If so, how? What do you think about using a project advocacy consultant?

Read related posts:

"Different Perceptions of Risk on Projects" from Lynda Bourne.

"Use Project Management Tools in the Right Context" from Saira Karim.

Different Perceptions of Risk on Projects

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The July Project Management Journal includes an interesting paper highlighting two approaches to understanding risk:
1. Risks as facts: Risks are treated as objective, technical, neutral events that can be managed based on the knowledge produced by objective analysis using probabilities and expected values. The outcome is rational decision making.

2. Risks as subjective constructions with multiple dimensions: Risk managers choose the context and perspective they adopt. This allows multiple rationalities to coexist, depending on the values and perspectives of the observers. (This explains why some people find jumping out of an aircraft fun.)

From a project perspective, risks are uncertainties that matter. All estimates about future project outcomes incorporate a degree of uncertainty. This includes the three key dimensions of project management: timing, cost and quality of future project deliverables.
The project manager cannot be certain that the estimates that make up the project schedule or cost plan will prove to be correct, or that the project team will create deliverables to the appropriate quality standards. The rational management approach is to assess the risk factors and develop appropriate time and cost contingencies, backed by appropriate reviews and tests to ensure optimum quality. This approach is highly objective and rational.

However, you cannot rely on your stakeholders having the same view as you. If a stakeholder sees your project in a different context, their perspective on risk will be different.
For example, if you created a contingency plan using a Monte Carlo analysis, an executive may interpret the plan as a sign you don't understand the project because he or she expects a single definitive result. From this stakeholder's perspective, the precise calculation of a critical path method schedule offers certainty and minimum risk.

The authors of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) have a different perspective, which understands the benefits of 'three-point estimating.' You cannot assume your stakeholder will have the same view.
The challenge is to accept that a range of stakeholder perspectives will occur. Stakeholders may derive completely different opinions from the same data.
You should anticipate this possibility and adjust the way you package your project information to communicate more effectively and ensure both you and your key stakeholders have a common understanding of the risks and issues confronting you project.

How do you deal with the challenge of managing different stakeholder perspectives on risk?

Read more on risk management.
Read more on stakeholder management.

10 Years of Agile Practices in Project Management

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One decade ago, 17 people who were well-known software leaders met to figure out a better way to build software. Frustrated with traditional methodologies, they brainstormed, argued, discussed and analyzed how the future should look.

The result was The Agile Manifesto, which is comprised of four values and 12 principles.

In August, Laurie Williams, PhD, led the Agile 2011 Conference, where most of those leaders reunited for a panel discussion. Dr. Williams conducted a worldwide, open survey of 335 members of the agile community across the world to research possible changes to the manifesto. She announced her conclusion that the original manifesto remained valid, saying that the original creators of the manifesto "nailed it" -- even 10 years later.
The manifesto authors each talked about the initial meeting held 10 years ago and how agile is trending today.

Bob Martin said, "our original meeting was probably the only meeting in my career that actually worked." Ken Schwaber poured water from a pitcher as a visual metaphor for the last use of waterfall. Jeff Sutherland described how developers he's met in the past 10 years have been moved to tears by having a process that worked.

But the panelists warned that not all teams do agile well. Some teams call themselves agile but don't do the harder practices. The consensus during the panel session was that the moniker of "agile'" will fade away and simply be how we manage projects. Not just for software, but beyond.

The agile conference was impressive because of the growing diversity of tracks. In addition to the usual technical sessions for software testing and development, many sessions covered people skills, including ones on coaching, cultural mapping and distributed teams. Information on the new PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)SM certification was also popular.

What will the next 10 years bring? New leadership will expand from the original signatories of the manifesto to those doing agile project management today. And as expressed in the Japanese concept of kaizen, many small improvements will add up to more streamlined productivity in many steps and many teams.

How do you see agile advancing over the years?

Read more about agile.

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