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November 2011 Archives

"Requirements" for Managing Your Project and Team

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Editor's note: The title of this post was changed on 9 December 2011.

Do you make time to identify your requirements for managing a project? Sure, you plan and manage the project, but as a program or project manager do you also identify your needs for running the project and the team?

It's important to know what we require of our team and stakeholders. When these needs are clearly identified and communicated, it's easier to track and manage the related project tasks and variables.

For example, I recommend that you require your stakeholders to attend meetings and give input during the change management process. You'll need the decision makers to assist you in evaluating the need for change.

When you set and express this participation as a requirement, your stakeholders understand your requirements and their own importance. Further, when a change is requested during the project, it doesn't come as a surprise that you expect stakeholders to be involved in the process.

When it comes to your project team, maybe you require team members to be on time for meetings and to submit progress updates. Communicating this as a need and setting the expectation helps ensure that team members give timely feedback when needed. When team members meet this particular need, you're able to meet your own deadlines with the customer.

Setting and communicating project management requirements are nothing new. For the most part, these needs are automatically expected from everyone involved in the project. But failure to pen down and communicate each need usually leads to more project challenges. For example, team members may start to argue, finger-point or shake off their responsibilities. There's also the possibility of missing a milestone -- and that's something to avoid.

Take time as the project manager to set your requirements for running the project. And do so as a high priority.

What requirements do you establish for managing a project? Do you communicate these to the project team and stakeholders?

Cloud Computing Helps Project Management

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Projects act as catalysts that play a vital role in building "a better tomorrow." But without a sophisticated project management platform, it's difficult to be successful.

A project management platform includes policies, procedures, standards, guidelines, integrated project management processes, tools, techniques, templates, project assets library, best practices, learning assets, lessons learned or next practices.

Many micro and small organizations, governments or those in emerging economies frequently don't have the enough money to invest on sophisticated information technology in building and maintaining a project management platform of their own.

This major divide in the profession could be reduced through cloud computing -- providing businesses, governments and individuals with access to a reliable project management platform over internet at an affordable price as per usage (on rental basis). This is called Project Management Cloud (PM Cloud).

Following are a few indicative PM clouds:

• Engineering & Construction PM Cloud
• Information Technology PM Cloud
• Research & Development PM Cloud
• Government PM Cloud
• Education PM Cloud

Those using cloud computing can avoid not only major capital investments, but also the ongoing complexity of managing the technology challenges.

When project management clouds (PM Clouds) are available at an affordable price, as and when needed, they can impact project management in the following ways:

• Provides leapfrog opportunities to emerging economies and small enterprises able to compete globally by leveraging "best-in-class" PM clouds

• Fosters innovation as companies leverage more affordable PM cloud options to experiment

• Minimizes the divide between small and large enterprises. Provides equal opportunities as project management clouds become available at an affordable price

• Allows for global collaboration with project talent around the world

• Facilitates global and interactive learning at an affordable price

We're still in the nascent stage of providing sophisticated integrated project management platforms in the cloud, but eventually, cloud computing will impact the way the project management is done in the future.

How do you think cloud computing is impacting project management?

Speaking about Your Project Management Career

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Every major turning point in my career within the last eight years -- everything that I would call progress -- can be traced back to one thing: public speaking.

Eight years ago, on the advice of a few colleagues and friends, I decided to take my project management stories and experiences to a broader audience and enter the world of public speaking. I hadn't anticipated how wonderful it would be to share stories and experiences with so many fine people. Nor could I have ever imagined the world of possibilities it would later open up to me.

Success in project management certainly depends on capability. But it also depends on exposure and on the image you convey. What better way is there for you to gain exposure and to project an image as a capable project manager than to stand before a group of colleagues and share your knowledge on the profession?

When asked about public speaking, people often say, "I wish I could do that."

I say, "Why can't you?"

Each one of us has a unique perspective and unique experiences. All that remains to be done is to tell the stories in a compelling way. That takes some work and some practice, but it is within reach of any professional. I'll address some ways you can be a great public speaker in my next post.

In the meantime, I'd like to know if you ever considered public speaking? Why or why not? How has it helped shape your career? What tips can you share?

Distributed Agile Teams: Beyond the Tools

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Many of today's agile project teams are distributed around the globe. While simple implementations of agile processes assume co-location, in larger enterprises, this is rarely the case. Selecting tools to assist remote communication helps, but it's not enough.

Here are some human factors to consider, beyond the tools, to work successfully with a distributed team:

Cultural differences can become apparent when working with global talent. Some people are uneasy if some social small talk is omitted as part of doing business. Some are uncomfortable if we don't simply get to the point. This affects agile teams as they implement practices such as self-organization, pair programming, and retrospectives. Remember people's assumptions can vary.

Time-zone differences can be helpful by providing longer hours of coverage. But check with your teams on when they begin and end their workday. Different cultures have different laws and traditions on when to go home. Not all people have private transportation, and not all countries use daylight savings time.

Finding teams in compatible time zones can be an advantage with more hours of coverage, if the hours and needs are remembered. Partnering with teams that are north or south of each other makes this easier because the time difference is less extreme.

Communication differences among distributed teams also require forethought. Agile teams will notice a need for engaging and informative tools in their story grooming, estimating, planning and retrospective meetings.

Telephone calls can be awkward because there is no visual cue as to who is speaking and no person to look at. Also, sound varies for each person depending on if they are in the same conference room, on a speakerphone, using a headset or cell phone. Make it a point to include people on the phone if part of the group is face-to-face.

Video conferences or webcams might be a better option. Be aware of the background so it is not distracting. Also be aware of the lighting quality and direction -- illuminating an attendee's face is better than a dark silhouette.

Spatial user interfaces, which extend traditional graphical user Interfaces by using two or three-dimensional renderings, give people someone to look at and allow positional body language and gestures to convey nonverbal information. However, be sure to allow training time for participants so they can make the most of these environments before needing to concentrate on a meeting.

By using the right tool and having the right mindset, agile teams can work together across wide distances.

How do you work successfully with distributed teams?

The Courage Behind Boeing's Dreamliner Project

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I'm sure many of you heard about the Boeing 787 Dreamliner that made its first commercial journey on 26 October. It is the most technologically advanced commercial airplane and enables air travel that is cheaper, faster and more comfortable.

Perhaps you also heard about the process, communications and quality issues that delayed the project by three years and cost the company close to US$10 billion in overrun charges, according to the business news outlet Bloomberg.

As a project manager, what jumps out to me is the fortitude of Boeing's management to ensure a quality product -- despite extraordinary pressure.

I have no doubt that if it had wanted to, Boeing could have completed this project earlier. But rather than take shortcuts and risk potential issues, it held out for a product that met its standards.

Much attention has focused on Boeing's attempts to save money and to secure global accounts by outsourcing a large portion of its component manufacturing and design. The idea was that assembly and time to market would be accelerated by allowing various parts of the plane to be flown to Boeing's facility in Seattle, Washington, USA. There, they could be pieced together in order. According to news reports, the move initially netted Boeing nearly 1,000 orders and helped keep its prime competitor, Airbus, at bay.

But it marked a big change in Boeing's existing process to keep almost all of its engineering design in-house. The company typically delivers very specific "build-to-order" instructions to its manufacturing partners, outlining specifications and direction, and then collaboratively designing the parts.

There were many challenges associated with a project as complex and pioneering as the Dreamliner project. One example is the process for oversight and quality control of multiple, globally based contractors. Issues arose, such as contractors subcontracting to suppliers who couldn't meet deadlines or quotas. In other cases, contractors shipped parts that wouldn't fit together correctly.

Think about it: In my opinion, Boeing realized that it was more important to get the project done right versus done fast. And while the company has faced criticism, suffered some embarrassment and, yes, spent more than it anticipated, these are all short-term issues. 

In the long run, I believe the project will bolster Boeing's reputation for quality. It will also have finely tuned a project management process that should bring the company much higher returns in the future.

See more posts from Geoff.

Disciplined Project Management

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We can all boast of great methods of managing people and project deliverables. But what gets the job done is discipline.

And it's interesting to note how the team follows the leader: The more disciplined the leader, the more disciplined the team. A disciplined leader gives others an anchor -- a sense of stability and accountability.

You may wonder why some people are disciplined and others are not. I believe it's a choice. Disciplined project managers strongly believe that delivering on the project result is a function of project management science and disciplined execution.

Here are some ways to become a disciplined project manager:

-    Plan the next work week's activities a day or two ahead of time
-    Confirm activities the day before
-    Conduct daily reviews of what you did or didn't accomplish
-    Follow through on your commitments
-    Avoid time-wasters, such as unrelated conversations
-    Practice staying within the time allotted to the meetings, tasks and activities
-    Hold yourself accountable for your own deliverables by using a daily tracker document
-    Communicate with stakeholders and sponsors regularly, regardless of the results

What are the ways you've become a disciplined project manager? And how has it helped you deliver better results?

See more posts from Dmitri.

Pancho Villa's Approach to Project Communication

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"It is my duty to inform you that Pancho Villa is everywhere, and nowhere at the same time."
Pancho Villa,1878 - 1923

Pancho Villa (1878-1923) was a revolutionary Mexican general and the subject of legends. In his time, Villa commanded the most powerful army in Latin America. Some considered him a bandit and cold-blooded killer. Others think of him as a true charismatic leader.

His leadership style provides lessons that we can apply to our work as project managers -- specifically, when it comes to project communication.

Historians says because of his fear, Villa would tell one member of his troop to "watch his back," and keep on an eye on suspicious behavior when he wasn't alert. Legend says that in this way, Villa braided the troops -- to keep them watching each other and "manage the risk" of being killed.  

I have adapted a similar approach to project management. Villa knew he couldn't supervise his troops all of the time. As we know, not everyone can be present for all meetings and working sessions during a project. Therefore, I often try to "braid" my team through a communication approach adapted from Villa's to keep information flowing.

This communication technique reduces communication channels by holding one team member to be responsible for sharing important aspects of the project's journey with one or two other team members. For every two people on the project team, there should be one person updating them. In my experience, I have found this kind of communication useful with small teams between 8 to 12 people.

This keeps everyone updated on the project because each team member has at least one person informing her about the project's progress and/or situations in face-to-face conversations. This allows me to avoid extensive email use. Even In some cases, fewer meetings are required and the meeting itself becomes more productive.

What do you think? What communication technique you are currently using? Do you like the idea of "braiding" your project team? Do you think the braiding technique could apply to other project management aspects?

Read more about project teams.
Read more from Jorge.

7 Essential Project Planning Documents

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Solid project planning is a prerequisite for project success. Poor planning, meanwhile, can lead to missed deadlines, budget overruns, poor quality deliverables, frustrated project teams and even project failure.

In my previous post, I offered five steps to assist in planning the project-planning phase. One of those steps involved preparing planning documents.

To foster a successful planning phase, here are seven planning documents I believe most project managers will find indispensable. This list certainly might vary depending on the project setup, project size, complexity and organizational planning guidelines.

1. Project management plan -- This is used as a reference index, encompassing all planning and project documents.

2. High-level project schedule plan -- This document captures high-level project phases and key milestones. It is the document most project stakeholders will see or want to see.

3. Project team planning -- This document provides a "who-is-doing-what" view of the project. This document fosters efficient project execution and effective project communication.

4. Scope plan -- The scope plan documents the project requirements, the agreed scope and the Requirements Traceability Matrix (RTM) summary.

5. Detailed project work plan -- This keeps track of the activities, work packages, resources, durations, costs, milestones, project's critical path, etc. It will be an essential document and work guideline for your core project team.

6. Quality assurance planning -- This document tracks the quality standards your project deliverables will have to align to. These may typically include product testing approach and tools, quality policies, quality checklists, deviations definitions, quality metrics, product defect severity grades, acceptance criteria, cost of poor quality, etc.

7. Risk planning -- This document contains the project risks and the related mitigation plans; as well as the project opportunities and the related exploiting plans. The importance of this document is one of the most underestimated in project planning. Be prepared to have a contingency plan in case something goes wrong or to take advantage of opportunities when they arise.

Start with this checklist when you sit down to plan for your next project-planning phase. Depending on your project's needs, fine tune the checklist and tailor it by adding and removing planning assets, determining the planning time frame, the underlying details and rigor.

Revisit this planning exercise, learn from it and enhance it, to continuously improve your project planning skills.

What project planning documents do you find indispensable?

See other posts from Marian.

How to Manage Key Stakeholder Expectations

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Successful projects meet or exceed key stakeholder expectations and requirements. How can this be done when working with the client, sponsor, senior management and users of the project's deliverables?

The need to effectively manage stakeholder expectations is a consistent theme in the PMBOK® Guide. This goes beyond the simple delivery of specified requirements -- it covers all aspects of a project's work and the manner in which it's accomplished.

The first element is to ensure the project's deliverables will actually meet the requirements of the project. Failure to do so means an unsuccessful project. Take the time to ask the right people the right questions -- after all, they expect your deliverables to work.

The next step in building success is to map the expectations of the key stakeholders. Do you really understand what they expect from the project?  

Accurately mapping expectations requires skillful listening and the ability to decipher what's meant, not just what's said. Don't be afraid to enlist senior management to ask questions on your behalf. As you begin to understand your stakeholders' expectations, they will fall into two groups: realistic and unrealistic.

Realistic expectations still need managing. Make sure you can fulfil them -- then make sure the stakeholder knows you are meeting them. Your communication plan must present the right information to the right stakeholder in the right manner.

Unrealistic expectations are more difficult to manage. They are unlikely to be met, and when you fail to achieve the "impossible," the project will be deemed a failure. Fortunately, expectations are not fixed, but exist in a person's mind and can be influenced or changed.

The key to shifting stakeholders' expectations is to provide new and better information.

Developing a communication strategy that brings the right information to the stakeholder's attention in a believable fashion is a subtle art. This is particularly tricky when advising upward with the goal of changing senior managers' expectations. (I'll write more on this in my next post.)

What challenges have you faced in managing key stakeholders' expectations? How have you found success in managing and meeting those expectations?

See more posts from Lynda.
See more posts on stakeholder management.

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