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August 2012 Archives

Guidelines to Plan and Facilitate a Brainstorming Session

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In a previous post, I referred to brainstorming as one of the most constructive and fruitful techniques to collect project requirements.

Brainstorming can be similarly effective and efficient when applied to solving challenges in a project. Project managers can gather the project team together and brainstorm for creative ways to address the issues.

In a brainstorming session, the project manager can take on the planner role, as well as the facilitator role.

As a planner, project managers might consider the following guidelines:

  1. Clearly outline the problem or the idea to be explored.
  2. Define basic ground rules, such as no criticizing, analyzing or judging ideas during the session. Criticism inhibits creativity. The ideas evaluation should be done at the end of the session.
  3. Depending on the complexity of the targeted problem or idea, plan the session with no more than five to 10 people. In a larger group, it's challenging for everyone to participate.
  4. When looking to develop new ideas or concepts, gather a mixed audience to gain a wider perspective. On the other hand, if looking to solve a problem, gather people from a focused or specialized group.
  5. Schedule sufficient time so that people won't feel constrained. Factor in time for breaks so that people can feel refreshed.
  6. Have someone capturing the generated ideas and the underlying notes. 
  7. Plan the logistics such as use of flip charts, pin boards, snacks, etc.
As a facilitator, project managers might consider the following best practices:

  1. Create a relaxed atmosphere that stimulates creativity.
  2. Start the session with an icebreaker, a warm-up exercise or something funny.
  3. Allow open brainstorming but keep the focus on the initial idea or problem.
  4. Encourage everyone to participate and ensure a fair participation from each attendee.
  5. Accept all ideas positively and appraise them equally.
  6. Encourage people to be constructive, as well as to build on people's ideas.
  7. Keep the session unstructured and unconstrained.
Do you use brainstorming on your projects? What is your experience and results?

Help Your Network Pay Attention to Your Career

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Our careers exist in the context of that intricate web of family, friends and colleagues that we call our network.

I've often drawn an analogy between that network, as an organism of sorts, and our own brains. For example, when our brains make more robust connections, our network of cells becomes "smarter." Likewise, we become more adept at things that we use our brain connections for and our network becomes more adept as we use the connections we've created.

In the same way that we as project professionals are bombarded by an overwhelming number of stimuli, so too is our professional network. And likewise, the network can only take notice of a very small number of things. The majority of what it encounters simply has to be ignored.

I previously wrote about how we can sensitize the part of our brains called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) to help us achieve career objectives. If the above the analogy holds up (and I think it does), we should be able to sensitize our network to help us advance our project management careers in the same way that we can sensitize our own minds.

Simply setting a goal mentally sensitizes the mind to events that can help us achieve that goal. Similarly, articulating a goal to our network, especially in writing, sensitizes our peers' minds, creating spots of sensitivity within the network. The network becomes sensitized and can attribute new meaning to the same stuff that has been happening all around it. All of a sudden, everything seems to become aligned to your purpose.

For example, if you tell your professional network that you are looking for job, it becomes something your peers are aware of. When they see an open project management position, rather than skip over it, they think of your job search.

As a participating member of this network, you can work with others to sensitize your mind to their purpose. You will pay attention to things that you otherwise would have ignored that will help you to help them achieve their career goals.

As I have often said, networking is a generous activity. When you give without thinking of getting, you will find that the network gives back more than what you put in. Don't doubt it! Not for a moment.

How have you benefitted from your network?

Executive Sponsorship: Benefits of Advising Upward

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The purpose of a project or program is to have its deliverables create value. But this value can only be realized if the new process or artifact 'delivered' by the project is actually used to achieve the intended improvements.

Executives have a central role in this process. There is a direct link between the decision to make an investment in a project and the need for the organization to make effective use of the deliverables to generate the intended benefits. In turn, this creates a valuable ROI.

According to PMI's 2012 Pulse of the Profession, in organizations where senior management has at least a moderate understanding of project and program management, 59 percent of the projects successfully meet or exceed the anticipated ROI. This is compared to just 51 percent of the projects in organizations where the senior management has a limited comprehension of project and program management.

This is where a project sponsor comes in.

An effective sponsor is the direct link between the executive and the project or program. The sponsor is crucial to ensuring top-level management support for the project contributes to the project's success and is critical to achieving the ultimate goal of generating an ROI.

According to Pulse, 75 percent of high-performing organizations have active sponsors on 80 percent or more of their projects.

If your project has an effective sponsor, make full use of his or her support. The challenge facing the rest of us is persuading less effective sponsors to improve their level of support.

To impart project knowledge into other areas of the business, the team needs to be able to 'advise upward.' Here are three tips to do so:

1. Create a conversation about value with other project managers and teams within your organization. This is a very different proposition to being simply on time, scope and budget. It's about the ultimate value to the organization created by using the outputs from its projects and programs. The key phrase is "How we can help make our organization better?"

2. Use the right evidence. Benchmarking your organization against its competitors is a good start, as is understanding what high-performing organizations do.
 
3. Link the information you bring into the conversation with the needs of the organization. Show your organization's executive how this can provide direct benefits.

In most parts of the world, organizations need to do more with less to stay competitive. Developing the skills of project sponsors so they are active is one proven way to achieve a significant improvement with minimal cost.

In fact, if projects are supported more effectively, there may be cost savings and increased value at the same time. And what's in it for us as project managers? We have a much-improved working environment. Everyone wins.

Do you have an active sponsor on your project? Do you think active sponsors improve project success? How involved are the executives in your organization?

To discuss Pulse of the Profession on Twitter, please use #pmipulse.

See more on the Pulse of the Profession.

Managing Multicultural Teams

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In my first post ever, I talked about how the "multi" factor plays an important role in projects and how project managers must be prepared to address team issues related to this phenomenon.

As project managers in a global environment, we are now more often expected to lead multi-regional projects. This adds the element of different cultures -- both national and organizational -- that adds can add complexity to projects.

Perhaps your experience is similar to mine when working with project teams in a global environment. My multicultural project team consists of senior stakeholders, a deployment team and a technical support team. All team members have varying experience in the organization, but also can come from very different cultural backgrounds.

There can be a struggle when starting a project in a culture that you are not familiar with. How do you bring everyone together to share a common vision and commitment on the project delivery? I have learned that I need to develop strong cultural competencies to manage a multicultural project team effectively and to establish connections with the team members.

I like to use three tactics when on-boarding a new team member from a different culture:

1. Explain the purpose and benefits of the project to help establish the bond between the team member and the project objectives. Stress the importance of his or her role and how his or her local experience and knowledge will benefit the project.  

2. Discuss any concerns that the team member may have, such as with language or customs. This can also help break the ice and show that you understand how difficult cross-cultural relationships can be.  

3. Emphasize what is important to you, whether it's work ethic or communication methods, and why it's important. Don't assume that all of your expectations are globally understood.

When I manage a project abroad, one of my preferred ways to build cultural awareness is by spending time visiting popular spots where the locals meet. For example, at restaurants, coffee shops, sporting events and shopping centers, you can observe customs, traditions and behaviors.

Your observations in those settings can help to answer your questions about the culture. But it's just not observation that will help you.  People are very proud of their cultures and customs and are often keen to help you understand them. This supports the need to build a rapport with your team, whilst also building your awareness.

It's also important to understand your own culture's norms and behaviors. That knowledge helps guard against interpreting another culture's behaviors in terms of your own unexamined expectations.

As a global project manager, how do you manage a multicultural team?  

The Role of Executives in a Lessons Learned Session

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In a lessons learned or project review session, your attendees will usually provide feedback freely. Hopefully, they know the purpose of these sessions and their roles in it.

But what about when your sponsor or upper management is present? What are their roles?
 
Rather than shelter upper management from lessons learned, consider their value in these sessions. Don't have upper management viewed as attendees who just want to hear the rehash of problems that the team doesn't want to relive anyway. Nor should you have upper management included to be a part of the blame game.

Ask your sponsor and upper management to be open minded and supportive advocates in receiving feedback toward improvement.
 
Here are three ways to get upper management to engage:

Talk: You, the project manager, must engage upper management in the discussion. Review the timeline and other milestones that took place on the project. Upper management could talk about how the goals of the project and the team's successes intertwined with the strategic goals of the company.  The team would appreciate this perspective on the significance of their activities.

Listen: While some discussion points may not be pleasant for upper management to hear, their presence assures a level of impartiality to the team. Knowing someone from "up top" is listening reinforces the team's drive to be a part of a high-performing group. Getting to more favorable end results in future projects would become even more desirable for the team.

Share: Have your sponsor share comments about the purpose of the project and its greater use to the organization, the end users and the community. Have them elaborate on processes. Ensure early on that they recognize processes mentioned in the discussion that could be rewritten or are no longer necessary. This sharing will foster bonding with the team.
 
How do you involve your sponsors and upper management in lessons learned sessions?

The Strategic Role of Project Management

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I have a bit of resentment for organizations that view the role of a project manager as that of a 'traffic cop.' That is, as someone who simply ensures that requirements are documented, meetings facilitated, conference call numbers set up and everyone has their assignments in on time.

To be sure, these are all important facets of a project. But I believe that any qualified project manager should be performing these actions as a reflex. In other words, this is not the primary role of a project manager but simply the basic administrative tasks of a much bigger role.

That's why I was pleased to see the results of PMI's 2012 Pulse of the Profession report. Among many interesting findings, this observation hit home:

Research conducted with senior project management leaders on PMI's Global Executive Council found that the most important skill for managing today's complex projects and programs is the ability to align the team to the vision of the project and design the project's organizational structure to align people and project objectives.

This is the key to the future growth and a value-add of project management in today's organizations. If your company is not positioning project managers to help define, communicate and drive the strategic vision and goals of the projects project managers are responsible for, it is under-utilizing their resources.

Project managers should not view themselves as simply the administrative support team for a group of subject matter experts and executives. They should take ownership of the overall success of the projects they run. This goes well beyond meeting the key performance indicators that have been set out for them. It also includes recognizing and providing the strategic value of the project to the organization.

Beyond understanding the fundamentals of project management as laid out by A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), you should also take the initiative to know your business and the industry in which you work. This way, you not only recognize the obvious success indicators but also the more subtle success factors -- and risks -- of the decisions you and your team make.

Take heart, Project Managers. It appears our true value-add is finally starting to be recognized. But also take heed: You must up your game to ensure you remain valuable in today's project management field.

How can project managers help align projects to organizational goals?

To discuss Pulse of the Profession on Twitter, please use #pmipulse.



See more on the Pulse of the Profession.

Selecting a Protégé From Your Project Team

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It is always good to groom talent internally to fill vacant positions in the company. It saves cost, effort and time -- all the important aspects of a successful project. 

I like to think of grooming a project team member as another project.

To ensure that 'project' is successful, a project manager should look for possible candidates that match certain characteristics. In my opinion, the following are among the characteristics a manager should look for in potential project managers (in no particular order):

1. Friendliness

A project manager must be able to communicate effectively. Friendliness is a good trait to have because more often than not, a friendly person is able to get information from the least communicative person.

2. Willingness to learn

Learning happens all the time in managing projects. Even the most seasoned project managers still learn something new from each new project.

3. Vision

A project manager must be focused in seeing a project through until it is completed -- or halted. He or she must have a clear vision to be able to steer the project team to fulfill the project goals.

4. Organized 

And this doesn't mean the project manager's workstation. The information that the project manager shares must be organized and structured to ensure clarity and understanding to the recipients.

5. Diplomatic

In a project, conflicts will arise -- even from something as minor as a missing network cable, for example. A project manager must be able to act objectively, as a mediator and be able see the whole picture.

6. Firm

When making decisions or providing direction, a project manager needs to be firm. Not every decision will be popular. Resistance may occur, but the project manager must stick to her or his ground.

This, by no means, is an exhaustive list of characteristics that a project management protégé must have. But I do believe these are the fundamental criteria that a project manager should possess to be effective and successful.

What criteria do you look for in a project team member when grooming him or her to be a project manager? What other characteristics do you feel are important for someone who wants to be a project manager? 


Create a Project Plan to Reach Success

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In project management, if basic technical knowledge is lacking, or the basics are ignored or underestimated, a project's success is not guaranteed.

On the contrary, mastering the project management basics is a prerequisite for project success.

PMI's 2012 Pulse of the Profession revealed that organizations that use basic, standardized project management practices have a 71 percent success rate, compared to the average success rate of 64 percent.

One of these basic pillar practices is taking the time to create a realistic implementation plan. But how do we build a comprehensive, yet realistic project implementation plan? Here are a few tips:

1. Start the project plan while keeping the final objective in focus. Write down and highlight why the project is being conducted and what the project objectives are.

2. Make sure that the project's requirements and overall project scope are clearly captured, along with the project deliverables and the given constraints.
 
3. Implement a well-defined change management process, agreed upon by all stakeholders. The Pulse report revealed that of the projects that used change management, 71 percent were successful.

4. Document the estimated project costs, the funding approach, how the actual costs will be monitored and how cost deviations will be handled.

5. Plan how project communication will be managed. Who are the project stakeholders? What are their project roles and responsibilities and how can they influence the project?

6. Do not underestimate the risks the project can encounter. The Pulse also showed that 72 percent of successful projects used risk management. Assess and document risks throughout the project and plan for mitigation and contingency approaches.
 
What role does project management basics and the project plan play on your projects?

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7 Project Management Trends to Watch

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Each year, there are new trends in project management. I wanted to weigh in with a few of my thoughts on what they might be this decade.

1. Beyond the triple constraint 

Organizations have been looking to have a good mix of project, program and portfolio managers. Organizations should re-design and build project management systems thinking beyond the triple constraint.

The combined power of project portfolio, program and project management enables delivering business results not limited to the triple constraint.
For example, if a project was delivered on time, within budget and with required quality, but the project outcome doesn't provide expected value, then in my opinion, the project should not be considered successful.

As such, it behooves project managers to expand his or her career growth to acquire new skills and experience in the areas of program management and portfolio management.

2. SMAC project management
Due to the emergence of new projects in the social, mobile, analytics and cloud (SMAC), organizations must make sure their project management approach includes new or refined project lifecycles, templates, checklists, best practices, lessons learned, estimation techniques, risk registers, etc.

Organizations must train project managers to prepare them for managing these SMAC projects by educating them on these trends and how (or if) they will affect them.


3. More projects, different business functions 

Projects will start to be identified in different business functions where they might not exist very often, such as sales, marketing, alliances, human resources, etc. Marketing managers, sales managers, HR managers, finance managers and the like have to acquire project management skills to deliver better results in their respective functions.
 
Organizations should refine their project management strategy to include project lifecycles for all projects and training for all managers. Project Management Centers of Excellence (COE) have to focus on creating special learning assets to train managers on project management in other functions.
 

4. 'Project-ized' education 

In academics, course curriculums will be increasingly 'project-ized.' An engineering course, for example, could have more than 40 projects in the span of four years. Implementing those projects will enable students to learn through multiple and cross-discipline subjects. Students could look back on all of the projects in those years as a "project portfolio."
 

5. Every employee is a project manager

Project management means having a mindset of systematic planning, execution, monitoring, controlling and closure. Every task should be considered as a tiny project.

For example, writing a software code as part of a larger IT project should be considered a tiny project. Project management principles will be applied to successfully deliver the code on time and with high quality.

Creating this mindset across an organization requires cultural change. In many organizations currently, only a few people focus on project management. With the practice of considering every task as a tiny project, the need to have 'self project management' becomes prominent.

The best way to train employees to think like project managers is through on-the-job training. Teach employees to create mini-work breakdown structures, mini-schedule, self-reviews and corrective actions.


6. Project entrepreneurship 

Project entrepreneurship means project managers must develop an "entrepreneurial" mindset. This enables project managers to take on risks, foster innovation and focus on business value rather just looking at the traditional triple constraints.


7. Program management offices (PMOs) as profit centers

PMOs will be transformed from cost centers to profit centers. PMOs will build very high-end consulting skills and offer services to business units on a profit basis. PMOs will focus on an 'outside-in' perspective and move away from an 'inside-out' perspective. PMO drivers will be around customers, markets and the economy, and not just limited to internal efficiencies
.

This means that project managers have to understand the outside-in perspective. They have to focus on outcome and the value to be delivered to customers.
 

Organizational Views of Agile Maturity

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The desire for organizational agility is on the rise, according to PMI's 2012 Pulse of the Profession.

The survey found that more than 25 percent of respondents now use agile project techniques frequently, and that number is likely to keep moving up. The survey also found that in successful organizations, 68 percent of projects meeting original goals and business intent often used agile project management.

But how does agile apply not just to teams but to organizations as a whole?

When an agile adoption is new, the focus is on training. When teams have been trained, shift your emphasis to fostering a community of agile practice in your organization. As agile matures, the metrics will expand beyond how many people use agile. The metrics will start to verify that agile benefits are beginning to be realized.

These tips can help an organization assess the strengths and deficiencies of its agile teams:

1. Instead of asking about one team's remaining work at the end of an iteration, look at the amount for unfinished work for all teams in your organization. This can tell you who needs more coaching.

Graph the remaining work for each team every two weeks, for example. Can you see which teams need more help? Can you find the average slope for both successful and unsuccessful iterations? Ideally, we start at 100 percent work planned on day one, reach 50 percent in the middle and have 0 percent left at the end of the iteration.

2. Determine if all of your project teams are adding requirements. This can tell you if you are implementing the letter of agile, but not the intent. Strong agile teams will capture some competitive advantage of timely requirements, but will control scope change to not lose focus.

3. Get a pulse on impediments and retrospective actions for all teams.
This can tell you if teams are implementing continuous improvement and facing risks head on.

Asking these questions at an organizational level may not be natural at first. But when encouraged, it can reveal a new perspective on which teams are actually leveraging agile as they mature on their path to adoption.

What are your thoughts on organizational agility?

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