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November 2012 Archives

Denial in the Project Environment

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In the children's story, The Emperor's New Clothes, a vain emperor hires two people who promise to make him a new suit of clothes that will be invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position.

The emperor cannot see the clothing himself, but pretends he can so as not to appear unfit for his position. Instead of questioning or pointing out the truth, his subordinates do the same, choosing to consciously deny a truth, praising and congratulating the emperor.

In this story, the emperor's men displayed a common behavior -- denial -- that stems from the human need to protect oneself. I believe that this behavior exists in today's project environments, too.

Often in project environments, for example, there is frustration over meetings and discussions that fail to address or acknowledge the proverbial "elephant in the room."

These are the unproductive meetings that review irrelevancies, repetitive issues and problems, but never the actual root cause. Participants stay silent and indirectly endorse the status quo, but then proceed to gather in "safe" groups to discuss real problems and sentiments away from the ears of managers and leaders.

Failing to challenge, speak up or change a situation are all behaviors stemming from denial. Project professionals may choose to deny something out of fear of consequence or feeling embarrassed if deemed wrong. Sometimes it's out of self-preservation because it's easier to be a "yes" person than to challenge the status quo.

Behaviors stemming from denial can also result from over-optimism -- especially when it comes to risk identification. Overly optimistic people tend to deny anything is wrong or can go wrong. Denial can also cause negative consequences for individuals, teams and projects. If left unchecked, denial can become part of an organization's culture.

Project leaders must recognize and reform denial behaviors. Doing so can uncover deficiencies, eliminate blind spots and help an organization become more efficient and competitive. By removing the root causes for denial, individuals will align their interests and act in favor of the team, project and organization.

In my opinion, the best way to do this on your project team is to lead by example.

Set standards by being decisive in day-to-day management. Implement and insist on good, documented work processes. Listen and understand colleagues, and work with the differences and opinions. Individuals on the project team should know what is expected of them and be made to feel valued, secure and included.

Tell the truth about a situation, even if it is bad news. This encourages others reporting to you to do the same. Create a culture that encourages and rewards team members to flag issues and ask questions because problems that are visible stand a better chance of getting resolved.

Do you agree that denial behavior can be a problem in the project environment? How do you root out the negative effects of denial behavior?

Motivate Stakeholders on the Project Team

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When it comes to stakeholder management, many project managers forget to consider the project team members.

Every project manager and team leader wants to direct a team of motivated people. And many team leaders probably know that the most powerful forms of motivation -- autonomy, mastery and purpose -- center around self-actualization.

So as a project manager or team leader, it's up to you to facilitate these circumstances for each member of your project team. To do this, you need effective communication in three key areas:

1. Comprehension. Make sure the person assigned to a task understands the work and measures of success, and agrees he or she can achieve the desired outcome.

Asking the team member questions and listening to his or her suggestions on how to best accomplish the work helps develop the team member's sense of ownership associated with autonomy.

2. Acknowledgement. Everyone likes to feel they have accomplished something in their workday. Facilitating this feeling is part management -- minimizing interruptions and diversions -- and part communication.

Make sure a team member's progress is acknowledged on a regular basis and "accidentally" catch the person doing something right. You have to notice and rectify errors in performance. Balance this negativity by acknowledging positives. This is a daily process to keep the team motivated and focused.

3. Purpose. Change is inevitable in project management, and it's up to you to maintain a sense of purpose throughout a project's lifecycle. The challenge usually comes when you have to move a project team member to another role or change his or her objectives. This can be especially frustrating if the team member has developed a sense of purpose around his or her overall project objectives and work.

If you simply instruct people to change, you risk damaging or destroying motivation. Instead, communicate these four points:

  1. The problem with the current situation, and the consequences of not changing.
  2. The reason the proposed change has been preferred over the other available options.
  3.  The expected benefits from adopting the change.
  4. The contribution the person can make while achieving the new objective.
This approach doesn't have to be complex. For example, let's assume you need to move John from development to testing:

  1. John, we need your help in testing. Mary is out sick and the schedule is weeks behind. If we don't catch up, the whole project will be delayed.
  2. I'm asking you to help because you have more experience in testing than anyone else.
  3. With your skills in testing and your knowledge of the development, I'm sure we will be able to recover the lost time in testing with minimal disruption to the development effort.
  4. With good management all around, I'm hoping this change will prevent a delayed completion, but we need you to make this possible. Are you willing to help?
If John says yes, you have turned a motivated developer into a motivated tester.

Above all, communicating to motivate has to be authentic to be effective, and it need not require too much time and effort. Plus, the extra time spent motivating will be more than repaid in better team performance.

How do you keep stakeholders happy on your project team?

5 Things CEOs Must Know About Project Management

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Chief executive officers (CEOs) who want to prepare their organizations for the future must consider project management as the union of project portfolio management, program management and project management.

The confluence of these three functions can transform a CEO's businesses and enable delivering exceptional value to his or her customers.

Here are five things I think CEOs must know about project management that can help them realize its value:

1. Projects are for business growth and transformation.
Operations are for business as usual; projects are catalysts for growing and transforming business. Project management can deliver business value beyond the triple constraint -- and executive sponsorship from CEOs helps in getting more value with less money.

To realize this value, executives should:
Identify and prioritize the projects that align with business strategy.
  • Group and manage interrelated and interdependent projects to deliver expected benefits. 

  • Deliver each project on time, within budget and with the expected quality.

2. A Chief Projects Officer (CPO) should oversee projects across the board.

It's important to build agility within the project management system and implement the same throughout the organization. To do so, CEOs should introduce someone, likely a CPO, to oversee the implementation of project management throughout the organization.

The primary role of the CPO is to consistently innovate and standardize processes to ensure even distribution of project management excellence. He or she can also be responsible for building up 'best in class' project and program managers with required specializations. Finally, the CPO can check on the health of all projects and programs, in order to take corrective and preventive actions. 

3. Agile and lean are worth investing in.
Agile and lean project management approaches and techniques can facilitate project success because they address the changing demands of the business world.

CEOs must invest money to continuously improve these practices. And they should consider these approaches as assets to the organization's ability to deliver faster, better and more cost-effective projects. Lack of sponsorship from the CEO could result in organizations losing their edge and speed. 

4. Project management is more than a supporting player. 

In most organizations, project management processes are not considered as key to business success. CEOs must understand that project management is a core function.

Every function of an organization will have projects. There are projects for employee benefits, supply chain efficiency, customer acquisition, branding, alliances, mergers and acquisitions, strategy planning -- you get the idea. 

CEOs should prioritize ongoing development for project management processes, and leverage IT to build sophisticated supporting tools.

5.  Cultivate project management as a career track.
 CEOs must consider project management as a specialized competency rather than a generic competency.

CEOs can encourage this by introducing career tracks in the organization that will emphasize the skills required for successfully executing small-, mid- and large-size projects. Their support of this career path will cultivate consistent learning in the organization. CEOs should put an internal talent development program in place, too.

What else do you think a CEO should know about project management?

To Create, Learn to Borrow — and Other Lessons from PMI® PMO Symposium

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The 2012 PMI® PMO Symposium closed with a wake-up call on innovation, delivered by author and speaker Fredrik Härén.

People significantly overestimate their ability to create and innovate, he said. So much of what passes for "an idea" isn't really anything new, but rather a combination of things that already exist. In his equation, ideas arise when people combine new knowledge with information they already have.

Mr. Härén cited an Estonian innovator who created a combination urinal and sink that saved time, water and space. "If something 2,000 years old like a urinal can be improved," he said, "what else can we improve on?"

Yet while most people agree creativity is important in their jobs, Mr. Härén mentioned that only a tiny fraction say their organizations do enough to encourage it, especially at that combination stage.

Mr. Härén argued that Asia will driving creativity in the future. "They are better positioned to innovate because they live where the change is happening," he said.

There may be some truth to the idea of innovation being based on "stealing," but he reiterated the notion that all creation comes from copying some part of something existing. Instead of worrying about "copyrights," he said, worry about "copying right."

The final day of the symposium also featured Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat Greg Kenney discussing his organization's new plan for a principles-based, risk-sensitive, results-based management regime.

At the heart of the endeavor is an assessment designed to determine each department's project capacity and class. This, in turn, helps the Treasury Board determine the oversight level required on projects within each department.

By implementing these new assessments, the board can ensure resources are allocated with consideration to risk and strengthen the link between spending and results.
As in previous days, the symposium's last day included breakout sessions. In one, Carol Church, director of the PMO at CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield, discussed how her organization used project management software to save US$29 million a year. She also reminded attendees that PMOs can gain visibility and support across the organization by pitching themselves as a partner looking to help people succeed.

Though this symposium is done, stay tuned for details on next year's event when PMI is slated to reveal the results of  a seminal study on PMOs.

How Project Professionals Will Shape the Future PMO

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Executives need the project management office (PMO), according to speakers at the PMI® PMO Symposium. It's the primary enabler of change -- a powerful force in today's constantly shifting marketplace, said Terry Doerscher of BOT International, the featured speaker on Tuesday night. 

As a result, he argued that PMOs of the future would include all aspects of the business, not just projects and programs. 

And that could mean a whole new career path for project professionals with the right skills. "It's not a huge leap to go from a portfolio project manager to an executive project manager," he said.

But it's up to PMO leaders to take action to fulfill their vision.

"The best way to predict your future is to create it," said Greg Miller, vice president of the PMO at CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield, during a panel discussion on the strategic PMO.

Mark A. Langley, PMI president and CEO, moderated the panel, which also included Human Systems International Limited's Terry Cooke-Davies, PhD, and Microsoft's Bill Dow. 

Dr. Cooke-Davies asked attendees to remember that portfolio management is about aligning project and program costs with business value, and program management is about delivering strategy. When organizations forget those roles, though, PMOs become nothing but process police.

Mr. Miller outlined what PMOs need to show executives to be viewed as a strategic player:

  • The CEO wants to know the strategic plan.
  • The CFO wants transparency and the value proposition.
  • The CIO wants to know the IT spend on business needs.

Between the panel discussion and the featured speaker, attendees networked with peers and participated in breakout sessions.

At one of those sessions, Jim Furfari, PMP, of Colorado Springs Utilities, led a discussion on how to prioritize projects. At his organization, the process begins by checking the availability of resources. This prompted lively discussion, as many attendees suggested the availability of funds was a more appropriate place to start. "It makes no sense to prioritize projects that you don't have the resources to do," he explained.

In another breakout session, Joseph Sopko of Siemens, co-author of The Guide to Lean Enablers for Managing Engineering Programs, said lean principles make "good sense, but they're not common." These principles are often lost in complicated processes and with a "we've always done it this way" attitude.

Among the best lean practices he outlined were defining value to the program stakeholder and making imperfections visible while pursuing perfection at the same time.

Extraordinary, unprecedented change in the business world requires bold new thinking -- with project management offices (PMOs) helping lead the charge, according to opening day speakers at the PMI® PMO Symposium 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

High uncertainty and constant change is the new normal -- and it's here to stay, declared featured speaker Roch Parayre, PhD, teaching fellow at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. "We live in a world of high uncertainty."

Yet organizations still plan for the predictable -- and then are unprepared for what actually unfolds. Instead, organizations should stick with their core, but always have a "portfolio of micro-investments bubbling away on the back burner so you're ready for changes," he said.

Procter & Gamble, for example, may try out a new scent, but it won't roll it out to its megabrands until it's been proven on its secondary lines.

"Strategy is about balancing commitment with flexibility," said Dr. Parayre.

That delicate balance may require some painful decisions, however. PMOs must be willing to act like venture capitalists, absolutely ruthless about quickly getting rid of projects before they invest too much. "Our inability to kill things is probably the number-one barrier to adapting to change," he said. "Every organization should have a VP of killing stuff."

Dr. Parayre pointed to 3M, which actually honors its failed projects at a ceremony, with winners based on how much learning came from the failure.

For truly breakthrough projects and programs, organizations must have the "courage to try risky concepts" backed by a belief they will succeed, said keynote speaker Burt Rutan.

A pioneering force at Virgin Galactic, Mr. Rutan is also the man behind the legendary Voyager, the first aircraft to circle the globe nonstop without refueling, and SpaceshipOne, the world's first privately funded spacecraft.

Yet just pouring funding into a program doesn't ensure innovation. Teams must know that "confidence in nonsense is allowed" -- that they can try things that may not work.
Mr. Rutan also suggested:

  • Set a really difficult goal. "Half the people should think it's impossible."
  • Let the innovator decide what risks to take
  • Leave teams alone and let them have fun
  • Reward achievement of the goal
Innovation also requires inspiration. Mr. Rutan credits the courage of visionaries he was exposed to while growing up for pushing him toward new ways of thinking.

"It's not enough for kids to look forward to an iPhone with new features," he said. "We need to look forward to real adventure and real discovery."

And even in an understandably risk-averse business climate, Mr. Rutan said organizations can't just issue "flowery words" about innovation. "They won't have breakthroughs unless they're willing to take in-your-face risks," he said.

Organizations must be able to respond to market shifts -- and PMOs can be the enablers of that organizational agility, said opening speaker Mark A. Langley, PMI president and CEO.

"All strategic change happens through projects and programs," he said.

Yet despite wider adoption of PMOs, CEOs remain confused about projects and programs. PMO leaders must speak the language of business; instead of focusing on the activity, talk about the outcome.

Mr. Langley also called for new thinking on talent. There will be an average of 1.2 million project management positions open annually through 2016, according to the Anderson Economic Group. The result is a massive talent gap that will demand different approaches to talent management. And that should include a willingness to build the next generation of business leaders from the project portfolio management space.

Mr. Langley also announced a new seminal research project on PMOs, with the results to be revealed at next year's symposium.

Gain Executive Buy-In for Project Requirements

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No matter what industry you work in, chances are you've had to build a long list of specific requirements to help define project success and to identify project risks.

In many cases, you're required to align with your primary stakeholders on these requirements before you can move to the next project phase. These stakeholders are likely high-level executives who come from the sales or marketing side of business, or who are senior enough to have bypassed getting into the fundamentals of a project.

Whatever the case, you're now left with the challenge of presenting them with these requirements. If they don't agree or understand your direction, you can't proceed on the project.
If you're lucky, your stakeholders believe they hired you and your team because you're the experts. In this case, the presentation is more about showing them you've done the work and the next steps, instead of actually having to get their buy-in.
Conversely, you may find yourself in a situation where many of the requirements need to be discussed and debated among the stakeholders.

No matter which of these situations you're in, I've found that this three-step approach works best when presenting requirements to executives:
1. Divide the requirements into categories that will vary depending on the type of project. For example, if you're producing a software solution, your categories may be "security," "user interface," "connectivity," and "primary functionality."

2. When you have determined your categories, summarize the high-level direction being defined by each of the micro-requirements under each category.

If there is a particularly divisive requirement and you anticipate debate, you should pull that requirement out and highlight it with its own slide. For instance, if you have decided to develop using Java and this needs to be discussed, or specifically approved, make sure that item is highlighted.

3. For all categories of requirements, create a list of pros and cons for the recommendation, and provide justification for the choice the team made. For documentation purposes, I would also include a check box that indicates agreement or disagreement from the stakeholders.

Presenting detailed requirements to executives, especially in a limited time frame, is always a delicate operation. In my experience, following this approach will ultimately help you get the support you need to move forward in your project's next phase -- without risking a drawn-out approval process.

What techniques have you used successfully to gain executive-level buy-in on project requirements?

5 Overlooked Project Risks

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Experienced project managers frequently encounter common project risks, such as lack of available resources or slipped deliverable dates.

But what about those risks that people don't often think of? While often overlooked, these risks might be more real than you think and can often reveal other project challenges.

Here are five unusual, but real, risks that I've heard from project teams. If yours ever brings one up, don't be so quick to dismiss it.

1. Weather
The first phase of a software solution deployment targeted several cities with a generally temperate climate. The project team reported a risk of weather delays and asked for a two-week schedule contingency, which was greeted with laughter and objection by the steering committee. Sure enough, the deployment cities experienced their first snowstorm in decades, which resulted in delayed deployment--as predicted. Future deployment planning included a contingency for weather-related changes.

2. Video conferencing capacity
A project team presented a report showing it was behind schedule. Team members blamed a lack of robust video conferencing capability, which the steering committee responded to with shocked silence. After the meeting, the project manager discovered that the original project plan did not consider the risk of requiring frequent communications to coordinate development at multiple sites. Identifying it as problem not only fixed the issue, but it led to resolving additional communications issues.

3. Lack of project experience
One project team declared that its own project manager was a risk because he didn't have any experience leading projects. As a short-term solution, a senior team member was asked to assist the project manager. Examining this risk further revealed that there were several staffing challenges, including replacing the senior team member assisting the project manager. Had the project manager not been identified as a risk in the first place, they never would have recognized resourcing issues.

4. Vacations and holidays  
A project team with limited global deployment experience scheduled a European deployment milestone during the month of August. It later reported a risk of difficulties finding local resources to help with deployment due to vacations. After realizing that August is typically a vacation month for Europe, the steering committee not only approved a schedule change, but it also examined the vacations and holidays of the other countries on the deployment schedule. Based on this input, the project team adjusted the schedule and successfully achieved the remaining milestones.

5. Termites
One project team declared termites as a project schedule risk. After the steering committee brushed off the need for insecticide, the team shared that termites had chewed through the supports of a mobile office trailer. The damage caused the trailer to be declared unsafe and prompted an unscheduled office move. Moreover, the team members also revealed that they were working in separate mobile trailers, which hampered productivity. Thanks to the initial schedule impact, the project team was relocated to contiguous indoor office space and increased productivity.

Have you ever overlooked any risks? What were they?

How To Evaluate Lessons Learned

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A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) is useful both for navigating the fundamentals of project management and for evaluating lessons learned. It can help you determine if you focused on the right things in your project and where you could have improved.  

Consider each knowledge area of the PMBOK® Guide as you review your project. In the planning stage, for example, let's say you used brainstorming to develop your charter. Was the brainstorming effective? If so, what made it effective and if not, why wasn't it? Address these things in your lessons learned session.

Or, think about the risk management tools you used in your project. The PMBOK® Guide highlights such tools as 'The Probability and Impact Matrix' or the 'Data Quality Assessment.' If either was used during your project, in the lessons learned session you could analyze the ratio shown on certain risks or the integrity of the data.     

Here are three other ways you could apply the PMBOK® Guide principles to your meetings:

  • Check the knowledge areas as you plan your projects. After a project is completed, things will come to mind that you should have done differently. For example, let's say you accidentally omitted quality management from your planning. As you complete your lessons learned and check against the PMBOK® Guide knowledge areas, you might realize this omission. In your lessons learned, you can share that you should have selected the Pareto diagram, a histogram or high-low defect charts to identify problem areas in your project.
So even if it was not a knowledge area that you focused on during project planning and control, the PMBOK® Guide is still a good  reference to check your work against.

  • Refer to the PMBOK® Guide as a source of structure for your projects. Every project manager knows that projects can become chaotic. But if you relied on the PMBOK® Guide to control your project, then make that known in your lessons learned session. With the more positive outcomes from the project, you have a strong foundation and reasoning for structuring projects around the processes in the PMBOK® Guide. With the negative outcomes, you can know which areas to pay closer attention to next time.
  • Create lessons learned from using the PMBOK® Guide. When you're preparing lessons learned sessions, use the PMBOK® Guide to help create topics of discussion. Was there a tool or technique used in your project that could have been emphasized more as you managed a particular knowledge area?
For example, as you review estimating in your lessons learned, you could question whether the team should have relied on PERT (program evaluation and review technique) or the Monte Carlo technique.

Have you used the PMBOK® Guide for lessons learned? How?

What Are Your Project Management Career Goals?

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People with clear, written goals, accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could ever imagine.
- Brian Tracy, CEO of Bryan Tracy International, a leadership development firm

What are your career goals? Have you examined them recently? Do they still make sense given that you or your position may have changed since setting them? Do they still make sense given that the world around you has no doubt changed since you set them?

If you're having a hard time deciding what your career goals are, remember this: Every goal you choose should be based on how it will or will not contribute to your career success.

I learned from both my own career, and from having spoken to hundreds of people about theirs, that difficulties in setting career goals are almost invariably tied to not having a clear and internally derived definition of career success.

Some possible goals you might have, though you will certainly have others to add to this list, include:

•    Flexibility in your career
•    Self-employment
•    Employment (if unemployed or self-employed)
•    Greater or lesser responsibility
•    Better clientele
•    More fun projects
•    Promotion
•    Early retirement
•    Better work-life balance
•    Skills improvement
•    A credential or certification

Before you set your career goals, think about what constitutes success for you. Does this definition come from you or is it something you got from someone else? Have you documented this definition? Once you know your own definition of success, choosing goals becomes much easier.

In my opinion, if you want to achieve greater success in your project management career, these steps can help:

1.    Define and understand what success means to you personally
2.    Articulate it in writing
3.    Identify the goals that will move you closer to success
4.    Document your goals so as to activate your Reticular Activating System (RAS)
5.    Share them with your network so as to activate its RAS
6.    Make a plan to implement your goals
7.    Reevaluate your goals periodically
8.    Adjust them accordingly
9.    Go back to step one

In my next post, I'll give some pointers for what to do after you've identified your goals.

In the meantime, I would be interested to know what success means to you personally. Which goals would you add to my list of possibilities? Which goals have you  identified for yourself?

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