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February 2013 Archives

Breaking Down Barriers

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In this week's excerpt of "Women in Project Management," Beth Partleton gives a very honest answer to the question: "Will there ever be a day when we're not talking about women in project management as a separate topic?" She also provides advice on professional development opportunities as well as what women need to consider when considering a career in project management.

Are You Ready?

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Mark A. Langley, President and CEO of the Project Management Institute, asks "Are you ready?" to become a project leader? Do you have the skills that the executives in your organization are looking for? Do you know what those skills are? Can you connect what you do every day to your organization's business objectives? 

Introducing the Voices on Project Management Translation Series

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To reach a global audience or project professionals, Voices on Project Management presents a blog post every month translated into Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish and Simplified Chinese. 

This month features Conrado Morlan's post on building cultural awareness in project teams early in the process. Read it in your language of preference and share your thoughts on this new feature in the comments box below.


Video Series: Women in Project Management, Part Four

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Voices on Project Management presents a six-part interview with Beth Partleton, PMP, PMI Board of Directors, on "Women in Project Management."

In week four of "Women in Project Management," Beth looks at how men and women communicate, particularly at how their different communication styles impact team dynamics and decision-making. She offers usable insights into understanding dissimilar communications styles and how they impact behaviors within project teams.

Three Timeless Project Management Rules

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We all seem to have our own set of "durable" project management rules. We rely on them again and again to help guide us to a successful project outcome, regardless of the type of project, technology or environment. 

Years ago, I read Kelly's 14 Rules & Practices, which to me made sense for any project. 

Authored by Kelly Johnson, the founder of Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works® for Advanced Development Projects, the rules helped teams on pioneering aircraft projects produce innovative deliverables under budget and on schedule. 

I plucked three from this list and adapted them to apply to my project management career:
1. The number of people connected to the project must be aggressively restricted. For me, it has been quite common to have people seek a connection to a project, especially if it has had a high degree of executive visibility. Project managers who invest in aggressive stakeholder management -- that is, blocking non-essential roles -- have clearer communication in their projects and better-defined roles, which also helps new team members know their role relative to others on the team. 

2. There must be a minimum number of reports required, but important work must be recorded thoroughly. I have been on some projects where the effort put into status reporting almost exceeded the effort put into project activities. Too much in the way of project reporting is just as dangerous as too little. Based on the type of project, the most successful project managers focus on a small number of essential metrics (schedule, budget, milestone, deliverable variances, etc.) that are easily understood by both the project team and the stakeholders.  

3. There must be a monthly cost review covering not only what has been spent and committed, but also projected costs to the conclusion of the program. It is typical for project managers to host meetings to review prior project spend as future spend forecast. The crucial term in this rule is "what has been committed" to the project, both in terms of funding and resources. Many times, project managers fail to include funding and project resource commitments during a cost review.  

Even though I read them long ago, Johnson's rules still resonate today. This October marks the 70th anniversary of the 14 Rules & Practices. Talk about durability!

What are your "durable" project management rules?

Skunk Works and the 14 Rules & Practices references courtesy of Lockheed Martin.

The Basics: The 4 Phases of Negotiation

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Obvious but true: Project professionals must know how to negotiate. Whether they're dealing with customers, suppliers, contractors, colleagues or other departments, negotiating skills are crucial in pushing ideas through, securing finances or resources, and agreeing to contract terms. 

William Ury, co-founder of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard University, stresses that successful negotiations must generate efficiency, reach wise settlements and maintain good, or enhance, relationships between the negotiating parties.

There are four phases to the negotiation process. The first is preparation, when you acquire all the documentation, facts, data and information necessary to bring others into agreement. For example, when negotiating contract details with external contractors, a project manager must gather the number of project phases, breakdown of deliverables, milestones, time scales, resource requirements and expectations.

During preparation, it helps to look for win-win agreements that focus on shared interests. This opens the door to finding solutions and options that favor all parties. 

In case an agreement is not reached, you should also prepare a fall-back position before entering into bargaining. For example, when preparing for negotiation for a vital resource from another department, a good fall-back plan would include details on the following: 

  • A "best alternative to a negotiated agreement," such as outsourcing that activity or employing externally for that role. 
  • A "worst alternative to a negotiated agreement," which may include canceling or delaying an activity. 
  • A "walk away point or price." This is the point at which parties agree to step away from the issue to regroup later to consider the options — or end the negotiations because options are unacceptable. 
  • A "zone of possible agreement," where interests overlap with the other negotiating parties. For example, that could be an agreement to have the resource part-time, do a resource swap or take some responsibilities from the department.

The second stage is to exchange information and disclose necessary details with the other party. This aids efficiency and reduces frustration by ensuring relevant information is available to all and appropriate considerations are made prior to meeting. On a project, this information may include cultural or environmental considerations, company standards, rules and policies.

Bargaining is the third phase. It is at this stage that most of the interaction between parties takes place, and individuals display a range of different negotiation styles and tactics to make their case. It is during bargaining that the risk of unsuccessful or troublesome negotiations is highest, with increased potential for tempers and frustrations to flare.

To bargain successfully, focus on common interests and objectives at the start to clear any assumptions. 

You should also acknowledge your own triggers — the things others can say or do that make you react in a hostile or arrogant manner. If faced with a trigger, pause, ask questions so others can explain their point; listen, and then respond objectively and professionally.

It helps to bargain with the mindset that everyone is a problem solver, not an adversary. This paves the way for more questions, encouraging everyone to listen and collectively look for ways to agree. 

The final phase of negotiation is closure. Like in a project life cycle, this phase formally seals and binds the parties into the outcomes of the agreement.

What negotiation advice or practices do you recommend on a project?

Video Series: Women in Project Management, Part Three

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Voices on Project Management presents a six-part interview with Beth Partleton, PMP, PMI Board of Directors, on "Women in Project Management."

In week one, Beth shared her road to project management and how she has seen project management evolve from a male-dominated profession to an excellent career opportunity for both men and women. 

In week two, Beth shared the role mentors can play in a project manager's career and what lessons she learned from them about effective team interaction.  

In week three, Beth addresses the opportunities and challenges for women to take on leadership roles in project management. For example, did you know research indicates that more successful companies have at least one woman on their board of directors? In your organization, have you noticed an increase in women in leadership roles?

Why Ask "Why?" in Agile

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When we're first introduced to agile, we learn so many steps and procedures that it's easy to forget why they're useful. The exam to become a PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® asks questions on practices -- and it also does a good job of testing your knowledge of the value behind them.

Yet knowing the "why" behind a practice helps you keep close to the core values of agile when handling unforeseen situations.

1. We graph, but why? The concepts of big visible indicators or information radiators deliver two benefits: a self-organized team and risk reduction. Graphing helps the team react more quickly, since everyone sees the same data at once, rather than one leader looking at the data and then issuing decisions. 

When graphs illustrate the risk of falling behind, the team is able to take action. Whether you are using Scrum or Extreme Programming (XP), visible charts are crucial to understanding your rate of work. Remember that completing charts is as important as knowing how to interpret the message they present.  

2. We have a task board, but why? A task board shows a list of work in at least three columns: "To Do," "In Progress" and "Done." Some teams have paper notes, or the electronic equivalent, that march across the board as work progresses. But not every team asks the all-important question: "Are we juggling too much at the same time?" 

Visual task boards make it easier to see when things start falling behind. Don't just watch the tasks move across the task board. If a traffic jam develops in the middle of the board, ask why.

For example, lean and Kanban methods visually highlight the need to limit the work "in progress," or how many tasks your team is juggling. You can do the same amount of work, but focus and finish a few at a time. This improves your cycle time and surfaces any risks earlier.

3. We have a process coach, but why? In both Scrum and XP, there is a role on the team tasked with knowing the process and making it perform as advertised. In the case of Scrum, that is the Scrum master's job. In the case of XP, it's the coach's job. 

Process coaches are instrumental in fostering your team's ability to self-organize rather than relying on one leader to delegate work. If you have a coach on your team spending more time assigning work than mentoring others to use a process, then your team's ability to self-organize -- and foster nimble work and cross-functional roles -- suffers. 



4. We communicate openly, but why is this important? It's easy to avoid conflict and let disagreements stand, but agile relies on surfacing issues so they can be dealt with as early as possible. The social contract of the agile team must be "Bad news is good" and "We're all in it together." 

The only bad issue is one that doesn't get raised. If you communicate but don't mention controversial points, then you're veering from agile values -- and perhaps growing less agile for it.

What other agile values are important to you and your teams?

Learn more about developing your agile expertise in this PMI Career Central article. PMI members can access the PMI Agile Community of Practice to connect with other project professionals on the topic.

Project and Portfolio Managers: What's the Big Difference?

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Frequently, I hear stakeholders confuse "project managers" and "portfolio managers."  
The misunderstanding may stem from the fact that although portfolio managers may seem to be higher in the organizational hierarchy, it doesn't necessarily mean that they supervise project managers. Also adding to the confusion is that today's project managers have more business acumen than their predecessors to compete in a global economy. 
To determine the difference, remember one thing: Portfolio managers help translate an organization's business strategy into a portfolio of projects' benefits and results, which are delivered by project managers and their teams.
Therefore, the portfolio manager works in a synergic way with project managers to realize business objectives through projects. 
A portfolio manager has to answer three questions about every project:
1. Is it interesting? All projects have to create business value. Consequently, alignment between project deliverables and business strategy is essential. 
By answering if projects are interesting from the point of view of the organization, we are assuring that we have a portfolio aligned with the strategic plan.
2. Is it viable? It is common to have many interesting project possibilities. However, we may not be capable of carrying them out. 
Therefore, a portfolio manager must determine a project's viability. Do we have the resources? Do we have the technical skills?
3. Should we do it? We may end up with a list of projects that are interesting and viable, but we cannot execute all of them at once.
Portfolio managers use scoreboards and other methods such as the analytic hierarchy process to select and prioritize the best projects.
To answer these questions, portfolio managers analyze business cases, project proposals and viability studies. Once there is an approved project charter, a project manager takes over to drive the completion of the project on time and in budget and to ensure that the project stays aligned with the business strategy.  
By the end of the project, the project manager's performance depends on how well he or she planned and managed the project (time, cost, and scope and quality). That is, a successful project would have satisfied stakeholders by delivering what was promised according to the project plan. 
Considering the performance of a portfolio depends on achieving business objectives through projects, portfolio managers use other metrics to measure success. These include:

  • ROI
  • Percentage of projects aligned with strategic objectives
  • Investment targets met
  • Percentage of facilities and personnel used
  • Percentage of financial resource utilization
  • Business value realized
  • Percentage of customer/stakeholder satisfaction
  • Total variances to budget and schedule

Video Series: Women in Project Management, Part Two

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Voices on Project Management presents a six-part interview with Beth Partleton, PMP, PMI Board of Directors, on "Women in Project Management."

In week one, Beth shared her road to project management; her thoughts on the misconception that project management is a male-dominated profession; and the strides organizations have made in including women on project management teams as well as some candid observations on what still needs to be done.

In week two, Beth talks about the role that mentors can play in your career development and what she learned from them about effective team interaction.

The Making of "Life of Pi" and Program Management

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from R&H production team.jpg

"This film has its own fate, and it chooses me." Director Ang Lee said this not out of arrogance, but out of recognition he had been given a unique opportunity to make "Life of Pi" with people who could help him produce a film from Yann Martel's "unfilmable" novel.

Based on interviews, the production involved the most difficult demands you can place on filmmakers: children, water and animals. Previous directors had failed to see the film through due to artistic or budgetary problems.

Like the best program managers out there, Mr. Lee succeeded by combining two approaches: one creative (by incorporating pre-visualizations), the other pragmatic (by inspiring others in controlling costs).

To tackle the visual special effects, the director and the producers settled on Rhythm & Hues Studios. In the year leading up to actual production, Mr. Lee worked on pre-visualizations -- a storyboarding technique that emulates scenes with music, sound and stunts -- of the most difficult parts of the film and shared them with the studio. This allowed both the director and the studio's artists to plan how to best create the shots.
 
These pre-visualizations were like a feasibility study in program management. It enabled Mr. Lee to focus the studio on the development of special effects. Via this process, the different types of visual effects professionals -- from physical props people to computer modelers -- could be properly integrated into the film's production plan and schedule. Being able to see who was working on what helped the director bring to life the characters and events in the novel -- and ensure that it was done in a style that remained faithful to the novel's spiritual themes.

The second challenge was the budget. Mr. Lee's original budget was US$70 million -- cheap, considering the production's challenges. Mr. Lee had persuaded the producers to make most of the film in Taiwan, which dramatically reduced costs. But it was still a big-budget film, and as actual costs looked as though they might climb over estimates, production halted. Mr. Lee met with studio executives and showed them finished shots. Although the execs were impressed, they were also honest: Film production could only resume if Mr. Lee kept down the budget. He agreed.
 
Rhythm & Hue Studios' cooperation helped cut the costs, and Mr. Lee was grateful. He also knew the California, U.S.-based studio was trying to expand internationally -- and that the Taiwanese government was trying to attract investment to the creative industries. So as film production ended, he suggested a mutually beneficial deal between the studio and the government.
 
The result was the building of a new Rhythm & Hue Studios facility in Taiwan and the creation of in-studio training and internships, a partnership between the studio and a Taiwanese telecom company to provide cloud computing services for local creative industries, and an investment company for film production.
 
In the end, all stakeholders -- Fox Studios, Rhythm & Hues Studios, the Taiwanese government and Mr. Lee -- recognized the mutual benefits of working together. Key to this was Mr. Lee showing the professionalism we should expect from a program manager, and recognizing and then creatively combining benefits.

Do you think creativity combined with pragmatism can drive project success?

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