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A Tale of Wisdom and Wealth

A couple of years ago I came across the bestselling book “The Instant Millionaire:  A Tale of Wisdom and Wealth” by Mark Fisher.  I openly admit that when I first heard about this book the title itself was most appealing.  Reading the subtitle, it confirmed my interest.  And it was a good buy.  No, it was an excellent purchase.

This book is not primarily about how you can optimize your financial situation.  You can certainly read it from this perspective.  But you may miss the most important element, the core of the book.  The book is a tale of wisdom and wealth.  It is about pursuing your goals in life.  And it is about having the right attitude towards yourself, your goals and your environment.

Let me share some  quotes which give you a better idea about the thrust of the content:

  • Be expansive and positive in your thoughts
  • Never lose happiness
  • Be courageous enough to act immediately
  • Don’t lose your perspective
  • Be precise in your desires
  • Don’t fight against your problems. The clouds will disappear

Now compare these insights to, say, a project you are about to set up, manage, rescue or re-align.  What you need to start is a vision. You need to have a direction or else the project will not take off into the right direction. Spend the necessary time to build this vision – with your team.  Share your excitement, talk about the challenges you have identified and how you can master them, be precise in what you want to achieve.  And – never lose happiness, i.e., enjoy the process, have fun.

This book is excellent from many perspectives.  I highly recommend it.

Posted in: Book Recommendations, Project Management

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A fool with a tool is still a fool

A Fool with a Tool is Still a Fool: Overcoming Possible Pitfalls of Introducing Collaboration Tools” – This is the title of my lecture at the PMI Global Congress North America in Washington, DC this coming October.

Collaboration is and always has been a central factor for project success.  In times of international projects and virtual team environments collaboration is more important than ever.  Technology can help overcome geographical boundaries to active collaboration.  Indeed, technology has become an enabler of communication and collaboration.  And yet collaboration is not about technology.  It is about people and human interactions.  Technology can enable, facilitate and promote collaboration.  Provided we are aware of the limitations and possible pitfalls of introducing collaboration tools.  The lecture identifies possible pitfalls.  And it lays out a roadmap how to overcome them and successfully introduce collaboration tools – without becoming slaves of our own collaboration tools.

The paper of my presentation will be available shortly.  Stay tuned.

Posted in: PMI Global Congress, Washington 10'10, Project Management

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Project Success: It’s more than just delivering project results

This is not new to experienced project managers:  project success is more than just the delivery of the project results.   There are a number of factors that need to be taken into consideration:

  1. time:  was the project delivered on time, i.e., as planned?
  2. budget:  was the project budget sufficient or did the project run out of money?
  3. project objectives met:  of course, we have to look at project objectives and if they were met.  This assumes that there were project objectives in the first place.  The question is whether or not these objectives were SMART, that is, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-boxed.  If a project has SMART project objectives chances for mutual agreement and support are much greater compared to vague objectives statements.
    Quite a few projects I reviewed in the past had project objectives which fell way short of this key requirement.  Fact is, if you start a project without clear objectives you have a lot of room for interpretation.  Makes you wonder if some people are doing this on purpose.
  4. project vision:  Yes, vision.  The project vision sets the overall direction of the project.  For example, a project objective may be to integrate a certain CRM software application within a given time frame.  The project vision on the other hand is to improve overall customer service.  The software is a means to achieve this vision.
  5. project life:  this is the path between vision and results.  It answers the question how to get from your vision to project results.  It includes the following aspects:
    1. collaboration / teamwork:  a project is not about the individual project manager; it is about the team who is doing the work.  Collaboration goes beyond the core project team and extends to the key stakeholders of a project.  A project manager who claims project success for him- or herself lacks the understanding of the heart and soul of a project:  the team.
    2. performance on the individual and team level
    3. learning & innovation & flexibility to adjust to a changing environment and make the most out of it
    I am claiming that if your project has or had significant deficits in any of these three areas your project is either not aligned for project success or has already failed

Now, if you disagree with these points and believe that project results are THE most important aspect, i.e., more important than the path to delivery, you may ask yourself if you mistake a project with a product.
For example, all renown professional project management journals consider the German project “Toll Collect” as one of the best examples for project failure.  The end product on the other side is working today and the public tends to forget the chaotic project management.
There is nothing wrong with a good product.  Take the Opera House in Sydney, claimed as the 8th Wonder of the World.  But do you know that the project of building the opera house was a complete mess?!  It was over budget, way overdue, involved parties argued for years, and the list goes on.

What do you care for more?  A project or a product.  Make up your mind.  If you choose “product”, think twice before you take on the next assignment of project manager unless you understand what project success entails.  Just because you are a product expert doesn’t automatically make you a good project manager.

Posted in: Project Management, Uncategorized

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Out on a limb? Working for difficult clients – Cont’d

Dear Friends,

I still owe you a response to the question what I ended up doing in the situation described in my previous post.

Recall, the question I posed was, “What experience do you have advising clients which on the one hand asks you to stay on the project but on the other hand boycotts your well-intentioned efforts by every means available?

The options I faced were the following …

a) walk away from the project,

b) swallow, keep your head down, continue business as usual as long as your bill is being paid,

c) identify new avenues to convince the PM of the value of your best practice approach which is already customized to the client’s special needs,

d) …?

Your feedback turned out to be a great help.  There were two things which convinced me what the right thing to do was and is:  (1) It is about integrity and (2) it is about reputation.

(1) It is about integrity:
I was and I am not willing to compromise my integrity.  Ever.  With respect to my role in quality management this meant that I could not do anything which would jeopardize or contradict the quality standards I helped establish for the project.  Furthermore, I think it is false and not acceptable to please your client, for example, by reporting to him only the good things happening in the project while belittling issues and risks.

(2) It is about reputation:
Walking away from a difficult client certainly will affect my reputation as a consultant and coach.  The client would remember me as the consultant who left the project 5 minutes till high noon.  How wonderful!  This is certainly not the reputation I am after.  Instead, why run away from a challenge?!  The right and professional mature thing to do is to continue working with and for the client solving the issues in the project.  If the client threw me out because it did not like what I recommended I can live with this outcome.  For, there would be enough people in the client’s organization who knew what was going on in the project.  That chance that the client organization may come back to me for future consulting engagements is much greater because people remembered the difficult project situation, the role and behavior of the project manager and my own.

To make a long story short, I think that choice c) identify new avenues to convince the PM of the value of your best practice approach which is already customized to the client’s special needs was and is the best choice.
And this is what I did.

Posted in: Leadership, Miscellaneous, Project Management, Uncategorized

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Agile SAP Integration

Yes, agile and SAP.  It may not fit together at first sight but is it possible?  Why not!?

I posted this question on the PMIAGILE yahoogroup a couple of weeks ago.  Today I have finally received a response.  I was pointed to a presentation at the AGILE 2007 conference.

Janice Aston, Project Manager at Canadian Pacific, and Gerard Meszaros, Agile Coach at clearStream Consulting, came up the with the following conclusion (quoting slide 36 of their presentation):

  • ERP is a classic Agile-Hostile environment
    – And has it’s own, extra challenges
  • Agile development assumes a bunch of stuff
    – Many assumptions are implicit
    – we don’t realize we make them!
    – Many assumptions violated in SAP reality
  • Proprietary Toolset is Very Limiting
    – Can work around technology limitations
    – but impacts productivity …
  • PEOPLE matter most
    – You can teach an old dog new tricks; it just takes longer!
  • Can deliver a superior product using Agile
    – Even in SAP!

Now, this proves that AGILE and SAP can go hand in hand.

If you have made similar experiences, let me know and please share your stories and insights.

Posted in: Keynotes, Project Management

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Compromising in ailing projects – or – the acceptance of mediocrity

We are being taught that compromising is a good thing, rather than fighting for one position over another.  But is this always true?  I claim that in a situation of an ailing project, compromising paves the way to mediocrity if not even doom.
Take the following project example:  The scope and the project deadline were in a constant flux ever since project initiation.  The project consisted of several sub-projects which were mostly managed by subject matter experts, i.e., functional managers whom were asked to serve as project managers on a part-time basis.  As it happens to be the case, one of these sub-project managers was notoriously under-performing ever since the inception of the project.  A practitioner in his field of expertise for decades he was new to the realm not only of project management but to the project world per se.  Very soon it became evident that this fellow was overwhelmed by the assigned job.  Everyone was aware of it, including the project manager.  Still, nothing happened.  Finally, 5 months into this 8 month project the situation was escalated to the line manager.  To no avail; nothing changed.  Instead, 2 externals were added to this sub-project to conduct field work which, too, was behind schedule but not the source of the problem.  This way at least it was claimed that the sub-project manager received external support.  What a compromise!  The right thing to do would have been to either help the sub-project manager 5 months earlier or, if nothing changed after a few weeks, replace him (see my blog post on sacking a team member).  Bottom line: the sub-project continued to be behind schedule, deteriorated overall delivery quality, caused costs to increase, team morale to suffer.  Yes, the project was finished eventually.  But for what price!?

Lesson learned:  If you are dealing with an ailing project, follow a clear-cut strategy of re-aligning the project; regardless if you choose a top-down or bottom-up approach.  This is not the time to make compromises but to act.  You, as the project or recovery leader, have to follow through, lead the pack, set the direction. Personally, I believe it is best if you can still involve the whole team re-aligning a project.  However, there are times when the team has been or still is the main source of the problem.  In this case, follow a top-down approach.

At this point I like to quote Michele Sliger, “While continuing to grow, the state of agile adoption seems to be plucked straight out of an Ayn Rand novel, where the acceptance of mediocrity has infected the masses like a plague. Half-hearted adoptions have led to half-hearted results (as in “we suck less”) that in turn are leaving these organizations straddling a tipping point from which they more often than not slide backwards, rather than making the push over the top to high performance and exponential growth in ROI.

In short, if you want to leave the path of mediocrity and enter the way to performance and excellence, you have to act. Compromising is not the answer to problems.
Leadership requires courage and action, not compromises.

Posted in: Leadership, Project Management

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Book recommendations on Introduction to Project Management

There are countless books on project management available these days.   How do you pick the right one to start with?  At the end of the day it is your call.  Still, I can recommend the following books:

Eric Verzuh:  The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management

The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management is designed as an advanced textbook for businesspeople with a grasp of the basics and insufficient time (or inclination) to go back to school to learn more. […] this is not a heavy academic text.

Gregory T. Haugan:  Project Management Fundamentals:  Key Concepts and Methodology

Project Management Fundamentals takes the mystery out of project management through a step-by-step, detailed approach. Filled with practical examples of project management methodology, tools, and techniques, this book will help you manage projects successfully, no matter the size or complexity.

Gregory T. Haugan:  Project Planning and Scheduling

This is the only book that makes all planning methods and tools available to project managers at all levels easy to understand … and use. Instead of applying techniques piecemeal, you’ll take a cohesive, step-by-step approach to improve strategic and operational planning and scheduling throughout the organization. You’ll master advanced scheduling techniques and tools such as strategic planning models and critical chain and enterprise project management. Includes time-and-error-saving checklists.

You could supplement it with Greg’s latest book, Work Breakdown Structures for Projects, Programs, and Enterprises.

Kathy Schwalbe:  Introduction to Project Management, 2nd Edition

Best-selling author Kathy Schwalbe’s Introduction to Project Management offers a general yet concise introduction to project management. This book provides up-to- date information on how good project, program, and portfolio management can help you achieve organizational success. It includes over 50 samples of tools and techniques applied to one large project, and is suitable for all majors, including business, engineering, healthcare, and more. This text uses a chronological approach to project management, with detailed explanations and examples for initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing projects.

Neal Whitten: Neal Whitten’s No-Nonsense Advice for Successful Projects

If you have already have experience in project management, this is a must-have book.  Whitten takes on common questions from everyday project management and shares his insights.  It is right on the money.  I highly recommend this book.

Timothy J. Kloppenborg, Arthur Shriberg, Jayashree Venkatraman:  Project Leadership

Yes, there is a difference between project management and project leadership.  If you want to know what it takes to become a project leader, have a look at this book.

Posted in: Book Recommendations, Project Management

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Team-Building as a Means to Re-Align a Project

The next PMI Global Congress EMEA held in Amsterdam May 18-20, 2009 is approaching.  This year I will be conducting two 3-hour workshops on project recovery.  The workshop is entitled, “Yes We Can: Team-Building as a Means to Re-Align a Project.”
Project recovery missions are probably one of the most difficult challenges a project manager may face. Alone a project manager cannot handle such a situation. It takes a team to do so. The workshop will show why and how team building can be an effective and efficient mean to re-align projects gone astray.

The presentation can be downloaded from my website.

Posted in: Leadership, PMI Congress, Amsterdam 05'09, Project Management

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Lack of Project Leadership: Asking for Multiple Project Plans for a Single Project

It may sound like a simple, maybe even simplistic question: how many project plans should you have for your project? Well, “one, of course”, you may answer. And you are right. 1 project -> 1 project plan. This is simple and basic project management knowledge.

Why is it then that ever so again I am stumbling over projects which are “led” by a PM who explicitly demands its project office to create and maintain more than one plan. Even better, asking the project office not to communicate any of them until further notice. What’s wrong in this picture? Several things:

  1. First of all, the project manager should be the master of the project plan. The minimum requirement is that he/she knows the project plan inside out. The PM may want to delegate updating the project plan to the project office if there is one. Still, the PM remains accountable for the accuracy and coherence of the project plan.
  2. Second, having more than one plan in place indicates that the scope is nearly clearly understood nor defined. Oops. So what exactly is the project objective? Could very well be that the PM thinks to know the answer to this question. But why does he/she need more than one project plan? Good question.
  3. Third, withholding vital information from the own project team and key stakeholders looms trouble. Trust is important. It has to be earned. And, trust is important if you want to successfully manage a project because you need a functioning project team you can trust and vice versa. The same applies to stakeholders. You need to know who the key stakeholders are and you need to manage, or shall we say “pamper”, them constantly. Withholding information is definitely the wrong strategy and achieves the opposite of project success.

What can you do in such a situation?

  1. You as the responsible and accountable PM need to revisit the scope of the project. Does the complete project team and stakeholders have the same understanding of the scope? And the timeline? If not, realign stakeholders’ expectations. Have a look at the presentation I gave at the PMI Global Congress North America 2008 in Denver (for the corresponding article click here) for ideas how to proceed.
  2. Review your project plans, identify the one which is meeting the minimum requirements. Communicate the plan to everyone involved, i.e., everyone should have at least read-only access. This includes the key stakeholders. Get rid of the others.
    OR …  if you find out that you do need 2 project plans, face it:  you are probably dealing with 2 separate projects.  In this case, set up the organization accordingly.  This means, 2 projects, 2 project plans, 2 status reports, etc.
  3. It is ok to prevent the plan from being messed up by more than yourself and the project office. Hence, save it with a password to edit.
  4. Trust has to be earned. Practicing open communication is critical. If you know a problem and risk as well as the mitigation, communicate it. If you don’t know what to do, ask. If you don’t, you will be hold accountable for not solving it, and, you are becoming the problem.
  5. The scenario described above indicates that this may not be the only issue. You may seriously consider conducting a formal project review by a third, neutral person who is competent of project management. Calling for a project audit does not mean that you cannot do your job. It means that you are asking for professional help. This may help save the project. In addition, it is an excellent learning opportunity (remember, Learning is a key component of effective leadership) and at the same time you cover your back. Sometimes it takes an outside view to see the obvious shortcomings.

Have you experienced similar situations? Let us know how you solved them and what you recommend.

Posted in: Leadership, Project Management

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Dealing with fools with tools: Have them document it

Following up a previous post on “fools with tools” I was recently asked what I would do if a team member does not want to use a standard tool or template, let it be, for example, a change request form or an issue table in a status report, for he/she does not see the value of doing so.
First of all, if you as a project manager created and introduced the tool and/or template you probably have done for a good reason. If a team member does not see the value of it there is an obvious information gap. Either the team member just doesn’t get it or you have not explained the need for the tool or template and the value which comes from them. Hence, before you blame anybody else ask yourself the question if you have missed part of the story by yourself.
If this is not the case, let’s hope this holds true for we are all good and effective project managers and leaders, you may want to consider the following option: ask the team member to leave a comment in the respective tool stating that he/she does not want to use the tool. Make sure that he/she understands that this form of documentation may be escalated. And that he/she will be held personally responsible if any new issues arise from non-compliance with standard project tools. Chances are that the team member will give in.
Sounds too easy? True, for as attractive as the second option looks at first sight, it does not resolve the source of the problem. Actually, there could be quite a few reasons for the behavior of the team member. He/she may have time management problems, does not know how to access or use the tool, is afraid of technology, or does not see the value of using it. You, as a leader, have to identify the root cause and face it. If you don’t do it, you become part of the problem for you are not exercising good leadership skills.
If all effort fails and the team member still does not use the respective tool and you cannot resolve the issue, it is time for escalation. Depending on the situation and organizational environment you can talk to the line manager of the team member or if you have the organizational authority to do so replace the team member with someone else. This may be the last resort. Still, if this is what it takes to lead your project to success, do it. Follow through. If you don’t, you are not doing your job, i.e., manage a project to success.

Posted in: Leadership, Project Management, Uncategorized

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