Program Management – Being the Glue

Program Management
Program Management

A project can be large and complex. But as business organizations develop more complex strategies, their efforts get even more complex. This leads to more complicated projects and ultimately, programs, requiring the separate skill of program management.

Virtually every organization has projects. They can be as small as one person for a couple of days. Others involve large teams over several months.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project as:

A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service. Projects have a definite beginning and an end – a limited duration.

As strategic decisions expand, many projects may be going on at the same time. While some of those projects may have little to do with others, others may be related in multiple ways. Similar stakeholders can be effected. Some may draw from the same division’s budget. Others may perform similar activities.

When this occurs, it may be time to create a program under which those related projects can be executed. This allows the planning and execution of the projects to be coordinated across many aspects.

Each project normally has a project manager. A program manager is then brought in to perform the coordination of those efforts. But what is the key role of the program manager?

Essentially, a program manager has centralized responsibility for making sure that the portfolio of separate projects works together in harmony. Program managers provide a strategic approach adding cohesion across each work stream.

While the program focuses on an overarching set of objectives, projects have specific and more singular objectives and outcomes.

The program manager acts as the glue that holds the project work streams together. In order to be that glue, there are some key responsibilities that a successful program manager needs to perform.

Strategic vision – The program manager needs to align each of the program work streams with the organization’s business strategy and strategic goals. The project managers within the program have their individual project charters. The program manager needs to have a deep understanding of the corporate strategy. She then needs to be well-informed of project status to ensure that it is aligned with the over-arching strategy.

Coordination – Each project work stream has its own milestones and deadlines. The program manager helps each project manager coordinate their timelines to address inter-project dependencies. The program manager also makes sure that deadlines that affect common stakeholders are coordinated to avoid overloading them at the same time.

Additionally, there are often resources that each project needs, but none of them require full-time. For instance, on IT projects, an IT architect may work part time on a project. Within a program, the program manager can balance the work of one or more people across several projects.

Communication – In an organization where several large projects are going at various levels of completion, few know what the other projects are doing. Some may be unaware that some other projects even exist. The left hand often doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

This can be detrimental for projects that have interrelated goals and outcomes. I once was on a project in which applications servers were being decommissioned. We learned that at the same time, another project was purchasing additional memory for one of these servers.

Most projects have daily “stand-up” meetings to ensure cross-communication with the project team. Programs should do the same with project managers and critical team leads. This makes sure that every project is aware of what the others are doing.

Governance – Project managers are given a budget and are generally charged with staying on time and within budget for the project. Change control processes allow them to modify the parameters as needed.

The program manager focuses on the ROI of the program as a whole. The program manager needs to ensure that the proper projects are introduced to the program that will provide the most benefit to the bottom line.

Conclusion

The roles of project managers and program managers have some similarity and overlap. But the program manager has the responsibility to make sure that all projects within the program work in harmony. Ensuring coordination between the project work streams requires a strategic approach certifying coordination across all projects.

How do you ensure coordination across projects within your program?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

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I’ve never been imprisoned, but I have been in a PMO

Project Management Office
Is there value in a Project Management Office?

After the American colonies won their independence from England in 1783, the founding fathers feared that people would like their independence too much. They debated whether to have a constitution. Thomas Jefferson was against having a constitution because he didn’t want the dogma of so many rules. John Adams (a stubborn rule follower who probably would have made a great project manager) wanted a constitution to create a framework of law.

This is the framework of the classic debate that exists in our current day between our political parties. We all seem to disagree on how much governance people need.

We face a similar debate in the project management world in large organizations. Should we have a project management office? Do we need to centralize our project management approach for a more standardized way of doing things? Or do we hire experienced project managers and allow them the freedom to do their jobs without the dogma of inflicting our standards on them.

Why have a Project Management Office?

The purpose of a PMO is to help its constituents achieve their business objectives. Those constituents are the business groups for whom you run a project. If the organization has a centralized PMO, the business goes to them and requests a project manager to execute the project.

The assumption is that if you develop a set of good standards for project management, and have all of your project managers follow them, you will be more efficient. You’ll have a team of project managers that can run a project in roughly the same, predictable way for any of your business constituents.

According to the Project Management Institute, PMOs are designed to:

  • Reduce failed projects
  • Deliver projects under budget
  • Improve productivity
  • Deliver projects ahead of schedule
  • Increase cost savings

The objectives of most PMOs are:

Better Governance to certify that decisions are made with complete information by the right people.

Knowledge sharing to ensure that people within the group learn from other peoples’ experiences.

Support to make it easy for project teams to do their jobs with less bureaucracy, and to provide mentoring and training for higher quality.

Standardized approach to ensure consistent documentation and management approaches are utilized.

Misalignment with objectives

One could argue that that if the above mentioned things are the goal, then a project management office is a great idea. Many PMOs that I’ve been a part of have all of those objectives. Unfortunately, their execution takes them down another path.

In one organization I was part of, there was a weekly PMO meeting where every project manager took a turn giving the status of their project. Few of the projects were interrelated. This resulted in everybody wasting everybody else’s time.

Other PMOs seem obsessed with tracking trivial administrative activities. They routinely monitor timely submission of time sheets and other reporting activities. Compliance statistics – and non-compliant team members – are customarily shared in the weekly meeting.

A common objective of a project management office is to develop a standardized approach. This generally includes any document that is generated for the project. PMOs often develop a “one size fits all” mentality and requires every project to submit all of the standard deliverables. This results in PMs focused on mounds of paperwork, taking time from value-added activities of managing the project.

The irony is that the organization that was established to reduce bureaucracy often actually increases it.

How to build a better Project Management Office

A PMO’s leadership should focus on the following practices to make sure they are providing their constituents with the best possible service offering:

  • Develop a succinct list of objectives. Work with your business customers to develop a short list of objectives. Determine what they want from a PMO and focus on delivering that to them.
  • Focus every activity to those objectives. With everything you do, ask yourself the following two questions:
    • Does this help us achieve our objectives?
    • Does it add value to our customers?
  • Communicate with your customers. Meet with them regularly to verify that the objectives are still current. Find out if there are any areas where their objectives are not being met.
  • Query your project managers. Find out if the PMs see value in a centralized approach. Make sure they understand and are following all of the standards. Make adjustments where necessary.
  • Provide training. Make your meetings count by training and mentoring the project managers. Few of them care about the status of the other projects. But encouraging them to share their knowledge and experience will encourage learning and a more cohesive group.
  • Some may complain that the PMO restricts their freedom to manage the way they want to manage. It may be that their way is not as good as the PMO’s approach. But it could also lead to a discussion that results in changing an approach, or allowing more flexibility for multiple approaches.

Conclusion

Project management offices have a reputation for not adding value. To avoid this, they should take the time to determine the desired value needed by their customers. Then, they should make sure that all of their activities are focused on delivering that value.

The members of the PMO are a great collection of knowledge. They should be encouraged to share their knowledge with each other in a collaborative approach.

The concept of a project management office is almost always to provide value. It’s the execution that often takes much of the value away.

How effective is your project management office?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

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How to Report Red Amber Green Status

Red amber green status
Red amber green status

For as long as we can remember, the red amber green status has been a mainstay in project management reporting. It has become universal for a number of reasons. First, everybody is familiar with the stoplight colors. The value they communicate is also pretty intuitive. Green means go. Yellow means caution. Red means stop.

It also provides a helpful visual indication. Reading text is cumbersome, while RAG (red-amber-green status) provides a quick view of where the project stands before a word has to be read.

But like anything so simple, it can be problematic. Ask five project managers to assess where a project is and you will likely get five different answers.

Defining red amber green status

Most people will agree to the general definitions of each indicator:

Green: The project is on track and no executive action is required.

Amber: This is the warning indictor. It most often means that the project has experienced some serious issues and the project manager has had to make some decisions to deal with it. It doesn’t usually require executive involvement, but they should be aware for closer observation.

Red: The project is behind schedule and needs management intervention to help correct something. Within the triple constraint – scope, time, and cost – at least one of them has gotten out of hand.

Although most project managers and executives would agree with these general definitions, it becomes tricky when trying to assess the project for presentation to the executives.

Many project managers are afraid that it will appear as a sign of weakness if they report amber or red to the executive. They want to report that everything is going well. Even if the project is experiencing problems, many project managers tend to downplay them, feeling they can manage them without executive intervention.

The need for honesty

The project manager that reports things as rosier (or greener) than they really are can sometimes get away with it. If there is a major issue going on, why bother the executive if you can manage it yourself?

Sometimes, the project manager can get away with it. Report the project as green, solve the problem yourself, and the executive doesn’t need to be bothered.

But if you cover up that issue and you’re unable to resolve it, it most likely becomes a major issue. Suddenly you go from reporting the project as green one week, and red the next week.

Executives may not like amber and red statuses. But more than anything, they don’t like surprises. If you had honestly reported the project as amber and described the issue, it could have gone two different ways. If you were able to resolve the issue, the project goes back to green and that amber you reported was just a blip in the project. If you’re unable to resolve the problem, it may get worse. Now that amber you reported has turned red. While that isn’t good, it’s much better than surprising an executive by going from green straight to red.

Political ramifications

Sometimes the reluctance that project managers feel in reporting amber and green is because of the anticipated executive response. Some executives tend to make a bigger deal out of what they consider negative news.

While amber should indicate that there is a problem they should be aware of, some executives can’t resist the urge to manage when they should back off. Overactive executives often take over management of the project. This often results in marginalizing the project manager when they should allow their project manager to handle the issue on their own.

And if that’s how an executive handles an amber status, let’s not even discuss how they will deal with red status. In situations like this, project managers will go to great lengths to avoid honestly reporting amber or red status.

Agreeing up front

When starting a new project, the project manager should hold an introductory meeting with any executives that will receive red amber green status. In this meeting, they should agree on the definitions of each status. They should also define the responsibilities for each party when amber and red status is reported.

Executives should agree that amber is for informational purposes. They may want status reported on a more frequent basis. But they generally should not get involved in decision making at this point, unless the project manager requests assistance.

When red is reported, specific executive action is usually required. But the executive needs to understand that it is a normal part of the life of a project. Projects go red and need executive assistance. Punishing or deriding the project manager whenever a project goes red creates a negative environment and hinders productivity.

Conclusion

Red amber green status should be a form of communication. Throughout the life of a project, things happen that put the project in a riskier situation than usual. Very few projects are green throughout their lifetime. I once worked for an executive who felt that if you were always green, you weren’t trying to achieve enough.

When projects do go amber and red, executives have a responsibility not to panic, but to help bring the project back on track.

What issues have you run into when reporting red amber green status?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

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Making Projects Fun

Making Projects Fun
Making Projects Fun

I was once on a project with a hard-core, fire-breathing task master. He had a detailed project plan and reviewed everyone’s progress to their tasks daily.  This was highlighted to me once when a team member received a personal call one afternoon.  Her daycare provider was calling with a question about one of her children.

When the five-minute conversation was completed, the project manager turned to her and said, “Make sure that you make up that time you spent on the phone.”

This team member, along with those within earshot were pretty stunned at the project manager’s pettiness. But they shouldn’t have been surprised. Every day was focused on work and nothing but work.

The Madden approach

Joe Madden is the manager of the Chicago Cubs. He is notorious for his strange antics. When the team travels to another city, he often has the team dressing up in zany suits or feety pajamas. He has had mariachi bands come and play for Cinco de Mayo, zoo animals brought onto the field before a game, and many other playful activities and slogans.

With his young team and the high expectations they faced last year, Madden applied these tactics to help make it fun and keep the team loose.

Lighten up

We may not have the budget to bring in mariachi bands. And many corporate cultures frown on activities that are that far off the wall and distracting. But Madden sets a great example for the rest of us.

I’ve always believed in having fun in the workplace. Laughing and joking are great ways to loosen up an intense work environment and keep people loose. We can apply some of the same principles Madden does that are office appropriate.

Have a sense of humor

There’s nothing wrong with some good clean fun. Making a joke during a meeting or conversation helps to take the monotony away. One has to be careful not to overdo it. A little humor goes a long way. You also have to gauge the audience. If you make a joke and get no response, they may not be the right group to joke around with. There is also the chance that your joke just wasn’t funny.

Encourage a Friendly environment

The people you work with are humans. They have families and friends and often do fun things on their time off. When you see someone on Monday morning, ask them how their weekend was. “Did you do anything fun?” Some people may not want to talk about it. But most people like to talk about themselves and share what they did for fun.

Did someone mention that their child was sick yesterday? Ask how he’s doing today. Does someone you work with care for their sick mother? Ask occasionally how her mother is doing.

It is not enough to ask about family members. Take a genuine interest in the people you work with. When they mentioned their kids’ names, remember those names. If they have a passion or a hobby, show some interest. It will make your team members take more enjoyment in their jobs. And it will make them more likely to go the extra mile when that is needed.

Schedule extra-curricular activities

Many workers want to get away from the work place and the team on their down time. But getting together occasionally outside of the office can help the team to bond. Schedule a get-together after work every once in a while. This can be for a couple of cocktails or some special event like a play.

Not everyone is going to take advantage of it, but if you mix it up enough, you’ll hit most people’s interest at some point.

You can also plan activities over the lunch hour. Many teams schedule periodic lunch-and-learn sessions. One person from the group will share some special knowledge with a thirty minute presentation. The rest of the team can optionally attend while they bring their lunch. If you have a budget, you can have lunch brought in.

You can’t please everyone

You can try countless things to make the workplace fun. Most team members will appreciate your efforts and respond positively. There will always be the occasional person that doesn’t like to laugh or converse or share their weekend with people.

That is their choice. The best way to deal with people is to let them be. Trying to force them to be happy or drilling them on what they did last weekend is likely to make them grumpier. Try your best to include them, but don’t force it.

Conclusion

When all you focus on all day at work is work, it becomes mundane. Creating a lighter and fun environment in the office can increase the team’s happiness, their morale, and their productivity.

One has to keep in mind that not everyone has fun in the same way. It is important to vary things up enough and not to force anyone to do something that they don’t consider fun.

How do you make projects fun?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

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Risk Management: Three Steps

Risk Management
Risk Management

One of the most forgotten and ignored aspects of project management is risk management. The project plan and issues log get a lot of attention. And rightfully so. Those are important aspects of a project.

If you don’t pay attention to the tasks that need to be completed, they won’t get done. And if you don’t attend to issues, they result in delays and cost overrides.

But risk management is as important as those other aspects. Risk management is like buying insurance for the project. It allows you to be more prepared for things that could go wrong on your project.

Three steps for effective risk management

Many people don’t focus on risk management because they don’t see the value. That’s because most people don’t do it completely. People spend lots of time, especially at the beginning of the project identifying risks to the project. They document the list and store it in a project repository. Little, if anything gets done beyond those efforts.

But there are three steps that need to be addressed for effective risk management. The team needs to identify risks. But there is more to it.

Step 1: Risk identification

At the beginning of the project, the project manager should work with the team to identify any risks that could occur. This can range from computer servers not being delivered on time to the risk of a hurricane, if you work in an area susceptible to that type of thing.

Once risks are listed, the analysis begins. I like to be fairly scientific about it. It try to assess the likelihood of the risk occurring. This can be stated in terms of a percentage or a High-Medium-Low designation.

I also like to assess the impact to the project if the risk occurs. Again, you can assign a High-Medium-Low label. You could also try to assess what the actual impact would be based on dollars, time elapsed, or lost team members. If you choose to do that, it is recommended to assign real measurable numbers that impact the project.

Step 2: Identify mitigation strategies

Once risks are identified and analyzed, you need to identify mitigation strategies. It’s one thing to identify everything that could go wrong. It does very little good unless you determine what you will do about it.

Mitigation steps generally can be broken down into three approaches:

Avoidance – What can we do to avoid this risk? If you have a risk that your servers might be delivered late, you might choose to avoid that risk by ordering from multiple vendors. If one vendor is late, you have better odds of getting your other servers delivered on time.

Reduction – If you can’t avoid the risk, you may be able to reduce it. With the late server example, you may be able to pay a premium for express delivery.

Acceptance – With some risks, it is either a very low likelihood, like a hurricane in Chicago, or low impact. For those risks, you may choose simply to accept and monitor the risk.

Step 3: Reassess

Situations continually change. It is important to reassess your risks frequently. An alert project manager always has one eye open for new risks on a project. The team should go through risk assessment exercises every couple of weeks. In weekly status meetings, the project manager should ask team members about any new risks.

The existing risks should also be reassessed. Has the probability or impact changed? Are you no longer willing to accept a risk? Perhaps new mitigation strategies are more appropriate as the project has matured.

Projects are fluid and the risks to the project continue to change. It is critical to project success to always be aware of new and changing risks to stay on top of them.

Conclusion

I’ve always considered issues as risks that came true. Although it is impossible to think of every possible issue that could occur, frequent and thorough risk analysis can help a team avoid many issues from happening. For issues that can’t be avoided, risk analysis and mitigation strategies can help the team be more ready to address them with resolutions more rapidly.

Detailed risk analysis is a great insurance policy against issues taking over your project.

How thorough is your risk analysis?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

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The Skill of Categorization

Skill of Categorization
Skill of Categorization

Imagine going to the grocery store where food is just randomly put on shelves based on available space. You might find one brand of breakfast cereal in isle two, and another brand in isle seven.

Instead, the grocery store categorizes their products. The produce is all together in one area. The cereals are all in one isle and so on. It makes your shopping experience faster, easier, and more organized.

If you stop and think about it, most of what we do is based on how we categorize things. And the more logical the grouping is, the easier it is to be organized. A library categorizes books on their shelves by genre. Within genre, they generally sort the books by author to help you find a book easily in a large building full of books.

Categorization based on correlation

The important thing is to categorize based on some logical correlation. If the library sorted books by color, it would provide little to no value. I’ve never gone into the library looking for something green to read.

Poor outcomes occur when we base our categorizing on flawed correlations. There is currently intense debate regarding how to limit the inflow of terrorists. Should immigrants being categorized by the country they are from, their religion, or some other way? Racism roots from associating flawed correlations to broad categories of people.

When you listen to two opposing politicians debate, they are arguing two different correlations. Can we stimulate the economy by giving tax breaks to the rich or the poor? In fact, most of politics is a process of developing correlations based on categories. We categorize many of our political beliefs based on our income, age group, national region, religion, ethnicity, gender, and many other things. Many of these categorization have little to no correlation to the actual belief.

When I was a young boy in school, I remember my teacher dismissing us based on the color we were wearing. “Anybody wearing red is excused.” There was no correlation to that categorization. It was simply a random approach to grouping dismissal to avoid a bottleneck at the classroom door.

Categorizing is a skill when managing a project

Think about how often you categorize in your day-to-day work. You may categorize people based on their skill or work location. You may categorize tasks based on priority or urgency.

When you schedule a meeting, you have to decide who to invite. Most of us do that based on the category of people that need to be in the meeting. Do they contribute to the meeting? Do they need to be informed? The finance people get invited to a finance meeting. There should be some correlation between who you invite and why they should attend. Unless you just want to invite those wearing red.

I’ve often said that everything we do or say should have a purpose. Purpose is driven by correlation. Although there are plenty of random events, most events have a cause. Developing your skill at identifying causes and their effects means having a deep understanding of correlation.

We make decisions based on what we think will happen as a result. People disagree with us because they have a different set of beliefs for what will result.

For example, consider the situation that your project is running behind. You may decide that the team is spending too much time fixing issues. Someone else on the project may believe that the team is not spending enough overtime on the project.

It’s possible that either solution – or both combined – could resolve the issue. The most important point is to verify whether either of them will create a cause and effect situation. If so, determine the best solution.

Categorization should enable decision making. When categorizing anything, be certain that the categorizations are logical. Categories should be based on cause and effect rather than randomness or false beliefs. Otherwise, there is no reason for the categorization.

How do you categorize based on correlations?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

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Are You Realizing Project Value?

Realizing Project Value
Are yYu Realizing Project Value

I have a lot of friends who have Fitbits. They’re those wrist watch-like things that people wear to measure their heartbeat and the number of steps they take per day. Many of them compete with each other on how many steps they get in each day.

The implication of this is that the steps are making them healthy (fit is in the name of the device after all). But they should also consider aspects such as the number and type of calories they consume. If all they measure is their steps, there’s a risk of limited health benefits.

The same goes for project managers in the effort of realizing project value. You can have all sorts of metrics and measurements, but if achieving the targets of those measurements doesn’t translate into project value, you’re likely just wasting your time.

How to measure value

Continue reading Are You Realizing Project Value?

“I am the CEO!” Leading without Authority

Leading without Authority
Leading without Authority

I once worked for a man who believed that his title gave him authority. He was the CEO of the company and never hesitated to let people know. He always introduced himself emphasizing his title and listed the C-level positions he had held in the past.

If anyone disagreed with him, he would scold them, telling them “I am the CEO of this company!” as if that gave him omnipotent authority and knowledge.
Continue reading “I am the CEO!” Leading without Authority

5 Rules for Running Meetings

Running meetings
5 Rules for Running meetings

“I wish I had more meetings to attend,” said no one ever. It has become a universal law that meetings are bad. They waste time. They rarely accomplish anything. Nobody likes them, but everybody continues to schedule them.

They are a necessary evil. They are a primary form or communication between people in the business world. By following these rules for running meetings, you can be on your way to running more efficient meetings that your coworkers may even look forward to.

Be on time

If you have been invited to someone else’s meeting, promptness is a sign of respect. If you are the meeting organizer, promptness is an even bigger deal.
Continue reading 5 Rules for Running Meetings

Do you take credit or demonstrate value?

Demonstrate Value
Claim credit or Demonstrate Value

Have you ever watched a president’s State of the Union Address? Regardless of the president or his party affiliation, the President tends to describe utopia. If you knew nothing else about what was going on, you would believe that that particular president was accomplishing all of the problems in the world.

If you think about it, the State of the Union Address is essentially a status report. The President is submitting a status report to Congress. Congress is, in a way, his steering committee. They may not be the President’s superiors and approve his initiatives. But the President is required by the constitution to present this status annually.

The State of the Project Address

A project manager presents status to management, usually on a weekly basis. Status can be presented to an executive steering committee on a bi-weekly or monthly basis. The presentation of the project’s status is a chance for the project manager to demonstrate to management how much value the project is adding to the organization.
Continue reading Do you take credit or demonstrate value?

101 Tips for Success in Project Management