Category Archives: Career Management

How a project manager can manage his/her career

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.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

Image courtesy of atibodyphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

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“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.
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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?

Do you have a leadership personality?

Leadership Personality
Presidents and Leadership Personality

Every president’s leadership personality

As some of you know, I listen to audiobooks and podcasts in the car as a way to pass the time on my long daily commute to and from work. I recently finished listening to the podcast series “Presidential.” This is a 44-episode series of podcasts that focuses on every U.S. President from George Washington through Barak Obama. There is a final episode recorded the day after the election discussing the outcome.

It piqued my interest enough that I’ve decided to listen to a full biographical audio book on each president. I’m working on the assumption that an audio book exists for presidents such as Millard Fillmore and James Buchanan.

My interest is based in history. I’ve always found American history and the political process intriguing. I also find it an interesting study in leadership. We’ve had great leaders and not-so-great leaders running our country. Because of the way our political process works, it usually takes many years for opponents to admit that a president from the opposite party might have been a great leader. Eisenhower despised Truman when he took office. They later became close again when both were out of office.
Continue reading Do you have a leadership personality?

The Communication Skills of a Project Manager

Communication Skills
Communication Skills of the Project Manager

I’ve often mentioned that a project manager is the CEO of his or her project. Knowing that a CEO needs to be able to communicate in many ways, the project manager has to have a wide variety of communication skills in order to be effective.

Verbal Communication Skills

The most obvious and critical communication skill is the ability to speak. The project manager spends most of his day speaking to people. I’ve known a lot of people who can talk. But sometimes they say very little. The project manager must be able to speak concisely. Why say seven words when four will do.

When reporting to an executive on the status of a project, she doesn’t want to hear every detail. Talking in circles and never getting to the point can be even more annoying. When describing an issue or situation to an executive, the PM has to determine how much detail to provide. It is important to know how to build it into an understandable story that gets the point across as economically as possible.

I’ve found it better to provide just enough details to get the basic point across. If the executive asks for more detail, provide a few more details until they are satisfied. It always depends on the executive. Some want as much detail as possible. Others want the bare minimum.

When talking with team members, it is important to speak to them as equals.  Assuming a superior attitude may intimidate them. This could result in receiving less information than you need. It also creates poor relationships on your project.

Written Communication Skills

Just like verbal communication, a project manager’s written communication must be concise. Co-workers receive emails, reports, and many other forms of written communication. When someone opens a 10-page email, their eyes are likely to roll back. Their likelihood of reading what you wrote is just as unlikely.

A project manager should also write clearly. Proper grammar is of the utmost importance. It is distracting and unproductive for someone to read and reread a sentence trying to figure out what the author is trying to say. A strong vocabulary is also essential. Do not mistake having a strong vocabulary with having knowledge of long and confusing words. A good vocabulary means knowing the right word for the right situation.

Graphical Communication Skills

Whether you like the tool or not, MS-PowerPoint is a staple of the business tool kit. It has a reputation of being overused and, to many, boring. One of the main reasons that people dislike PowerPoint is that people don’t use it well to communicate.

We’ve all seen PowerPoint slides with more text than a page from a Shakespeare play. And most of us have seen diagrams with the complexity of a nuclear submarine design.

It is important for a project manager to be able to create clear and concise PowerPoint slides that have the proper mix of text and graphics that make it pleasing visually, while communicating a point.

If you must show a complex diagram, it should be broken down into manageable pieces on subsequent slides so that the audience can break it down mentally and put it together easily when you are done.

PowerPoint is the tool of choice in most business settings. The Project manager’s job is to learn how to use it as an effective communication tool.

Technical Communication Skills

Many project managers work in technical arenas. Industries such as information technology and health care rely on technical language and complex details.

A project manager often plays the role of liaison between technical workers and business people. It is important for a PM to learn how to translate business requirements so that they are understandable to technical people.

It is even more vital for a PM to understand technical issues that have been explained by the technicians. Once understood, these issue need to be translated into understandable terms to the project sponsors. This description should also address how the technical issues affect the business.

Know your audience

As I addressed above, who you are talking to determines much of your communication. You obviously communicate to executives in a much different mode than to technical team members.

Each level within the organization needs to be considered. Copying a director on an email to one of her direct reports may be acceptable on a regular basis. Copying the vice president at the next level may not be. If there is an acceptable time to do that, extra scrutiny should be taken. You may want to have it reviewed to ensure it is clear and uses appropriate language.

Knowing your audience includes having a flexibility of tone. If you are communicating with a business associate with which you have a close personal relationship, it may be appropriate to joke around and discuss personal issues. This would be inappropriate with someone you don’t know well. The formality of the language you use is determined by the rank and familiarity of your audience. It is also is governed heavily by the culture of the organization.

Conclusion

One of the most important skills a project manager develops is the ability to communicate. It requires many modes depending on how, why, and to whom you are communicating. It also requires being a liaison that can explain issues between people with different skills and education levels.

What communication issues have you experienced on your projects?

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.

Image courtesy of pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thinking a Step Ahead of the Project Owner

one step ahead
One step ahead of the program manager

In my early days of managing projects, the tasks ran the show. I was the man with the to-do list. I filled it out every night before leaving work. Every morning I religiously reviewed it, verified the priorities, and executed each item for a successful day.

The disappointment I felt if I wasn’t able to complete the list was measureable. It wasn’t just my own tasks that I managed that way. Every member of the team had their tasks, if not for the day, at least for the week. I felt it was my job to make sure everyone got their tasks done for the good of the project.

The tactical mind

By following that task-mastery approach, I know that I got a lot done. The team got a lot done. I felt like I was managing the project effectively by following this tactical approach. And to some degree I was. I was identifying what needed to get done and driving it to completion.
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Process and Consistency – Not Always the Same

Process and Consistency
Process and Consistency – Not Always the Same

I once worked for a man that had a defined process for everything. He tracked everything with a spreadsheet. Everyone was expected to follow all of his processes to the letter. People became so bogged down following process that they got little else done.

It was also a drain on morale. They did so much mindless administrative work that their brains never really got a chance to create anything meaningful.
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Are You a Driver of Your Career or a Passenger?

driver of your career
Be a driver of your career

We’ve all heard of back seat drivers. They sit in the car and criticize the driver. They tell the driver when to turn, when to slow down, and when to speed up.

Not all passengers are like that. Some just sit back, close their eyes and nap through the ride. It is indicative of how we manager our careers. A driver is one who takes control. The driver of a car has to monitor how fast traffic is moving and adjust accordingly A good driver will look ahead to see if there is a slow down or an obstacle in the distance to be able to adjust before there is a problem.
Continue reading Are You a Driver of Your Career or a Passenger?