Parallel Discussion – Parallel Project Training Blog | APM Project Management Articles, Information and News from ParallelProjectTraining.com http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com Tue, 14 Mar 2017 16:54:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.3 The Politically Astute Project Manager http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/project-management-articles/politically-astute-project-manager/ http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/project-management-articles/politically-astute-project-manager/#comments Thu, 22 Sep 2016 16:24:47 +0000 http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/?p=2247 In this post, we return to the topic of politics in projects. Politics has a bit of a dirty name. It’s associated with false promises, backstabbing, alliances and manipulating others. The worst weakness of Politics is its failure to deliver on its promises. Time and time again we see public politicians or business leaders failing to deliver the…

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Politically Astute Project ManagerIn this post, we return to the topic of politics in projects. Politics has a bit of a dirty name. It’s associated with false promises, backstabbing, alliances and manipulating others. The worst weakness of Politics is its failure to deliver on its promises. Time and time again we see public politicians or business leaders failing to deliver the change they promise. Yet, as project managers everything we do involves change. Be it change in the physical environment (such as building new houses), in the processes and systems organisations use (such as introducing new IT systems) or in the behaviours in a culture (such as improving customer service).

Inevitably people have expectations and views on these planned changes. Some may be advocates, some may be vehemently opposed, some may not have formed an opinion yet. These views and attitudes have a significant impact on the success of a project. Delivering a project in the face of strong opposition is almost impossible, and even the smallest project (such are re-arranging where people sit in an office) can stir up strong emotions.

Delivering a project in the face of strong opposition is almost impossible and even the smallest project (such are re-arranging where people sit in an office) can stir up strong emotions.

The challenges don’t just come from outside the project; often a project brings together different teams or organisations, each with different objectives. These teams can have very diverse cultures and attitudes. For example, a operations team may see change as a threat to the way they currently work or they may be overloaded with day-to-day demands which mean the project is  a distraction from the real work of the department or function. External suppliers too may have very different motives. They may want to maximise short term profits, or they may have over-committed their resources to too many contracts.

These internal and external attitudes and mixed expectations are very powerful forces, which can destroy the collaboration and cooperation needed to deliver a successful project. This is why most people agree that managing people and developing teamwork are the most important part of a successful project.

The Politically Astute Project Manager?

Many people would argue that projects and project managers should ignore politics and focus on getting the job done. They say that project management is a set of processes to produce deliverables that enable change, and the project manager should not get involved in internal or external politics. However, if you ask the same people why projects fail they typically give the following reasons:

  1. The project lacked senior management support.
  2. The project was under-resourced.
  3. The project brief (or design) is not developed early enough.
  4. There were too many uncontrolled changes.
  5. The users didn’t use the products in the way expected (if at all).
  6. The project was not planned properly.
  7. The budget was insufficient to meet the expectations.

Why do these things go wrong with projects?

If senior management are not convinced about the priority of a project, they are reluctant to commit the necessary resources.

If the project fails to inspire users, they don’t engage with the project early.

If functional managers perceive the projects as a low priority, they are reluctant to support the project with sufficient resources or time.

If the senior management in the customer and supplier organisations don’t understand each other’s objectives, they don’t work together, which makes commercial issues more difficult to resolve.

All these issues relate to the degree of support for the project, within the individual and organisations involved. To be successful a politically astute project manager will manage these issues by developing a simple uniting project rationale, working hard to win the support of senior management, building alliances and coalitions with users, functional managers and suppliers and uniting the project team around a common purpose. This does not mean we can forget everything else we have learned about project management we just need to view it from a political perspective.

To be successful a politically astute project manager will manage these issues that by developing a simple uniting project rationale, working hard to win the support of senior management, building alliances and coalitions with users, functional managers and suppliers and uniting the project team around a common purpose.

Effective Governance and Sponsorship

At the start of a project, most teams are keen to get the ball rolling and get going as soon as possible. All too often we don’t take the time to think about the governance and sponsorship arrangements. For many these seem like theoretical and challenging concepts that have little relevance to the reality of project delivery. Then part way through the project, reality strikes and we realise that the project budget and timescales are insufficient to meet the expectations of the users. The expectations for the project often exceeded the resources to deliver or the capacity to change in the organisation. At this stage we really do need the support of senior managers to take some critical decisions, typically these include:

  1. Which parts and elements of this project are vital for the organisation’s strategy and which parts, if any, are optional?
  2. Who is ultimately responsible for the decisions associated with the project, who has authority to prioritise the expected benefits and modify the scope?
  3. Who in senior management will act as an advocate for the project and influence senior stakeholders during the decision-making process?
  4. How important is this project in the overall portfolio? Can we divert resources from other projects or operations to support this project?
  5. Who will ensure that the project team has the right levels of competence and capability to deliver the project?

These are all critical decisions that need to be taken by senior management as part of the governance and sponsorship process.

The Role of Governance in Project Motivation

Have you ever worked on a project in which critical decisions were not taken promptly or even worse change after the fact? Then you will know how demotivating this can be. The motivation of a project team is challenging at the best of times, but when there is a lack of direction or leadership, then motivation suffers.

Governance and sponsorship has a vital role in this decision-making process, but as we can see in figure 1, we have to establish the governance framework early in the project. Most projects start with a reasonable level of motivation; we have either been awarded a contract or funding has been approved and the project we have been working on for months (even years) is suddenly a reality.

Now is the time to establish the governance arrangements, we need to get the project board (or steering group) appointed and taking ownership of the key decisions while things are going well. This is because the good times generally won’t last, it will soon emerge that the project is more complex, challenging and difficult than we envisaged. Unexpected difficulties will arise, resources that we expected may not be available, and the uses may not be clear what they want. There are good reasons why this happens rooted in the fact that we need to minimise the costs, and a competitive bidding process is biased towards the lowest price and our inherent optimism.

At this point, the project team enters the valley of despair, and we have two options; teamwork or the blame game. We can either take some hard decisions and have tough conversations with the users because they may not get everything they imagined or hoped for, in which case the project may be united to achieve a positive result. Alternatively, the team enters a blame game, in which everyone subconsciously accepts that the project will fail and tries to limit the damage to themselves (personally and commercially) by working in their individual interests.

Clearly, teamwork and a successful result is preferred, but these decisions need the support and teamwork from senior management. Compromise will be required from:

  • Users because they may not get their full requirements
  • Funders because the may have to find some more cash
  • The project team because they may need to compromise on the perfect solution
  • Suppliers because they may have to carry some of the pain and inconvenience

 

Governance and sponsorship are vital here, to re-focus everyone on the benefits and the strategy. Why are we here and what is this project ultimately trying to achieve? What baggage can we jettison to achieve the ultimate goal?

Politically astute project managers spent time establishing this governance and sponsorship framework at the very start of the project, so that the senior management is inculcated in the decisions along the way; otherwise they may get interested just as the project hits the valley of despair and start looking for people to blame.

This is the valley of despair and at this stage we have two options, team working or the blame game.

political project manager

Figure 1 The role of Governance in Project Motivation

Practical Hint’s and Tips on Governance and Sponsorship

A politically astute project manager recognises the criticality of effective governance and sponsorship to project success and will take the following steps:

Names are very important; for example a project board sounds more like an effective decision taking body than a project steering group.

Decide and establish governance arrangements early in the project

At the beginning of the project, the politically astute project manager determines the most appropriate governance arrangements. Names are paramount; for example, a project board sounds like a more effective decision-making body than a project steering group. However, they may need to work within the constraints of the organisation’s framework and naming conventions; with the aim of getting the best possible arrangements.  A politically astute project manager does not leave the governance arrangements to chance, they proactively engage with the governance arrangements of the organisation to make sure the project board has the time to commit to the project, has enough authority to take the necessary decisions and has active communication channels to senior management.

Who Should be on the Project Board

The chair of the project board needs careful consideration. It is often tempting to ask the most senior managers to act as the project sponsor and chair of the project board. However for all but the most mission-critical projects it is unlikely they will have the time necessary to dedicate to the project. So it may be prudent to ask the senior managers to delegates responsibility to a trusted individual who can act on their behalf. Some organisations call this a sponsor’s agent. The are trusted by the senior management to take the necessary actions and consult with senior management when critical decisions are required. A politically astute project manager will always seek to secure the most active sponsor for the project.

Likewise, the politically astute PM will often want input from users and suppliers into the decision taking process and governance. The select users who have the ability and time to understand how the products produced by the project (be it a building, IT system or piece of infrastructure) will be used in the future. This can be difficult if the users also have a day job, especially in organisations operating at capacity or with 24/7 operations with shift patterns or agencies that are building new assets that don’t have an operational team yet. An example of this might be a new school, railway or power station, where the operations staff may not be in post until the end of the project. The politically astute PM goes out of their way to get user input into the project. Options include back-filling operations positions with temporary staff to release the necessary user resources or to establish a shadow operations team for a new asset. This is because they know that operational user knowledge of the project deliverables is vital to a successful project.

Good suppliers with the right competence and attitudes are vital to the success of many projects. The politically astute project manager knows that conflict will occur between the needs of the supplier to make a decent profit and the needs of the project, especially in the depths of the valley of despair. They will establish communication and escalation mechanisms early on so they can address potential issues as and when they arise. They predict the needs of suppliers and stay ahead of potential contractual issues. They will build bridges with the senior management in the supplier organisation, providing an escalation route to resolve contractual issues without recourse to the courts.

Establish Links to Corporate Governance

Project do not happen in isolation, they often involve several organisations, each of which has its own internal politics.  This conflict of internal politics of different organisations presents many challenges for the naïve project manager. The politically astute project manager will have recognised internal politics and set out to use the internal governance arrangements to manage the communications and expectations of the senior management team. They will work with senior managers to establish the reporting requirements and who needs to take what decisions. For example who needs to approve the funding for the project? Who can approve changes? What reports are required by senior management? As you can see in figure 2 below the project board acts as the bridge between the project management team and the senior managers in the organisation.

project goverence

Figure 2 The interface between project and corporate governance

Talk the Language of the C-suite

Political project managers know that when working at an executive level (CEO or COO) they need to operate at a strategic level. Language is very important in the way they communicate. They avoid project management jargon and use language which has meaning to the audience. For example, the time to market; not the project schedule,  return on investment; not costs, return on investment; not benefits. (for more on this see my interview with Mark A. Langley, President and CEO of Project Management Institute.

Planning Strategic Decisions

The political project manager knows that organising project board meetings in response to issues is just impossible. Senior people’s diaries are booked out weeks if not months in advance. Therefore, they plan ahead putting the key meetings in the diaries in advance. They may even provide the project board with a schedule of key decisions they will be required to make during the project, for example they may say to the board “in the January meeting I will expect you to approve the funding” and “in July I will expect you to approve the selection of the contractor“, “at the meeting in August I will be expecting you to decide on which parts of the requirements you are willing to compromise in order to fit within the project constraints” etc. This pre-positions senior managers so that know what is expected, reinforcing their role in the key project decisions and also helps to keep the project on time.

Compelling Business Case

The business case is not just important for the authorisation of the project; it’s also an important way of distilling and communicating the purpose of the project. We all know the story of JFK and the man at NASA cleaning the toilet.

During a visit to the NASA space centre in 1962, President John F. Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?”

“Well, Mr. President,” the janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

The lesson is: to get the best out of people they need a sense of purpose, it’s not inspiring to go to work to deliver the project to time, cost and quality, but it is inspiring to go to work to improve the education of children, or improving people’s journey to work or providing homes for people with growing families. The political project manager sees developing the business case not as a bureaucratic document, but as a mechanism to build a clear and compelling purpose for the project. Take for example the mission for Crossrail which is the biggest construction project in Europe. It has a simple vision of

Moving London Forward

A simple yet ambitious message unites a highly complex supply chain. For example, the client team of 1,200 people come from nine different employers, and they oversee delivery from twenty principal contractors, each with their own supply chain (total workforce peaks at around 14,000 later this year).  The political project manager knows that to be successful, the business case has to survive the elevator pitch (or even the Dragons Den). They know that benefits expressed in a simple and effective way are highly motivational for the project team and key stakeholders. Muddled, confused or poorly communicated aims leave people lost and unsure why the project is important.

Proactive User Engagement

The political project manager knows that they need to develop and maintain a strong relationship with the users. They also recognise that this might be difficult if users have on-going operational roles to fulfil. Despite this difficulty, they take proactive actions to get the users involved in defining and developing the project requirements and making sure they fit with the long-term operation needs of the user. This is especially important if the users are working different shift patterns, are based in different locations or are overworked keeping the existing systems running at capacity whilst the new are developed. They take proactive actions to engage with users, such as funding temporary staff so that operations staff can find the time to support the project, facilitating user requirements workshops to help users think through how they are going to use the outputs of the product or a shadow operations team for a new asset. Without this engagement, it is always too easy for the users to be disappointed that the project fails to meet all their hopes and dreams for the project. This disappointment can lead to delays accepting the output of the project and an extended handover process, with the associated extra costs and delay.

Collaborative approaches to planning

The political project manager knows that most project delays occur because of interfaces between one team and another. To address this, they pay particular attention to scheduling dependencies between different teams and contractors and they avoid micro-planning activities within a team. They also know that it’s important to get work package leaders involved in planning so that they develop a shared understanding of the cross-functional dependencies. For example pulling the design team, contractor and the client together in a meeting to agree on the key dependencies within the project. They avoid over-complex plans, which become difficult to update and maintain. They let the work package managers plan and manage the day-to-day detail, leaving the political manager free to maintain the overall view of the project dependencies and timescales.

Relay Runner Work Ethic

Ask yourself how much time is wasted on the critical path activities in the slow lane, especially early in the project lifecycle.  The relay runner work ethic describes a culture in which the critical path deliverables are passed on to the next person as soon as possible. As in a relay race, we make sure the next person in the team has a good hold of the baton before we let go. So in a project context, this means confirming that the next person has started work on the critical path before we let go. This can just be a phone call or brief conversation to confirm that the work has been received and understood before we close out the activity.

Simple but Effective Project Controls

Regular and routine project controls provide a good self-discipline for every project but at some stage, they become too complex and bureaucratic to add value. Plan the work; work the plan is one of the oldest and truest phases in project management. But the political project manager knows that they also have to keep it simple stupid. So the more complex a project control system; the less value it adds to the project. The focus on the minimum number of key performance indicators required to get the job done. They challenge every bit of information collected by asking “what decisions will be taken on the basis of this information”. However they are rigours about applying the project control cycle, progress reports no matter how simple must be completed on time, at a regular and planned interval.

Project Control Cycle

Figure 3 Project Control Cycle

Rigours Change Control

Uncontrolled scope change destroys progress and undermines team morale faster than anything else. It causes doubt confusion and uncertainty in the project team. No one is sure what is going on and which is the correct information. The political project managers proactively manage changes with the senior people from the start, establishing effective decision-making processes to consider and review changes from the outset. This might include a change control board, who have the authority and incentives to take decisions. Too often delay in reaching a decision over change will result in increased cost and further delay to the project. Establishing these decision processes early improved the chances of changes being managed in an effective way.

User Engagement in Handover

All too often the users are not involved in planning handover and acceptance early in the process. This can cause real problems if the project has had to adapt to changes and constraints during the project lifecycle. The political project manager goes to extreme lengths to keep the users engaged in the project and especially in the run up to handover. They make sure that they agree to any compromises and use the authority of the sponsor if necessary to take the hard decision. Avoiding user involvement in these key decisions can seem like it may be saving time during delivery, but will cause extended delays during the handover process.

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Project Management Around The World http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/parallel-discussion/project-management-around-world/ http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/parallel-discussion/project-management-around-world/#comments Mon, 10 Mar 2014 11:32:40 +0000 http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/?p=1943 Managing Global Projects & What I’ve Learnt About Outsourcing Thinking about what to write for this #PMFlashBlog I started recalling my first foray into the world of project management. I had been working for some years for a blue-chip organisation, designing and developing bespoke software systems for internal use. But as with many large organisations…

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Managing Global Projects & What I’ve Learnt About Outsourcing

Thinking about what to write for this #PMFlashBlog I started recalling my first foray into the world of project management. I had been working for some years for a blue-chip organisation, designing and developing bespoke software systems for internal use. But as with many large organisations 10+ years ago they were considering outsourcing the IT functions to India and retaining a core of IT staff as project managers and technical specialists in the UK. I duly gained my PRINCE2 Practitioner qualification and became a project manager (or, at least, that’s what my title said).

But the whole process was far from a smooth ride; for a start most of the people re-assigned to a project manager role didn’t really want a PM role – they had been happy in their technical IT roles but since the whole organisation was moving towards outsourcing IT there was little option but to take a PM role or look elsewhere for another job.

So a new era started where I became “global project manager” managing projects and teams 5,000 miles away in India. People I had never met, who worked for a different company and had their own “local project manager”.

Of course, I knew the reason behind the changes was purely financial – I don’t know what the savings were but they must have been considerable for a multi-national organisation of over 300,000 employees at the time. Not that this was admitted as being the only reason to outsource – there was talk of efficiencies, economies of scale etc. etc.

As you can imagine there was some resentment to the whole process and it badly affected morale – for one because many of our colleagues were no longer in the company but also because we had lost that team spirit that had got us through many a late night and many a stressful software release. The very term management suggests that a manager knows or can get to know the people working for her/him; that a relationship can be built up so that trust can develop. A manager will learn to understand the team (in theory at least) and how to motivate the individuals.

But my role meant that all my dealings were with the “local project manager” – for quite a while I didn’t even know the names of my team members. It initially seemed that it was only me concerned about this but gradually other PMs started discussing various projects and forming the same opinion. We had to get to know the teams – to understand them and the cultural differences if we were  to manage our projects successfully.

Perhaps, as with many project manager roles, I did not have enough support (let’s be honest, no support) from my superiors. It had been a money-saving decision to implement an outsourced arrangement and saving money was all they were concerned about.

But what happens when you only focus on one aspect of a project – in this case, the budget? Any experienced PM will tell you that something else will suffer. It could be the quality of the work or the timescales or both, as indeed it was in my case on that first project. I don’t know, maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought at the time – in fact, the web-based system developed then is still in use today so it can’t have been all bad, but coming from a background where the users, the IT developers, the project managers and senior execs were all located in the same, albeit very large, building my focus then was on what was not right with the project rather than what was.

So how did the project get to the point where it was implemented “successfully”? It is a whole other topic, dear to my heart, of how you define project success; you can have documented success criteria that are met, a project that is on scope, on budget and on schedule but one that doesn’t actually meet the needs of the client at the point it is implemented – but that’s another discussion for another time.

Back to completing a project with a team on the other side of the world – one that I don’t know, and, therefore, don’t understand and don’t know how to motivate. The easy solution would be to get together – I could fly out to India (always wanted to go) and meet the team, that would not be too expensive (thinking about cost saving here) and surely lead to a better outcome. Well, I tried but it never happened – with hindsight the outsourcing company wanted to keep their clients, me included, at arm’s length and senior management in my organisation, thinking of the bottom line, could not be persuaded otherwise.

In the end I spent many an hour on the phone with the local PM building up a relationship with him, stressing the need for honest status updates (that came later, when I realised the cultural differences meant that any problems were not reported until they had become out of control). In fact, I like to think we both came to understand each other a lot better and came to trust each other. After all we both wanted that first project to be a success – after much in-house grumbling we had all realised that outsourcing was here to stay (at least for the foreseeable future) so that project and the others that followed had to be successful.

This groundwork ensured that when there were some real issues that were difficult to resolve and those difficulties were being exacerbated by my not being able to speak to the person doing the work, it was finally agreed that I could speak to someone at the coal-face – hurrah.

That first project was a learning experience for me, for the local project manager, for the project team and, in fact, the whole company. I wasn’t then, and still am not, a fan of outsourcing any work overseas because it creates too many barriers between those specifying and using the project deliverable and those doing the work to deliver the end result. Even if there were not language and cultural barriers, which there invariably are in global projects, just having disparate teams working in different time zones is enough to create barriers that foster a lack of understanding and trust from both sides.

Nevertheless, those early global projects certainly delivered on budget and as time went on they started to deliver on schedule, in part, due to estimation “techniques” being improved with experience (you know the sort of techniques where someone gives an estimate and you double it just in case). I’m still not convinced they ever delivered everything I would want regarding scope and quality but what project is ever perfect? Maybe good enough is all anyone can ever hope for?

 

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Frequently Asked Questions About Project Management http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/parallel-discussion/frequently-asked-questions-project-management/ http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/parallel-discussion/frequently-asked-questions-project-management/#respond Fri, 18 Oct 2013 11:08:36 +0000 http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/?p=1884 Here are answers to some basic questions for those new to project management or considering it as a career choice. Feel free to comment on these answers or ask your own question.   What is Project Management? Project Management is the use of skills, knowledge, processes, and activities to reach a defined end-result that could…

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Here are answers to some basic questions for those new to project management or considering it as a career choice. Feel free to comment on these answers or ask your own question.

 

What is Project Management?

Project Management is the use of skills, knowledge, processes, and activities to reach a defined end-result that could be a new or updated product, a changed process or a new service. It involves a number of fundamental processes such as Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring & Controlling and Closure and all the tasks related to those processes. It includes managing a sequence of tasks (and the individuals or groups completing those tasks) from a defined project start date to a defined end date. Irrespective of the particular methodology used, these processes remain the same.

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What is a Project Management Methodology?

There are a number of different ways of managing a project depending on the nature of the project and a Project Management Methodology is the particular approach that will be used for any given project. A  PM methodology provides a standard method for completing a project and ensures it is managed in a controlled and consistent fashion. It aims to ensure that the project delivers a high-quality product on time and within budget.

 

What is Agile Project Management?

The Agile approach to project management involves an iterative approach to the different phases of a project so that the work required is completed in small sections and reviewed before subsequent sections are started. The information gleaned from each review can then be used to determine how the next stage should be handled and what it should involve. The advantage of this approach is that problems can be dealt with more easily because they are highlighted sooner, which means it is more cost-effective to alter and subsequently more likely that the project will be completed on time and within budget.

 

What is the Role of the Project Manager?

The Project Manager is responsible for each stage of the project and the final outcome, and works closely with the project team and the stakeholders/clients during these stages. Specifically this will include:

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  • Confirm the business objectives of the project
  • Ascertain assumptions and constraints that might affect the final outcome
  • Identify and manage risks ‰
  • Establish the project requirements
  • Define the project deliverables
  • Estimate and allocate resources
  • Monitor and report on project progress
  • Handle issues and changes during the project lifecycle

 

What is a Project Milestone?

A Project Milestone is simply a point in time on the project schedule where a certain deliverable will be produced, a certain task completed or a certain event occurs. Milestones usually occur at a natural point during the project lifecycle where a related set of tasks is complete and are used to assess progress and identify issues.

 

What is the Difference Between a Project Schedule and a Project Plan?

A Project Schedule is part of a Project Plan and includes a list of tasks, estimates, resource allocations, milestones, dependencies and planned start and finish dates for each task. It is used to track the progress of the project.

A Project Plan is the collection of a number of documents concerning different areas of Project Management such as:

 

  • Communication
  • Risk Management
  • Quality Control
  • Project Schedule
  • Costs
  • Scope

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What is a Project Risk?

A Project Risk is an event that may or may not occur during the project lifecycle that is predicted to have a negative impact on the ultimate aim of the project. There are a variety of different types of risk that can be anticipated that could affect the final outcome; broadly these can be categorised as:

 

  • Financial – the estimated costs are inaccurate
  • Functional – the end product may not meet the original specifications
  • Technical – new technology required for the project does not meet expectations
  • Personnel – key staff members may leave

 

The assessment of risks should be an on-going task throughout the lifecycle of the project.

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Is a career in project management right for me? http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/parallel-discussion/career-project-management-right/ http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/parallel-discussion/career-project-management-right/#comments Tue, 08 Oct 2013 12:58:30 +0000 http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/?p=1874 Some project managers train specifically for a professional role in project management right from the start, whilst others progress through their organization in different roles, and at some point identify project management as a role they would like to take on. Sometimes it is a role that you fall into by accident or one that…

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Some project managers train specifically for a professional role in project management right from the start, whilst others progress through their organization in different roles, and at some point identify project management as a role they would like to take on. Sometimes it is a role that you fall into by accident or one that is thrust upon you; so practical experience is often gained before becoming certified.

If you are contemplating a career change then there are several  things you should consider. Firstly you must consider if you think you have the right sort of personality to become a project manager, for instance:

  • Are you comfortable taking the lead role in a high-pressure situation?
  • Have you got the ability to effectively manage resources on a large scale?
  • Can you think on your feet and quickly react to change?
  • Do you have good problem solving skills?
  • Do you have the experience with finance to manage large budgets?
  • Can you be honest, and say ‘No’ to staff and management when required?
  • Can you be decisive when required, and accept responsibility for your decisions?

If you answered yes to most of these questions then a career in project management is definitely worth considering. As long as you’re proficient in most of the above, you can learn the remaining aspects through good additional training.

There are many personal and professional attributes that will assist you when starting your new role but because of the wide variety of challenges a project management role creates, the required attributes are very varied and can, to a certain extent, depend on the industry in which you work. All project managers will have their stronger areas, and the weaker areas they have to work to improve. All of the fundamentals of project management best practice can be learnt, and there are countless resources and corporate training companies offering professional training, but here are some areas that you can focus on improving yourself if you want to excel in a project management career.

Organisation and time management

Being on top of all tasks requires knowing what the tasks are, when you should be working on them, and who else within your team is working on them. This requires organisation and time management on a large scale. You must be able to do more than prepare a plan of action; you must also be able to constantly adapt it as the goalposts move.

Communication

Communication is key in project management. Without clear and honest communication you will not truly understand what is going on. This means you can’t be organised, and any information you pass on may not be accurate. Establishing excellent communication skills will help you to work more seamlessly with your team, as well as ensuring that you are more approachable, which, in itself, is part of the battle for successful communication. It is never enough to rely solely on electronic communications, no matter how sophisticated.

Leadership

A project manager must step up to the plate when others shy away. You mustn’t be afraid to be decisive, and follow through all your decisions with absolute confidence. In a lot of situations not taking any action at all is worse than making a bad decision. You must also promote productivity and creativity in the project team. Creating a happy working environment and fostering a feeling of solidarity will help the team to operate more efficiently and overcome obstacles quicker.

These are just a few of the main considerations when thinking of a career in project management. There will be other considerations specific to the industry you work within and based on your personal experience and attributes.

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Adrian Taggart – Project Manager Interview http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/parallel-discussion/interview-with-adrian-taggart/ http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/parallel-discussion/interview-with-adrian-taggart/#respond Tue, 18 Jun 2013 11:43:40 +0000 http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/?p=1804 I recently had the opportunity to talk to Adrian Taggart, one of the Parallel Project Training Associates, about his career in project management. He has had experience in a range of different roles and organisations so it was very interesting finding out about his background and he has plenty of good advice to offer both…

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I recently had the opportunity to talk to Adrian Taggart, one of the Parallel Project Training Associates, about his career in project management. He has had experience in a range of different roles and organisations so it was very interesting finding out about his background and he has plenty of good advice to offer both novice and seasoned project managers…

A. Taggart headshot (2)Adrian Taggart began his journey in project management as an MOD-sponsored student on a B.Eng. degree in Mechanical Engineering, spending 2 years working with the MOD as part of his learning experience. After choosing to go into industry once his degree was complete, he spent the next few years gaining further real-world experience whilst also studying Project Management at UMIST. This led to a technically-demanding role managing hydro-power projects, where he travelled extensively to Canada, Malaysia, Sudan and Turkey. During this time he also completed an M.Sc. in Engineering Management (including project management) from Bristol University. He later spent 3 years delivering a university course for an M.Sc. in Project Management whilst also working as a freelance project manager. He now draws on his nearly 30 years of extensive experience delivering PM training for Parallel Project Training, with particular expertise in APM and PMI Certification courses; he also offers bespoke Project Consultancy services as Director of Smoothstone Consultancy.

How did you first get into project management?

I was sponsored by the MOD as an engineering student and whilst the experience was very valuable I had a strong feeling of being a cog on a small wheel in a very large machine. I really felt I wanted a job where I directly affected things and so I went to the opposite end of the spectrum. I took a job as a ‘Project Engineer’ reporting to an Engineering Director at a factory in Burnley in Lancashire. I had a collection of small projects relating to a new factory layout and machinery acquisition. My career in projects started there.

 

What personal skills do you think are important for a project manager?

I know it is the clichéd answer, buts it’s true. You’ve got to be able to deal with people.

We should remember that the pyramids were built before Primavera was invented. In a technology obsessed world we sometimes forget that ultimately people deliver projects for other people and if you cannot deal with them then you will struggle to deliver projects.

But, there is more to it than that. All the time you have to be thinking widely and deeply about everything that is coming your way, and then be able to simplify that complex environment and concentrate on just the important things. I know that sounds overly simplistic but a sixth sense for seeing the important (and often not obvious) things is something that comes with experience; usually hard earned experience.

 

Have you ever had to deal with a project disaster?

Oh yes!

I have a bit of a problem with the word ‘disaster’ largely because I feel most people underestimate just how difficult it is to run projects and how things often don’t turn out as expected even for the most diligent planners, but that doesn’t answer your question.

After the factory in Lancashire I joined a company making bespoke printing machinery. These were big machines that would fill a sizeable hall. The company went bust but was kept trading as a going concern by the receivers. It was chaos, with both suppliers and customers having lost money to us through the bankruptcy. My own project was stopped and at very short notice I was sent to Germany on another project, to manage a major machine reconfiguration with a team of very unhappy workers. I had a really torrid time and for so many reasons it was an extremely difficult project. After 6 months of grief from everyone involved we sat at the inspection bay to watch the first printed web to come through the finished machine. It was me who was first to realise that the print was on the wrong side and that we had built the machine back to front.

The fact that it wasn’t my mistake (I had built it to drawing) and that the client had been instrumental in the design error did little to cheer me up.

This happened nearly a quarter of a century ago and I recall as though it were yesterday, just how gutted I felt.

On a positive note though, I feel that you tend you learn more from difficult experiences and I certainly learnt a great deal on that project.

 

What are the benefits to organisations of properly managed projects?

Can I start with the drawbacks? If a project is well run it imposes numerous disciplines such as writing up notes, recording decisions, planning, verifying and checking. This isn’t consistent with the “engineering theme park” which companies can become when eager and over enthusiastic engineers are left to just get on with things. It would be going too far to say that it makes things become boring but it does bring some constraints on certain activities.
In terms of benefits I find that well run projects enable and force decisions on those involved. You do not get the same sense of drift as you do when the control is not there. These decisions often involve projects being terminated early, which is very often a good thing. Well managed project organizations tend to run a small number of projects well, rather than attempt a wholly unrealistic portfolio and in doing so compromise those projects with good potential.

 

Is formal project management only necessary for large organisations?

I like to think of project management as a basket of techniques that can be selected as appropriate by any practitioners. In this respect I’d like to think that an organization of any size could benefit from it.
As more people are involved in an organisation, co-ordination and communication becomes disproportionally harder and so the benefits of adoption of a standard approach becomes increasingly helpful. Inevitably this standardisation becomes centred on those techniques which form the backbone of what is considered to be formal project management.

 

What types of tools do you think are necessary for project managers?

My introduction to and development within, the profession was largely organic. It was only as I moved towards lecturing and training (especially for certification courses) that I fully embraced a more formal structure and in particular the content of the various Bodies of Knowledge.

When I move away from the constraints of a certification course, for instance when delivering a consultancy commission, I find it interesting to reflect on what tools and techniques from the Bodies of Knowledge that I choose to bring to the party.

Again it is a cliché but I spend most of my time trying to do the simple things well and many of the more complex but high profile techniques are largely ignored.

I look for a well-articulated business case (or contract), gated lifecycle models, clear requirement statements, a comprehensive statement of work, and appropriate stakeholder support well before Probability Impact grids or critical path analysis is put on the table.

 

Have you any advice for people considering a project management career?

Yes!

Firstly, it is a really exciting career option. By definition projects are creative endeavours that have enormous influence on the lives of ourselves, our peers and those who come after us. As a project manager you really are “delivering the future” and that’s hard to beat when it comes to job satisfaction.

Secondly, I would hazard caution. It is actually very difficult (and very rare) to establish a career based purely on your ability to manage projects, such that you can step from one topic to another, from say IT to construction, solely on the basis of your project management expertise. This isn’t the forum to rehearse the “does a PM need topic expertise to run a project?” debate but we need to acknowledge that most people get to a position of project management via some prior expertise in the topic at hand. My advice to any youngster would be to try and develop some capability and expertise (and qualifications) in such a topic in the first instance, be it becoming an engineer, an IT specialist, a scientist etc. This will provide a route into an industry and a position of responsibility and then maybe in your mid to late twenties or early thirties try to gravitate towards project management, maybe with the aid of further education and training. Also, whilst in this early stage of your career try and experience as many things as you can such as different countries, different types of customers or suppliers, different management styles and techniques. It is surprising how opportunities diminish as you get to mid-career and beyond and how valuable and useful your previous experiences become.

 

What are the best ways of learning more about project management?

To my mind, the best way to develop the best instincts and behaviour is to work with others who are expert at their profession.

I accept that this is not always a realistic opportunity but at some point in our careers we will probably get lucky and we should seize the chance when it arrives, even if it has temporary drawbacks, like a relatively poor salary.

I can point to a few instances in my career (one in particular) where I got to work with some very capable peers and frankly I have been dining out on the experience ever since.

In addition to this though, formal training and education is very helpful. Clearly I am biased but the APM and PMI qualifications provide an excellent basis for practitioners.  For the more ambitious, an appropriate master’s degree course can be very beneficial, if for no other reason that it will force you to read lots of books and really think and reflect on how you approach your work.

 

How do professional project management qualifications help in real-world projects?

Qualifications establish a level of credibility and demonstrate a commitment to, and interest in, the profession. These are, however, fringe benefits. If the various qualifications do not actually improve the individual’s ability to deliver projects successfully then they are of no worth.

There are critics but I fundamentally believe they do make such a difference. Consider the following.

Imagine being the first person to design a car. The control mechanisms would be evolved on a long and expensive trial and error basis. Imagine however designing a new type of car after you had lots of experience of different cars. The steering wheel (as opposed to a tiller), brake pedal, speedometer etc. would be the first things on the page. I think this is a main benefit of studying for formal qualifications. You become armed with the condensed wisdom of those who have come before you and so are much less likely to repeat their expensive mistakes.

Hopefully this will point you towards some of the more fundamentally important elements that must be addressed first and foremost. I would also hope that it gives practitioners a real sense of how important the soft skills are. In my experience the main benefit of so many of the tools and techniques is in relation to how they promote shared understanding through the team and in this sense the process is often more important than the printed output.

 

In your experience, what are the most common problems encountered in projects?

I am very influenced by the work of Frederick Herzberg. Many readers will be familiar with his “Motivation Hygiene” Theory but on the back of this he had something called “Job Design”. He suggested that some types of work were intrinsically more motivating than others. To simplify, he suggested that project work was intrinsically attractive to us.

I sense that this is both a good and a bad thing. It is good in that so many practitioners really enjoy their work and are prepared to devote enormous time and energy to them.  I think it is a bad thing because people’s passion for their projects can blind them to some of the necessary objectivity.

Symptoms of this include doing without planning, reaching solutions before defining problems, excluding rather than including stakeholders, subjectivity rather than objectivity including resisting premature termination for sentimental reasons. I think many of these are common problems.

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Jan Underdown – Project Manager Interview http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/parallel-discussion/jan-underdown-project-manager-interview/ http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/parallel-discussion/jan-underdown-project-manager-interview/#respond Thu, 14 Feb 2013 12:48:51 +0000 http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/?p=1758 Recently I had the opportunity to speak to Jan Underdown, one of the Associates and a Project Management trainer with Parallel Project Training. She told me something of her background, how she got into project management and some of her thoughts on what skills are important for a project manager. Biography Jan has over 20…

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Recently I had the opportunity to speak to Jan Underdown, one of the Associates and a Project Management trainer with Parallel Project Training. She told me something of her background, how she got into project management and some of her thoughts on what skills are important for a project manager.

Biography

Jan has over 20 years’ experience in project and change management via consultancy, training and education, having started her career within human resource management in the hospitality industry during the eighties.  During this time Jan developed, implemented and managed Trainee Management Programmes for the De Vere Group of hotels.

Jan’s project management career evolved through managing the development and implementation of EN ISO9001 Quality Management standards across a wide variety of business sectors including Ports Authorities and Chambers of Commerce, and also in Education.  Jan developed and managed the Dorset Quality Club which assisted several SMEs in gaining relevant accreditations.  Her main interest being the implementation of standards within the service sector with emphasis on Total Quality Management and Customer Service.

Building upon her experience, Jan is very keen on the development of governance structures and processes that effectively support Portfolio, Programme and Project Management environments enabling the implementation of organisation’s strategic change initiatives.  The key being the development of knowledge, competencies and behaviours that enable teams and individuals to perform effectively and meet their objectives.  Jan is currently working with high profile international  and national NGOs enabling the development of their P3M3 capability through the utilisation of tools and techniques that support best practice  via facilitated workshops, coaching and mentoring.

How long have you been working in project management?

Over 20 years but, in the early days, much of my work was not described as projects but assignments.  I started to realise that what I was doing was project management when I joined Park Place Training, the directors of which were originally employed by Hoskins, one of the leading project management training providers at that time.  Ken Bradley who founded SPOCE was one of the directors of Park Place Training.

Was project management a specific career choice or did you progress into it from a different role?

My original career choice was to become a lawyer, but circumstances dictated otherwise and I drifted from one career to another, looking for something that would provide the challenge, the constant learning experience and the interest that would get me up in the morning!  During later studies I wrote a dissertation on Total Quality Management and quality standards applied within the service sector.  The thinking back then was that quality approaches/standards could only be applied to manufacturing/engineering organisations as they produced a tangible product.  At this point I had to choose between a PhD or setting up my own business. I chose the latter and Southern Quality Services and my project management career were born.

When did you begin training others in project management?

When I joined Park Place Training in 1991, training PRINCE before it became PRINCE2.  We used to carry around a boxed set of four manuals and armfuls of acetates.  I was involved in developing and delivering a range of project management workshops, focussed on customer business requirements.  This was before project management qualifications were well established, and programme management hadn’t really been heard of.  During that period, I carried out a range of consultancy assignments focussed on the design and implementation of business management systems.

Have you seen the project management profession change over the past 10 years?

Absolutely!  The first qualifications were launched in 1996 with PRINCE2 and the Association for Project Management APMP, which I felt marked the first steps in the development of project management becoming a profession.  We then saw years of organisations trawling their people through these qualifications, expecting their investment in training to be realised on their bottom line; and those having gained the qualification claiming to be fully-fledged project managers.  As we know, training is only one part of the story in the development of competent project managers.

Over the past few years, more focussed qualifications have become available which has provided clearer understanding around programme, portfolio, benefits, risk and change management.  The future project manager will have to have a working knowledge around all of these disciplines to become a well-rounded professional.

The emphasis is now on application of knowledge and gaining practical experience, together with emotional competence.  Organisations are looking for a more rounded individual who can deliver a range of initiatives in an increasingly complex world.

How do you see the project management profession evolving in the future?

There are two aspects to this; the individual and the organisation.  The individual will have to be responsible for their own career development as few organisations provide a project management career path.  Individuals need to develop a portfolio of project management experience and gain the relevant qualifications to provide evidence of their competence and actively look for emerging opportunities.  The APM’s Registered Project Professional (RPP) provides an excellent standard to aim for and Parallel are well placed to provide support for this.

Organisations on the other hand need to develop more competence and capability in house to be able to deliver the required projects that enable the strategic changes desired.  They will develop their portfolio, programme and project framework structures and then identify the competence required to effectively deliver different levels of complex initiatives.  They will have clear governance structures, clear line of sight and effective information management and reporting strategies, which will enable good decision making.  In effect, they need to build the career path we mentioned earlier, providing opportunities for their aspirant workforce, with excellent coaching and mentoring support.  Recently the APM launched their Project Management Apprenticeship scheme, which is a good start.

 

What has been your greatest project success story?

The one that springs to mind was a small project but it had a huge impact on the organisation involved.  This was a Dorset engineering company, providing services and products to a large Midlands based manufacturing company.  Over 70% of their turnover was provided by this customer, who one day threatened to withdraw their business if the quality of their output didn’t achieve zero defects within six months.  The level of defects at that stage was very high.  The project scope included a complete review of their management and production processes to identify opportunities for improvement and also to achieve ISO9001.

With the commitment of the entire workforce this was all achieved within the timescale and their customer was delighted.  They provided more business opportunities by investing in new processes and plant, which extended their business scope and much needed capacity.  The Dorset based company went on to achieve industry based awards.

What, in your opinion, is the determining factor in the success of a project?

It is people that make projects happen.  Ensuring that each member of the governance structure understands their roles and responsibilities and having real commitment to the success of the project.   Applying effective management of stakeholders and really understanding their concerns and providing appropriate communication.  Changing a blocker to an active backer who champions a project can be quite satisfying.  The development of the project management team through learning and experience within the project environment.  Really understanding the team member and their place within the team, and providing focus on the task in hand.

What are your favourite project management tools and why?

The APM Competence Framework.  Its structure covers the technical, behavioural and contextual competence elements of project management and can be applied to all levels of project management personnel.  Each of the elements is broken down into topic areas which detail a range of indicators, focussed on knowledge and experience.

This was launched in 2008 and I was involved in the development of an online tool that could assess the competence of an individual, providing 360o analysis.  The tool provided each candidate with a learning programme designed to enable them to ‘fill the gaps’ to achieve their desired level of competence.  The tool could also provide analysis of groups of individuals, and we used the results to benchmark the organisation.

This tool is very flexible and can be tailored to reflect the target organisation’s business context and level of project management maturity.  We have also done work to apply the competence framework elements to support programme and project support personnel.

Being familiar with other competence frameworks, the APM is currently head and shoulders above the rest.

 

Is there a certain type of person best suited to project management?

Good question.  You could turn this around and state that certain types of projects would suit different people.  We have carried out development work and have identified that the more complex the project, the more the project manager has to be a competent and accomplished leader.  Most people have project management elements within their day to day work (although they may not be called projects) and project management is becoming a key competence of all managers as changes within the business world continue to pick up pace.

Personal attributes that we look for are ‘can do’ attitudes, high energy, flexibility, good communication skills, client focus, self-motivation, resilience, not afraid to make unpopular decisions, able to manage conflict and so on.  We can teach the tools and techniques that support project management, and to some degree make people aware of the behavioural aspects, but I still feel that project managers are born, not made.  You have to want to do it.

Can you give us an example of the benefits have you seen in organisations that have improved their project management framework?

I have seen a range of project management frameworks applied in many different organisations, providing varying degrees of benefits.  Appropriate application of a project management framework can provide organisations with a ‘clear line of sight’ ensuring that each project is supporting their strategy; each project investment is justified via its business case; providing levels of governance and accountability; providing information on project status and early warning indicators; ensuring that there is a clear beginning, middle and end of a project lifecycle.  Frameworks can provide an individual with support, knowledge, understanding and confidence and can be quite empowering, knowing that they are doing the rights things, at the right time, in the right way.

 

Thanks to Jan for taking the time to share some of her insights into the project management profession. She makes an interesting point that project managers are born not made – do you agree with her? Why not let us know and share your own thoughts…

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Project Management in 2013 http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/parallel-discussion/project-management-in-2013/ http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/parallel-discussion/project-management-in-2013/#respond Wed, 16 Jan 2013 14:32:44 +0000 http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/?p=1748 One of the aspects of project management that I enjoy is the fact that it changes over time – new approaches, changes to existing methodologies, a growing reliance on project management within organisations of all sizes and simply more projects. This all means that more is expected of project managers but it also means we…

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One of the aspects of project management that I enjoy is the fact that it changes over time – new approaches, changes to existing methodologies, a growing reliance on project management within organisations of all sizes and simply more projects. This all means that more is expected of project managers but it also means we won’t get bored with a humdrum role. Of course, there are those who might be satisfied with doing the same old type of project using the same old processes over and over again but if you like a challenge and want to progress your career in the project management profession then you should embrace change with open arms.

There will always be the need for consistently good project managers even in the tough economic times in which we now live; indeed the need for good project management is even greater now as budgets are being squeezed and projects are becoming larger and more complex. An awareness of project management is also creeping into many aspects of business and many different roles not conventionally associated with project management so it is becoming important that even those peripherally involved understand the basics of managing a project as organisations strive to improve the success rate of their projects.

And project managers themselves will need to continue to develop their professional skills to keep pace with the changes and be able to demonstrate their knowledge of project management principles, techniques and tools; particularly those working as consultants who want to showcase their skills and continue to secure the best jobs.

Organisations are increasingly seeking certified project managers in their bid to manage projects more successfully. But, of course, there will always need to be a balance between experience and qualifications – no amount of certification will make up for real-world project experience and a PM with many years of experience on paper may not have kept up with new developments and improvements in PM methods.

Take, for example, the fact that an agile approach to project management has been rising substantially over the past few years. In 2010 Gartner predicted that by the end of 2012, agile development methods would be used on 80% of all software development projects. Whether that has happened in reality or not the very fact that the PMI (a bastion of more traditional methods of managing projects) have introduced Agile certification shows that Agile has gained recognition as a valid approach to project management not only for IT projects but increasingly for projects in other fields.

An Agile approach has been shown to reduce product defects and improve team productivity when used in a well-controlled working environment so all project managers should have their eye on how much further Agile becomes integrated into project management lore in 2013 and beyond. Agile project management allows for rapid staged delivery and is highly flexible to change so there seems to be no reason why it will not continue growing in popularity.

Another area to watch if you want to improve your project management capabilities is stakeholder management. In the PMI’s updated PMBoK Guide – Fifth Edition (published January 2013) a new knowledge area has been created on just this topic to focus on engaging stakeholders more in project decisions.

Lynda Bourne gives some good tips on achieving effective stakeholder management on the PMI blog:

 

1. Know who really matters.

2. Know why those stakeholders matter and what they need or want.

3. One size fits no one.

4. Attitudes change constantly.

5. Everyone is biased (including you).

 

 

Why not share what you will be doing in 2013 to improve your project management skills? Will you be getting up to speed on Agile or improving your stakeholder management or something else entirely?

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Interview with John Bolton http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/parallel-discussion/interview-with-john-bolton/ http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/parallel-discussion/interview-with-john-bolton/#respond Fri, 21 Dec 2012 10:03:35 +0000 http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/?p=1733 The second in a series of interviews with project managers…   John Bolton is an experienced project management professional with particular expertise in the management of all types of projects and programmes across both the public and private sector. He is a registered Managing Successful Programmes Advanced Practitioner, a Registered Project Professional and PMP certified.…

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The second in a series of interviews with project managers…

 

John Bolton is an experienced project management professional with particular expertise in the management of all types of projects and programmes across both the public and private sector. He is a registered Managing Successful Programmes Advanced Practitioner, a Registered Project Professional and PMP certified. He has significant experience in the management of project managers.

Past projects include the implementation of ERP systems into manufacturing and government environments, the implementation of a management buyout from a local authority and he is currently working with schools on new build construction projects.

In his current role as Programme Development Director at Parallel Project Management, he spends most of his time working with clients on developing and delivering bespoke project management courses. He uses his experience to empower organisations to improve their project success rate and individuals to progress in their project management careers.

John offers his insights and opinions on the world of project management today.

Tell us about the first project you worked on in a project manager role?

In 1980 I was responsible for the migration of an entire computer system workload from one type of computer hardware to another. It was not recognisable as a ‘project’ in today’s sense of the word but it did require similar levels of planning and commitment. It is interesting to see the way that the informal management of things like this has become more and more structured. I do think that in some cases this has been at the expense of reactiveness and dynamism. There is a widespread confusion between compliance and control. Project managers should remember that the bureaucracy of a project is intended to add value. If the method becomes the project then you are doing it wrong.

Was project management a specific career choice or did you progress into it from a different role?

 

No, I started out as an indentured apprentice for Hawker Siddeley with every intention of making electrical engineering my profession. I ended up in the IT department (called Data Processing then) and migrated to that environment during the 80’s. I found myself managing myself and others and one day my job title became ‘project manager’.

 

How important do you think professional PM qualifications are for career progression?

 

I think that project managers need to have a sensible amount of basic PM education. They do need to make sure that this is complimented with experience and a suitable amount of technical knowledge. It is always useful to stretch ones-self to learn new things and develop a more thorough understanding where it is necessary. Having a structured view of personal development backed up with industry good practice such as the APM competence framework will help enormously. I think it is dangerous to develop academically too far and too fast without a secure grounding in the application of that knowledge. I know very good project managers with no formal qualification and some extremely well qualified (on paper) people who frankly couldn’t manage their way out of a wet paper bag.

 

How do you see traditional project management methods evolving in the future?

 

I think they will remain more or less static but the emphasis of them will become the management of people rather than charts and schedules. Things like stakeholder analysis are extremely useful but more as a catalyst for discussion and debate rather than revelling in the creation of a wonderful analysis grid. I have little time for those folk who spend all of their time planning. I have seen grown men reduced to tears trying to get Visio to produce a product breakdown structure because that is what is expected by the organisation ‘method’. Project managers only really need four things; a budget; schedule; a specification and a means of managing the evolution of all of those. Everything else is simply a means of achieving them.

Is there a certain type of person best suited to project management?

 

Pragmatist.

 

What real benefits have you seen in organisations that have embraced the control of a formal PM approach?

 

I see organisations being more successful and better controlled in the delivery of the things they are trying to do. They have better predictability of outcome and an ability to change and adjust their approach to accommodate any perturbations in the plan. Project managers have a clear view of what is expected and can demonstrate their successful achievement.

 

What is your view of Risk Management within a project?

 

The treatment of it as a separate topic is ridiculous. Project management is risk management. Everything PM’s are encouraged to do is geared towards the reduction of risk. Encouraging PM’s to follow a process to deal with risk is missing the point. Everything is to do with risk, from producing a schedule, agreeing requirements, calculating a budget, managing changes, etc are simply things that reduce risk. The thought that we can reduce the future to a list of things on a risk register is frankly bizarre.

1)      The things that actually go wrong are never on the risk log because no-one thought of them;

2)      Those on the risk log are never the things that go wrong because the PM knows what to do about them;

3)      The things on the risk log are only those that the PM knows what to do with because that way they look effective;

4)      The things the PM does not have an answer for are never on the risk log because they don’t have an answer for them and will therefore look ineffective if they appear without an answer;

5)      The things on the risk log are not ranked according to their assessed probability and impact  because if they were they would not be in the order everyone knows to be right;

6)      The risk logs are more or less the same as the things thought of last time because that is an easy way of populating a risk log quickly, thus looking effective.

7)      The only bigger cottage industry than risk management is basket weaving… or is it benefits management?

In your opinion, what are some of the toughest challenges faced by project managers?

 

Managing a project after the main contractor is appointed. It is very easy to become a passenger as they know that you have very little option but to carry on… They need to get people to follow them and get them to WANT to do the things the PM needs them to do. Any amount of paperwork and ‘stuff’ will be of no use unless there is a personal commitment and devotion to the project.

 

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Interview with Paul Naybour http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/parallel-discussion/interview-with-paul-naybour/ http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/parallel-discussion/interview-with-paul-naybour/#respond Fri, 16 Nov 2012 11:55:27 +0000 http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/?p=1597 Paul Naybour is an experienced project management professional with particular expertise in change programme management, risk management, earned value management and project management training development and delivery. His academic background includes a BSc (Hons) from the University of Manchester, an MBA in Project Management and he is PMP certified. Past projects have included managing the…

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Paul Naybour is an experienced project management professional with particular expertise in change programme management, risk management, earned value management and project management training development and delivery. His academic background includes a BSc (Hons) from the University of Manchester, an MBA in Project Management and he is PMP certified.

Past projects have included managing the delivery of multi-million pound development programmes for Network Rail and Transport for London, which involved sourcing project, risk, planning and commercial management training from a wide range of suppliers and partners. Paul has also delivered project management training to clients in the Telecommunications, Financial Services, Engineering, Construction and IT sectors.

In his current role as Business Development Director of Parallel Project Training, he spends most of his time working with clients on developing and delivering bespoke project management courses. He uses his experience to empower organisations to improve their project success rate and individuals to progress in their project management careers.

Today, Paul has agreed to share some of his background, experience and insights in the project management field.

When did you first start working in project management?

I first started working on project management in the early 1990s when leading a small team preparing for nuclear power station outages at British Energy. I was sent on a course to use a planning tool call Project Management Workbench, but soon discovered it was easier to plan the projects on paper. These were very time and quality critical projects and I enjoyed the momentum that developed as the end date approached.

Who or what has inspired you most in the project management world?

One of the first people I came across was Rodney Turner and the Goals & Methods Matrix devised by Turner & Cochrane (1993). I came across this model while studying for an MBA at Bristol Business School; it’s a really simple way of understanding the differences between the different types of project we manage. I remember meeting him a few years later and having the chance to discuss his work.

How do professional PM credentials/certification help project managers in their careers?

Most PM credentials lay the foundations for a successful career in project management. It is rewarding to see people who came on a course I delivered progressing up the food chain. I had dinner recently with someone I trained several years ago and they are now a projects director for Network Rail. He said he had found the APMP course I ran useful throughout his career. It is particularly useful that the APM have a range of qualifications for different stages in a PM career so that learning and development can continue at all levels of experience. I often see project managers progressing through the different stages from APM IC to APM Registered Project Professional.

What is your view on project management becoming a chartered profession?

UK PLC has demonstrated that it can deliver fantastic projects, in particular the 2012 Olympics, and professional status would help us to market these project management skills to the world. So on balance I support a more professional approach, but the delay in achieving chartered status is preventing other initiatives from moving the project management profession forward. I wish we would get a decision one way or another. A chartered project professional status will raise the bar in project management competence beyond the normal knowledge based qualifications such as APMP and PMP.

What personal attributes are most essential in project management?

In some project managers I see a pessimistic and sceptical approach to the project being really successful; as if thinking really hard about what might go wrong will ensure success. However, I think what’s important is a determination to succeed no matter what.  Things will go wrong along the path but we need to keep on progressing with the project. An ability to inspire people when times are difficult is essential plus a very high level of attention to detail. It is quite difficult to find people who have this unique balance of attributes, which is why there are very few outstanding project managers in the world.

What has been the greatest challenge you have faced in a project management role?

Moving from the Nuclear Sector, in which I had worked since graduating, to the Rail Sector. The project challenges were the same but the culture and approach was very different. I learned a lot about the way in which different organisations work. The Nuclear Industry places a lot of attention on quality whilst rail focuses on a balance of quality and cost.

In your experience, what are the most common risks in projects?

Customers and resources: Customers because they change their minds about what they want or don’t communicate it fully at the beginning of a project; Resources because either they are not available in sufficient quality or quantity or they are diverted on to different projects. Project managers can manage these risks by making sure they get a better brief from the customer and by challenging the assumptions and constraints. Often these are more flexible than they appear. Resources are always a problem, but it can be a matter of trying to keep the best resources motivated and focused on the project.

What are your favourite project management tools and why?

Microsoft project: I have used it for so many years I can nearly always get it to do what I want.  It is a very flexible and powerful tool but you have to avoid getting too carried away with putting too much detail into it. I prefer to keep the plan high level in MS/Project so that you can do a summary in a couple of pages otherwise it ceases to be so useful.

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PMP Certification A Project Manager’s Next Best Step http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/parallel-discussion/pmp-certification-a-project-managers-next-best-step/ http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/parallel-discussion/pmp-certification-a-project-managers-next-best-step/#respond Sun, 30 Oct 2011 09:44:37 +0000 http://blog.parallelprojecttraining.com/?p=1431 Financial ventures and creative campaigns today happen on much larger scales than they have in the past due to the evolution of communications and the global marketplace. For this reason endeavors such as these involve many more people. It is essential to have project managers that can maintain the integrity and direction of such projects…

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Financial ventures and creative campaigns today happen on much larger scales than they have in the past due to the evolution of communications and the global marketplace. For this reason endeavors such as these involve many more people. It is essential to have project managers that can maintain the integrity and direction of such projects in order to give them the best chance for success. Becoming a successful project manager involves having both a successful track record the proper education and credentials. These are the guidelines that companies and individuals use when picking out the types of professionals that they want to work with to ensure a lucrative future. A PMP Credential is a common type of certification that is sought after in this area of business. PMP or the Project Manager Professional certification leads the industry as an indicator that an individual has the necessary education and experience needed to successfully direct large and vital projects.

 

In comparison to other working project managers, studies have shown that those individuals employed with a PMP certification earn up to ten percent more than their peers in the field. Attaining this certification involves taking a simple exam that allow you to advance your career right away. This exam consists of two hundred question that are in a multiple choice format. While these specifications may sound simple, it is imperative that applicants prepare for the exam, regardless of the extent of their management experience. As is true with most standardized exams, study aides and study programs are beneficial. Those candidates that have been successful in the past report spending thirty-five hours or more in preparation. This time included many activities that allowed them to become familiar with the material and come into the exam with the confidence that helped ensure success.

 

Studying the PMP credential handbook clarifies all of the qualifications that this exam is designed to assess. Reviewing the PMP Sample questions also lets applicants become familiar with the structure in which content will be presented so that they can properly tailor their study methods to be as prepared as possible. For those individuals that do their best work in groups, there are Registered Education Providers that set up study sessions or can provide tested and published study materials. It is also recommended that applicants form study groups with their colleagues, whether those be individuals that they work with or new colleagues that they meet with virtually. Guides books can be found online which are consistently updated to provide students with the latest knowledge base and methods for preparation. By taking this exam you can get your career as a project manager started off on the right foot or take a step forward in the career path that you have already established!

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