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Archive for July, 2009

Review of “Build Your Service-Based Project Leadership Skills” by PM Lectures

Posted by iammarchhare on 31 July 2009

I was invited by The Project Management PrepCast™ to do a review on the project management lecture “Build Your SBPL Skills” by Cornelius Fichtner, of The Project Management Podcast, and Jack Ferraro, the author of PM Lectures Introduction to The Strategic Project Leader.  It is worth 3 PDUs.

This set of lecture modules is about 3 hours long, but since it is broken up into modules and submodules, you don’t have to view it all in one sitting.  In fact, I encourage you to not try to run a marathon and view it all at once.  Not only is there a lot of information, but there are worksheets which will make the lessons that much more meaningful.

In order to download the presentation, I had to fill out an online form.  Filling out the form was hassle-free, which I can’t say for a lot of sites.  I put the lecture into my cart, input my information and was taken to the download screen.  I downloaded the PDF that had the download instructions in it.  I then downloaded, unzipped and scanned the actual presentation, which took a while because it is 95.8 MB zipped.  It is chock full of multimedia files.  I then started the presentation as per the instructions.

I got a “dashboard” of the lecture listing the lecture modules.  You can select video or MP3 audio only.  There is also a column for worksheets on some of the modules.  The first video menu item took me to a presentation that oriented me to the player controls.  The controls are somewhat evident, but this player has a few extra features, so it is better to go through this overview one time.

As a side note, I recognized the voice of Cornelius Fichtner right away from some podcasts he has done.  That’s not critical for this review, but you might recognize his voice as well from the Project Management Podcast.

One thing that was odd is that the first two modules are listed for information only.  Evidently, they are part of an introductory series, but they aren’t strictly necessary for the subsequent modules.  This is explained in more detail in module 3, the first of this particular presentation.

On somewhat of a side note, there is a suggested reading assignment for Ferraro’s book, The Strategic Project Leader: Mastering Service-Based Project Leadership (Center for Business Practices).  I’m not sure how PM Lectures wants to market the presentation, but it might be helpful if the book is suggested as a package with the lecture.

I want to summarize all of the modules, but I expand upon module 3 a little more because I see relationships as being a lost element in the way we in the US conduct business today.  However, I also don’t want to repeat the entire presentation here, but hopefully it will be enough for you to see the value in pursuing it yourself.

Module 3. Trust-based relationships

There are rational and emotional relationships.  There is a need for a  balance in trust-based relationships.  It cannot be all one or the other.  Trust-based relationships hold people together with “positive energy” – needed to counterbalance negative energy.  Organizations need these relationships to push for change, to motivate and to get commitment.

Trust-based relationships must be built upon credibility and reliability.  They are 2 of the building blocks of a trust-based relationship.  These relationships are built upon knowledge, experience, skills and expertise, first of PMs and then of SMEs.  This supports the layer of trust.  When you think about this, it makes a lot of sense in the business environment, where your competencies are more highly valued than non-business relationships.

Intimacy is a 3rd building block.  Intimacy is defined in terms of sharing of personal, closely held emotions.  It is a sharing of information at a deeper than superficial level.  Risk is inherent within intimacy.  The other may or may not respond, as well as other risks.  However, the benefits outweigh the risks.

One thing that drives to my heart is that intimacy can be more difficult to build on a virtual team than on a team that is co-located.  Ferraro goes into the fact that it is possible to build intimacy on a virtual team, but that it takes longer.  He emphasizes that you still need the credibility and reliability to build upon or else the other can short-circuit conversations that might otherwise lead to intimacy.

Fichtner makes a concrete example of building intimacy.  Personally, I think the subject of virtual teams could have been elaborated upon with more concrete examples, as I can speak from experience on just how difficult it is, even though it is fairly common in companies today.

Self-orientation is the 4th building block.  A PM with a low self-orientation focuses upon others rather than oneself.  From the presentation:

Stakeholders recognize a PM with a high self-orientation.  Such Project Managers:

  • Relate everything to themselves
  • Quickly finish others’ sentences
  • Fill empty spaces in conversations
  • Won’t admit when they don’t know something
  • Use passive listening
  • Exhibit a lack of focus

[somewhat off-topic soapbox]

I’m elaborating upon this because I’m amazed at how many companies and individuals don’t get this.  Crass self-promotion is not the key to being a successful PM.  It is the key to being a self-interested jerk, and nothing more.

A good manager has high praise for their team.  A good manager highlights team accomplishments.  A good manager asks advice, whether from peers or from management, in overcoming obstacles.  A good manager does not put the spotlight on their self!  This often flies in the face of the business attitude of “tooting your own horn”, but the reality is that self-absorbed managers alienate their teams, their customers and management rather than build bonds of trust.

[/somewhat off-topic soapbox]

One of the problems with a PM with high self-orientation is that a jump can be made to a solution when all of the facts are not known.  Communication failures often are the result of this as well.  Patiently listening and acknowledging the others’ feelings and concerns are the antidote.  Low self-orientation and listening cannot be separated.

Module 4. Advisory & Consultative Leadership Skills of the Service-based Project Leader

Module 4 is easily the longest module, and it is broken up into 3 parts: 1. Leadership & Power, 2. Engage, Listen and Frame and 3. Vision and Commit.

Consultative leadership is the next level up on the pyramid from trust-based relationship.  “The consultative leader acts as an advisor because she seeks to serve the best interest of her stakeholders”.  Perhaps you have heard of a participatory leadership style, in which decisions are shared.  Consultative is similar, but key decisions are still more centralized.  The leader concentrates on advising and serving stakeholders.  The leader is still responsible for guiding the team in the right direction.

According to Ferraro, consultative leadership “allows others to be leaders”.

Ferraro makes an important point that part of advising is giving a recommendation to the stakeholders, after giving them options and educating them on their options.  Businesses want recommendations.  Sometimes, PMs are hesitant about recommending a course of action.  However, the stakeholders want recommendations based upon facts.  Therefore, the process outlined in the presentation is pretty important to walking this line.

The building blocks of the consultancy skills are Engage, Listen, Frame, Vision and Commit.

Ferraro doesn’t even duck the sticky issues of managing expectations and dealing with resistance.  He handles them like the other topics: head on.

This module has a worksheet, but this worksheet has a portion that your team fills out.  It is sort of a team self-evaluation, but you can use the results to work on areas to build trust relationships.

Module 5. Summoning Courage to be a Service-based Project Leader

Module 5 is the shortest module, but it is in only one part.

The copy I got is obviously not the final product as there is a placeholder at the beginning of the module. 🙂

Courage is presented as the mortar that holds together service-based project leadership.  The module gives insights to bolster the courage to move towards a service-based project leadership mode.  It covers attitudes, behaviors and a workable plan to build leadership skills.

Different environment impacts as well as convictions and attitudes towards risks are discussed.  An environment may be positive, neutral, hostile and uncertain environments are discussed.  In the positive or neutral, attitudes drive behavior.  In a hostile environment, the environment drives behavior.  In the latter, risk attitudes drives behavior.  Convictions also play a key role as to whether or not leadership competencies grow or stagnate.  It is easier to look at the diagrams in the presentation than to describe them.

Interestingly, Ferraro ties risk attitudes all back to the base of the pyramid, the level of relevant skill, knowledge or expertise.  If it hasn’t struck you before how much thought has gone into his model, you realize here that he has analyzed this from various angles.

This one also has the longest worksheet associated with it, but many of the questions were also asked in the presentation, so you should already be thinking about these things.

Conclusion

This review obviously only scratches at the surface of a thorough, well-researched presentation on service-based project leadership.

Throughout the presentation, honesty, truthfulness, trust open communication and clarity are stressed.  These are values I have found to be key to being a successful project manager.  Ferraro does an excellent job of weaving the themes of integrity and open communication throughout the presentation.  It is timely as well, with the emphasis in PMBOK® Edition 4’s emphasis on ethics.

However, he doesn’t stop there, but builds upon these values to come up with a framework or approach to project management that empowers the teams and stakeholders to give to their full potential.  I foresee many of his ideas becoming better known and shaping the future direction of project management.

This lecture set should soon be available on the PM Lectures website.  The first 2 modules, which I did not view, are available there already.  It should be an asset to many in the project management community.

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Why “Waste Time” on a Project Charter?

Posted by iammarchhare on 30 July 2009

It is interesting to me that even in places that have a project management process, the project charter is one of the most neglected pieces of it.  A project charter is sort of like a mission statement for a company.  It provides direction for the project, and periodic review of it will help to focus the entire team on what they are trying to accomplish.

Jamal Moustafaev of Thinktank Consulting wrote “How And Why Do We Write Project Charters?” that covers some excellent concepts around the project charter.

And yet, there are a couple of items that I don’t quite agree with.  Moustafaev writes:

“Hey, you know what you have to do; why waste time?” I have heard this question countless times from my managers and customers. One of my bosses went as far as saying, “What do you mean you need a week to write a project charter?! We are already late with this project and you are telling me you plan on wasting five full man-days on writing a charter? You know what you have to do, I know what has to be done and your team members understand the scope of work … why do you insist on writing that document anyway?”

I am trying to think of a single project where I needed an entire week to write up a charter.  In fact, I myself would seriously question anyone who wanted to take that long to do it.  Perhaps my reasoning will become clearer in a moment.

I agree that the project charter fills a need on 2 basic levels.  There is the project need, and there is the portfolio need.

For the project need, Moustafaev writes:

Let’s examine the micro view first. Basically project charter is a list of several questions that have to be answered, at least at a high level, before you are supposed to proceed ahead with a project.  The rule that I always continue to repeat to my students is that no matter how small your project is, if you can’t provide the answers to the questions you are about to see in the next sections of this article, maybe, just maybe, you are not entirely ready to proceed or do not have a project at all. Having said that, you do not have to write a project charter when planning to renovate your bathroom but you still have to know the answers to these questions either at the conscious or unconscious level. Some of these questions include:

  • What problem are we solving?
  • Where do you want to get to and by when?
  • How much money would we need?
  • How long will it take?
  • What kind of resources and materials will we need?

Now, I don’t know about you, but I see a problem already.  Keep in mind, the project charter is done in order to initiate the project, so it is done before planning.  The PMBOK® 4 says:

The approved project charter formally initiates the project.  A project manager is identified and assigned as early in the project as feasible, preferably while the project charter is being developed and always prior to the start of planning.

~ p 73

Furthermore, the project charter is an input to the project management plan.  The output of the project management plan includes the scope, schedule and cost baselines (p 82).

So, not only do I see an issue with what he wrote above, but also with:

Here are some of the examples of well-written project objectives:

“Design and build a prototype of a universal bottle corkscrew opener that complies with the department store specification by June, 2008 (SMART)”

“Complete the registration process for enrolment in the first year of the ABC University’s Business Administration program by May 2010 (SMART)”…

The only way this is going to work is to do the charter, go through planning and the update the charter once things like actual times and effort are known.  Otherwise, things like the amount you are going to spend or the duration of the project are basically just throwing darts at a board blindfolded in the dark.  And, if they are wrong in the charter, they will be more confusing and worse than if there are no such estimates in the charter at all.

However, Moustafaev more than makes up for this in other areas.  I particularly like his tie-in with net present value (NPV).  Unfortunately, it is pretty rare in my experience for a PM to get the time needed to weigh such factors or influence the decisions in such a manner.  Usually, these calculations, if done at all, are done before the PM is even assigned to the project.  Furthermore, options, and especially costs of other options, are often not shared with the PM.  However, it is handy to have in mind in case such information is available or can be asked for in a meaningful manner/environment.  In fact, he does step through some useful examples of how it can be effective.

So, give this a read.  It is only about 10 pages long, but it contains a lot of material, as you may have guessed by now.

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Tips For Agile Project Planning and Estimating

Posted by iammarchhare on 29 July 2009

I came across the Hub Tech Insider blog article “Twelve Tips for Agile Project Planning and Estimating”, and I’m pretty impressed.  I’m going to check out other articles offered on the blog as well.  However, there seems to be a short series of articles, and then it ends, unfortunately.

The first tip is also one I consider to be one of, if not the, most crucial:

1. Keep everyone on the team involved – Buy-In, or real commitment, from every member of he project team is vital to the success of the project. For example, the estimation of the project is an activity that should involve all members of the project team, while only very particular tasks such as prioritization of requirements should be the primary responsibility of the product owner or an individual project team member. The more work is shared by the team, the more victories the team will have to share.

From my experience, constant communication between team members is at the heart of Agile.  That’s why Scrum is so adamant about co-location for team members.

Anyhow, I hope that Hub Tech Insider continues on.

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Real Life Project Management: Economic Lessons from Mulching

Posted by iammarchhare on 27 July 2009

I republished the article “Real Life Project Management” as “Real Life Project Management: Economic Lessons from Mulching” on Associated Content.  I intend to make a “Real Life Project Management” mini-series.

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Knowledge Management: Fad or the Future?

Posted by iammarchhare on 27 July 2009

Is Knowledge Management dead or does it need to be revived and updated?

I have worked on Knowledge Management (KM), and I have to tell you it is amazing that anyone gets anything done in medium to large companies.  Everything is “tribal knowledge”, passed down orally or on scraps of electronic paper (such as emails) within each group from employee to employee.  No central person or group understands what information is needed, where it is stored or how to get to it.

The excellent PM Tips blog gave a pointer to an article on Social Computing Journal, a site which I had not come across previously.  I don’t know about the rest of the site,but the article by Dave Pollard titled “What’s Next After Knowledge Management? A Scenario” hits the nail right on the head, IMO.

Organizations are basically still organized the same way they were in 1975.  Senior Management sits back and makes decisions based upon a limited set of key information.  No one tells the boss bad news, so the boss is oblivious to front-line problems.  By the same token, employees are not privy to most of the information needed to make the top-level decisions or about what other parts of the company are doing.  Therefore, little is done to prepare employees to move up in the organization.  Worse, Gen Y is much more likely to work for numerous companies than ever before, not giving them any time to truly learn how the business operates.

The tragedy is that often neither they nor their senior managers think they need to know what the business is all about, unless and until they become senior managers themselves. So most employees spend their entire careers feeling under-appreciated, disconnected, unconsulted, and annoyed at stupid instructions and useless information requests from management. An they have a ton of very useful information about customers, operational ineffectiveness, and what’s going on in the world and the marketplace, that is never solicited, and never proffered.

KM is supposed to be about being able to find the right information when you need it.  Yet, most attempts have been fragmented and half-hearted.  Those are my words, BTW, based upon my experience, which seems to correlate well with Pollard’s stance.  There tends to be a “library management” view, a “technology project” view and a “training people” view of how KM should work.  To make it worse, though, senior management at best might view it cynically as a way to reduce costs but nothing that will add real value to their jobs.

In short:

In other words, in adding to the volume and complexity of information systems, we have added relatively little value, and in some cases actually reduced value. The reason for this is simple:

  1. We have not done anything to substantively improve the ability of senior management to manage the business (i.e. to manage cash flow, share price, risks or opportunities).
  2. We have not done anything to substantively improve the effectiveness of any of the information flows (arrows in the above diagram) that matter in organizations, or the quality of the information.

We have, in short, implemented a solution that addressed no problem. We introduced new KM tools because we could.

Ouch!  That hurts!

To make matters worse, paranoid companies actually make it harder, not easier, to find the information needed.  The needed information is usually “out there” in the wild, wild west of the worldwide web.  It may be in webmail, which I’ve seen many places restrict access to (forcing you to do stupid things like forward mail back and forth).  It may be on YouTube in an instructional video.  Pollard lists other activities that in some cases I’ve seen get restricted in the name of “security”.

So, you end up with an employee that hasn’t been around long enough to know the company, has information scattered all over, and the best they can do is scour an inefficient intranet that may or may not contain the information they need.

Yep, that pretty much sums up most large companies, I’d bet.

HOWEVER, Pollard goes on to discuss how KM will actually be very much needed in the future.  In fact, even now employees are finding ways around obstacles.  Pollard then updates the 1975 flow of information model to one that might work in the future.

I say “might” as in, companies still have a choice as to whether or not they innovate or die.

Posted in Knowledge Management | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

John D’s Computer and Network Services

Posted by iammarchhare on 24 July 2009

This is a shameless plug for my new company, and I wanted my blog readers to be among the first to know.  It is still in startup mode (I just acquired phone service today), but it isn’t too early to start getting the word out.

It is John D’s Computer and Network Services, and it is based out of the Akron/Cleveland area of Ohio.  We specialize in installation, service, repairing and general consulting for computer and network needs for individuals or small businesses.  No project is “too small”!

I am in the process of setting up a web site, but I haven’t even come up with a business logo yet 🙂

In the meantime, our telephone number is 440.499.5326 or 440.499.JDCN.

If you don’t know me well, you may wonder, “Why John D’s?  Shouldn’t it be JC’s?”  When I was growing up, I was rarely called John, actually.  I was usually called “John D” because it was easier to distinguish me from anyone else in the vicinity called “John”.  It basically stuck, esp. amongst family.

At any rate, the plan is to be basically open for business by Monday morning.  So, thanks for tolerating this shameless plug.

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Management By Walking Around By Any Other Name…

Posted by iammarchhare on 24 July 2009

I have posted before about “’Hands On’ Project Management”.  This fits in real well with this topic.

Jon Emmons of Life After Coffee shared his thoughts on “Management By Walking Around”.  Basically, Management By Walking Around (MBWA) is a technique for managing people by going around, observing, chatting, etc.

What it really means to me is that you cannot manage by sitting around in your office.  You have to get your butt out of the chair occasionally and go see what is going on.  It can be tempting to just sit in the chair and shoot off the occasional email and call it “managing”, but that just isn’t particularly effective.  Get up, breathe the air, see the sights and make yourself available to your team!

One caveat: Don’t run around micromanaging everything.  If you are using this time to run around with a checklist asking, "Are you done yet?  Are you done yet?" then it will be counterproductive.  Save that for the status meetings.  The purpose of this tour is different.

The question, though, is what do you do if the team is remote?  If you can visit them, you should.  Obviously, distance will make the intervals longer, but face-to-face time can be crucial.

What you cannot do with face-to-face, you try to make up for by regular telephone conversations, video conferencing and other means of communications.

Yet, as I try to step back and view what it all really means, I realize what we are talking about in essence is something that just plain is lost on most businesses today: relationships.  People are socially geared, and they need relationships.  By constantly communicating, observing, etc, you are building a relationship.  Hopefully, you are building one of mutual respect and trust.

Posted in Leadership, People Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Quotes About Plans

Posted by iammarchhare on 23 July 2009

I have come to the conclusion that some plans are actually good until the first stated action is executed.  Some plans are not good to begin with.  Are you dealing with “that kind” of project?  Is there a particular project that seems bogged down in a never ending stream of exceptions and/or indecisions?  Well, maybe some of these quotes will cheer you up and/or inspire you:

“Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.”
~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”
~ Peter F. Drucker

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
~ John Lennon (similar quote is attributed to Margaret Millar)

“A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”
~ Unknown

“Everybody’s got plans… until they get hit.”
~ Mike Tyson

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”
~ Proverbs 15:22 (NIV)

“Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.”
~ Denis Waitley

“He is the best man who, when making his plans, fears and reflects on everything that can happen to him, but in the moment of action is bold.”
~ Herodotus

“Happy people plan actions, they don’t plan results.”
~ Dennis Wholey

“It will not do to leave a live dragon out of your plans if you live near one.”
~ JRR Tolkien (The Hobbit)

“I always say don’t make plans, make options.”
~ Jennifer Aniston

“Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”
~ Peter F. Drucker

“It is more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly. Do not mistake activity for achievement.”
~ Mabel Newcomber

“I’ll probably make loads of plans, and then just sit around on my bottom all day long and do nothing.”
~ John Deacon

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week.”
~ General George S. Patton

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
~ Dwight David Eisenhower

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”
~ Woody Allen

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
“Gang aft a-gley,
“An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain
“For promis’d joy.”
~ Robert Burns

“Prior planning prevents piss-poor performance.”
~ Army saying

“Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans. It is lovely to be silly at the right moment.”
~ Horace

“It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.”
~ Ancient Chinese proverb

“No matter what other plans are out there, this is the best plan.”
~ Tom McMillan

“I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
~ Jeremiah 29:11

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Are Accurate Estimates a Myth?

Posted by iammarchhare on 22 July 2009

Yesterday, I pointed you to Robert Merrill’s post about “A Tale of two processes” comparing waterfall and Agile.  So, it seems appropriate today to point you to another of his posts “Software sanity: Accurate estimates and other myths” to round things out.

What is an “accurate” estimate, anyhow?  What is a “good” estimate?  Merrill writes:

Most people equate “good “with “accurate.” I equate “good” with “unbiased and complete, with reasonable accuracy given the time spent on estimating.” This is within every organization’s reach, relatively quickly. Getting incrementally more accurate may not even be worth the effort. Instead, we need to learn to account for estimation errors when selecting and running projects. We will never be accurate enough to let us off the governance and methodology hook.

You can read the rest here.

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Waterfall vs Agile

Posted by iammarchhare on 21 July 2009

I frequently like to compare waterfall and Agile methodologies, or perhaps mindsets would be a better term.  Yet, I realize that my descriptions are colored a lot by my own experiences.  So, I do like to point you to other sources from time to time that take a different approach or describe the differences in other terms.  I hope that gives the reader a more well-rounded look at things.

Robert Merrill on 18 February 2009 posted “A Tale of two processes”.  He starts out describing “How to create software” by writing:

Let’s create some software value. It’s very simple.

  • You tell the programmers what you want the software to do
  • They create it
  • You verify that it does what it’s supposed to
  • You let people start using it, and out pours the value.

Sounds simple, right?  Well, in a nutshell, he has summed up how waterfall is supposed to work.

I think the contrast is interesting and a worthwhile read.  You can read his article here.

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