KICKING OFF A NEW PROJECT? DO THIS FIRST

It’s always exciting—as well as hectic—when a new project receives the green light. Last-minute discussions are often held with stakeholders to finalize the details, and as the organization turns its attention to making the project official (usually in the form of assigning capital budget numbers and similar internal machinations) there’s often a lag between when your project management team knows the project is a go and when you can actually begin working on it in earnest.

Rather than waiting for all this to happen before your team turns its attention to the new project, there are things the PMO can do right now to increase efficiency and ensure success.

new projects

Set up a master project file. Establishing a full-fledged project folder—in a file cabinet, on the PMO’s intranet, etc.—is a crucial piece of infrastructure for projects large and small, but teams often hold off on this step until the project is “real.” That’s a big mistake. Yes, the executive team could still kill an early-stage project because of funding or other concerns, but it’s far easier to delete the project in your team’s internal systems than it is to play catch-up once the project is in full swing. Begin populating the file with the relevant information and the team will be one more step ahead.

Alert outside partners. Unless this project is on the super-secret hush-hush list, there’s little reason to keep vendors in the dark. You don’t need to reveal every last detail, but notifying them of an upcoming need will help everyone in the long run. Your partners will be able to begin earmarking resources to be sure they’re available, and you’ll have a much better chance of getting exactly the supplies and support you need. If the project has components that are new or uncommon to the PMO, this is a good opportunity to seek out and evaluate new vendors.

Look at staffing levels. Though some of the finer details of the project may still be in the works, even a rough idea regarding the type or amount of people resources you’re likely to need is a help (and hopefully something you’ve already estimated as part of the project’s planning phase). Whether you need to recruit a new team member or hire a consultant, both often require some lead time. Don’t put the PMO in a bind later—immediately begin gauging your needs and work with HR or an external consultancy to fill those gaps as quickly as possible.

Seek out opportunities for savings. Now is the time to consider what impact existing projects will feel once things get underway and how you can make the best of it. If there’s a potential to combine your team’s purchasing power or to consolidate tasks across multiple projects, start putting together preliminary plans right away. Work with your organization’s purchasing group to determine where deeper discounting on materials may be available. Contact the legal team to see if it’s possible to simply expand or extend existing contracts for labor resources and supplies. The time you save later will be well worth the effort.

Get people excited. As soon as the new project is official enough to be announced, do it. Let stakeholders and everyone else likely to be affected by the project know that efforts will begin soon and offer them with as much information as you can on details such as scope, timing, achievables, etc. Assure them that you’ll be providing regular updates as the project moves forward, and give them the name and contact information of the person who can answer any questions they may have.

Project Management Training Tips provided by PMAlliance Inc.

AVOIDING IMPROVEMENT BURNOUT

Successful project management teams are always looking for ways to streamline operations, reduce waste, increase cost savings, boost stakeholder satisfaction, and generally ensure more consistent results. Unfortunately, those PMOs that focus heavily on process improvements run the very real risk of subjecting team members to a form of “improvement burnout.”

Just as project professionals involved in long projects may experience burnout from time to time, those who are constantly asked to focus on process improvement opportunities are also susceptible to the same sort of occasional weariness. There are ways PMOs can avoid improvement-related fatigue and keep everyone engaged and excited about the team’s improvement efforts. A handful of suggestions can help your PMO maintain its enthusiasm.

improve management

Turn improvement efforts into projects. Just as time is allotted to planning and other project activities, tasks associated with improvement initiatives must also be given the necessary resources in both time and funding. PMO members will quickly become overwhelmed if their workloads aren’t able to support their project responsibilities as well as any improvement action items that have been assigned to them. Performance in both areas is almost sure to suffer as a result, driving morale lower and triggering serious burnout. Set realistic expectations for any improvement initiatives the team agrees to undertake, and be mindful of other obligations each member has on their plate.

Focus on one improvement project at a time. Unless your PMO is extremely large or the team is broken into distinct groups, it’s usually better to complete one improvement initiative before moving on to another. This allows the team sufficient time to execute each project while also giving them the much-needed opportunity to feel the rewards of their success. More importantly, staggering improvement initiatives ensures that any necessary benchmarking is able to be conducted—and the data captured and examined—before additional changes are made that could impact or inadvertently skew the results.

Partner with an improvement expert. Though PMOs are often able to execute improvement initiatives on their own, it’s sometimes helpful to bring in a project management consultant with deep expertise in managing successful improvement efforts. The benefits are two-fold: it gives your team an opportunity to learn some new techniques and hone their methodologies, and it may also be useful if your PMO seems to have one improvement project starting every time another is finishing. This type of never-ending cycle can contribute significantly to burnout issues, and an outside expert may be able to consolidate or prioritize various improvement initiatives for better results and less fatigue.

Know when improvement strategies aren’t worth the effort. Though most improvement opportunities are good in the long run, there are times when the benefits just aren’t compelling enough to make them worthwhile. Your team should be ready to identify any low-return opportunities and set them aside. Improvements to processes that are rarely utilized (because they only support a limited range of projects, for example) are one possible instance where the efforts likely outweigh the advantages.

Give everyone a break now and then. It’s crucial that every team member have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their labors without having to focus on which improvements they need to tackle next. It also gives the PMO a chance to step back and evaluate how the improvements are performing in the real world. In tandem with benchmarking data, team members can offer their perspectives on whether improvement efforts worked out as planned and where additional opportunities may exist to further streamline operations. This time away from actual improvement activities provides team members with the ability to more objectively see how previous practices have been improved.

TECHNOLOGY CAN INCREASE PMO PRODUCTIVITY AND IMPROVE PROJECT RESULTS

Technology has done wonders for the field of project management. From enabling our penchant for anytime, anywhere communications to the need to track burgeoning sets of detailed benchmarking data, technology tools help teams boost productivity and improve results. But there are still areas where technology isn’t always used to its maximum potential. See if your PMO is getting everything it can out of technology in these five key areas.

project management technology

Communication. Using smartphones and tablets for phone calls and e-mails is a no-brainer in today’s hyper-connected world, but that’s just the beginning when it comes to capitalizing on how robust the current crop of communication platforms has become.

Video conferencing, for example, has improved tremendously in recent years. Picture quality is better, increased frame refresh rates have all but eliminated herky-jerky feeds, and in-room hardware is less obtrusive and also lower in price than it used to be. In addition, many video platforms now support mobile devices, meaning workers can fully participate in video-based team meetings no matter where their projects take them.

Another communication platform that’s showing its worth in the project management arena is social media. Teams are using it to stay connected with each other as well as stakeholders and collaborators. Project photos and infographics can be quickly posted and distributed across the entire PMO without filling everyone’s inbox.

Data storage. Sure, project teams already know they can save documents and other project information electronically. Now it’s time to make storage even more efficient. A number of platforms are available that enable file sharing across the entire team (and all of their devices, too). This can help to eliminate the multitudes of duplicate copies floating around while also ensuring everyone is using the most up-to-date version.

Some storage solutions even offer per-file access privileges, automated destruction schedules that follow the team’s retention policies, and powerful versioning options. For PMOs working under regulatory oversight, these technology platforms may help with compliance and other issues.

Knowledge transfer. Expanding the knowledge and skill base within a PMO may be a mostly face-to-face effort, but technology can give it a measurable leg up. Intranets are just one example. They allow project teams to establish wiki-like repositories for information specific to the group, where anyone on the team can search for and locate exactly what they need.

Project management training, too, can be made more effective through technology. Video feeds of educational sessions can be stored for later viewing and training modules can be offered online to remote workers. New hire orientation and similar recurring presentations are also excellent candidates for digital archival and playback.

Brainstorming. Technology sits nicely alongside the conventional big piece of paper and felt pen when it comes to brainstorming. Platforms are available that facilitate mind mapping, task dependency planning, organizing thoughts into logical structures, determining actionable items, and sorting follow-up activities.

Most of these software suites save brainstorming sessions for later review and further updating, while also providing access to multiple team members across a variety of devices. With the PMO’s brainstorming data stored electronically, it can more easily be filtered out to other programs, such as task management and resource allocation platforms.

Mobility. Many of the technology platforms project teams rely on now have a mobile component. Resource allocation, budget forecasting, timeline development, and even status updates can now be done through a mobile application, often with the data pulled from and stored back into the same shared storage location the team uses when at their desks. Some platforms also allow for offline storage, so your team’s mobile devices remain an effective tool if they’re out of wireless range.

BETTER PMP RETENTION THROUGH TRAINING

Project management is a highly competitive field, and experienced, skilled project management professionals are in demand in industries across the spectrum. Retaining key employees continues to be a challenge, with organizations continually looking for innovative and compelling ways to keep high-performing PMPs on board.

One concept that’s often overlooked, even in progressive PMOs, is the role project management training plays in employee retention. As the project management field continues to expand and diversify, it’s no longer enough to offer workers new opportunities for growth and career advancement. Top-level PMPs expect more for their efforts, and a thoughtful, forward-focused training program can be a compelling benefit.

project management training

A well-crafted training initiative contributes to employee retention objectives in several ways. One of the more obvious and traditional concepts is that a wider variety of responsibilities are open to workers when they broaden their skills. On a more intangible level, workers also want to feel valued. They’re investing a portion of themselves every day in the organization, and they prefer to work for an organization that invests in them in return. Along with compensation and general working conditions, these are the kinds of benefits PMPs look for when weighing their employment options.

The details of what constitutes engaging training will vary by organization, but PMOs can use the following tips to maximize the hiring and retention advantages of their particular program.

Training can’t be an afterthought or an add-on. Programs that focus only on baseline skills, that don’t encompass the latest thought leadership on methodologies and best practices, or that only target junior-level team members send the message that the organization doesn’t truly believe in the value of solid project management training. The skill sets needed to successfully execute projects continue to expand. Soft skills, such as leadership and communication, also have greater importance as PMOs increasingly rely on diverse, distributed teams. Training curriculums must keep pace, evolving to meet emerging needs.

Don’t limit training to what your group already knows. Niche skills and insight into best practices are sometimes better found outside the organization. Internal team members are often fantastic repositories of knowledge, but if they’re the only ones contributing to the training program then PMPs aren’t getting the comprehensive education they need and expect. An inside-only program also has the potential to limit the range of skills team members are able to develop. Outside experts are sometimes the best resource for specialized or advanced training, and an organization that recognizes the value of external trainers will set the standard for ongoing education.

Don’t overlook technology training. New tools, software platforms, even mobile applications are often sizeable investments. PMPs want to get the most out of them and training is frequently the best way to make that happen. Maximizing efficiencies is just the tip of the iceberg, though. The latest crop of technology offerings give project teams the power to conduct far more in-depth benchmarking exercises, to produce more granular cost projections, to leverage more comprehensive historical data, and to better allocate finite resources. An organization that takes technology seriously will also give it the attention it deserves when it comes to training.

Make time for training. Too many organizations continue to haphazardly cram training between other duties, shortchanging the entire team in the process. PMPs are often already losing time at the office and at home because of travel schedules and other demands. A company that exacerbates that issue by not carving out sufficient time for training lowers worker satisfaction and compromises the ability to retain key employees. Training is an important activity. Organizations must make it a priority and put real action behind that mission.

DOES YOUR PROJECT MESH WITH THE STRATEGIC MISSION?

Seeing a project through from initial planning to completion is a big job. Challenges can come from many angles—stakeholders with ever-changing needs, vendors with busy schedules, and sometimes even executives with competing priorities or difficult strategic objectives to support.

One thing project management professionals know is that overcoming these obstacles becomes monumentally more difficult if the project isn’t tightly aligned with the organization’s overall goals or mission. A disconnect, even a relatively small one, can significantly dampen enthusiasm and engagement. It often leaves the project team on its own, with little meaningful support from the very stakeholders it needs most.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always obvious that the project’s problem revolves around misalignment with the organization’s wider objectives. This is particularly true when an executive has made the project into a personal pet (giving the appearance of support without formal buy-in), or when market pressures or other influences have changed the company’s course and affected the project’s relevance.

If your PMO is sensing support for a project has wavered but the cause isn’t clear, see if these telltale signs sound familiar.

Funding is difficult to secure. Getting money approved for projects is often a tough task even when stakeholders are eager and supportive, however, a PMO that’s constantly bumping up against resistance for even baseline funding should take a step back and figure out why. Projects that aren’t closely linked to the organization’s mission may look good on paper but may not pass the business case test. It’s also possible that stakeholders will express encouragement for the project but won’t be able to prioritize it over competing initiatives (which may be better aligned with the company’s current strategic direction).

You’re repeatedly asked to present the business case for the project. This may be due to other factors, such as a simple lack of understanding on the part of those reviewing the business case, but it could also be a symptom of an organization that isn’t quite convinced the project is worth the effort. Evaluate your communication strategy to see if your approach is lacking. Determine where you can provide more concrete details about how the project serves the organization’s wider goals. It may be as straightforward as asking stakeholders if they’re looking for additional justification points or specific data related to the project.

Your project has been shuffled between different budgets or business units. Sometimes dollars or initiatives need to move to a more fitting home, but this type of reorganization could spell trouble if it happens repeatedly. It may point to a company that believes in the project in principle but can’t quite seem to make it fit in with the current mission. If one or more reshuffles gives you cause for concern, consider working to align the project with the goals of a particular department or functional area. These will sync up with the organization’s overall mission on some level and your business case may be better received by the group you’re directly partnering with on a daily basis.

Scope creep is the order of the day. As annoying as scope creep is, it can be extremely useful as a harbinger of mission misalignment. Stakeholders sometimes begin by suggesting a series of changes to objectives and they’re often unusually receptive to deadline extensions for critical milestones. On the end user side of the project, your team is likely to receive requests for achievables that weren’t discussed during the project’s initial planning phase. Overall, scope creep associated with unaligned high-level objectives may look like the organization is seeking a project that’s nearly unrecognizable compared to the one that was actually approved.

project management team work

Project management training tips provided by PMAlliance Inc.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING CROSS-SKILLED

Project management teams are comprised of individuals with a variety of backgrounds, experience levels, and skill sets. That’s one of the strengths of the PMO—they possess a deep well of expertise in multiple areas. There are many advantages to this structure, but savvy PMPs are increasingly seeing the need to broaden their capabilities and learn new skills and techniques outside their established disciplines. While the concept is sometimes a tough sell (training costs time and money), those PMOs and project professionals that have embraced the notion of cross-skill training know the advantages are numerous.

Adding skills, particularly those outside the usual project management arena, gives PMPs far more flexibility in the types of projects they tackle. The PMO gains new insight and methodologies for approaching specific issues or problems. Pursuing knowledge in human resources, for example, would allow a PMP to apply more advanced techniques to staff oversight and development. It would also provide them with expertise well suited to managing a project involving the implementation of a new HR technology platform or construction of a space dedicated to candidate interviews and new hire training.

By applying a deeper level of knowledge of the areas and operations a project will impact and ultimately improve, the PMO is able to increase its value to the project’s stakeholders. Team members will be better positioned to function as good project advocates. They will likely have an improved understanding of the challenges stakeholders face as the project impacts their workflow, and deeper insight into how issues that crop up in the project will affect stakeholders and their day-to-day operations.

Expanding the range of skills within the project management discipline also benefits the organization. Studying risk management practices in depth, for example, gives a PMP the ability to take on those projects with a significant risk profile and to better manage or mitigate the liabilities the organization may encounter. In addition, a PMP with risk management expertise is in a position to oversee high-risk projects which might otherwise be outside the scope of the PMO to handle internally.

Even where robust skill sets are already available within a project office, increasing the abilities of team members often pays dividends in the long run. PMPs with extensive backgrounds in finance management, as an example, can cover for each other during vacations or they can team up on projects involving complex financial requirements or finance-focused regulatory oversight. Not every PMP needs to exercise these cross-skills in every project, but having them available is a benefit to the team, to stakeholders, and to the company.

Nearly as important as being cross-skilled is knowing where gaps in expertise exist, at both the individual level as well as across the project office. Not only does this knowledge allow each PMP to focus their training efforts on the areas that will be most beneficial, it also gives the PMO an opportunity to prioritize and plan for filling those gaps appropriately. It may make sense to provide training in a particular area or discipline, or the PMO may choose to identify an external expert if time and budgets lean that direction.

Justifying cross-skill training can be difficult in some organizations. PMPs should be ready with a thorough overview of the specific skills they would like to pursue, along with examples of projects that would have benefitted from having those capabilities in-house. Be sure to include all potential impacts, including workflow efficiencies, cost savings, improved vendor management, reduced time to accomplish specific tasks (e.g., meet compliance deadlines or complete contract negotiations), and the need for fewer labor resources either internal, external, or both.

project management cross skilled training

Benchmarking Blunders

Most PMOs have encountered them: those times when benchmarking data is either lost, doesn’t make sense, or just flat doesn’t support the business case the project team is trying to make. See if your organization has stumbled into any of these benchmarking blunders. We’ve also included tips for finding a resolution to each of them.

project benchmarking

Data sets are lost or incomplete. This could be the result of faulty equipment or misunderstandings within the team about who was going to collect and store the information. Once you’ve determined where the error occurred, consider if there are ways to recreate the data. Depending on the information your team intended to capture, it may be possible to pull the data from paper records or other sources. Vendors might have at least a portion of the information within their systems. It may also be feasible to access a backup copy if the current version of the file was inadvertently deleted or can’t be found in the folder that’s supposed to house it. If you’re not able to completely restore the data set, be sure to note it in any reports your team offers so there are no misunderstandings on what was benchmarked and what wasn’t.

Stakeholders aren’t in agreement on benchmarking data. The most common conflicts arise around the issue of which metrics matter. Project management teams may focus on one set of data while end users are more concerned with another. There’s also a possibility various stakeholder groups simply don’t understand what the benchmarking data means. Providing them with a bit of background along with the report can often clear up any confusion. It’s also helpful to put organization-specific benchmarking data into perspective. Consider including data for your company’s overall industry, or for the type of project (or possibly the operational area) the project supports.

The team’s conclusions aren’t supported by the data. This usually comes as a surprise to everyone and it can leave the team scrambling for answers. First, step back and evaluate the data you captured. Is it complete and were your gathering techniques sound? Did you capture what you thought you captured? Now look at the data in detail. Are there market cycles or recurring patterns that should be taken into account? Depending on the duration of time reflected in the data that’s been gathered, it’s possible the team is only looking at one portion of that cycle. If, however, you find that the metrics just don’t match expectations and initial predictions didn’t pan out, the best course of action is to simply acknowledge it and move forward.

Team members don’t agree on the methodology. Found most frequently when setting internal performance metrics, there are sometimes differing opinions on how and/or when data should be gathered and how the results will be interpreted (or possibly who will interpret them). It’s crucial these disagreements and differences of opinion be evaluated and put to rest before data collection begins, otherwise you’re likely to come out of it with irrelevant data or a sub-group of individuals who disregard the findings. The best strategy is typically a mixture of compromise and informed leadership directive. Bring the team together to discuss the purpose of benchmarking specific performance indicators. Review the various methodologies preferred within the team and the merits or drawbacks of each. Take the time to solicit and examine any concerns. The PMO’s leadership team must then make a final decision on which methodology will be used. Supporting reasoning should also be revealed, so even if specific team members aren’t happy with the decision they can at least understand the rationale behind it.

9 Documentation Mistakes Project Teams Make

Documentation is a huge part of project management. Everything from background reading to comparing old and new contracts happens with the material your PMO has already gathered. But project management professionals have a lot going on, and sometimes their documentation practices get sloppy. See if your team is making any of these 9 documentation mistakes.

1 – Documentation isn’t vetted before being sent offsite. When workloads are hectic, the first inclination of many project teams is to throw everything and the kitchen sink into several boxes and archive it. That means out-of-date versions of important documents are probably lurking in a box somewhere, just waiting to confuse someone later.

2 – Background materials aren’t readily available. PMPs frequently need to reference documentation from previous projects. When hard copies are sent offsite for archival, thorough records aren’t always kept of where the different types of documents are located. Recalling specific materials becomes cumbersome and time consuming.

3 – Only one person understands the filing system. It makes sense that many PMOs designate an administrator or other point person to oversee filing, electronic document storage, archival, and retrieval tasks. But if that’s the only person who knows how to find anything, Murphy’s Law says they’ll be out of the office when someone needs to review an old budget spreadsheet.

4 – Electronic copies aren’t treated as part of the official project record. Digital documents are easier to distribute and store than their paper brethren. Unfortunately, that sometimes means they’re treated more casually than hard copies. Changes made to digital documents aren’t always captured in the project’s master files during the wrap-up phase and electronic records often languish rather than being deleted according to the organization’s records retention schedule.

5 – Security isn’t taken seriously. With very few exceptions, there is likely at least some amount of sensitive data stored in your PMO’s project files. That confidential information can range from internal communications outlining strategic market research to hiring records to classified vendor pricing. Sensitive paper documentation too often sits in unlocked file cabinets, and electronic documents aren’t always protected by a password.

6 – Things are scattered. Electronic files live on the computers of the various people who created them. Some paper records are kept in file cabinets within the PMO area but budget documents are stored in the Accounting department. Contracts are retained by Legal. Sound familiar? This usually leaves multiple versions of one document in circulation, and important records are sometimes overlooked when items are eventually archived.

7 – The information retention schedule is ignored. Throwing a document away (or deleting it, now that most of what we do is digital) gives some people the willies. This leads PMOs to determine that nearly everything their team creates warrants an exemption from the organization’s formal document retention schedule. The group ends up with far more material than they really need and the organization could potentially face legal and other liabilities if out-of-date documents come back to haunt them.

8 – Formats are inconsistent. Today’s PMPs are using more than a few methods to access and create documents—desktop computers, tablets, smartphones, web interfaces, and old fashioned paper to name just a few. But can everyone read that spreadsheet on their phone? Does the web portal render older drawings and schematics accurately? Incompatible formats typically lead to multiple versions of the same document, increasing the chances for errors and miscommunication later.

9 – Information is missed. It’s that old classic tale: Everyone thinks someone else will record important data or update an existing file, but ultimately no one does it. This leaves the team’s documentation sorely lacking, likely causing problems (and inefficiencies) later.

Project management documentation

Project management training tips provided by PMAlliance

AVOID CHECKLIST FAILURE POINTS

Checklists are fantastic tools for project management professionals. They’re useful for everything from ensuring the right people are included on important e-mails to closing out contract negotiations. But there are some areas where checklists leave something to be desired. Below we’ve pulled together a few common places where checklists fail, and what PMPs can do to fill in the gaps and keep their projects running smoothly.

The problem: The myriad hand offs that occur throughout a project are among the most glaring potential checklist failure points. No matter if the project is large or small, there are sure to be lots of transitions. Tasks are handed off from one individual on the team to another, and sometimes they’re also sent outside the PMO for further action. Information is also frequently handed off, shifting from team to team as the project moves forward and data is updated or expanded. Even labor resources may be passed from one area of responsibility to another as different phases of the project ramp up and wind down. Checklists, however, are often less transitory. This opens the door to potential disconnects.

The fix: Consistent follow up is key when it comes to hand offs. The simplest solution is to add a post-transition follow up. This gives team members the opportunity to ensure that the completion of any additional actions impacting their areas are confirmed. It’s also a good spot for a double check, since the individual receiving the hand off may not have good visibility on any outstanding activities.

The problem: Isolated changes to a project’s checklists provide the perfect breeding ground for failures. That’s because, with the hectic pace of activities during the project, it can be difficult to let those managing dependent areas know about each and every change. But it’s also tough to recall minor changes once the project winds down. Checklist changes then fall into no-man’s land—updated in one area but not revised in others. This has the potential to put activities out of sync or leave important information undistributed when the next project begins.

The fix: Without adding too much to the team’s workload, consider maintaining a list of all changes made to every checklist used within the PMO. Changes should be added to the list as they happen, with the entire list being reviewed during the post-mortem phase to ensure that any updates in one area are disseminated to other portions of the team as appropriate. It’s likely many changes won’t have wide-reaching effects, but it’s better to capture the information and not need it than to run into difficulties later.

The problem: There is no “typical” project. This leaves a lot of checklists—many geared toward the type of project the PMO handles most often—inherently incomplete. Every project will have its nuances, from the use of a niche vendor to the inclusion of new internal stakeholders. If there is no provision for these sorts of changes to be made within the checklist structure, something is almost certain to be overlooked. Compounding the issue is that non-standard items from previous checklists are often removed as soon as the project is complete, leaving the potential for omissions when a similar project again comes through the PMO.

The fix: The post-mortem analysis and pre-launch activities are key opportunities to round out any tasks or other data that may be missing from the PMO’s master checklist templates. It’s preferable that boilerplate checklists have items that can be crossed off before the project even begins rather than be missing checklist components when the team is in the throes of a complex and time-consuming project.

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Project management training blog & tips provided by PMAlliance

6 Signs Your Advocacy Program Needs a Boost

A strong culture of project advocacy contributes significantly to repeatable success. But sometimes even savvy PMOs discover their advocacy efforts are falling short. See if any of these 6 warning signs sound familiar. They may signal it’s time for your project management team to double down on developing better project advocacy habits.

1 – Stakeholders express surprise as the project’s approved objectives. It’s common for a project’s objectives to evolve as planning gets underway, and some may be trimmed or eliminated once budget and other operational discussions begin. However, if team members are actively engaged in their role as advocates, stakeholders won’t be surprised by these events. User input and concerns should be solicited throughout the process, with strong two-way communication channels keeping everyone in the loop on what’s expected, what’s possible, and why particular requests have been pulled from consideration.

2 – End users aren’t interested in attending project meetings or presentations. These groups should be eager to know what’s happening, so if they’re dismissive of invitations your team should take notice. They may feel they’re too disconnected from the process or that the project’s objectives don’t match what they were hoping for. End user participation should normally be robust, and it’s something your PMO can encourage at all stages in the project. If this stakeholder group disengages at any point, it may indicate a failure in your team’s advocacy efforts.

3 – Few in the PMO interact with end users. Communication channels are often necessarily constricted—to maintain consistency of information, to streamline operations, to ensure necessary approvals are given before news is released, etc.—but day-to-day interactions should still be the norm, not the exception. Good advocates get out from behind their desks and make a point to reach out to end users and other stakeholders regularly. Even if your PMO has identified one or two point people to act as primary project advocates, everyone on the team should work to engage stakeholders and ensure the project is successful.

4 – Stakeholders are unwilling to accommodate work disruptions. Anytime operations are disturbed or impacted it’s an inconvenience for users. But if your PMO has been doing a good job of cultivating an environment of advocacy, stakeholders should not only be in the know about planned disruptions but should also be supportive of accommodating them. The reason? When the culture nurtures project advocacy, stakeholders are full partners, and are eager to see the project’s benefits come to fruition.

5 – The leadership team micromanages the PMO’s inner workings. Worries may crop up when executives aren’t well informed about the project team’s operations, or if they see different protocols applied to different projects. No matter where concerns originate, it’s crucial the PMO boosts its advocacy role and views the leadership team as another stakeholder group (though one with slightly different needs and expectations). Better communication will provide a starting point, followed by interactive discussions about the concerns, education on how operations are carried out, and ongoing engagement to ensure that any worries have been addressed.

6 – Budget or contract processes are slow-moving or filled with glitches. While this may point to other concerns—lack of project support from the executive team, for example—there’s also a strong possibility that poor advocacy efforts are playing a role. Project advocates should be proactively working with internal partners to ensure all necessary hand offs of go smoothly, that questions are answered early in the process, and that any requests for additional information are addressed as quickly as possible. This keeps administrative issues moving forward and prevents them from interfering with the project’s progress.

project advocacy

The Benefits of Including Project Sponsors in Your Training Program

Corporate America invests millions of dollars each year in project management – offices, technology, project management training, and project management consulting support. Conversely, data reflects that even with project management being a relatively common process used at most companies; project success rates do not reflect the investment. Studies show that project management success rates range between 35 to 45% – far from a sensational benchmark to brag about. Bottom line, despite many companies investing in project management infrastructure most projects are not delivered successfully (on-time, within budget and to desired quality). Though the root causes for project failures are many, one glaring deficiency becoming clearer is the lack of project management training at the sponsor level. Project managers usually garner most of the attention for project management training initiatives, followed by team members and software experts. However, project sponsors – those individuals who fill the role of resource provider, key decision maker and remover of obstacles -tend to slip through the training cracks. Including project sponsors (and executive stakeholders) in project management methodology training will help three key areas project sponsors training: (1) better project direction, (2) better project data utilization, and (3) improved cultural adoption of project management.

Common Characteristics of Productive Sponsors

  • Understands the Planning Methodology
  • Provides Active Direction During Planning Sessions
  • Stays Current on the Latest Project Status Report
  • Uses the Project Information Provided to Challenge Teams
  • Commits to Instilling PM in the Corporate Culture
  • Is Present and Engaged During Control Meetings

Better direction

The project sponsor plays a key role in defining the strategic direction of the project and communicating management’s expectations for the project. This information is often times captured in the form of a project charter. If a project sponsor has not been involved in the basic building blocks of project charter development, they often times struggle to provide
clear direction to the project manager. The result is the project manager may drive the team to successfully completing the wrong project! The project sponsor is the conduit between the executive stakeholders and the project manager. Without a clear understanding of how to communicate the objectives of the project, how the objectives of the project determine the key deliverables, and how the project manager can best deliver the project with specified deadlines; the sponsor is ultimately helping to facilitate a failed project. By ensuring your project sponsors are grounded in the same project management methodology as the project manager, you are providing your project manager and team the best opportunity to launching a successful project.

Better Project Data Utilization

Project management information is not very valuable if it is not being utilized effectively. Even the most detailed report package or visually stimulating powerpoint presentation will fall on deaf ears if the recipients do not know what they are supposed to do with the information provided. To this point, the sponsor’s key role throughout the course of the project is to allocate and redirect resources as needed, remove obstacles preventing the project from moving forward, and providing strategic direction to the project manager, among others. Without the sponsor understanding the same planning methodology as the project manager, discussions on concepts of critical/controlling path, compression techniques, and resource management alternatives, will often get confused. In the end, the sponsor and project manager may either get misaligned or the sponsor gradually becomes disengaged. By including the project sponsor in the project management training, they are able to internalize the data being presented to them, understand strategic options and provide more sound direction to the project manager.

Cultural Adoption

Successful project management initiatives are not rolled out without some discomfort involved. Project management is a process that involves the team’s time, focus and commitment to success. Without these elements, everyone is simply going through the motions and not viewing project management as a value added management tool. When utilized to its fullest, project management can be an early warning system that helps reduce organizational stress and assists the project team with prioritizing their time.  A strong sponsor that is well trained in the planning methodology and bought into its success can act as a “lightening rod” in channeling project success into a cultural game changer. By driving the team to become engaged in the planning and control process and utilizing the techniques they have been trained in, they can quickly generate momentum that illustrates their investment (time and budgetary) are worthwhile.

The project sponsor fills a critical role in the success of a project and thus should be grounded in the same planning and control concepts as the project manager and team. By not including the sponsors in the training, the message received from the project manager and team is “do as I say, not as I do” – a recipe for failure. By speaking the same project management language the sponsors are able to take a more active role in setting the direction of the project, ask the right questions when the project management data is presented, help the project manager navigate potential obstacles during the project execution and ultimately motivate the overall corporate culture to adopt project management as a value added process.

project sponsors training

 

Team Project Management Training Done Right

Many PMOs include team-based project management training sessions as part of their educational program. It’s often an effective way to solidify preferred methodologies among all members while enhancing communication between working groups and smoothing out task hand offs. But creating useful team training courses takes more than just putting everyone in a room and giving them a curriculum. Savvy PMOs will get the most out of their training investment by following a few simple guidelines.

Be thoughtful when setting class size. It’s not only important to include enough team members to make team training useful, it’s also critical that training not include too many people. You want to elicit good discussion and knowledge sharing without making the class overwhelming for participants or unwieldy for the instructor. If the sessions are intended to convey information on new processes or changes to administrative procedures, then interactive portions will probably be less frequent and a larger group may be workable. On the other hand, teaching new skills or rounding out niche competencies is usually best done with smaller subsets of the team.

Balance cost with scheduling. Depending on the topic and the dynamics of the team, it may make more sense to hold several smaller training sessions than one big, all-encompassing event. Weigh what you expect the training to accomplish before signing up for the least expensive option. If attendees don’t receive the level of instruction or depth of knowledge necessary, then your PMO will likely need to invest additional time and money in follow-up sessions.

Consider personalities before lumping team members together. Mixing strong personalities with those who are more reserved can be an effective strategy, but think carefully about how you include those at either end of the spectrum. Will a group of particularly energetic members overpower one or two individuals who are typically more subdued? In some cases these lopsided classes are a big hit, but you’ll need to take your team’s individual personalities into account before deciding what will work best.

Format matters. Will the course feature breakout sessions? Is a single-day event the most appropriate length? Is it advisable to group together members who manage similar disciplines? Would it be preferable for the team to conduct scenario discussions using the PMO’s real-world projects instead of hypothetical examples? Look at the team’s needs when determining which format will offer the most effective training experience.

Onsite or offsite? There are big pros and cons for each, so weigh them carefully before deciding. Onsite project management training may appear less expensive at first glance, but beware the potential for reduced productivity when attendees flock to their desks at break time to check messages or take care of tasks. By contrast, offsite sessions usually entail more travel and lodging costs, and individuals must plan for time out of the office. On the plus side, offsite events typically have fewer interruptions and remote workers may save time and money by traveling to a more central location.

Work closely with the instructor. Experienced trainers may already have ideas on how to address your PMO’s particular challenges, whether it’s devising a format suited to the team or moving the sessions along at a pace that allows junior members time to soak up the knowledge they need. Talk with the instructor about what you’re hoping to cover and which areas the group needs to focus on to move forward. Some instructors may also be able to accommodate requests for multiple training sessions in different regions to accommodate workers at satellite locations. Ask for the trainer’s input and then work together to create sessions that address exactly what your team needs.

PMAlliance has a national open enrollment training schedule
For more information on the event locations and schedules click HERE

 

 pmTraining

FIXING A BROKEN PROCESS – PART 1: IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM, CREATE THE SOLUTION

Organizations often have entrenched and possibly outdated processes that aren’t as efficient or effective as they could be. For PMOs interested in improving project performance, these flawed processes may be holding them back or limiting how tightly operations can be streamlined. But changing established processes is sometimes an uphill battle. We’ve provided some pointers on implementing changes to those processes in a way that offers solid benefits and maintains stakeholder support.

Identify where the problems exist

It’s a fundamental step but it bears repeating—you can’t truly correct a problem until you know what it is you’re trying to fix. Effectively addressing any problem requires the team to dig down to the root cause and solve the issue at its core. This is where team involvement is crucial, since the organization’s leadership may not see the problem’s origins the same way the employees who deal with the problem every day do.

Gather the details on the problem and its effect on the PMO by pulling the group together and discussing the issue, from its core all the way downstream through the impacts it has on the rest of the team’s operations. Be careful to separate root causes from additional problems that may be caused further down the line, so you aren’t implementing a solution that falls short of success. This will also be useful when setting expectations with stakeholders, since the new process may need to be implemented in phases with follow-on improvements kicking in later.

Create a better solution

Using that same team platform, it’s time to begin brainstorming ways to address the issue(s) you’ve identified. Look first to answers to the immediate problem, taking in suggestions from the group on what a better solution might look like. After one or two preferred plans have been developed and vetted, shift to examining how the new process proposals are likely to impact downstream activities.

With the baseline evaluation is done, project management professionals should next look for changes that may be needed in adjacent areas. A comprehensive solution may involve more than just the project team. Your PMO will probably need to work with other groups—usually internal support teams but sometimes external vendors or other partners—on ways potential improvements within their operations can support the updates you’ve planned. Will purchasing or contract negotiation strategies be affected? Does the current staffing plan need to be revisited? Is this change going to affect how accounting manages capital expenditures or operational budget approvals?

Gain support from all stakeholders

For the new process to be as effective as possible, it’s crucial to get all stakeholders impacted by the change on board with the proposed revisions before the plan is rolled out. If their input was solicited during the initial solution development phase, then the PMO is already moving in the right direction. If not, be sure to discuss the various proposals (emphasizing their pros and cons) with stakeholders before a final plan is chosen.

Communication is key, even if particular stakeholder groups weren’t asked to participate in developing the solution. At the very least, project teams should begin by acknowledging there is a problem. This is good PR for the PMO, and it lays the groundwork for setting stakeholder expectations on what sort of impacts and improvements the new process will bring.

If the revised process is controversial or likely to face stakeholder pushback for any reason, be prepared with solid information on why the change is a good idea. For example, benchmarking data showing existing inefficiencies can be contrasted with projections about the improved performance metrics the new process is expected to offer.

ChangeAgent

PMAlliance uses a team of highly experienced and certified professionals to provide project management consulting and project management training services.

ELEVATE YOUR PMO’S RISK MANAGEMENT PROFILE

Project management professionals often find it difficult to gain good visibility for the risk management work they do. Unfortunately, executive-level stakeholders don’t always understand the importance of the project office’s risk management function. This makes it tough to garner support when it’s needed and also increases the difficulty of championing the team’s ability to effectively manage project risk.

There are some strategies PMPs can use to help boost their PMO’s risk management profile and the image project risk management has among stakeholders. We’ve put together a few tips designed to make the leadership team aware of the need for strong risk management competencies, and to highlight your team’s prowess in this advanced discipline.

Provide project risk management trainingFollowing the thinking that “informal” could possibly equal “less important” in the mind of someone not attuned to the disciplines involved in project management, creating structure—and potentially requirements—around risk management training will help change the attitude about the competencies involved. It’s also an excellent way to ensure everyone in the PMO is using the same methodologies and best practices, and has received project management training from an experienced instructor. As the team increases its mastery of risk management, the value of their skills will also increase outside the project office.

Formalize the risk management function within the project office. This shift in thinking actually produces several benefits. First, it means that risk management is no longer just an accepted part of everyone’s job—it should now be viewed as a competency of its own and hold a place of importance within the project management responsibility list. It’s a strategy that often raises team members’ awareness of the importance of risk management, which in turn enables them to more clearly articulate the critical role it plays when talking with those on the leadership team.

In addition, formalizing risk management activities allows PMOs to more deliberately employ proven risk management methodologies. Actions such as analyzing and monitoring risks becomes an expected part of the planning function, and it’s more likely that the resources necessary to manage project risk will be properly allocated.

Include data about risk management findings and strategies when presenting project information to stakeholders. Much of the problem with a lack of visibility can be traced back to the simple fact that, if you don’t tell people what’s going on, they probably won’t find out about it on their own. Making risk management updates a normal part of your communication strategy can go a long way in keeping the executive team aware of the function and your PMO’s skillful handling of it.

Explain the benefits of risk management as it relates to the project. Again, the leadership team may not have a good understanding of the upside to strong project risk management. Provide them with details—industry-level benchmarking or even statistics from your team’s past projects—on how properly identifying and analyzing risk allows the PMO to have consistent, repeatable success. Share with stakeholders the basics of your risk management approach and why you believe it’s the best strategy for the projects managed by the team.

Remind stakeholders that risk management competencies aren’t reserved for large, complex, or high-visibility projects. This wouldn’t be a completely unrealistic thing for those outside the project team to assume, so it’s important to help them understand that risk management is something that’s ongoing no matter the type or size of project. Show the executive staff that identifying risks and planning for (or avoiding) any potential impacts that may result from them is an instrumental function regardless of a project’s budget, duration, or the number of users it affects.

risk project management

Motion Graphic – The Control Process

The foundation for successful projects is the use of a formal, proactive control process continuously over the life of the project.  Though most studies agree on its importance, the control process tends to be the single most common element that project teams underemphasize. PMAlliance can help implement a best in class, proven control process that does not create an undue burden on the team.

By using our formal approach your teams and executive sponsors will realize a number of advantages:

  1. They will have an early warning system that alerts them to project problems while there is still time to take corrective action

  2. They will have a neutral, non-subjective assessment of the status of the project on a regular basis

  3. They will have a mechanism that will allow project managers to keep the team focused on the project especially when team members are assigned to multiple projects

  4. They will have a process that ensures their project plans are continually updated

In addition to being formal, an effective project control process must also be proactive.  We believe that the emphasis in project control should be placed on resolving future problems rather than “fire fighting” problems that have already occurred.  PMAlliance incorporates a number of important techniques into our Duration-Driven control process that make it proactive:

  1. We require all team members to reconfirm near-term commitments on a weekly basis,

  2. We create a completion-oriented atmosphere where the emphasis is placed on problem solving and achieving results rather than assigning blame,

  3. We work with project managers to create a team environment where it is “safe to tell the truth”

  4. We work to ensure that any deviations or slippage in the plan are dealt-with and resolved quickly.

But how do we do it?  First we start with a good quality, network-based project plan that was developed using our Duration-Driven techniques.

Then on a weekly basis, PMAlliance consultants facilitate a structured, disciplined control process that incorporates the latest technologies for collection, analysis, and reporting of project information.

For project teams to be successful they need to have an accurate and reliable project plan not only in the beginning, but also throughout the duration of the project.  The PMAlliance Control Process ensures on an on-going basis that project teams have an up-to-date project plan they can use to identify problems and make smart decisions that drive the success of their projects.

For more about our project planning approach, check out our video on: Duration-Driven Methodology.

control process by PMAlliance

PMAlliance provides project management consultingproject management training and project office development services.

Project Management Training Courses Are Coming to a City Near You

PMAlliance‘s national open enrollment project management training schedule has been posted. The initial calendar consists of an eight city event beginning in Nashville, this April. Followed monthly by Indianapolis, Houston, Seattle, San Jose, Washington DC, San Diego, and Atlanta. For the full schedule and to register click HERE. Continue reading Project Management Training Courses Are Coming to a City Near You

Speak Your Mind and Overcome That Less-Than-Ideal Training Session

Project management training should be a high priority for every project management consulting professional. But occasionally you may attend training that isn’t quite what you hoped for. Fortunately, there are some tricks you can use to improve the experience. If you’re willing to speak your mind and go after the information you want, chances are good that you can overcome a less-than-ideal project management training session.

The material isn’t what you were looking for. Maybe it’s geared toward a different industry or there aren’t enough real-world examples to develop a thorough understanding of the principles. If that’s the case, start by asking open-ended questions that will lead the conversation toward the information you hope to learn. When the workgroup sessions begin, pick the brains of those on your team to see if they can add useful knowledge to what the presenter has already offered.

The content is too remedial. You’ve paid for the class and taken time to attend, so get the most out of it. Pay attention to what sort of questions the other participants—who may be digesting exactly the kind of information they need—are asking. These are the likely the same things the more junior members of your own PMO are keen to learn. Gather as much insight as you can into the skills and scenarios the other attendees are interested in and carry that knowledge back so you can boost the competencies of your own team.

The presenter isn’t great. Many factors can dampen an otherwise great class—a flaky sound system; a presenter who talks too fast; slides with a tiny or unreadable font. The key is to say something to the organizer as soon as you discover there’s a problem. The instructor likely doesn’t realize you can’t hear them, or that they need to zoom in on key graphics.

project management Brainstorming

PMAlliance has a national open enrollment training schedule
For more information on the event locations and schedules click HERE

 

 

What to do After a High Profile Project

This year’s Super Bowl is barely in the books but each team is already preparing for next season, with talks of trades and what they’ll focus on going forward. PMOs can take a lesson from the NFL in this regard, since project management teams have many of the same opportunities—and challenges—after each strategic project.

Shore up weak areas. Look for ways to fill skill and knowledge gaps, such as providing additional project management training to existing team members or bringing new professionals onto the team who already possess experience in specific areas. Depending on the skill set you’re currently missing, an external project management consultancy may also be a good choice to fill the need on future projects.

Begin with a thorough post-mortem. Like football players watching a replay of the big game, your PMO’s members can learn much by examining completed projects. This will help your team understand where it’s performing well and which areas need improving.

Celebrate. Enjoying success—particularly after a large, complex, or high-stakes project—is a very tangible benefit PMs reap for all their hard work. Take the time to not only acknowledge your team’s achievements both publicly and privately, but also encourage them to mark the occasion with a small party or gathering. And like football’s Vince Lombardi Trophy, some organizations award a little something to project team members to remind them of all they have accomplished.

Capitalize on your strengths. Every team is great at something, so make the most of what you do well. If a team member has significant experience in a particular area, have them mentor others in the group. If the team possesses more purchasing or contract negotiation expertise than is common, for example, perhaps you can redirect the outside resources normally allocated to those disciplines to areas where they’re more needed.

off season tasks project management

Release of New Project Management iPhone App

PMAlliance continues its position as a technology leader in the project management industry with the release of its first smartphone application titled Status Mobile.  Status Mobile, currently available in the Apple Store, is designed to support the project management reporting needs for PMAlliance client’s most important projects. While keeping team members, project managers and executive stakeholders updated on the latest status of their projects, the app also acts as a gateway to PMAlliance‘s mobile web-update system.

project management iphone appPMAlliance has a long history of helping companies implement successful project management planning and control processes using the Duration-Driven Planning and Control Methodology.  This project management process combines Project Management Institute best practices with proven, hands-on techniques designed to bring projects in on-time, within budget and to specification.  The Status Mobile smartphone application is another value added technology that will help drive teamwork and communication on the projects that PMAlliance supports.

“We (PMAlliance) are always interested in looking for new ways to add value to our clients through new and innovative technologies,” said Troy McKnight, a Partner at PMAlliance.  “We are extremely excited for our clients to gain access to this next-generation project reporting application.  Having the latest project status available at all times through Status Mobile will help executives make the most informed business decisions.”

To learn more about Status Mobile, check out https://status.pm-alliance.com/

PMAlliance provides project management consultingproject management training and project office development services.

PMALLIANCE LAUNCHES NATIONAL PROJECT MANAGEMENT TRAINING CALENDAR

PMAlliance,continues to align their service deployment strategy with their client’s needs by delivering flexible and cost effective project management training options.  Reflecting on the position as an industry leader in the training field, PMAlliance is launching a national open enrollment training schedule for its two most popular courses.  The initial calendar will consist of an eight city event schedule beginning in Nashville, Tennessee.

Duration-Driven® Planning & Control, PMAlliance’s flagship two-day program on basic project management techniques, arms students with the skills to be well equipped to participate in the creation of project plans and teaches them the value of a disciplined control process for maintaining the plans throughout the life of the project.  Advanced Microsoft Project is a one-day course designed to be a follow-on to the Duration-Driven Planning & Control program by showing students how to use Microsoft Project software and apply the general project management techniques taught in the two-day program.  The combination of these two courses offers all participants immediate benefits on how project management is applied to their most important projects.

Jay Wilson, Director of Training at PMAlliance, has seventeen years of experience applying the Duration-Driven methodology with various clients and has delivered project management training audiences worldwide with much acclaim.  “We (PMAlliance) are always interested in looking for new ways to add value to our clients,” said Jay Wilson, a Partner at PMAlliance.  “The open training schedule will help our clients get the project training when they need it, as well as where they need it.  In addition, this opportunity is more cost effective for smaller numbers of students than hosting a private class.”

For more information on the event schedule visit http://www.pm-alliance.com/open-training

open project management training schedule