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Emerging trends in Project Management

Emerging Trends in Project Management

recent times, there are a couple of emerging trends in project management which have emerged due to the current global situation. There seems to be a greater reliance on digital and remote teams. No longer is project management bound by the confines of a typical office. In fact, job boards have remote PM postings in abundance.  Due to several factors—including greater connectivity, changing corporate values, and the rise of the gig economy—digital and remote teams are more common today than ever before. 

While the prevalence of remote work was already on the climb, the onset of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced an unprecedented shift. In an effort to protect workers and slow the spread of the virus, organizations across the globe have adopted new work-from-home policies that favour digital communication over face-to-face interaction. This trend will likely continue even after the pandemic subsides, which will present unique challenges for project managers.

For instance, some business functions are more easily carried out when all members of a project team are co-located. Spontaneous collaboration, team building, project alignment, and other project management tasks are simply more manageable when all members of the team are in proximity to each other. However, this challenge does not mean that digital or remote teams are inherently counterproductive. Remote work offers many benefits including increased flexibility, which can help an organization attract and retain top talent from all over the world.

Since the surge in remote work is likely to continue even after the global health crisis subsides, project managers must find ways to reduce friction or inefficiencies that might arise. Clear and open communication has always been a key strategy for effective project management, but it will become even more relevant as this trend continues to evolve.

There will undoubtably be a greater connection between projects and strategy. Traditionally, project management is an organizational tool used to work toward and achieve discrete goals, which might include the launching of a single product or service or the pursuit of a particular outcome. In this sense, a project is a temporary endeavour with a finite start and end, and the role of the project manager is to shepherd the project through to successful completion.

In recent years, however, the role of project management in many organizations has begun to expand. Project management is more than just a tool for carrying out discrete goals; the framework is now also being applied to broader strategies and initiatives. Recently there has been an emphasis many organisations are placing on the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) as they integrate and track strategic objectives with project execution.

For project managers who wish to put their skills to better strategic use within their organization, it is essential to understand the relationship between project, program, and portfolio management. Doing so will allow you to see how individual projects relate to each other and to overarching strategic goals, which can help make smarter decisions for organizations moving forward. Let us know your thoughts on the evolving trends occurring in the project management world, we would like to hear your thoughts, all the very best on your project management journey.

Why Program Design is Essential

Importance of Program Design

Never underestimate the importance of design when managing major organizational change and improvement; programmes remain the most effective framework for achieving success. The level of complexity and risk involved in shifting an enterprise into a new phase of development and operation – and the associated investment – means the process has to be managed properly and improvement measured.

In respect to the demands of society changing, with people wanting things better and faster and the new normal which has been dictated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Change now happens continually and organizations need enterprise agility – the capability to pivot in response to their environment. And, in a typical programme timeframe of three to five years, a lot can happen.

This is why the design phase of a programme is so critical to get right and where a best practice approach provides the necessary level of focus and rigour.

Traditionally, programme design has been neglected. Without designing the programme properly it’s likely to fail and potentially waste a lot of money in the process. Therefore, there simply shouldn’t be any debate – design is compulsory.

This will set up the programme up for success by installing the building blocks for delivering the benefits, managing associated risks, and creating what an organization will look like in the future.

Managing Successful Programmes highlights four aspects of programme design:

  • Vision
  • Benefits
  • Target operating model (the new, future state of the organization)
  • Risk identification and prioritization

As each of these programme elements are happening simultaneously, they must be integrated. If not, the nightmare scenario is a target operating model that doesn’t align with the vision, affecting the adoption of the change and reducing the expected benefits.

Think of it like a jigsaw puzzle: the image on the box is the future state or vision being built; the individual pieces are contained inside the box and, when put together, they deliver on the original promise (in programme terms, the target operating model).

The vision reflects the future state of the organization; something that everyone needs to endorse to gain engagement and commitment for the change.

It should be encapsulated in a concise and easily understood vision statement (i.e. jargon-free), outlining why the status quo is not an option. This provides senior management with a driving force for the programme.

Whoever facilitates the vision statement (for example, via a workshop) must ensure it involves the stakeholders affected by the programme and not just the sponsoring group.

What constitutes the move from an organization’s current state to its desired, future state is contained in the target operating model.

The sponsoring group decides what it wants the organization to look like in the future, enabling engagement with the wider enterprise, accessing resources, and guiding the programme team towards delivering the target operating model.

This can cover a range of elements such as technology, knowledge and learning, processes, culture, organization, infrastructure, information, and data.

Another aspect of programme design – the benefits – drive programmes, as their delivery supports the organization’s strategic objectives.

There are two main categories for benefits:

  • Efficiency – obtaining business results with fewer resources and reducing costs
  • Effectiveness – creating better results and improved adaptability.

Creating a “benefits map” establishes the connection between benefits and strategic objectives. Benefits are realized at various points during and after the programme’s lifecycle, with the detailed timing included in the benefits realization plan.

Compared to projects, the scale of potential risk in programmes is far greater.

So, it’s necessary – at programme design stage – to introduce a risk management mindset and approach. Without it, the programme may not deliver the necessary benefits.

Starting up a programme is highly important and therefore identifying and prioritizing risks from the earliest opportunity. For example, a significant risk might be the capacity and capability of the organization to undertake the programme at all. To mitigate that risk might involve recruiting more suitably qualified people.

Managing programme risk effectively requires a plan for how to mitigate the risk and then checking and acting on what has been identified.

What should programme managers and their stakeholders expect from focusing on programme design?

It gives them a structure that creates confidence to deliver what the stakeholders require. And, for the stakeholders, they should expect to see the benefits they signed off on day one.

Also, effective programme design feeds into projects: it helps to assess which projects are business-critical, ensures they are created, scheduled properly, and will produce the outputs that lead ultimately to outcomes and benefits.

Ultimately, programme design will ensure that the future state of the organization is clear. This means understanding the gap that will be filled to achieve the future target operating model as well as how to manage the associated benefits and risks. Let us know your approach to programme design, has it helped with your delivery, we would like to hear from you. All the very best on your project management journey.

Project Management and Business Soft Skills

Business Soft Skills

It’s been mentioned on many occasions, project management fundamentally is to deliver, to deliver successfully people skills are required. Getting the best out of resources ensures a better project experience and every chance of success. The ability to get the best out of people and resources is possessing business soft skills, but what are they?

Soft skills, otherwise known as interpersonal or people skills are essentially communication abilities that contribute towards successful office interactions and working relationships. They incorporate a wide range of things including personal attributes, personality traits, and social cues; soft skills are similar to emotions or insights that allow the project manager to ‘read’ colleagues.

Technical (or hard) skills can easily be taught on the job if the employee is willing to learn. On the other hand, interpersonal (or soft) skills are much harder to master as they are heavily dependent on the type of personality. In most projects, technical skills alone are not enough to ensure a successful outcome. But if there is the perfect blend of both soft and hard skills, there is every chance of delivering the project as per scope.

At some point, nearly every project will require some form of interaction with others, whether that’s speaking to customers over the phone, in a face-to-face meeting with clients or simply interacting with other teams in the office.

Strong soft skills ensure a productive and healthy project work environment – vital attributes for project managers in a competitive working world.

Other reason soft skills are so important to project managers is that they are easily transferable; a project manager with strong interpersonal skills is likely to be more adaptable and flexible than one who isn’t so adept. They are also a sign that the individual has experienced a broad range of situations, bringing diversity of thought to the business and project.

Excellent communication skills can make an enormous difference to the project, but how can improving soft skills occur?

The best place to start is simple: by listening and watching. Observing how others in the office and project team interact with colleagues and management. It is a great way of gaining a better understanding of what works in the team. Once this is understood, try to replicate it and practise it in day-to-day life – at work and in free time! Beyond listening, there are numerous ways you can easily improve the strength of your interpersonal skills.

  1. Always try to remain positive: As hard as it can seem at the time, it’s important to not allow negativity to encroach on interactions at work. Attempt to clear your mind and find the positive aspects of any situation.
  2. Don’t let your emotions get the better of you: Emotions and empathy are important in the workplace, but it’s even more important that you have control over them. Whether you’re irritated or happy, always try to express yourself in a calm and patient manner.
  3. Recognise the expertise of colleagues: Everyone wants to be appreciated; showing that they are recognised and appreciate their talents is an effective way of building trust with co-workers. 
  4. Show your interest in people: Our lives all continue beyond work. Getting to know more about your colleagues develops and solidifies your relationships, giving you a better understanding of them as a person – which can be useful when it comes to asking for favours!
  5. Try to identify the best thing about every person at work: It’s natural that you won’t get along well with every single person in the project team, clients, customers or stakeholders, as we are all different in many ways. Instead of forming unshakable negative opinions of them, try to pick out one positive trait in their personalities and always remind yourself of it when communicating with them; it’s a great way to develop mutual respect.
  6. Be assertive: Show that you are confident about your abilities and don’t be afraid to back up your opinions. This said, there’s a fine line between being assertive and being stubborn.
  7. Be empathetic: It pays to put yourself in others’ shoes – this is perhaps the most effective way of broadening your perspective on interpersonal skills and being able to find resolutions that keep as many people happy as possible. 

If you highlight your soft skills during project delivery and can identify where it is particularly needed, then you go a long way to forming good relationships. Let us know if you have been able to use soft skills to good effect when delivering projects, what soft skills you have learnt in your project management career. It would be great to hear from you, all the very best on your project management journey.

Balancing a Project Teams Workload

Project Teams Workload

It’s always important to balance a project team’s workload, and especially so during times when resources take vacations and miss work. There’s a fine balance to be had between mixing a team to do lists and ensuring that the workload is equal and fair for everyone. Managing the project workload is one of the most critical parts of a manager’s job, in particular to get that balance right. Project teams look for clarity to what they should be doing and when.

Workload management is the process of assigning tasks to keep the team working while monitoring their progress over the course of the project. It provides a framework of what tasks need to be done and who on the team is supposed to be working on those tasks.

Workload management is made easier when a plan is developed,  fortunately, there’s also a simple 5-step approach to ensuring the team stays true to the workload plan, one that makes it easy to manage the workload of the team without looking like micro-managing is occurring. 

Workload planning is a way to keep teams busy and productive. It’s a strategic way to distribute the work throughout the team. This boosts performance.  Planning workload isn’t only about getting the job done, but reducing team stress, burnout and errors.

For a workload plan, it is critical to know resources and the business priorities to map teams against needs, which is a constantly reviewed and adjustable process. Having resource management software that identifies the team’s availability and hours, then analyse the work being done is beneficial. Use this data to create a workload plan to optimize productivity and balance workload across the entire team. Using a project management software equipped with workload management tools help with this process.

The workload management plan is not etched in stone and must be reviewed and revised continuously as the project moves forward and changes. Therefore, actively manage workload during the project execution, which leads to the following five-step workload management process.

As a project manager starting to manage workload from scratch start by reviewing what’s currently going on. Perhaps this has been initiated by someone in the team saying they have too much work to do, or perhaps another team manager has called to say that the guys aren’t keeping on top of their work and are behind schedule or have missed a deadline.

Remember, managing what is known is the only way possible. In a matrix structure, there might be some people who are only available to work on tasks for a portion of their week, so be sure to get clarity on that.

Look for team members who are over allocated. That just means that they have been given more work than they can do in the time available. A good rule for work management is that employees should be allocated to specific tasks only 80% of their time. The remaining 20% will be for answering phone calls, attending team meetings, dealing with the customer who calls with an urgent problem and so on.

The 20% should be spread out across the week to maximize productivity; it’s better to fill people’s time for, say 6 hours per day, then give them every Friday with nothing to do apart from catch up on the things they weren’t able to finish earlier in the week. 

Using resource reports and work management dashboards for employees assists with resources who don’t have enough work to do. Keep the team motivated by ensuring they have meaningful tasks to fill the day.

Team members will always look busy. They will find things to work on, perhaps taking on tasks of their own accord or helping out one of their colleagues. Time management systems will help in understanding if they are working on tasks that are deemed to be priority.

Clues can be picked up about whether employees are over or under allocated from them directly. They may ask for more work or point out that they can’t take on another assignment. This is where professional judgement comes in: are they genuinely too busy or just working on the wrong tasks? Or incredibly unproductive?

A workload tracker will provide the information needed to help answer these questions. The better strengths and work patterns of the team are known, the easier it will be to figure out how to improve productivity and interpret what the timesheet system is advising.

A team’s workload can be managed better if it is known when they are going to be around. Talk to them about upcoming holidays and include those in the workload planning as not to assign them work while they are away. Equally, check in with the team to make sure knowledge of their skills is up to date. Employees may be able to work on more projects than is expected if they have developed new skills.

Finally, put those over and under allocations right, commence with the employees who have too much work assigned to them. Split up the big tasks into smaller chunks and assign someone else to help them out. Or make the task stretch over a longer period so they have fewer hours to work on it each day.

Move some of their work to another member of the team who doesn’t have enough to do. Boost someone’s workload by asking them to take on another project, develop their skills or involve them in planning for the next financial years projects.

When changing an assignment in the resource planning system, don’t forget to speak to the people involved first! That’s one of the keyways to make sure that the team is kept happy. Explain by shifting resource requirements around to balance out the work and that it is not a reflection on their performance. In fact, as a result of workload planning, they may end up with even better assignments.

Workload management should be a priority for project managers because it overlaps with other important project management processes such as capacity planning, task management and project scheduling. Managing the team’s workload can be overwhelming, especially in big projects, use the workload management software to help keep track of all the employees.

Ideally, workload management software should allow with the assignment of tasks to employees and have tools to visualize project timeline such as a calendar view, Gantt charts or Kanban boards. Additionally, using tracking, work management and resource management features.

Resource management software makes the workload management process easy, especially when it’s integrated into your project management solution. Updating workload plan automatically updates the resource reports to quickly see who has time to take on additional tasks. Let us know your approach to workload balance when managing projects, we would like to hear from you. All the very best on your project management journey.

Team Harmony and its effectiveness in project delivery

Team Mood

Project management is just schedules, budgets and charters, there are the soft skills which need to be considered. A successful project is delivered by a team which works in unison, harmoniously. There are so many variants when working in a team, dealing with egos differing opinions, characteristics, skillsets and more. How does a project manager use soft skills to get most out of the team? The overall mood of the team effects the quality of life of the members, on the way they work, and the quality of what they produce. Each member’s vibe affects the mood of the group. Being on a team with a grumpy and depressed co-worker is no fun, it takes the energy out of work and creates a sense of division.

Working to your audience, and the team are the audience as well as the stakeholders and customers. Feeling the vibe of the team, provides a sense of a place and the people in it. If a project manager has a sensitivity about them then they now deep in their bones what is going on.

Walking into an atmosphere of dull unhappiness, juice or energy is no conducive to team harmony. Normally this is gauged within a physical environment like an office as opposed to the virtual world we are working from these days. Regardless a listless and disenchanted team member can also be determined through a camera.

Just as there are depressive teams, there are teams that exhibit manic qualities, – everyone is frantically moving at top speed, getting things done fast and with no time for a break. Other teams are energized, an aura of satisfaction and happiness pervades their environment.

A team’s mood, its vibe, results from external influences, performance, and the moods and emotions of its members. Manage mood to make sure that it better enables collaboration and individual efforts. Do not leave it to chance or underestimate the impacts of the environment and individual team members’ moods on one another.

Emotions and moods are contagious through a process of limbic resonance, that is the sharing of emotional states between people. Our brain chemistry and nervous system are affected by others and we synchronize with those with whom we have personal and working relationships. It is non-verbal and goes beyond body language and facial expressions to include chemical signals, sounds, and other more subtle signals.

The vibrations we give out are expressions of our moods, states of mind, emotions that can affect those around us who in turn effect our mental state.  Mood contagion is not limited to people in shared physical space. A team working remotely may also experience it since tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language operate in virtual environments. Our written communications carry mood and emotions as well.

Our biochemical system is an open system which means that external events effect it. External phenomena, including the moods of others create chemical changes in our brains. These emerge as emotions and moods.

We communicate verbally, through facial expressions and other non-verbal cues, and through more subtle means. The neuroscience and the way we are conditioned by patterns that program our limbic brain, and regulate and revise those patterns is interesting, but beyond the scope of what is being presented here. This relates more to the dynamics of team mood and how to manage it.

The project manager must be sensitive to the mood of everyone with a stake in the project – team members, clients, functional managers and senior managers. Regular and frequent (daily or weekly) monitoring will make it possible to identify problems early, before they have time to fester and emerge as crises. This is particularly important for project managers who are less sensitive to mood.

Team spirit, stress levels and general team happiness are signs of performance health. Generally, a team that is experiencing performance problems is not a happy team. Knowing the subtle goings on helps the project manager to investigate causes and proactively respond rather than react.

Monitoring one’s own mood is as important as monitoring the team’s mood. Individual responsibility to oneself and one’s co-workers includes the self-awareness that enables self-management and effective healthy relationships. Equally important is opening to and learning to trust one’s ability to feel the vibe.

Opening to awareness and the management of one’s emotions can be encouraged but cannot be mandated. To set a foundation for healthy optimal performance, organizations can promote mindful self-awareness and teach people how important it is to personal health and performance. Mindfulness and emotional and social intelligence programs go a long way to make individuals aware of how their emotions and moods effect themselves and others.

The team shouldn’t be brought down by bringing your bad mood to work. Cultivate mindfulness to shield yourself from being affected by the bad mood of others. Learn the skills that will make you more sensitive to what is going on in and around you. Let us know your mechanism to enhance a team’s mood especially during the more challenging times of the project, we would like to hear from you. All the very best on your project management journey.

Successful Remote Project Management

Remote Project Management

If the current situation has taught us anything, it is that there is a new normal, as remote project management becomes a must have skillset. Regardless that doesn’t change the ongoing and increasing importance of project management to organizations, as projects are key to develop new capabilities and deliver improvements.

The critical elements needed to ensure projects are managed successfully – leadership, communication and team management – apply as much to remote working as “in person”. However, managers need to think and work extra hard to ensure they translate fully to a virtual environment.

Leadership means having the confidence to lead the team; being resilient and removing impediments to success. It requires leaders to ensure they’re as visible as possible and more emotionally intelligent to get the team’s vote of confidence.

This is more challenging and just as important with remote working, good leadership is about demonstrating the correct behaviours including transparency, collaboration, communication, honesty, empathy, exploration; each of which can be called good business behaviours. Deploying these approaches helps a remote team become more productive.

Communication is vital as project managers liaise across many departments and stakeholders, handling a lot of information and conveying it in a multitude of ways. As the remote world remains two dimensional without the dynamics of face-to-face meetings, it’s essential to get the communications blend right.

That means good communication can’t be left to chance, such as the informal interactions that happen when people are co-located. Instead, it needs to be organized and planned to understand their effect and resolve any misunderstanding.

Team management is extremely important, especially when working on high-risk and high-profile projects. When building a team, often in a project’s start-up phase, the project manager needs to assess how people work together and what additional skills/training they need. For some skills, the need for improvement might be easier within a remote context. But for other skills, the assessment could be more challenging. Wherever possible, it’s good to avoid someone leaving an assembled team, as this can have a major impact on the shared understanding that’s been created.

When everyone in the team is clear on the project’s objectives and the tasks in hand, they will educate their organization through the change. Even with leadership, communication and team management in place, there is no denying that the virtual environment is more complex for project management. For example: The spontaneity of in-person collaboration is reduced in a virtual environment

No doubt there are challenges and more planning and preparation to deal with potential unknowns in remote project engagement. Project managers need to work harder to identify team members’ body language when communicating through remote platforms to have colleagues’ well-being in mind.

Remote on boarding of new team members takes a lot of courage from everyone, so consult your new people to involve them and encourage their views. Also, having cameras on in virtual meetings means you can gauge people’s feelings much better. Having the visual component really helps communication but you need to establish the ground rules for this in advance; that might mean being mindful of people’s mental health by allowing them to switch cameras off, especially if they’ve been involved in back-to-back video calls and need a break.

By enhancing the virtual engagement experience, with things like online chat functions, it encourages feedback. Virtual whiteboards are a good way of increasing interaction in meetings and energizes the team, showing that their contribution is valued. Facilitators can also inspire engagement by making sure everyone can contribute. Build intention into preparation and reach out to the team as much as possible – a skill developed over time in a virtual environment.

The importance of celebrating success is as relevant in a virtual world as the physical world. Therefore, that could mean delivering cakes to everyone on the project team – but ensuring there’s enough for their families too!

Finally, make technology a friend and avoid trying to fix IT issues in the middle of a meeting; rather postpone and reschedule. The expanding, virtual world is here to stay in one form or another. This means embracing it as an adaptable and flexible way of working. Indeed, virtual platforms have enabled more introverted people to contribute ideas and feel less inhibited.

However, this environment also brings a continued need for project management skills. For example, PRINCE2 principles, supported by themes and processes support project managers’ planning, delegation, monitoring and controlling projects along with their various constraints. Ultimately, project managers must be in control when leading their teams: calm and composed on the surface, let us know your style in managing projects remotely, we would like to hear from you. All the best on your project management journey.