Tag: Project Management

The perception with project management and influencing the outcome.

Influencing project outcome

The ability to influencing project delivery and managing stakeholders to achieve the desired results becomes more possible as project experience grows. There comes a point in almost any project professional’s career to feel for when to influence both upwards and outwards. The ability of a project professional to use their skill and experience to influence positive outcomes is directly linked to how well they are able to engage and influence others within an organization.

A lot has been written about the typical stakeholder avatars that project teams are likely to encounter, the traits they exhibit depending how mature their experience is in delivering projects, and of course, how they should be engaged. As project professionals there is a deep seated understanding based on relationship building on how influential the professional can be within the organisation.

The ability to be influential at both an individual and group level is a critical part of either delivering successful projects or leading wayward ones out of the wilderness. There’s a truth for project leaders that requires ego to be set aside: In projects, perception is reality. A project management office, for example, will only remain valued and valuable when it is perceived by stakeholders to be a safe pair of hands that are contributing to the business’s ability to deliver successful projects. The same holds true for project managers.

Establishing Relationships

In this instance perception is more important than aspiration for the project to succeed. Being able to influence outcomes requires strong relationships with stakeholders and people within the organization so that when the need for robust and straight-talking conversations come, which is normally the case, the foundation exists for those tough, brave-smart conversations.

It is best not to wait until a project has commenced to start conversations with stakeholders, a great way is to seek out the opportunity to connect and build a working relationship with people who will be owning the work. It’s not enough to aspire to be influential; building relationships takes time and effort to get to know the stakeholders, what drives them, and what matters to them.  Being able to engage and communicate becomes much easier after that. This is insight that becomes incredibly valuable when things are going well and critical when things start to go awry.

Minimizing the gap between the desire to be influential and the stakeholder’s perceptions should be the goal before the project gets going. There is little value for anyone trying to influence a stakeholder in the heat of battle when a poor perception of what project leaders bring to the table already exists.

The development of influence is not an easy task, as it is a skill which is honed over years of relationship building. There is an art to developing influence, but it first requires a reality check about current standing in a project or organization and how possible it is to gain both access and opportunity to engage with stakeholders.

Understanding how to achieve perception in which the stakeholders are to adhere is particularly important:

  • Do you want to be the ‘safe pair of hands’?
  • Do you want to be an advisor that stakeholders come to for guidance on how to set up a successful project rather than having to inject yourself—unsolicited—into the project when you see issues?
  • Do you want to be the trusted voice in the room when war has broken out and a decision needs to be made to remediate or kill off a project?

These are all great aspirations, but they won’t become reality if you aren’t able to properly position yourself within an organization as someone who is capable of delivering.

Stakeholders adherence

Developing influence means knowing when to park ego at the door and understanding when to possibly change belief systems. In essence, what is believed to be true against what is actually true is perceived differently by those with influence.

Taking the time to meet the people in and around the project is valuable for understanding what is needed and expected from the role in terms of time, communication, expectations and raising issues. This is crucial to understanding what works for them and what doesn’t, and it will enable a picture of your stakeholders. Acknowledging perceptions is actually reality and concerns about what needs to change are important. Demonstrating willingness to provide value is important but so is understanding that the stakeholder may have expectations that are not within the project manager’s capabilities to provide.

The goal is either to shift perceptions of what can and can’t be done to build a case to provide those capabilities where it makes sense. Either way establishing a rapport and a clear understanding of what can be brought to the table is critical.

Business Meeting

There are always people within an organization that have gravitas and insight and if you watch how they operate, there is a lot to be learned about how they use their position to influence both stakeholders and their project teams.

If you can get time with them, more often than not, there are deep insights and knowledge to be gained by asking the right questions about how they view the issues they deal with, what they see as the real and superficial challenges, and how they have developed their ability to influence.

The important thing is to observe how they are motivated to serve the project as well as what they bring to the table that captures the attention of their stakeholders.

The transformation of Project Management by AI

Project Management and AI

This is a brief insight on the increased rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning within organisations and daily life which has occurred over the last few years. On a daily basis there are aspects of AI around us, whether it be at home with Alexa in the living room, to Gmail smart reply. Today Google robotic can call a preferred hairdresser to arrange an appointment and self-driving cars on the road is not too far away from being a reality. The onset of AI in daily home life will drive itself into work life, and project management will not be immune from the impact.

Although no one knows at this stage the impact it will have on the daily work effort or delivery of a project for a project manager, one thing is certain, a change to the landscape is imminent. As organisations across all industries are looking for AI opportunities to remain competitive by tapping inti their data. Approximately 80 percent of businesses across the globe are currently investing in AI, this cannot be ignored.

Examples of this can be seen within, Zurich Insurance Group which is using intelligent bots to deal with personal injury claims. Otto, a German retailer adopted AI and ML to autonomously make operational decisions at a scale that humans cannot match.

It is human nature to be concerned about the impact AI will have on job security and availability. A number of jobs which seem quite complex will be disrupted by widespread adoption of AI in 15 – 20 years’ time, this includes:

  • journalists,
  • drivers,
  • chefs,
  • financial analysts
  • lawyers

It is expected that almost 73 million jobs are at risk of being replaced by 2030, this invariably means that new ones will be created to accommodate the change, as even AI will need to be supported.

AI shouldn’t be feared but embraced as the future for human employees may be improved by the adoption of AI to perform jobs. It may even become the best team member, especially for Project Managers.

Some areas AI, predictive analytics and machine learning may have an impact on project delivery once in full swing. Areas such as risk estimation;

  • Throughout the life cycle, every project encounters a number of uncertainties and risks that can trigger a failure, which the project team should analyse and respond to base on their knowledge, experience and available tools.
  • The difficulty with the ongoing risk assessment can turn into a catastrophe if the team fails to identify threats on time –  but what if a sophisticated, self-learning machine could evaluate historical information, issue logs to come up with an enhanced risk rating model? 
  • Machine learning enables computers to use project information and advanced algorithms to predict results and determine the potential threats and vulnerabilities influencing your project.
  • Project Managers will save considerable time, money and resources through the implementation of AI.

Resource management is another area which will benefit or be affected by AI;

  • As a Project Manager, you have to reassess the progress, time-frames and costs multiple times over the course of the project.
  • AI provides insight into the history of previous projects and can offer real-time resource management information. 
  • This will help to manage any additional resources or take people off the project if a disparity rises in the hours required versus projected availability.

Artificial Intelligence can be a distinctive accelerator and game changer, and Project Managers should embrace the technology and leverage AI where possible.  AI should be considered as an assistant not replacement of Project Managers.  This way the Project Manager can spend more time on more value-adding activities while delegating many project management tasks to the intelligent machines.

Project Actions and how results can be affected

Project Actions

The very nature of projects refer to change, whether it relates to infrastructure, construction, IT or organizational. The process and in particular the actions we take as project managers can either make the delivery better or a real chore to achieve. Projects are a series of actions which enable an idea into a real change, this can relate to making more money; improving people’s lives. Actions include the ability to express oneself by speaking, writing, or with body language. This soft skill is an essential tool.

The delivery of new or modified products, architectural brilliance, events, and processes can impact both the project environment and the environment that receives the results. Once these environments are changed, then there is a direct effect on people’s lives, the way they work, think, their values and how they relate with others.

The very action of a project or any action for that matter, whether it is to make things better or not, creates a ripple effect. The effect may be short lived or may be felt for many years down the track. Comprehending the effect and its possible ripple effect should motivate people to be careful about what they do, say, and think.  Every action has an effect; at times the effect can be subtle and minor. This is the foundation for process thinking and quality management.

Take a project to implement a new process for example, where an operational group can disrupt the organization. The project may cause a new or ongoing conflict between management and labor, and either makes for better ongoing performance. Performance which may degrade depending on how well the project has executed and how the new process has been performed and maintained overtime.

The best of intentions or biases, values, and beliefs are the drivers of decisions, which drive behavior. The way decisions are made influences relationships and outcomes. For example, being overly aggressive or using underhanded methods to achieve a goal can cause distrust and anger that clouds relationships going forward and negotiations in general.

There are a number of actions or strategies to promote and achieve the best performance. People who ignore the consequences of positive actions are normally surprised by others reactions and the results of their behavior. This can lead to consequences and in these instance project consequences.

Remember, to take a breath when faced with a critical decision, especially when placed in a situation which can become heated. Relax, pause, breathe and think about what action will be taken next. By diving-in, risks unforeseen consequences can occur and quickly escalate. Respond only after the due diligence of assessing from multiple perspectives the pros and cons, risks and rewards, ripple effects, and alternatives.

Most project managers have at least a moment to step back and consider the ripple effect of actions and words. It is only the lack of awareness that acts as the blocker.

Training can provide and cultivate self-awareness to enhance the possibility of a natural process of letting things unfold. The ability to understand flow which can ensure skills, intelligence, analysis and intuition emerge in perfect alignment with the need of the situation. Also being able to objectively observe what is going on internally and externally to create the platform for what to do next.

There is a ripple effect in most decision making as ultimately it has an effect on actions. Being responsive means making conscious decisions and discerning whether they are unbiased, justifications or rationalizations after the action has been carried out. Being reactive means there is no conscious decision making, only the outburst or withdrawal, which should be avoided.

It would be great to get your point of view on this soft skill, actions and how they are delivered, affect projects. Please add your thoughts in the comments section. In any case, being mindful enough to remember the Law of Cause and Effect and responsive enough to choose appropriate actions, words and thoughts.

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Must have Project Reports

Must Have Project Management Reports

As project managers we just can’t get away from Governance. Regardless of how long you have been working as a project manager at some stage you would have had to generate a report. Possibly as part of a standard requirement from the Project Management Office or directly to the stakeholder. A report could either be automated, via available tools or by hand. The following is a set of must have reports and how they should be used with the intended audience. There are several different types of reports to use, but the following five are must haves in your arsenal.

The more common types of project reports needed for the successful running of a project are, Status Reports. This report can be produced either weekly or monthly, but more commonly depending on the size of the organization, status reports are generated on a fortnightly basis. The frequency depends on where you are in the project and how much there is to say. There’s not much point reporting daily if your tasks all take over a week, as you won’t have any progress to report from day to day.

As you will spend a fair amount of time producing status reports, it is worth considering ways to make it faster to write them. Better yet, automate as much reporting as possible. Create a standard status report template or use the one that comes with the project management software used.

Status Reporthttps://projectmanagementcompanion.com/templates

Check out the Project Status Report template here.

Another must have report is the risk register. Many PMs Report on risks at least monthly, and the report is normally the output that comes after a risk review meeting. A risk register can be updated at any-time, normally an organization will dictate when it must be done. Also team members should be encouraged to contribute risks to the log whenever they feel something needs recording.

The risk report should include a summary of the risk profile of the project, how it is presented is left to the Project Manager. A good approach would be to only include the details for the risks that have the potential to create the most problems for the project. Then, include a statement on the lower-level risks, perhaps summarizing how they are being managed.

Possibly produce a report about all the risks in a project, regardless of how significant they are. It’s probably easiest to do this as an automated download from your project management software, or if you keep your risk log in another format like a spreadsheet, by issuing a complete copy of that document.

Risk Registrar

A risk register template is available here.

Board/Executive Reports are definitely required, and tailored to the people who are going to read them. So the report produced for the project board will have a different level of detail in it compared to the weekly status update that goes to the internal project team and key business stakeholders.

For the project board reports, the information should be of a high level. They will want to read about things that are important to them, like issues they can help resolve, a summary of the budget position, and whether or not the project is on track, and the upcoming and delivered milestones.

Make sure that the board or SteerCo report is in a format that can easily be read. For example, if executives are always on the road and use their smartphones to check emails, don’t produce reports in the form of a complicated spreadsheet that won’t display correctly, or include loads of large graphics that will take ages to download. A pdf will render across devices when emailing a static report. Or possibly grant licenses for board members or senior leadership so they can see real-time dashboard reports on the go.

Board Report Dashboard

Resource allocation report is another, using the project management planning software to work it all out is a great tool to have. Most software tools, whether they are a standalone Gantt chart software or fully-featured project tools with integrated time sheets, will have the option to create a resource report.

The resource report will show the breakdown of which project team member is allocated to which task on which day. They can also be used to pinpoint over allocation problems – where a team member is allocated to more than one task. If a resource is working on more than one task at a time then this can be detrimental to the outcome of the project. Use the resource report to ensure that there aren’t any individuals over committed and reschedule those tasks as necessary.

Resource reports can also be useful for scheduling more than one person. By seeing when someone becomes available, and that is a good sign that they can be given more project tasks at that point. If you compare the resource availability to the project’s timeline you can also plan more efficiently. As one task done by one person ends, you can make sure that someone else is available to pick up the next thing that needs to be done, so that tasks don’t stop halfway through waiting for the next person to become available.

Overall, resource reports are one of the most useful types of project reports to be had as a project manager, although they can be a bit difficult to interpret at first. It really is worth spending the time getting to know how to read the reports so that you can make changes to your project schedule as appropriate.

Resource Report

Finally, a mention of variance reports, ensuring that the project is in fact progressing as planned. That’s the beauty of a variance report, as it compares the planned against the actual outcome, providing a metric to measure if you’re on track, ahead of schedule or running behind. The variance report will collect and organize the data on what is being compared, whether it be the budget, schedule or scope of the project variable being measured. The variance report gives you the tool to many a variance analysis or a measurable change from the baseline.

There are several variance reports, such as cost variance, variance at completion (budget surplus or deficit), scheduled variance and others. Mostly, variance reporting is used in budgetary analysis, trend reporting and spending analysis.

The variance report is a great tool for the project manager, who needs a lens into the project’s progress so as to make intelligent decisions on allocating resources. But not only project managers benefit from the reporting. Stakeholders are interested in high-level reporting, and variance reports give them a thumb’s up or down as to the progress of the project and whether it meets its schedule and budget.

How often you should run a variance report depends on many factors. For example, what kind of project is it? What’s its duration? Where is it taking place? The accounting methods a project manager uses will likely be different from project to project, but a regular variance report is a powerful metric to determine the health of your project.

It would be great to hear from you on which reports you consider to be valuable, you can download some of the templates for your project from here.

The 6 steps to Risk Management Analysis

Risk in projects is inevitable, and it is how they are treated and mitigated which can influence success. Risk management is a routine used by project managers to minimize potential problems that can affect the project.

Risks are possible events that can impact resources, processes, technology, or project participants during the system development lifecycle (SDLC).

The results of risk are often unclear before it strikes. Through risk management, threats can be estimated beforehand and control measures put into place if necessary. Risks can arise from anywhere in the SDLC. Even as organizations venture into new projects, there is a need to monitor the ones in operation. For this reason, risk management is continuous.

Risk assessment and management can be made less tedious by creating a risk management protocol. It may comprise of a consistent set of tools and templates as well as training of project participants. By embedding risk management into a daily routine, the company can assume better health and overall performance.

The 6 steps to risk management is outlined below, they can be eliminated, mitigate its impact, or accept if the consequences can be accommodated. However, the course of action should be a result of careful consideration and collaboration.

1. Risk Identification

It’s impossible to solve a problem that can’t be pinpointed. Risks can be identified in different ways, via interviews, brain-storming, root analysis, and more. Visualize the project as if it’s complete and running. Think about what could go wrong and note any fears down. Historical data should be analysed, lessons learnt is a great way in reducing the impact of a risk, and record any deficiencies found.

Set up interviews with the help of the project team, colleagues, and stakeholders to gather information on issues to emphasize. Consider inviting people known for critiquing. Their opinions can divulge essential insights which could have easily slipped through the cracks.

2. Risk analysis

After populating a list of potential problems, the next step is to determine the likelihood of each. Fill this information in the risk register and think about the possible consequences if the risk came true. Some questions to ask at this stage would be:

  • Can the risk lead to project failure or delay?
  • Will it raise regulatory issues?
  • Is there a likelihood of legal disputes?
  • How does it relate to various compliance standards?

Evaluate all possible outcomes if the risk happens no matter the magnitude. The process can be tricky because there is never enough information. Find out if the organisation the risk assessment is being performed for has a checklist. Compute the risk factor associated with each risk to estimate the severity of the probable impact. Qualitative and quantitative analysis techniques and tools are useful in risk analysis.

Once various risks have been analysed, a picture of their effect on the budget, scope, and the timeline of the project should be formed. At this stage it could be defined how the risks can affect the quality of your project.

3. Prioritization of Risks

Risk levels are different, and there is a need to distinguish them based on severity. Without this knowledge, appropriate control measures cannot be put in place to tackle the threat. Unpreparedness often leads to project failure or over expenditure when fixing issues.

An extensive list of risks can be intimidating, but they can be handled by classifying risks as either low, medium or high. Address high risks as soon as possible, an e.g. in IT projects is poor data integration between two technologies.

Medium-priority risks are worth attention, they’re impact can be mitigated with appropriate controls. Low risks may have little to zero influence so they can either be controlled or accepted.

4. Risk Assignment

For tracking purposes risks should be assigned to someone, look for talented individuals within the team and let them oversee risks. Apart from monitoring, they should spearhead the resolution efforts for the uncertainties. Failure to assign risks negates the effort of identification and prioritization. The project would ultimately suffer the maximum impact, accumulate more risks, and likely fail.

5. Response to Risk

Once the threats are known and they are ready for resolution, before any action is taken, separate positive risks from negative ones. The latter represents events which threaten to cause harm. A positive risk is an unplanned situation that can be exploited to benefit the project. Some people look at it as a condition that produces too much of the desired deliverables. Decide the action to take.

Create a plan to mitigate all risks that can hurt the project. The strategy can be through preventative measures or a contingency plan. Together with the risk owners, decide which approach solves the problems best.

6. Risk monitoring

The risk owner will continue tracking the risk to see how it responds, and determine any new threats that might develop. It’s crucial for all parties in the project to understand risk management measures. When they are transparent, the team will be proactive as they will know what to do. Set up different channels for efficient communication with the team.

How Risk Management Relates to Compliance

Modern SDLC relies on agile development, a methodology based on the 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto. Agility, in this case, means that the software product can adapt to changes through its lifecycle, as compliance projects are assuming the shape of agile development.

Government compliance regulations are continually developing. Therefore, these policies affecting the organization and implement should be known within the project. These include standards established with the industry as well as external regulations that touch the business. Compliance can be accommodated by planning project management to identify risks emanating from the outside.

Automation for Agility in Compliance Projects

Since compliance mimics software development projects, automation can enable organizations to meet standards effortlessly. For vendors to satisfy the needs of their customers and protect their information, they must be compliant. They can generate and monitor customer risk profiles and act accordingly to maintain trust.

By providing communication tools and motivating stakeholders, promote compliance in the organization. Self-assessment and audits inform the compliance department whether their controls are adequate.

Businesses should provide compliance officers with the tools they need for compliance projects. By so doing, customers and partners will rest assured organizations are at par with standards.

How to make the most from Project Management Meetings

If you are spending a lot of time in meetings, then it would be a good idea to try and get the most out of them. It is well known that meetings for meetings sake is a waste of time, erodes productivity and hence becomes a liability. However, meetings which are constructive and produce results are invaluable, but how is that fine balance achieved?  A project management meeting can be divided into three parts, one that obtains a result before the meeting commences the contents of the meeting and finally the actions from the meeting.

Being prepared for the meeting is the first step, once the meeting invite is accepted, then make the most of any available time leading up to the meeting to prepare. This will ensure that time is being used to good effect. Read the agenda and any accompanying documentation; think through which parts are relevant and where more information is required. This may seem “common sense”, but it is a surprise on how this simple step is often missed.

The following may seem like a waste of time, but if decisions are really needed then a pre-meeting should be conducted. People often decide on the issues before they turn up. They use the meeting to showcase their stance. So, avoid the risk of the project meeting going off the rails by taking and setting the tone in advance. If holding a pre-meeting, meeting is not possible due to scheduling conflicts? Create a list of items to discuss by using online software that can be shared and collaborated on.

Good meeting etiquette is to ensure that the meeting starts on time and not to wait for late arrivals. If for any reason most of the participants are late, especially those participants who would have the most input, then don’t waste the time of the few who did turn up, defer the meeting. Or just ask the people who are present, “What could this group best use our time together for?” the answer may surprise.

As the chair of the meeting, it is understood attendees know each other, if this is not the case then do a round of introductions. If the attendees are not known, a suggestion to remember who they are is to draw a map of the table, in a notebook. Then fill in the map, so names and affiliations of everyone at the table are then known.

Commencing a meeting on a positive note normally draws out the best results. A great way to do this is to ask about people’s biggest successes since the last meeting. Determine the best method to obtain the information, after all meetings are conversations, and the structure should match this conversations need. Think about which format will work best for each agenda item:

  • One-way briefing or lecture
  • Free-flowing dialogue
  • Structured debate
  • Round-robin sharing

The workplace is made up of many different character types, and meetings are no different, it is normally quickly determine who the assertive, dominant, talk-about-everything people are. When they start to dominate or take away from the meetings desired outcome, thank them, and ask to hear from someone who does not contribute as readily. Those people have just as many good ideas and their opinions are equally helpful. So, invite them in, and give them space to be heard.

This will then lead to a positive culture in the meeting, which provides a real boost in the mood of the meeting. Creativity will increase and people will build on the germ of a good idea, rather than knocking it down. Rapidly call out any disrespectful behaviour and celebrate evidence-based and courageous contributions. Build on good ideas, and ask for concerns and counter-evidence when one idea seems to dominate

One method to remove any knee-jerk negativity is to give anyone a minimum of two minutes to make their point before anyone can jump in and challenge it. It compels people to listen and hear the whole point, rather than reacting to their first impression. It has been often found that during the course of the meeting its perspective can shift. As the person who leads the meeting can force a particular perspective, and stifle innovative thinking. Wherever possible, ask the question to which the statement itself is the answer. This lets the group find it for itself, or possibly a better answer is provided. Another approach is to ask the meeting about how other stakeholders would react to the conversation. Or what they would say if they were in the room. This achieves a better decision, perspective and richer solution.

Remember to remain alert to signs of rising tensions during the meeting, cool them early, before they have too much heat in them. Ask clarifying or checking questions that move people to become analytical about what they are saying. This dampens their emotional responses. One way to quell any tension is to label the emotions around the table and ask about them: “I see you are becoming agitated; can you tell me what’s triggered that?”

Ensure the meeting remains on track at all times reduce the chance of the meeting slipping, start each part of the meeting by writing the objective on a board. If the meeting goes off-track, allow anyone to re-assert the objective by pointing it out. And then place any new topic that has started to take over on a “parking lot” part of the board. Now the group can return to its original topic, and pick up on the parked idea later, if it is genuinely valuable.

A conclusion to the topic must be achieved before moving off the point. Summarize up to the point which was reached, and state clearly what the group needs to do to finish the conversation. Then kick-off again with an invitation to take the next step. The meeting should have a satisfactory conclusion, decisions need to be owned by the group, but individuals may assert their opposition. Actions need to be owned by the people who have accepted them. Before the meeting is disbanded, re-affirm decisions taken, and secondly firm up commitments to action.

Once the meeting is closed, then the following should occur, schedule some time shortly after the meeting to review notes, follow-up on actions, and consider what was learned. If time has been taken to prepare for the meeting then it should also be taken at its conclusion.

Meetings are just a way to disseminate information to a group and get feedback, too. Projectmanagementcompanion.com  has a selection of cloud-based project management software that helps plan, monitor and report on the progress of any project. There are great tools to control each stage of a project. A real-time dashboard not only provides up-to-the-minute data but makes graphs and charts targeted to meeting needs, whether with stakeholders or the team. Try one today free with a 30-day trial.