You Might Be a Project Manager If…

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff.
Several years ago, I had a bit of fun with the title of this posting; I suggested the usefulness of a Jeff Foxworthy comedy routine for project managers and business analysts to a good friend, Tom Hathaway, of BA Experts. He followed through with the idea at his website. Click his link and see Tom’s results; I think he did a great job!

pm-sat-triThis year, the “You might be …” set-up came to mind as I was putting the finishing touches on an update to IPMA-USA’s PM-SAT; a self-assessment of Project Management knowledge, based on the new, 4th Edition of the IPMA (International Project Management Association) Individual Competence Baseline. What makes this 4th Edition ICB especially interesting is the inclusion of 2-5 Key Competence Indicators for each competence element.

But, before we get into that, and for those who are unfamiliar with the genre, let’s explore the Foxworthy theme. It started with a rather cruel statement, then a series of ‘interesting’ indicators. For example, “You might be a Redneck if…”  followed by something like, “The taillight covers of your car are made of red tape.” Cute, and fun; and not too outrageous. It occurred to me that people who are friends (or family) of project managers probably have similar sayings about us—but are too polite to divulge them to our faces.

Re-purposed For Project Managers: You might be a project manager if …  Continue reading

Imagine a World Where All Projects Succeed

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff.
trophyI have used this article’s title as my kick-off phrase at a half-dozen project-related keynotes and presentations over the last few years. Most audiences immediately “lean into” the thought, and its ramifications. For example, in Moscow, Hong Kong, Beijing, Tianjin, Brussels, and in the USA, my audiences immediately took notice, became engaged, and were eager to hear more.

This August (2015) was the first exception I’ve had to that typical reaction: As I voiced the introductory statement, I immediately detected disbelief among many in my audience. This was at one of the USA’s best PM Symposiums: I think this is one of the best because of the high-level audiences, the speaker selection process, and excellent event organization.

When I sensed this audience’s disbelief, I immediately asked the question, “How many think this (for all projects to succeed) is even possible?” Less than a quarter raised their hands. So I launched into an extended introduction, pointing out that …

  • Project managers cannot improve project (and business) success just by working harder. Most of us are already working our hearts out;
  • Nor can we improve performance by sending people to still more training;
  • Our team members? They are not only committed to our projects—they are over-committed;
  • And our stakeholders? They are engaged, and expect us to continue to make miracles happen.

No, (I asserted) it is our layers of managers, from first-level to the executive suite, who hold the keys to higher levels of success. And (I said), the purpose of this presentation is to identify seven key insights that can help our organizations to improve PM performance—and business success. The paper that supports that presentation is posted at the IPMA-USA website; but the purpose of this article is to further explore this question of disbelief. Continue reading

Prototyping and Agile: Twins, Separated at Birth?

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff.
We’ve written before about the intelligent application of Agile methods in Information Technology (IT) projects: See part 3 of our 4-part 2011 series, The First 10% of a Project: 90% of Success, here in our ChangeAgents articles. This article is a follow up with more insights. And, much has happened since our earlier article.

agile_tightropeAgile is maturing, and moving beyond a focus on the last-half-of-the-IT-life-cycle. For example, we have seen  excellent discussions on “hybrid” approaches. This involves using Agile where it is most appropriate (and where the prerequisites are in place), and using other insightful pm methods where they are more appropriate. That approach in IT, plus increasing use of Agile concepts in areas such as New Product Development, shows promise.

I do still have concerns about a few agile zealots who insist upon contrasting Agile to Waterfall. Competent PMs disposed of Waterfall in the early 1980s. We also disposed of, for the most part, years-long, hold-your-breath-and-wait-forever IT projects. What did we replace them with? Three-to-six-month bursts (we called them iterations) that delivered prioritized useful business functions. Of course, we also identified most of the prerequisites for success: Continue reading

Exploding the Myth of PM Best Practices

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff.
What are the Best Practices in the world of project and program management (PPM)? Are there a few immutable truths that are transferable across nations, organizations, industries, cultures, and project teams? I often see assertions promoting PM Best Practices—despite my belief that the phrase is an oxymoron—that our discipline is not yet mature enough to have universal best practices. This article is a recap of many discussions on best practices over my years as a PM practitioner, then as a consultant.

best_practiceMy opinions about PM Best Practices go back to the early 1980s, when, as a PPM consultant, I frequently encountered executives, line managers, project managers, and other consultants, who expected to hear my handful of easy-to-implement “PM Best Practices.” In that era, I often made recommendations for improved effectiveness, but I called them “Competitive Practices.” And I usually sought, uncovered, and identified them from within their own organizations. I understood over thirty years ago that one organization’s best practices could be a scourge for others. Here’s why… Continue reading

My First Project Portfolio

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff.

Many years ago (1973), in a Data Processing group in a local government organization (Lane County, Oregon) we had several large projects, and a large backlog of small maintenance, support, and “quick fix” projects. And, for this backlog of projects, the priorities continually changed. The changes were so frequent that we could plan our week’s work on Monday, but by Friday, little of that work was complete, because of many new, “even more urgent” projects, and because of priority changes in our backlog.portfolio

We addressed this challenge by prototyping a solution: Keeping track of our “backlog” in (of all things) a box of punched cards. That was the primary input to many computer systems in earlier days. After we perfected the information we needed to track, we began to use an online version. In that era, online often meant a simple listing of card images on an 80-character screen. Unfortunately, our solution did little more than depress us—the backlog kept growing.

And then, several new books on Time Management emerged. We especially liked Alan Lakein’s How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life. We decided that his insights, including better methods of prioritization, were the key. We added Urgency and Importance fields to our backlog list, with entries limited to 1, 2 and 3, where 1 was most important or most urgent. Note that Alan Lakein used A, B and C for the three choices, we used 1, 2 and 3, because they could be more easily averaged. And, we required that all entries must average 2, to force a sense of high, medium and low Urgency and Importance. Otherwise, everything would soon become Priority 1, destroying the value of the system.

These actions had turned our depressing backlog list into a manageable portfolio of small projects. We managed three types of project status, to reflect our emerging understanding of what it would take to truly manage our portfolio: Continue reading

Learning PM Success Secrets From Product Managers

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff.

In the early 1990s, a corporate executive and I were talking about the talent in his organization, and he asked me a question: “What’s the difference between a project manager and a product manager?” I knew he had his own answer already, so I asked him: “I can think of a dozen differences, but what do you think is the difference?”

He replied, “The Product Manager has a personality.”

I was shocked. As a practicing project manager and consultant, his reply stung. But then, this company was a major Aerospace/Defense contractor, and despite the Integrated Product Team initiatives of the 1980s, some of the old-timer Project Engineers were still not known for their interpersonal skills and scintillating style. But to make such a blanket statement? Even by the early 1990s, I had had worked with thousands of project managers who had great interpersonal skills—and personality galore!

A Product BOK
I was reminded of this discussion several years ago, when PM Consultant/Speaker/Author Gary Heerkens suggested that I should assist in a new initiative, to develop a Product Management Body of Knowledge. Gary put me in touch with Greg Geracie, who had completed a useful and popular book on the subject (Take Charge Product Management), and was working with a professional organization on this Body of Knowledge project.Product Details

Gary, Frank Salidis, Lee Lambert and other “great minds” in the pm community made significant contributions, and I reviewed their results, as a technical editor. They did a great job of bridging the gaps and overlaps between pm and pdm. The end result, The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK®) went to press in 2013, and is available at a reasonable price at Amazon.com and other booksellers. Continue reading

More Than Project Take-off and Landing

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.

In our previous post, Let’s Start at the Start, and Finish at the Finish, we left a teaser at the end. It’s the paragraph about the parts of an airplane flight that requires the most pilot skill. We were “piloting” our parallel concepts for a paper we were writing for the August 14-15 UTD PM Symposium. This event, hosted by University of Texas at Dallas, the PMI Dallas Chapter, and PM World Journal, is always one of the best regional PM events of the year. IPMA-USA and IPMA have participated in this event since it began eight years ago, and they are always outstanding. Now I offer the rest of the parallel concept.

Five Crucial Value-add Timings and Results
Managing a project is much like piloting an aircraft. There are several crucial timings where deft leadership, talent, quick reactions and redirection are essential for success. There are other timings when we can run on “cruise control” and perhaps, even take part in completing project work packages or other actions.

take-offAnd just when are those crucial timings?

Clearly, as illustrated in the photo at right, take-off (and landing) are among the crucial timings. And how does our piloting analogy relate to projects? Project take-off must begin with an effective Kick-off meeting—the first get-together of the team. And the landing? That has to be the Project Closure & Review, with review of results, then reallocation of the team to new projects. The results of these two crucial timings may be obvious, but in projects they include, for Kick-off, all stakeholders safely aboard the project, buckled in, and with a clear sense of direction, timing, commitment, and intended result. Continue reading

Let’s Start at the Start, and Finish at the Finish!

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.

One of the greatest challenges in managing projects is engaging the full project life cycle. We too-often see practitioners who believe that the “real project” starts at execution of a preconceived solution. These folks seem to believe that the business case, stakeholder engagement, clear and measurable requirements, solution delivery staging, alternative solutions and approaches, and other essential-to-success actions are a gift from above.

Similarly, many project teams escape to other projects late in the project, before success is even evident. Crucial actions remain, such as defect correction, warranty period adjustments, follow-on change orders (chargeable, of course), that increase the return on investment of successful projects, and proof that you met the business need, and supported your sponsor’s strategy.

middleGiven this syndrome, these sadly misinformed project managers and teams should more accurately chart their projects’ precedence diagrams more like the one at left; after all, they are starting and ending their part of the project in the middle!

startMeanwhile the more-savvy project teams (or luckier teams, as the case may be) follow the more effective, more success-oriented approach, which starts at the start, and finishes at the finish. This is shown at the right.

Why do less-effective teams skip the most important parts? Continue reading

Are You PRO or an Amateur?

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.

PRO-190The tongue-in-cheek title of this article, as many will recognize, refers to PRO, the Performance Rated Organization standard. This is one of the few organizational PM (Project Management) assessments that is not just another maturity model. Not that we dislike Maturity Models. We have used SEI CMM/CMMi for (gee, approaching 30) years, and like it a lot for Information Technology organizations.

Our purpose with this article is to introduce a much more effective model, to move organizations from accidental (and too-often amateurish) results in project management, to a more performance-driven approach that delivers the intended business benefits—in all projects and programs.

We believe that organizational project management effectiveness is not an arena for maturity levels—it is more like a performance chain—one that is as strong as its weakest link. What brings this article to mind are several recent events. First, we have seen an increased interest in PRO. Next, and this is probably related, we changed our intellectual property rights; in December we moved PRO to a more-open license, that anyone can use, and can build upon.

IPMA-USA’s PRO Standard now uses the Creative Commons License. You are free to:

  • Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format;
  • Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material;
  • For any purpose, including commercially.

See PRO, and download the freely available standard on our IPMA-USA website. Continue reading

.ru Ready?

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.

Two recent experiences resulted in the title of this article: First, we were recently in Russia to keynote a very successful Project Management conference, and .ru is the national web domain for Russia. Second, we recently saw the latest updates in Project Management Institute’s “Are You Ready?” campaign. For the last few years, they have been pivoting to embrace the leadership/behavioral and context/strategic linkage aspects long-advocated by IPMA, International Project Management Association.

I especially appreciate this pivoting action because these were our PM consulting firm’s (Goff Associates, Inc., the ProjectExperts) key differentiators from the early 1980s. Our clients’ success was based on their early embrace of the importance of these demonstrated competences. And, I have long-fought for the consistent application of the factors that make the greatest difference in project and organizational success–even in the era when they were a difficult sale. It’s about time all professional associations recognize the importance of these factors for success!

Project Management 2013: Mission Possible!
The conference, organized by infor-media Russia, and held at the Swissotel Krasnye Holmy Moscow, was very well-managed, interesting, and informative. Among the most interesting parts was the level of experience of most participants–truly outstanding, compared to many events I have participated in. It is an audience similar to the high level of sophistication of the UT Dallas PM Symposium, the PMO Symposium, and of course, our IPMA World Congress. As kick-off keynote speaker, my primary role was completed early in the event (except for a panel later in the morning), so I had the opportunity to relax, observe and enjoy the other presentations.

So why was I in Russia, keynoting a major PM conference? Because this is a highly visible event, and SOVNET, IPMA-Russia, arranged for me to bring the IPMA global perspective, giving one of my “Stacy speeches.” SOVNET President Alexey Polkovnikov and past IPMA Executive Board member Alexandr Tovb made sure I was able to not only participate in the conference, but had the opportunity to see some of the major attractions of Moscow. Continue reading