Archive for August, 2007

The Fate of Project Workforce Managers: A Disturbing Trend

I was first distressed, then inspired, to read this post from Joe Wynne, on his "Eye on the Workforce" blog on Gantthead.com, that middle managers are getting frustrated and leaving their jobs. Wynne points to a USAToday story on about middle managers, and states, "That’s what you are if you are a project manager – between a rock and a hard place."

The USAToday story quotes these statistics:

Just four in 10 managers are extremely or very satisfied working for their employers, according to a 2007 survey of more than 1,400 respondents by Accenture, a management consulting and outsourcing company. About 25% of those looking for new jobs said they were searching because of a lack of advancement prospects, and 43% of middle managers polled felt as if they were doing all the work but not getting credit for it. One-third reported frustration with their work-life
balance.

It is distressing that the project managers of the world may not be getting the credit, and therefore the job satisfaction, they deserve. This distresses me because I see a world where Project Manager is a hot title, because the role of Project Workforce Manager must become more critical in a flat world.

I was inspired by Wynne’s advice:

If middle managers are not getting any respect I your organization, move on. But only move on to another organization that supports middle managers. If there are fewer and fewer middle managers, and you get extra training and development in that area, then you can quickly become a hot commodity! Start your research now.

Employers who don’t make the Project Workforce Manager’s title a hot one, through respect and good compensation, should get what they deserve–inferior Project Workforce Managers. On the other hand, the employers who understand the value of managers who can manage remote teams, match talent to tasks, and make work happen smoothly should not be afraid to seek employment where they will get the most for their abilities.

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ERP in the Professional Services Sector

David Hofferberth of SPI Research, who is a keynote speaker at our upcoming Tenrox User Group Conference September 26-28, has published a report on ERP in the Professional Services Sector. The mega-ERP vendors (SAP, Oracle, Microsoft) and other major ERP players have made the transition to consider the workforce as part of the "Resource" in Enterprise Resource Planning.

Here is an excerpt from the report:

The services sector has come into its own as an economic force in the global economy. Manufacturing no longer dominates the market as it did from the onset of the industrial revolution. The trend toward a services economy is evident in all developed nations. It has brought both opportunities and issues, as the workforce transitions to a services focus. No industry is exempt from the requirement to improve their capabilities in the delivery of services.

The service market is broad and dynamic, existing within every company, both large and small. In manufacturing enterprises, services have become a core differentiator and profit center at a time when many products are sliding toward commoditization. In the billable Professional Services sector, the ability to optimize the services delivery lifecycle with all of its attendant business processes is a core competency and critical success factor.

The commoditization of products, and the rise of services as a profit center, is the major driver of Workforce 2.0. The shift of the major software vendors into this space indicates the importance of leveraging technology to manage people as a resource (the "R" in "ERP).

Tenrox is not classified as an ERP vendor, but we integrate with ERP solutions to provide best-of-breed project workforce management functionality that does not require customizations as well as prohbitive deployment and heavy recurring and ongoing costs. About our end of the market, Hofferberth states:

Smaller application/process-specific ISVs are not going away. They serve a distinct purpose and there are PSO executives who choose to integrate different applications or avoid purchasing additional functionality at all. Small PSOs continue as long as possible with the spreadsheet being their best friend.

Tenrox’s distinct purpose is to lead the way on functionality as it relates to project-based, service oriented work, for service organizations who either don’t use an ERP, or need to add richer project workforce functionality that gives them a real edge over their competition. Many of our clients are ready to leap into work process maturity stage and leave behind a workflow that is based on MES (Meetings, Emails, Spreadsheets).

Without the technology support of a good Project Workforce Management solution–regardless of the vendor–companies cannot really compete in the global marketplace. (Woe to the service organization that is still hanging on to customized home grown investments!) Companies of all shapes and sizes will continue to grow out of the MES, driven by the need to compete globally with companies who are making such productivity investments.

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How Much Collaboration is Enough?

In an online column on FastCompany.com called "Innovation Station," Richard Watson writes about the phenomenon of people disengaging from their lives because they are too connected to their emails, text messages, and voice messages. Here is an excerpt:

…Ten or fifteen years ago people didn’t take calls in the middle of meetings. Today it’s commonplace. I was in a meeting last year with News Corp when someone from their ad agency took a call and the rest of the room was put on hold for almost ten minutes until the call had ended. You can see this teleportation process in operation in countless restaurants too where couples are talking to each one minute and then divert to receiving phone calls or checking emails the next. …

In short, we are becoming so tethered to our electronic devices that we never entirely switch off and escape from the presence of others. Now this may be a very good thing in terms of the development of individual identity, because we are constantly connected to other people, but I wonder what it’s doing to the quality of our thinking.

…Our connectedness to others through digital networks means that a culture of rapid response has developed in which the speed of our response is sometimes considered more important than its substance. We shoot off email mails that are half thought out and long-term strategic thinking is constrained by a lack of proper thinking time. We are always responding to what’s urgent rather than what’s important. I could have probably put all that together a lot better but I’m pushed for time and really can’t be bothered.

The complete article, titled "Have I Got Your Full and Undivided Attention," is here.

Watson makes a good case that this phenomenon, which thought leader Linda Stone calls Constant Partial Attention, reduces our ability to be human: to relate to people, be alone, reflect, and really think. We are communicating so much online, we are ceasing to communicate live.

In addition to the personal consequences (which are probably profound enough), what does Constant Partial Attention do to the quality of our work, as shown by the success of our projects? Are we losing our ability to think strategically, complete a task competently, or communicate thoughtfully…even while the new communications infrastructures enable us to collaborate in ways we barely dreamed about a decade or two ago?

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The Hollywood Model: A Project Workforce Approach

The following article by Rudolf Melik has been published as an opinion piece on SandHill.com:

Hollywood producers must find it frustrating that an amateur YouTube video can attract a bigger audience than a studio blockbuster with a multi-million dollar budget. The same dynamic has taken over the software industry: a startup with a few people can compete for enterprise business with multi-billion-dollar mega vendors.

To stay competitive, mid-sized and large vendors can fight back against more nimble startups by adopting a “Project Workforce” approach. Software vendors can improve their agility and competitive edge by breaking down internal barriers and improving collaboration.

For the complete article, click here.

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Zen and the Art of Project Workforce Management

In our globalized world, it is natural that the philosophies of our many world cultures will begin to influence how all of us work together. Here is an interesting interview in Projects at Work (login required) with George Pitagorsky, PMP, author of The Zen Approach to Project Management: Working from Your Center to Balance Expectations and Performance.

Pitagorsky, a project management veteran of some 40 years and a long-time practitioner of meditation and yoga, uses his personal and professional experiences to illustrate how Zen — a distinct school of Buddhism that de-emphasizes theoretical knowledge — can cut through complex issues to arrive at practical solutions.

Pitagorsky applies his experience to project management by suggesting methods for conflict resolution and avoidance, better planning, big-picture thinking, and "taking a breath and coming back to a reality check"–all excellent skills for better management of people and projects.

The first comment below this article on the Projects at Work site led us to discover Bob Tarne’s blog on Zen, Project Management, and Life. This is a well written blog with helpful information and a soothing, meditative tone. (Quite a contrast to the Angry Aussie, whom we blogged about the other day.)

As the world becomes more global, and as more of projects from Western-based companies are offshored to parts of the world where Eastern philosophies have a greater influence, will we arrive at a more balanced work culture? Or are these philosophies not ultimately compatible? Time will tell. Looking forward to your comments.

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Scheduling and Project Workforce Management: Management By Reality

The "Angry Aussie" blogs on a wide variety of topics, and the posts under his Work tag are on the front line of Workforce 2.0. I agree with his philosophy about scheduling and project management:

A business can use a project schedule in one of two main ways: as a weapon with which to beat the project team if they fail to deliver to schedule or as a general roadmap. To those who treat divergence from a schedule as a failure which must be punished: you’re going to get the team, the morale and the results you deserve (hint – they’ll all be crap). But if you acknowledge that your schedule is a best guess at where the key signposts are, that you’ll have to stop and ask for directions regularly and that you’ll find the journey taking you in strange and unexpected directions before you reach your destination, then you stand a chance of success. (The full post is here.)

Instead of managing a project to death, I think the best way to run a project is to follow these general steps:

  1. Create an initial project plan including a project work breakdown structure.
  2. Tentatively request and book the resources to the project, but at the project level, not at the task level.
  3. When the project is about to be initiated, review the plan once again and make any changes.
  4. Finalize the project team, and assign members to specific tasks.
  5. Publish the plan for tracking purposes.
  6. Track the project and every once in a while, compare the actual effort and estimates to the project baseline (the plan prepared step 3). Define new baselines as required.

As these steps suggest, the project plan and the original resource bookings are really forecasting and planning tools. Most projects experience a lot of changes that make the original plan obsolete. After the initial plan, what most project managers need is a good effort tracking system to measure the project’s true cost and performance against the original or revised estimates.

But as Angry Aussie suggests, using a detailed project plan as a means to over-control a project from start to finish, or to cast blame as soon as reality deviates from the plan (which it always does), is folly. The effort expended to exert so much control over projects will blow out the schedule and budget (if it does not scare away any good people you have) just as surely as the "unknown unknowns" that derail every project plan.

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Resource Planning for the Small and Mid-Sized Service Organizations

by Mike McRae, CMA, Vice President of Professional Services, Tenrox

If you’re like most SMB Professional Services Organizations (PSOs), you’ve probably got a good handle on things like utilization rates, average billing rate, profit per project, and revenue per resource. These metrics are widely used across all PSOs and are relatively easy to capture with any Professional Services software tool. The problem with only focusing on these metrics is that they only provide you with insight into how well you’ve done – past tense. They don’t provide you with any insight into how many resources you’ll need next month or next quarter, or more specifically, the number of Project Managers, Database Administrators, and Consultants you’ll need in the US, Europe, and Asia.

More importantly, these metrics will not alert you to upturns and downturns in the sales pipeline. This blind spot limits your ability to ramp up and threatens the new business you’ve just acquired.
Similarly, in a downtrend environment this reduces the amount of time you have to scramble before having to layoff quality personnel. In this regard the SMB organization is greatly disadvantaged over larger competitors. With formalized recruitment and on-boarding processes, larger organizations have an easier time attracting and training new talent and have a much greater ability to withstand lulls in the market, thus making them tougher to compete against.

With so much on the line, why do SMBs spend so little time on Resource Planning?

Read more on PSVillage.com, where Mike McRae is a featured author.

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