Archive for January, 2009

Obama project management

Reporters and people alike have come to admire these distinct qualities in Obama: his generally calm and friendly demeanor, his message of respectful disagreement and yet cooperation, … trying to find common goals and rivals coming together to achieve these goals. Of course, all of this is quite a radical shift from the type of message we have seen from both sides of the political spectrum. So much of what Obama stands for (and hopefully will stand for throughout his presidency) can be applied to how we run our businesses, and projects.

Just like many of you, throughout my career, I have had my differences with some people. Whenever, I or any of my rivals chose to firmly disagree, argue, stand our ground or take a dogmatic position on an issue we all ended up losing somehow. This is specially true in any type of partnership. Hard ideological positions create nothing but obstruction, or worse destruction.

As an example, take the senator that single-handedly blocked the confirmation of Hillary Clinton on January 20th, knowing full well that she would be easily confirmed the next day whether he likes it or not. What is the point of obstructing and delaying what is an inevitable outcome? Instead, he could have simply stated his objections, understand that he has to work with this new team and get on with doing his job. Possibly spending some of that time and energy on the credit crisis instead. These are the politics of the future. As a friend of mine said, chances are when he runs for reelection he will be replaced by voters with someone who gets that this mindset change must occur.

So all of this got me thinking. How would Obama manage projects? I look forward to reading your thoughts on situations such as below and how you think an Obama type character would handle them.

- Dealing with a difficult customer: A customer that refuses to pay any invoices due because the project is late. The customer has changed project scope several times but does not think the scope changes are the root cause of the delays in achieving the milestones. He does not agree that the customer's team bares any responsibility whatsoever for the project's issues. The customer is absolutely convinced that his internal resources are doing a fine job and all the blame lies with your team.

Internal Politics: Your team and your projects are doing fine. So the "boss" and other project managers constantly raid your team for emergencies and try to take your resources away to fight fires. When you confront them they explain how urgent their issues are and how they absolutely have to "borrow" these resources. You know, of course, that it is only a matter of when not if that your projects will start to be yellow and red flagged as a result of these workforce planning (or lack there of)  issues.

How would an Obama-type leader handle these project management challenges?

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Ten Predictions for Project Management Trends in 2009 Part 3

We covered the following 2009 trends for project management in the Part 1 and Part 2

- #10 The increasing correlation between project management and operational excellence

- #9 The CFO and the project manager friendship

- #8 The rise of the Project Workforce

- #7. Dispersed customers, projects and teams kill politics

- #6. Finding the right talent gets a lot easier

- #5. Emphasis shifts from project management to workforce management

Let’s look at the last four trends.

- #4. Uncertainty is the new normal

The unceasing uncertainty we have all felt about our jobs, our homes, the economy and the world in the last two years is going to be with us for the foreseeable future. The credit crisis, terrorism, climate change, and prolonged wars will continue to directly and indirectly impact our lives, our psyche. However, with human being’s remarkable ability to adjust to any situation we are starting to get used to it! When this whole war/economic mess started I remember how shocked and surprised I was every time I turned on the TV. Now, I do not watch as much predictably bad news anymore, and if when I do, I know it will be bad … so it does not really bother me nearly as much as it used to.

- #3. The rapidly increasing service web

The business model of virtually every large monolithic company is under attack. The web has enabled small, fast moving, low cost global competitors to emerge virtually overnight. This is even more true in the enterprise software space. Small companies with deep expertise in a particular problem area are able to build and offer Web service based solutions that solve the customer’s pain point a factor of time-cost faster than the ERP/established vendor alternative. With ever improving collaboration, Web service and integration technologies this trend will only accelerate in 2009.

- #2. Enterprise software technology cross-pollination gains momentum

Web services and new technologies continue to create a powerful seemingly perpetual wave of innovation in productivity tools. One of the more recent developments that is starting to gain further momentum has been is the surge in hybrid software technologies. Here are some examples (with varying degrees of success):

  • ERPs offering and embedding analytics
  • Project management vendors embedding business process management capabilities (true enterprise class workflow engines)
  • Project management and workforce management (not just time tracking but also workforce planning, time for payroll, leave time and other integrated HR/labor related functions/services) hybrid applications
  • Accounting systems offering CRM and other enterprise solutions

Generally, hybrids that create large monolithic all or none propositions do not provide compelling value. Vendors with such solutions seek vendor lock-in as their ultimate goal and only pay lip service to the true goal of standards-based pluggable solutions that are based on Web services allowing the customer to pick and choose the services that best address their needs. However, modular Web Services oriented hybrid technologies that can be quickly implemented are on the increase and offer a compelling alternative to the legacy application models.

- #1. Leadership matters

Above all, I think one of the most important lessons of the last several years has been the critical importance of the leader. It does not matter who is on the bus, what great technologies one has access to, how many best practices you are fully versed in, it is all for nothing if the people that lead your organization and projects lack the leadership skills and intuition to make the right decisions. An incompetent leader can lead the best team, the best technologies and the organization with the most abundant resources to total and shameful failure. The primary reason we are in the mess we are in now is extremely poor ignorant leadership at some of the largest public and private institutions throughout the world. We have learned, the hard way, that choosing a bad leader or project manager can be hazardous to us, to our way of life. I think, in 2009 every single one of us, whether we are executives, members of a board of directors, members of a committee, voters … will pay a lot more attention to who we pick as our leaders, representatives and our project managers.

These are my predictions about what to expect for project management in 2009. It should be helpful to consider these trends in your business plans so you can leap ahead of your competition.

What are your thoughts about how project management practices and technologies will change in 2009?

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Ten Predictions for Project Management Trends in 2009 Part 2

In Part 1 of this blog we looked at following three trends for 2009:

- #10 The increasing correlation between project management and operational excellence

- #9 The CFO and the project manager friendship

- #8 The rise of the Project Workforce

Now let’s look at the next three trends.

- #7 Dispersed customers, projects and teams kill politics

The flat world and access to a global talent pool has significantly changed the inner workings and team dynamics of virtually all organizations. There are many disadvantages to working with remote dispersed team members, which most of us are doing today. We tend to be happier, more loyal to the team, learn faster, and accomplish more as a team when we work physically close to each other. On the other hand, there are less emotions and politics with a dispersed team; people tend to pay more attention to getting the work done, than playing office politics; and their performance ultimately dictates how they are evaluated. In today’s increasingly dispersed teams office politics is certainly on the decline.

- #6 Finding the right talent gets a lot easier

It is much harder to find the matching resources you need when you limit yourself only to looking for talent in a local market. The flat world, Internet collaboration technologies have made it possible for organizations to tap large remote pools of talent at very competitive rates. For example, at Tenrox, we are increasingly leveraging specialized programmers working (probably) from their homes in Russia, Eastern Europe and at outsourcing shops in India. These resources are not replacing our full time staff; they complement our team by working on projects on a need basis. It allows Tenrox to remain flexible, not to over-hire, and yet quickly staff projects when required. With better collaboration technologies, improving quality of global resources, and our own improved knowledge of how to manage such projects, this process is becoming a lot easier and rewarding to execute.

- #5 Emphasis shifts from project management to workforce management

The project management discipline has traditionally emphasized the science of project management. Project managers and contributors are encouraged to follow strict templates, guidelines and steps to ensure a project is executed successfully. However, in spite of the increasing number of certified project managers and great project management tools, projects continue to show high failure rates, or high rates of disappointment by being too late, cost too much, or not fully meet their intended objectives. Numerous studies have looked at why projects disappoint. Many of these studies often conclude that better project management, communication, stakeholder involvement and change controls would have reduced failure rate. However, as books like Built to Last (Collins Business; 1 edition; November 2, 2004) suggest while best practices and better tools help there is nothing more important than picking the most qualified and best-fit resources to run the project (what Jim Collins called having the right people on the bus). Having the right people on the team makes everything easier; in fact, less process and less enforcement is needed since great team members innately know what needs to get done and just do it. As a result, more and more organizations are investing in cataloging their resources, understanding their resource’s capabilities and interests, and using more sophisticated workforce planning tools to find the best resources for their projects.

In the last and final part of this blog we will look at the top 4 project management trends in 2009.

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Ten Predictions for Project Management Trends in 2009

2008 was an eventful prosperous year for the project management practice, project management service and solution providers:

  • Several independent vendors merged with larger entities; many more new small companies with innovative technologies emerged on to the scene. Given the poor macro picture, the amount of M&A and startup activity in this space shows how much interest there is and how much more there is to do, to improve in project management.
  • What do you mean you don’t do on-demand?! On-demand adoption surged in 2008 and is now the standard way to deploy project management software. In fact, the tables have turned. Vendors that do not offer on-demand solutions look out of place, out of touch with the market.
  • Project management continued to gain credibility as a legitimate profession that is very much in need given today’s complex project, workforce, market realities and regulatory requirements.
  • Working remotely, virtual offices, working from home, are now almost as accepted as working from the office in an increasing number of industries and work types. It is now common to find work arrangements that account for some work being done from home.

The stage has been set for some very exciting changes in the project management world. In a three part series, I discuss ten potential project management trends that may be more prominent in 2009.

- #10 The increasing correlation between project management and operational excellence

It used to be that senior company executives such as the CEO, CFO and board members would generally stay away from project management related decisions. The expectation was that CIO, COO and other operational executives would “take care of” ensuring that the company has effective project management practices. In fact, most executives generally regarded project management as something the “techies”, field level workers and mid level managers should worry about.

In today’s highly competitive flat world, the “Chinese wall” between executives and operations has broken down. In 2009, we will continue to see increasing sponsorship, collaboration, and direct involvement of senior executives in project management initiatives. Senior executives have come to appreciate the direct link between effective project management processes, best practices and tools and operational excellence. This task is no longer delegated away and deemed to be a tactical activity. Senior executives and board members view project management improvement initiatives as a strategic investment.

- #9 The CFO and the project manager friendship

An increasingly project-based service-oriented economy has led to more complex customer engagements and billing arrangements. By instituting charge backs, even internal departments have to justify their costs, deliver services efficiently, and earn the business of other entities within the same organization. Consequently, for CFOs measuring project value and recognizing revenue in compliance with various GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) cost accounting and revenue recognition regulations has become an even more daunting task. The intricacies of estimating project value have created unprecedented ties between financial executives and projects managers who have to collaborate to produce incontestable project value assessments that can withstand the various forms of potential financial and project audits the organization may be subjected to. Given the current trends, the CFO/project management alliance is likely to grow stronger in 2009.

- #8 The rise of the Project Workforce

As explained in my book The Rise of the Project Workforce ( more and more individuals choose the projects they want to work on rather than the company they work for. Similarly, more companies are adopting the Hollywood model for a larger percentage of their workforce. In this model a project team is quickly assembled to execute a well defined objective; the team is just as quickly discharged once the project (the movie) has been completed. This flexibility makes both the company and the workforce more agile in a rapidly changing competitive marketplace.

In Part II we will look at the next three trend predictions for project management in 2009.

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