Now THIS Is What I Mean By “Advanced” Training

We’ve had a ton of discussions with clients after the Project Management Institute (PMI)announcement that it would soon demand business and leadership training from its certification holders. Some organizations wanted just the facts – who, what, where, when, why, and how — then were on their way. A few weren’t interested for personal reasons: their organizations don’t require or reward PMI certification.

The most interesting talks, however, were with customers who didn’t really focus on the requirements at all. The original blog post or email had merely crystallized needs that they already had. We heard it again and again: “We’ve already had the basics, we’ve already put everyone through the curriculum. How do we get better, how do we advance?”

These kinds of conversations are music to my ears, because it means that we’re going to talk about building new and differentiated capabilities. In other words, these clients aren’t just thinking about industry standards and compliance. They now think strategically about how their staff’s strengths and weaknesses match up to their organization’s opportunities and threats.

So how does this play out in practice? Each firm or agency is different, but we believe there a few useful questions that help focus on the learning that your organization needs to advance.

  1. Knowledge and Skill Gaps: These are items that were simply missed in previous training or need formal reinforcement. Example course topics that address gaps:  How to Lead a Team;  How to Model, Analyze, and Improve Business Processes.
  2. Knowledge and Skill Mastery: Here’s where one truly goes beyond the basics and gets command of a subject. Courses like Project Cost & Schedule Management; Project Risk Management; Strategies for Effective Stakeholder Engagement; and  Vendor Relationship Management take one to the next level.
  3. Behavior Change: Here’s the real opportunity to breakthrough performance: ensuring that skills manifest themselves in behavior. Our simulations — for example, Managing by Project; Managing by Project: Construction; and Leadership in High-Performance Teams — move participants from mere understanding of skills to application of these skills back in the working world.

As always, if your organization would like discuss these ideas and how it will impact your project management training curriculum, please use the contact form below. We are happy to review your current curriculum, your upcoming learning plans, and make recommendations.

High performing project management orgs are more agile — PMI

The Project Management Institute’s latest “Pulse of the Profession” report just came out, and it’s full of provoking findings. It clarifies the benefits of high-performing project management, and it highlights what the top organizations do differently. By the way, the “PMI Pulse” is a nice complement to the McKinsey report on building capabilities I wrote on last week.

So what does it mean to your organization if it’s a project management top performer? It means that you deliver more value and waste fewer resources:

…these organizations meet original goals and business intent two-and-a-half times more often than those in low performing organizations (90 percent vs. 36 percent). High-performing organizations also waste about 13 times less money than low performers. — PMI Pulse, page 6

Did you know that these top performers used agile techniques more often than other organizations? This use of agile, iterative, and incremental methods drove better organizational agility. In turn, this better agility allows for faster and more effective responses to competitive, technological, regulatory, or other external challenges. PMI found that the most agile delivered against business, cost, and schedule goals between 20 to 50 percent better than the least agile. Agile also means better top and bottom lines: the PMI Pulse report references a MIT study that found agile firms grew revenue 37 percent faster than non-agile firms, while generating 30 percent better profitability.

To that end, PM College has greatly expanded it’s agile curriculum, from the basics, to an Agile Bootcamp, to negotiating Agile vs. Waterfall, to PMI Agile and ScrumMaster certification prep.

Agile principles have a been a lifesaver on a number of my projects and programs. If nothing else, an agile education gets you and your organization thinking and working the agile way…even before you implement any methodology at all.

Is there any “science” in project management?

“Project management as profession” remains a fraught subject (initial post here, survey here, survey results here).  I doubt it ever will, at least not fully like law, medicine, or academia.   Furthermore, I believe that because project management is essentially a social science — i.e., a discipline about human action — we will have persistent trouble in trying to settle debates with evidence and experimentation.

To that end, Jim Manzi provides a useful summary of the epistemic challenge faced by social sciences — what they do, don’t, and could (eventually) know.   He sets up the problem in this excerpt below:

[W]e have no reliable way to measure counterfactuals—that is, to know what would have happened had we not executed some policy—because so many other factors influence the outcome. This seemingly narrow problem is central to our continuing inability to transform social sciences into actual sciences. Unlike physics or biology, the social sciences have not demonstrated the capacity to produce a substantial body of useful, nonobvious, and reliable predictive rules about what they study—that is, human social behavior….

As they say, read the whole thing.

More on bridging the PM/Executive communications gap

I hope I didn’t scare you off the latest PM Network (September 2009) with my recent lament about a column (my lament is here).  The piece assumed that we still needed to convince PMs that they had to be business savvy. 

In fact, this issue is chock full of articles that assume PMs get that and want to get savvier.  One piece — Talking the Talk — hits on a number of recent Crossderry themes.  It echoes an earlier post about bridging the PM/Management Gap (here), but it speaks to the executive who wants to improve his/her communications with project managers.  The opening grafs hit the main challenge:

To the executive ear, project managers seem to be speaking an entirely different language.  “A lot of executives think project management is all Gantt charts and paperwork, so they tune those conversations out,” says Eric Morfin, partner, Critical Skills Inc., San Diego, California, USA 

My suggestion: take this article and use it to shape your exchanges with executives.  If you have a executive mentor,  “how to leverage these ideas” would make a great subject for your next chat.

Don’t PMs get that they’re “business” people yet?

I saw a somewhat depressing article in this month’s PM Network about the need for project managers to get business-savvy.  Not that there’s anything wrong with what Gary Heerkens writes (the article itself is here).  What saddens me is what this article implies about the mindset of project managers:

  1. Too many project managers don’t see “business understanding” as part of their job.
  2. This expectation isn’t explicit enough in PM job descriptions or how PM performance is managed.
  3. PMs seem to want the title, but not the responsibility. 

IMO, a project manager who can’t participate in business discussions can’t meet the substantive requirements of whole swaths of the PMBOK Guide.  How can a project manager participate in charter, scope, and change control discussions without knowing the business?  Otherwise, aren’t they really project coordinators, assistants, etc.?  As Gary notes (and understates):

Basing choices solely upon technical or functional considerations means all of the critical inputs required to make the best possible decision aren’t being considered.  Project managers who do not understand the business aspects of their projects are destined to make subpar decisions from time to time.

Is forensic science isn’t a science, can PM be a profession?

I enjoyed this Popular Mechanics piece on the problematic foundations that underpin forensic science — CSI Myths: The Shaky Science Behind Forensics.   Per the piece’s header:

Forensic science was not developed by scientists. It was mostly created by cops, who were guided by little more than common sense.

In fact, I was reminded of the debate that we’ve had about project management as a profession (here, survey here, survey results here).  The article reinforced just how far we have to go to true professionalization.

While we have many common sense PM practices, how many of them are demonstrably linked to project success?  Which are the most important and why?  The Value of PM is still pretty fuzzy

PMI and Agilests?

Cats and dogs, living together...

Cats and dogs, living together...

Greg Balestrero — CEO of the Project Management Institute — recently posted (here) on his experiences at the Scrum Gathering in Orlando.  In my experience, Greg and the PMI staff have been very eager to foster a better relationship among the various methodology camps.  Per Greg’s post,

[t]he intent of the visit was to bridge the gap between the Scrum Alliance and PMI. But I guess the real reason we attended was to dispel the myths that surround the PMBOK® Guide and Agile practice. There is a widely held opinion that the PMBOK® Guide and Agile don’t mix… they can’t be “shaken, nor stirred” together. 

Please read the post…it gives an interesting perspective on how to build alliances among disparate points of view and how to overcome misconceptions.

Why get involved w/ industry associations?

One of the reasons I’ve been remiss in my posting is that I’ve been preparing to host the Spring 2009 executive forum of PMI’s Global Corporate Council.  My SAP colleagues did a great job helping me host and this forum was particularly productive.

“Networking” is a pat response when one talks about joining or leading industry groups.  What exactly that means came home to me after discussions with my counterparts from Siemens, Joe Sopko and Kevin McDevitt.  On two topics, just a few minutes of conversation helped me confirm the validity of one approach (on how to augment on program management content) and introduced a better metaphor (for the architecture of our new methodology).

Nothing big, eh?  But how much benchmarking and justification will I avoid because I can say “well, Siemens had a similar problem and they did X“?

PMI CEO’s perspective on the stimulus package

I forgot to link to this Greg Balestrero post (here) on the US stimulus package (then still in debate).  He asks a lot of great questions about whether Congress and the Obama administration have thought through how to make this portfolio most effective.

I’ll focus my comments on Greg’s first two PM-oriented suggestions for the plan (#3 is to accelerate the spending):

First, get the people who know how to manage complex change initiatives — these are not career politicians but are experienced project professionals — who can manage change portfolios… that can get results.

Agreed, but one of the challenges with current legislative practice is that large swaths of the portfolio are fixed by the legislation itself, at least at the Federal level. Some of the more interesting work is happening at the state level. In a recent radio interview, the RI Director of Transportation sounded like he had his portfolio ready to go. In fact, he was ready to pounce on funds that other states would forfeit because their transportation portfolio process wasn’t as smooth.

Second, emphasize the competency of project management, like they have begun to do in many of the governments around the world. But they should not allow “pockets” of excellence to prevail. On the contrary, the governments should leverage the pockets of excellence to develop an enterprise discipline in project execution.

While enterprise-wide initiatives are great, I always wonder how deep they really can go. My experience is that in any organization of substantial complexity, it is hard to cover any but the most generic PM needs at the enterprise level. The differences in line of business, agency, etc. drive variation that’s hard to reconcile effectively.

More on the Value of PM Study… why no ROI numbers?

Last week’s PMI GCC executive forum featured a presentation from Janice Thomas, a co-author of the Value of Project Management study (the study’s preview PDF is here and a 90 minute presentation by the lead authors is embedded here).

Janice elaborated on one of the findings — that ROI calculations were almost never done (my earlier post here).  It turned out that only one of the 64 organizations studied could put together rock-solid ROI numbers.  A number of others could have put some numbers, but didn’t.  These organizations found generating figures on returns onerous — and not worth the effort — because of a three-fold problem:

  • ROI had not been considered closely enough at the beginning of the PM initiative.  In other words, little benefits realization work had been done — few if any KPIs were envisioned or no baseline was established for those KPIs. 
  • PM initiative costs weren’t tracked closely enough.  Amazingly enough, it appears that few of these project management improvement efforts weren’t managed as projects or programs.  Oops.
  • Organizations that didn’t perform projects for a living were more concerned with fixing the basics of PM.  Improving customer satisfaction or project delivery measures was good enough for these organizations.
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