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Friday, May 31, 2019

Risk Management in Agile

Extending observations from one of the class I facilitated on digital project management, I was wondering how to address the impact of risk management in agile initiatives. Earlier this month, I had a family emergency and I traveled to India to meet a family member who was critically admitted to the hospital. As I discussed the medical condition of my family member with the physician, I remembered one of my earlier speeches where I had discussed the notion of of ECG waveform as the warning trigger of risk in monitoring one's health daily.

I resonated with the ECG waveform and its principles to agile approaches to project management or product development. The ECG waveform represents the heart pumping certain volume of blood every fraction of a second (varies from person to person due to many reasons). From a physiological standpoint, the P wave represents the atrial contraction pumping oxygenated blood into the ventricular chambers. The QRS wave represents the ventricular contraction denoting the rate of  blood distribution. Finally, the T wave represents the ventricular relaxation before the heart is ready for another cycle. It is therefore, no wonder, that one can think of every PQRST cycle as an iteration. The amount of blood consistently bumped represents the velocity.

Now, if this analogy true, then, we can relate to risk also in an agile iteration. When we contract work to other teams or depend on others to complete the work, the functionality of the other organs (e.g.: respiratory systems) to deliver oxygenated blood without any challenges arising from circulation is critical. It is not surprising, therefore, why project managers always relate to the risk domain when procurement domain is involved because non-delivery per contract or non-performance of contracted work leads to the risk of resource overloading.

When one doesn't take care of their personal health properly by following quality policies (such as dieting or exercise), challenges arise such as a heart attack. The same concepts apply when the team compromises on technical excellence in design or addressing quality by design principles in their workflow. The escaped defect therefore represents the heart attack or an emergency trip to the hospital.

When the team members in the team fail to work together, that leads to failure. For instance, the block within heart system causes to resistance to smooth flow. Similarly, resistance to agile practices and lack of the team's self organization introduces the risk of failure.

When the team is not self-organized or demonstrating high levels of team maturity, the scope compromises in velocity demotivates the team. Although heart is much more resilient, overwork or imbalance introduces anxiety and stress and people react differently. Similarly, lack of product vision or constant changes to iteration backlog compromises the team's ability to deliver. Many business challenges can impede the team's ability to deliver as well and become a high-performing team.

Such challenges, when go unchecked, impacts the team's ability to deliver over a longer time-frame. The emergency visits to hospital leads to a loss of trust for caretakers requiring external intervention in the form of medicines or medically recommended rest. Stakeholders can lose confidence in the team's ability to consistently deliver on the strategic product road-map when costs increase more than the benefits realized. Customer satisfaction fatigue can be seen in the voice of customer feedback and lack of adequate referrals.

In summary, I can definitely see how this simple ECG waveform that we can all relate to proves to be emphasizing how risk is pertinent to everyone's health in daily life. If every day is a project, then, every heart beat is an iteration which has the seeds of risks. The warning triggers have to be understood and appropriately managed even in an agile project.

Thoughts? Please share with me.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Agile Iterations also involve cost

I was recently facilitating a class on digital project management and bringing references to both agile and traditional frameworks. While the concepts of fixed scope within the time-boxing principles was readily understood, many people in the digital media class mentioned that agile projects don't involve cost or have principles of cost baseline! The students didn't resonate with risk management also in agile iterations. These misrepresentations of agile framework continue to surge and are not accurate representations of agile approaches to project management or product development.

For instance, consider that an agile team is made up of 9 team members. The product owner, agile coach or scrum master, and the development team spend time and are compensated by their performing organization. So, when these 9 members spend approximately 6 hours per day (at 75% commitment to the project), they spend 54 hours (9 members x 6 hours) per day. Considering a 10-day iteration, the team has spent 540 hours (54 x 10 days)  with one iteration. By allowing this iteration to continue with this agile approach to meet the strategic objective, the performing organization has, therefore, spent 540 hours; this time represents the opportunity cost of the organization choosing to allow these resources to work on this initiative compared to another initiative. So, how could an agile iteration not cost anything to the organization?

Let us drill a little more here. Often, people are unable to come up with the cost of an iteration. Now, this may be associated with the fact that agile doesn't favor big upfront planning. In traditional approaches to project management, we come with the WBS with the breakdown of activities worked on by specific resources and associate a resource-level pricing. It is therefore possible to come up with a cost. The similar logic can still be done in an iteration easier because agile is all about team level commitments. Instead of looking at individual resource level pricing (such as what's the hourly rate of product owner?), the agile team can work with the finance department to come up with a blended resource-loaded rate. The financial units within many organizations have such a blended rate and I have received immediate responses to my requests in my experience from the financial department for such a blended rate. Now, assuming the blended rate is $100, one can easily apply this blended rate to the 540 hours in our previous example and come up with a cost of $54,000 (540 hours x $100). So, the cost of an iteration can be found out easily.

Using other heuristics or analogous experience of delivering multiple iterations, one can also come up with a cost of a story point. Now, it must be mentioned that a few iterations should be done before we can come up with a reasonable and consistent velocity as the team matures. Assuming a median velocity of three iterations, if we hypothesize that the team has to deliver approximately 150 story points in every iteration, then, the baseline cost of $54,000 can be divided by this hypothesized 150 story points to come up with $360 ($54,000/150). When the team misses out on completing a 3-point story because of not proactively identifying and addressing the risks, managing stakeholder communication, or promoting the daily collaboration between business and technical users, then, the missed velocity in that iteration costs $1,080 ($360 x 3 story points) of non-delivered value.

By monitoring velocity delivered per iteration against this baseline projection, one can evaluate the CPI (Cost Performance Index). Again, extending the example above, the baseline projected velocity is 150 story points (with $54,000 or actual cost). When the team didn't deliver 3 user stories, the value delivered (Earned Value) is 147 story points (147 story points x $360 cost per point = $52,920). Since CPI is computed as a ratio of Earned Value/Actual Cost ($52,920/$54,000 = 0.98). This means the team is not delivering 2% of the committed value. Agile teams compute this as the Burn Rate, which is the reciprocal of CPI (1/0.98 = approximately 1.02). This burn rate represents how the agile team is meeting the projected budget and since it is >1, it indicates the team requires 2% more budget at a minimum for this iteration. Since agile uses time-boxing principles, as each iteration fails to deliver the minimum required velocity, each iteration costs more money towards the end in meeting the minimum viable product (MVP).

Hope these points are clear in explaining why and how agile projects do not exclude cost. It is critical to understand these concepts and subsequently have a plan to quantify value delivery using good return on investment principles.

Thoughts? Please share your comments.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Feedback should be FACT driven

As the impetus for increased levels of communication is felt by organizations, the need for being able to address project failures leading to schedule slips, quality compromises, cost overruns, and scope creeps become the sine qua non for effective project managers! Is this communication effectiveness is only limited to project management? Absolutely not! Agile approaches to product development and project management also constantly seek people to communicate. Even the recent state of agile claims increased transparency has not resulted in increased software quality and some contributions come from being able to communicate.

It is true that one needs to engage in several types of communication but communication is a one-way street if there is no engagement from the audience! During corporate training as well as in classroom facilitation, I find that the lack of engagement from the audience makes it difficult for the facilitator or speaker to create a dialog around concepts. Therefore, the collaboration between two or more people is inexorably critical for communication to be effective. And, there lies the challenge in continuous engagement because people have to be open for feedback.

Recently, I heard in one training that one group (say Group A) was following agile and releasing features for the internal teams. But, many of the internal teams asked for features that this Group A claimed are already there. When asked for better communication of these updates from Group A, the response was reading the release plan documents or see the dashboard. In a world of high-tech dashboards, the need for communicating updates in the language that others understand is equally important! Otherwise, communication has failed. High-Tech is not a substitute for High-Touch and people should be open for feedback.

So, I present the FACT driven feedback as a quick check-and-balance. I am not just referring to numbers and stories in the FACT approach. Instead, I am suggesting that feedback be frequent, accurate, constructive, and timely.

  1. Frequent feedback means both parties are able to get incremental updates faster. The context of the challenge is fresh in people's memory to make corrective actions.
  2. Accurate feedback relies on evidence-based data rather than opinions. This element avoids the halo effect from colored thoughts but shifts the focus on the truth. 
  3. Constructive feedback is focusing on the actionable outcomes that the listener can implement as either proactive risk mitigation steps or corrective actions to exacerbate the problems.
  4. Timely feedback centers around the ability of the person providing the feedback to feel the sense of urgency to elevate the feedback faster than relying on status or standup meetings.

When these four elements of feedback can be learned by both parties in a dialog, then, active listening is at its best. This is when collaboration happens for communication to be efficient and efficient.


Thursday, February 28, 2019

Requirements Management: A Value Mapping Exercise

The requirement management exercise is very closely related to the needs assessment producing the required artifacts while documenting the decision-making. It is critical to understand how the value, benefit, and output get mapped in a few critical documents namely the business case, charter, roadmap, and benefits register.

In a nutshell, the business case is the first point of entry in the requirement management. In this document, the accountable stakeholders for product strategy or the business strategy justify the company’s decision to take up the strategic initiative and formally declares the benefits expected out of the initiative. This decision is supported by documenting the specific short-term and long-term benefits by executing the initiative, the extent of market research to justify the need for this initiative, the amount of funding and funding schedule required to carry out the initiative, and finally the specific measures such as the payback period, net present value, to justify return on investment and future opportunities.

When such initiatives are rolled out, these initiatives could be done as a program containing multiple projects because of the extent of management and control required to integrate the benefits gathered from carrying out this initiative as an integrated program rather than as a set of stand-alone projects. Either way, this is when the program charter or project charter is created appropriately. This document names the program or project manager confirms the decision to execute the project outlining the high-level outputs and outcomes, and the authorizes the use of the company’s resources to carry out the work.

Now whether one is developing a product roadmap or program roadmap, you can think of the roadmap as a visual, hierarchical and powerful representation of the what high-level functionalities make up that initiative, dependencies among functionalities or projects within a program, and how the product will grow over time, how to acquire the required funding to support the product or program, and how to align the various stakeholders to ensure the required benefits are realized.

Finally, the benefits register is an artifact that lists all the planned benefits expected to be delivered at various points in the releases or iterations or program and its component projects. 

Having talked about value so much, I have come up with my own way of categorizing value. I call these CVA, BVA, TVA, PVA, and NVA.

The first category is the customer value add. For instance, what does the paying customer want? And, what exciters can we add to keep the customer with us?

Then, we move to the next level of business value add. Examples could be looking at the types of documentation required to sustain the business or training needed for internal and external users.
This business value-add can also manifest as a technical value add. Here, we look at technical debt maintenance. On the hardware side, we can look at keeping the infrastructure current to avoid any risk from using any product beyond their shelf-life. On the software side, we can look at ensuring the code is stable, manageable, and scalable by refactoring the code, automating areas that could benefit from automation, etc.

Another way the business value add can manifest is on the process value add. The processes themselves should act as a catalyst for transforming the inputs to outputs but not add too much overhead. The efficiency improvements through continuous improvement and effectiveness augmentation through operational excellence become the focus here. 

If it is not the customer, business, technical, or process value add, then, most likely this leads to a non-value add. The requirements in this category are to be avoided as they are contributing to some type of waste. In lean management, we discuss the uneven demands or overburden of resources that may lead to eight types of waste. These were discussed in an earlier blog in this collection. Please check out

What are your thoughts on this blog article?

Thursday, January 31, 2019

5A Principle - A mindset about managing change

As organizations strive to increase productivity and reduce total cost of ownership, the reasons to jump on the “agile” train expecting it to solve all challenges seem to raise. Social media has scores of posts questioning agile practices. In my mind, agility is simply a “mindset about managing change”. At the end of the day, if one is truly nimble about embracing the right change at the right time the right way, then, agility should result in a) increasing value to the customer, b) increasing quality to the product, c) reducing speed to market, and d) reducing cost to operations. To achieve these goals, I propose a 5A principle to truly being ‘agile’ These 5A’s are “Awake, Arise, Adopt, Adapt, and Adept”. These stages are cyclical in nature. Let me illustrate these in the sections below. While reading this, think of the “change management framework” in mind rather than treat this as a methodology to implement agile.

Change is the only constant today. All the five competitive forces suggested by Michael Porter are a reality today.  The potential entry of new players, competitive pressures of the consumer, global market refinement and product differentiation of existing players, innovative distribution channels, and intense rivalry among competitors are making the famous economist, Schumpeter's notions of "Creative Destruction" a reality. In addition, disruptive innovation suggested by Clayton Christensen is taking industries over with ideas opening up new avenues of doing business. Unless we wake up to smell the reality, we will eliminate ourselves.

John F. Kennedy once asked people to think of what they can do the country instead of what the country can do to them. Most of today's workforce is still expecting their employers to train them and tell them what to do. People fail to take their future in their hands and wait for the right opportunity. An anonymous quote reads, “If opportunity does not knock, build a door.”  The successful people are those that are not only awake but arise by training themselves with the required knowledge and volunteer to gain the required experience for the right opportunity to knock.

Many fear if they will make the right decision and stumble to move forward. If we walk back on our memory lane in the past, are we all certain that we always made the right decision? If we did, we wouldn’t have the expression, “In hindsight, vision is 20-20.” No one can predict what the future can bring. If fear had ruled, would anyone of us now know the depths of the ocean or the height of the space? What we are today is the result of overcoming fear and not yielding to it. So, don’t worry about making the right decision but proactively work towards making the decision right. We can do that by adopting individual strategies that meet our goals.”

A wise man once said, "Show me a person that has not failed, and I will show you a failure." Life is not about what happens to us but how we react to it. If one has learned from failure and applied the lesson learned from such failure, then, one has turned failure into success. Did you know that Walt Disney was fired from his job for lack of imagination? It was only thousands of failed attempts that got Edison to get us the light bulb. Failure is not when you fall down but when you don’t get up again. So, adapt to the trends, refine your approach, and create your voice.

No matter how much you know there is room for growth. The wise also shares the responsibility to train the next generation. The value of knowledge lies when it is shared. Many claim luck as the special ingredient available only to the privileged. I always used to say, LUCK is also "Labor Under Correct Knowledge." So, find a mentor to enrich your knowledge, spread your knowledge by training and coaching others, and better yet become adept at being a student of knowledge. The more you know the more you understand how little you know. That awareness awakes you to a new reality where learning continues.

I have used this 5A principle during my training and teaching and have found my proprietary 5A principle is a good reference framework for people to improve themselves personally and professionally.

Share your comments and let me know if you would like to hear more!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Identifying Stakeholder Groups in Project, Program, and Portfolio Management

I am sure many recognize that there is a stakeholder register where important characteristics of stakeholders, such as the power, influence, interest, tolerance, threshold, engagement strategy, and communication preferences are captured. Sometimes, I find that both practitioners and students only identify individuals or external members identified. The concept of stakeholder groups, like the service operations, marketing, data analytics, are missed. 

But, why is stakeholder group important? Simply put, assigning stakeholders into groups helps them classify the optimal type of communication that can suit for a group of stakeholders. Additionally, such a stakeholder grouping can also help see patterns of relationships among the stakeholders within that group to engage these stakeholders within that group more effectively. This group's ability to influence can then be very effective for the alternative generation and problem-solving enabling the decision-making due to the power of the plurality. This powerful decision-making not only helps in project management but also in the strategic and operational governance at the program management and portfolio management.

So, stakeholders can also be grouped by other characteristics based on their ability to exercise such influence. Hence, to assess the influence within the stakeholder groups, some powerful questions to ask are: 

  1. Who are the types of members generally required for the governing body (or steering committee)? 
  2. What are the tolerance and threshold levels for the various stakeholders in the governance body towards specific decision-making criteria (like increasing revenues, reducing costs, increasing customer satisfaction, accelerating cycle-time reduction, improving operational excellence, and augmenting knowledge retentions?)
  3. How frequently do people require information?
  4. Who are looking more quantitative metrics and who are looking for qualitative metrics? 
  5. Can stakeholders be categorized also as thought-leaders, early adopters, risk takers, change resistors, or comfort-zone-conservatives?  
While there may be other criteria based on the product or service the project delivers, outputs, outcomes, and benefits the program produces or the strategic value the portfolio generates, these starter questions make one think of the stakeholder groups differently so that one can come up with an effective communication plan to effectively manage the stakeholders.

Do you have any thoughts? Please feel free to share.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Global Leadership and Project Management

I am currently in Paris, France. As I was strolling through as part of my regular walks, I was particularly struck by the number of construction initiatives and establishments with several technology companies, hotels, fast food chains, fashion accessory companies, etc. I could not help start thinking of all the types of projects and leadership involved in such projects establishing these companies across the globe. I saw the same establishments in Vietnam, India, and the US.

While still upholding global branding, these companies and establishments need to cater to local markets leveraging funding options specifically relevant, yield to local laws and regulations, and show demonstrated leadership in each of these projects. It was at this time, I also saw announcements about tariffs from the US on steel and aluminum. These external influences emphasize the need to understand PESTLEED approaches to analyzing SWOT further.

As project and program managers start working on global initiatives introducing change, it is pivotal to understand that global leadership is beyond just understanding cultural diversity. Global leadership must extend to working in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world where project and program managers need to understand all the ten knowledge areas of project management but also go deeper in understanding the program management domain in strategic alignment and the benefit delivery lifecycle.

This generation of focus on value maximization is the foundation of glolocalization, i.e. global leadership with a localization that much beyond just culture and diversity. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Characteristics of Effective Written Communication

Having facilitated a number of training meetings, particularly in project management training and in graduate level project management classes, I often find that people fail to effectively communicate. When it comes to effective communication in writing, truly understanding the basics of the communication model is critical.

The communication model involves a sender passing information through a channel with the goal that that this is received and interpreted by the receiver. Now, right in that communication model explanation lies the important requirement of communication - It is not about what the sender planned to send but what the receiver interpreted from the message.

Consider, for instance, the difference between two messages that I heard from my Math teacher several years back while I was preparing to enter college. Both messages A and B have the same number of words in the same location except for the placement of the comma, which changes the entire meaning of the message. Although my Math teacher was teaching this to construct the right mathematical equation by placing the mathematical symbols correctly, he also communicated the powerful message of the importance of punctuations.

Message A: "Hang him not, leave him"
Message B: "Hang him, not leave him"

So, as we write anything, let us not read from what we wanted to communicate but read our thoughts on how the reader will interpret. When you are not present next to the reader to interpret the message, what areas will you focus on?

1. Use of correct "Grammar and Spelling" will be a simple critical building block. Even if you use a spell checker, proof-read as words like "their" and "there" will not be caught by spell-check utility unless you have advanced grammar checks also built in. Proof-reading will also help in ensuring the right use of the subject/verb agreement.

2. Say it concisely - Your message has to be concise and yet comprehensive. If I were to use my agile mindset here, if you were to remove all the words from your idea-tank and add only the required words, how many and what words will you add to ensure that you provide enough information concisely and yet provide the required context.

3. The coherent flow of ideas - Have you read your email or report after a day or attempted to read it from the bottom-up? Does the introduction properly give the required backdrop based on the conclusion drawn? Does every paragraph or bullet point really add-up.

4. Clarity in purpose - What's the action you want the reader to take? Is it informational, promotional, directional, or action-oriented? If you are not clear what you want the reader to do, how would you ensure that the reader can understand your written report? Focus on "who does what by when" as a minimum criterion and discuss the "why" for not only doing it but also the impact of not doing it. Depending upon the content of the written communication, you can add details about "How."

5. Control the flow of ideas - Sometimes, additional data or words will be required. If one example has proved the point, then, additional examples are irrelevant as the communication will take the reader's attention. If the example provided is inadequate, then, perhaps that's not the right example. Similar thoughts can expand to using diagrams to better support your ideas and using some legends and footnotes for the charts for better interpretation.

I have always found that these five simple areas are critical to communication! It not only puts the sender responsible for correct and complete delivery of the intended message but also put the onus to ensure correct interpretation of the delivered message. It also puts the recipient equally responsible for ensuring complete delivery of the full message and the acknowledge the correct interpretation of the message. It is great to see Project Management Institute (2017) acknowledge these 5Cs of effective written communication in its latest version of the Project Management Book of Knowledge.

Have you ever considered these 5C's of effective written communication?

Project Management Institute (2017). A guide to project management book of knowledge. 6th Edition. New Town Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

PICTURE your way to understand Program Manager responsibilities

Frequently, people keep asking what is the role and responsibility of a project or program manager. While the project manager focuses on generating the outcomes contributing to the benefits for the organization, the program manager focuses on integrating the benefits towards the strategic value. Therefore, both the project and program manager should understand the strategic focus of their role in tailoring their responsibilities. 

As the program manager is also held accountable for the operations as part of the benefit management, the primary value the program manager offers is their readiness to adopt strategies to optimize the delivery of benefits to the performing or sponsoring organizations.

Have you heard of the saying, “Picture speaks a thousand words?” So, I used PICTURE as an acronym to describe a few key responsibilities of the role. 

P – Program Definition. This covers the key elements of formulating and planning the program.
I – Interdependencies among program components including operation
C – Communication with the right stakeholders at the right level at the right time facilitating governance
T – Tailor the program management activities and processes by evaluating the outcomes against planned benefits and adapt as frequently as necessary.
U – Comfortable around Uncertainty 
R – Resolve challenges and constraints using a proper governance structure
E - Empower team by enabling them to deliver

How do you relate to this acronym to understand the program manager responsibilities?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

If Data is King, Data Analytics is the Queen

In concluding one of the project management classes, where I had to assess the understanding of the process stability using control charts with some design of experiments requiring data collection and data analysis, it became quickly apparent to me that amidst the many types of classifying and categorizing data, the fundamental characteristics of data itself is not adequately understood. While people look at objective and subjective data of details collected from the documentation, surveys, interviews, and observations, there is not a strong understanding of the classification of data as continuous or discrete, categorical or numerical, nominal or ordinal, interval or ratio, etc. On top of it, the datatype as mentioned in programming and database systems, such as the integer, float, double, boolean, string, varchar, identity, and datetime have added enough murkiness for many middle management roles to delegate their responsibility of understanding the data to subordinates, such as the data analyst, business analyst, etc.  

As I pondered over this dilemma, I found out that even professionals were unavailable to differentiate the three critical things any descriptive data analysis. The measures of central tendency, symmetry, and dispersion were not readily coming up in one of my talks touching on the house of quality. If the business is collecting so much data, how can the lack of understanding of the classification, categorization, and type of data be taken for granted? If the information contained in data is meant to be serving the management to make decisions, then, how can the lack of basic data analytics be an optional criterion in the job descriptions for roles managing products, projects, programs, and accounts? 

According to Standish Report (Hastie & Wojewoda, 2015), the number of failed projects is decreasing, but the number of projects challenged from inception to closure has increased while the number of successful projects has remained flat. The same story is entirely different if we take the size of the project into account where a higher proportion of large size projects embrace failure. With so many tools available for middle management, such as earned value metrics, failure mode effect analysis, and six sigma, why is the attention to detail missing? While such a detailed review is beyond the scope of this particular blog article, brief research on data and business intelligence (n.d.) from QGate provides a compelling summary of data may be speaking but we may not be understanding.

We don't stop at addressing this complexity with more mandatory education and training on understanding data and using data analytics for business solutions. Instead, we compound it further by introducing big data with its own value, volume, velocity, veracity, and variety. Press (2014) notes twelve different definitions for big data that one can choose from which doesn't address the fundamental requirements of how to systematically identify the right data to look at, analyze it, and make proper decisions using hypothesis testing, regression analysis, etc. 

There is a world outside with data analytics focusing further on multivariate analysis, ANOVA studies, factor analysis, and selecting various distributions to choose from based on how the samples represent the population. While such advanced requirements may be referred to data analyst professionals, can we not mandate a good understand data (classification, categorization, and type) and fundamental data analysis (central tendency, dispersion, and symmetry)?

After all, if we all agree data is King to business, data analysis is the Queen of business operations. Both the King and Queen are critical to making the right decisions, sustaining the proper business operations, and maximizing the right business opportunity. With the explosive growth of data due to the advances in technology, as noted by Ginni Rometty (2016), CEO of IBM in her speech to World Health Congress, digital [data] is becoming the foundation and data analytics so is the basis for subsequent cognitive understanding. 


Data and Business Intelligence (BI) (n.d.) QGate. Retrieved February 27, 2018, from
Press, G. (2014, September 3). 12 Big Data Definition: What's Yours? Retrieved Feb 18, 2018, from
Hastie, S. & Wojewoda, S. (2015, October 14). Standish Group 2015 Chaos Report - Q&A with Jennifer Lynch. Retreived February 24, 2017, from
Rometti, G. (2016, April 12). Ginni Rometty Speech Archives. Retrieved January 31, 2018, from

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Meetings: Tool for Managing Benefit Realization and Stakeholder Engagements

Every organization uses the meeting as a tool to accomplish many things. This concept of a meeting has become so mundane in today's business context. Whether we are leading a project, designing a product, coordinating a program, or supporting the operations, there are meetings galore on everyone's calendar! Meetings exist to collect & share information, review progress and risks to delivery, updates to management or team such as kill gates, management checkpoints, or health check reviews, manage changes to the projects or programs or problem-solve a technical or management challenge among many other reasons to have a meeting.

However, when you ask the question of how effective the meetings are in accomplishing the outcome the meetings are supposed to address, there is a wide spectrum of comments and objections one can hear! How often is the organization or even a project using the meeting as a stakeholder engagement tool? 

There are several books, blog articles, and training guides on conducting effective meetings. Then, why are some organizations advocating against meeting free days (hickey, n.d.) or email free days?  Synthesizing major recommendations of many of these recommendations come down to three things: 1) have an agenda, 2) involve the right people, and 3) have an effective facilitator. Let us look at these principles a little closely.

The first recommendation espoused was the golden principle of having an agenda to begin the meeting. This recommendation emphasized the focus on the purpose of the meeting.  I am sure some of us can relate to not attending any meeting without an agenda. However, despite having a written agenda published several days back, how conclusively we can agree that all these effective meetings had an agenda and so were efficient? The fundamental root cause is that productivity is associated with outcomes. A mere attendance at the meetings or raising a viewpoint doesn't accomplish anything except burn people's time! The goal of every meeting is to have clear outcomes that advance towards the benefits to be realized for the benefit of the project, team or organizational objectives. This means there should be decision points agreed and actions items articulated with a clear accountable and responsible owner and with a definitive timeline to provide an incremental update on the action items! Meetings are an effective source of the productivity loss (Rajagopalan, 2014a) if there is no laser focus on outcome management.

The second recommendation we listed was involving the right people! In a world that appreciates "less is more", is involving too many people in a meeting appropriate use of people's time especially if the meeting's purpose is not to disseminate information (multicast)? A successful meeting is the one that has carefully identified the right parties with the decision authority to advance completion of the agenda/objectives towards an outcome or take accountability to follow up with an action item to close (Rajagopalan, 2016). Meetings are also an effective stakeholder engagement tool because unengaged or non-participating members are also contributing to the cost of a meeting (Rajagopalan, 2014b)! These members can be released from the meeting completely or early on so that they can be productive in what they do the best! Not managing this rightful audience and measuring the contribution effectiveness of the delegates in a meeting is a leadership failure on the organizer/facilitator of the meeting.

The third challenge we noted was having a good facilitator! Especially in meetings where participation from meeting attendees is required, this facilitation is critical. While we need to allow innovation, creativity, and problem-solving to continue, we also need to make sure that we allow tangential discussions and gut-feel thoughts that derail the meeting. Depending upon the value of such ideas, the organizer may have to put this parking lot, or delegate or seek the support of a leader with the decision authority to address that right away. Having another person to be a scribe (meeting notes taker) or a scheduler to keep up with the time is also an important element of facilitation, particularly in light of today's virtual meetings where the facilitator may be presenting on the screen and can't have the luxury of taking notes! Not having a timebox to ensure that outcomes are identified or action items are listed is a disservice to the other members who are attending the meeting.

So, next time you call for a meeting or organize a meeting, think what outcomes the meeting should accomplish, what attendees with the right decision authority are present, how much are the meeting attendees able to delegate their work, and how you will facilitate the meeting to ensure that action item are identified to advance every meeting incrementally and iteratively towards realizing the benefits for the organization. 

Hickey, K.F. (n.d.) How to take back your productivity with no meeting wednesday. Retrieved January 31, 2018, from

Rajagopalan, S. (2014a). Enhancing productivity. Retrieved January 31, 2018, from

Rajagopalan, S. (2014b). Effective virtual meetings. Retrieved January 31, 2018, from

Rajagopalan, S. (2016). Agile or Traditional: Productivity management still has basic roots. Retrieved January 31, 2018, from

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Governance: The seeds of Operational Excellence

I am sure many of us have heard phrases like "we are in a constant fire-fighting mode," or "Pick your battles to win", etc. Somehow, these phrases have become so much a cliche that they have become part of our core management DNA principles. Recently, I was in a training session when I heard participants claim, "we are so much agile that we don't have time for iterations." Ignoring to immediately respond by focusing on principles of agile, grooming the backlog, and planning for iterations on this paradoxical phrase, I started questioning further. Not to most people's surprise, my finding revealed the lack of governance structure in strategic execution.

As I played archery game with my younger son on the Wii-U, he was explaining that I need to pay attention to the wind and distance before I can release the arrow. "It is not just a focus and strength game," he reasoned when I kept missing the target. It dawned on me immediately why people were failing to pay attention to strategy in execution, While strategy from the steering committee tells the archer which target to shoot the arrow, the archer still needs to have a specific strategy on how to execute to ensure the benefits align to the expectations of the steering committee. It is, therefore, management's responsibility to ensure that there are metrics and measures in place to inform the archer to take appropriate corrective and preventive actions.

However, when the managers and leaders fail to provide the required tools for people to upskill or reskill their talents, then they inherently suck the oxygen out of operational excellence. So, for an organization to continuously improve, they need to learn from past lessons and face new challenges and problems rather than relearn the same lessons or revisit the same challenges. It is leadership's failure to put the appropriate governance framework to ensure that execution is constantly aligned with the strategy.

The essential factors for operational excellence may vary within industries but they all should be having five important facts that I would like to call with a mnemonic phrase, "Strategy coordinates complex deliverable optimization." Let me expand on these five keywords:

Strategic Benefits - The strategy should deliver more than powerpoints that make it into high-level objectives in people's scorecard. The leaders are accountable to provide clear measurable benefits that the execution should deliver. One of the important artifacts from program management domain is the benefits register that leaders should produce as an outcome from their strategic planning.

Coordinated Planning - While top management may have the vision, only the middle management knows the challenges of execution. So, top management should identify groomable talents within the organization involving them in the planning exercise with actionable outcomes. One of the best tools that the program and portfolio management domains recommend is a roadmap that orchestrates when the incremental and consolidated benefits will be realized (remember I just didn't say delivered) to help with adequate prioritization of customer and business value-add.

Complex Interdependencies - Whether benefits are delivered incrementally or consolidated, the complex interdependencies among projects and the operations still have to be conceived by leadership and management. The middle management should be empowered to reskill their competencies in such a way that they are able to articulate around the political, economic, societal, technical, legal, environmental, ethnic and demographic (PESTLEED) dimensions leading to operational excellence. The best way to hold the top and middle management accountable is to have frequent management checkpoints (besides the health gate reviews) to inculcate the risks to delivery and the costs of non-delivery as part of their program or project design including the considerations for transition and succession planning.

Deliverable Integration - Particularly when benefits are incremental, but also as benefits become consolidated, integration of a number of benefits is a change management exercise. Understanding how changes impact the organization and evaluating the sensitivity around it as the projects and programs. This may take the form of standard operating procedures and transition and succession planning agreements (note that I didn't say just a plan or meeting but agreement) but most importantly having a controlled approach to releasing both the products to production as well as people to other projects.

Optimized Pace - Having a closed eye to how people will stretch themselves to deliver when benefits are not prioritized with multiple high-level priorities with interdependent resources is waiting for accidents to happen with the hope they don't. The most important assets to replace are the people and not having the above measures in places increases the stress level. Allowing people to decompress by requiring them to work on personal stretch goals aligned to the strategic benefits will help them reskill themselves to deliver on complex initiatives. They can't firefight forever and choose different battles to fight leading to employee attrition in the absence of execution treated with strategic outcomes aligned to the organizational benefits.

These five elements, in my humble opinion, is the governance fabric that lays the foundation for operational excellence. What do you think?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Simple Definition of Leadership

Leadership - Much has been talked about it both in the scholarly literature and the professional circles. Job roles, such as the Team Leader, also requires one to take leadership of a team. Similarly, various functional roles and strategic business units advance the notion of leadership inherent in them. For instance, a product owner is expected to be a leader in understanding the strategic nature of the product although the role itself doesn't have any leader tag associated. Similarly, account manager to lead the client and project manager to lead the client, team, and performing organizations mandate leadership qualities in them - yet there is no tag "leader" associated.

In a number of training classes, such as PMP training and Agile training that I have done, classes that I have facilitated in the academic setting for adult learners, as well as in the corporate and professional circles that I associate with, the questions of whether one is a leader or not comes up! So, how can we define leadership in its simple form without attributing terms such as charismatic, transactional, situational, transformational, and servant definitions so that anyone regardless of any professional or personal role can relate to being a leader!

When I was traveling to Vietnam, I stopped by Hong Kong where I had to wait for the connecting flight. It is there that simple definition really clicked to me as I saw a picture of a flying character with the slogans written in Chinese. Now, I don't know what the transcription reads on that board but the definition of leadership as, "a superpower seeing the people beyond what they see themselves and supporting them to raise up to their capabilities!" came up in my mind.

Please see the video linked here to hear my thought! (If the hyperlink does not work, please visit ) Would you agree with this definition?  Share your thoughts.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Using Time to manage to Risks associated with Stakeholders

Often, in my project management experience, I see that people miss engaging with the required stakeholders proactively to deal with risks. When stakeholders have not engaged appropriately, then, risks go uncontrolled making it impossible to mitigate them. Based on my experience, I see three types of stakeholders that need a good project manager must identify to proactively manage.

  1. Too much engaged to the extent that they suck up all the oxygen in the team. They knowingly or unknowingly give the indication to the team that their ways are the common-sense way and everything else is almost wrong. 
  2. Missing in Action stakeholders are too busy never to be around but when decisions are taken without them they appear immediately. They are the constant speed breakers breeding distrust and sometimes fear.
  3. Definitely ambiguous stakeholders who are in between these two above extremes but can never figure out what they want changing the priorities repeatedly making it difficult for the team to progress or slowdown. 
All these three types of stakeholders bring several types of risks - business, technical, and people among the many risks. The most important thing is to "Taking  Initiative Managing Expectations" that I call TIME management. While principles like start list, wish list and stop list exist that have been further enhanced by MoSCoW principles like (Must, Should, Could, and Won't) to prioritize requests, tasks, features, etc., TIME management takes into account a few simple things that anyone can do manage the stakeholders. These are asking a few questions like the following to set the expectations with the stakeholders.

  1. Is this required? Particularly when #1 and #3 types of stakeholders are involved, determining the customer or business value of any proposed technique would take these discussions far along in avoiding tangential discussions and focusing on value-added work. Including timeboxing principles such as a definite amount of time for every actionable outcome from every agenda item can further keep the focus and remove other discussions to the parking lot.
  2. Can you help me solve this, please? This approach can be used in all the three types of stakeholders. By setting one-on-one discussions with the stakeholder to mention how their values are important but how their continued presence is eliminating any creativity from the team due to their inclination to agree with the stakeholder's views or long absences taking any timely decision making away from the team can take the stakeholder management very productive. 
  3. What's the ROI? Particularly in the stakeholder #3 situation, refocusing on the efforts versus cost/benefits can bring a distinct focus back to the project's objectives. Refocusing on the opportunity costs due to the cost of the meeting in discussing features that may not be a value add unless the stakeholder can unambiguously quantify will require the stakeholder to think of the Pareto principle and focus on "DONE"!
In the end, engaging stakeholders is an art that any project manager must spent time. Regardless of how well one is, without a kaizen attitude towards continuous improvement, such arts of engaging stakeholders depreciate exponentially with time. So, use TIME to manage risks associated with stakeholder engagement. 

What other thoughts do you have in engaging stakeholders productively? Please share/comment. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Continuous Improvement: The link between "Strengths" and "Opportunities"

Many of us that have some exposure into management either by academic preparation or by practical experience know a simple technique called the SWOT analysis. It is an acronym that stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This powerful technique is often delegated to management and leadership for major things like new product development, change management implementation, and sales & marketing. Its simplicity in personnel development as part of the individual development plan to raise above the competition is less understood and practiced.

For example, most people get exposure to specific techniques like programming, spoken language skills, design skills, communication skills and many others. One even goes to get certified from prestigious vendor neutral (e.g.: Project Management Institute, CompTIA) and vendor specific organizations (Microsoft, Oracle). Admiral pursuits like these give us the competitive edge in the form of strengths leading to opportunities like new job or promotion either laterally or vertically.

But, too often, not having the written SWOT analysis with SMART objectives for a 3-to-5 year strategy soon moves our own strengths into the weakness quadrant. This is because a lot of new developments happen. For instance, when I was in Vietnam last month, I saw ambitious projects like a tunnel from Vietnam to Japan being considered. Academic institutions had representation from a number of countries teaching and training at their universities. Students traveled several hours each way to attend classes to increase their career potential. As globally several colleges prepare their learners to excel and several non-profit organizations provide numerous opportunities for volunteers to sharpen their competencies, the supply of such new skills and competencies is constantly increasing. So, unless someone awakens to the competitive reality, one loses the competitive edge they once thought they had!

So, how do we sharpen the saw? The best way to do this to open up the mind and time for opportunities outside. Kaizen or Continuous Improvement is the key that is going to unlock the opportunities available by giving us a reality check on whether the skills are still on par with the market demand and allow us to gain the competitive skills on time. For instance, project managers often think delivering on OBOSOT (On Budget, On Scope, and On Time) is the important metric. With the strategic talent triangle in place, the need for benefit realization is taking equal prominence in addition to OBOSOT needs. How will we ever know this if we don't attend professional networking events and certification workshops and gain guidance through mentors or coaches? 

I personally saw the six mega trends advanced by Vielemetter and Sell (2014) for leadership, such as globalization 2.0, environmental crisis, individualism and value pluralism, digital era, demographic change, and technological convergence. Don't let your skills get rusted. Refine, supplement, and augment them by sharpening them. Increase your competencies through volunteering and begin serving the ikigai that you are meant to. Opportunities only knock the doors of those that not only knock the doors but also build them of glass for opportunity to readily see and come.

Where is your SWOT and how are you preparing yourself for the future?

Ref.: Vielmetter, G. & Sell, Y. (2014). Leadership 2030. New York, NY: Amacom

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Executives need to understand Program & Project Management

As a firm believer in continuous improvement, I have always been monitoring the external environment to find new trends and equip myself with this knowledge. One of these interests was understanding more about Program and Portfolio Management. Although I had executed successfully a few program initiatives and been part of the strategic portfolio management, my interest to pursue Program Management certification became strong with an announcement of Project Management Institute on Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act (President Barack Obama Signs the Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act, 2016). It was then I made a commitment to pursue PgMP certification which I passed successfully this month.

During the pursuit of this journey, I felt the inexorable gap in strategic leadership not truly understanding the value of Project Management - let alone the program management. Many viewed program management that focuses on benefits delivery and benefits sustenance the same as project management that focuses on unique product or result. Mark Langley, the CEO of Project Management Institute, claimed how the lack of understanding project management culture among chief executives such CFO leads to money being wasted on projects failing to meet their strategic objectives or not having the appropriate structure for strong project management culture is a recipe for organizational failure (Langley, 2015).

If the culture of project management that touches on scope, schedule, cost, quality, risk, stakeholder, procurement, human resources, communication, and integration can't address servicing customers, delivering good quality products, and retaining talent, what other professional discipline can be part of the operational excellence that touches on all areas of middle management to address customers, products, and people? It is no wonder Ireland (2006) claimed almost ten years back why executive management needs more project management skills than technical skills or delegation skills to effectively lead the organization. Several years later, Gale (2012) reports during a number of organizations as a case study to support the case for increasing role of project management.

As I went through the program management framework that lays the foundation for for strategic benefits, coordinated planning, complex interdependencies, deliverable integration and optimized pacing, the role of program management in benefit delivery was conspicuous. The focus of programs not only dealt with incremental benefits delivered through component projects but also on the consolidated benefits through structured governance to resolve quin constraints aligning the program efforts to organizational direction, identifying and responding proactively to risks across the projects and into operations, and leading, coordinating and collaborating multiple work streams. When such a program level leadership role is not identified to go through a program delivery framework, lots of productivity loss becomes transparent to the organizations.

Organizations today are changing dramatically. The need to respond to changes rapidly is an essential fabric to maintaining market share amidst the political, economical, societal, technical, legal, environmental, ethnic, and demographic changes and competitive edge. So, the need for executives to understand the project, program, and portfolio management is not a luxury but a necessity.


Gale, S.F. (2012). The case for project management. PMI Executive Guide. Retrieved August 31, 2017, from

Irelend, L. (2006). Executive Management's role in project management. International Project Management Association. Retrieved August 31, 2017, from

Langley, M.A. (2015, August 6). 3 Things CFOs Should Know about Project Management. Retrieved August 31, 2017, from

President Barack Obama Signs the Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act (December, 2016). Project Management Institute. Retrieved August 31, 2017, from 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Customer Service Redefined

I am currently in Vietnam as part of my faculty relationship with Northeastern University to teach a course on Strategic Leadership at the International University in Ho Chi Min City. Being a vegetarian, I asked about the menu options at the hotel I stayed prior to my departure.  There were a few options presented. Upon arriving at the hotel, I explored all the four vegetarian menu choices in a couple of days! I had about 10 more days to go! Naturally, I was worried and started walking around to find other healthy vegetarian options!

I explained this to the chef at the hotel, Saigon Prince, and this is when I started a new definition of customer service. The chef patiently asked me more about my preferences clarifying food options are considered acceptable for me. He even asked me to share with me a few menu choices and coming from an India background I provided ideas of Indian menu choices first followed by other cuisine ideas like Italian, Chinese, and Mexican recommendations. The chef was a Vietnamese origin and prepared me a couple of off-the-menu Indian choices. What surprised me was his reading about the Indian menu choices I presented along with the ways of preparation! I was pleasantly shocked to the attention to the detail in preparing the area for making my dish and also giving me a clear vegetable broth soup that he found from his research accompanied this sort of dish. Needless to say, I was so happy that I recognized his due diligence and efforts by talking with the senior management appreciating him.

There were days the chef couldn't be there and so I still had to use my survival skills to explore the region. Using a combination of technology finding local Indian restaurants, I found about five Indian restaurants. One of these restaurants, Saigon India, particularly caught me off guard with another exemplary customer service. While most restaurants gave what I needed, the manager approached me and wanted to know a little more about as he has not seen me before. That itself is an example of a good customer service of differentiating frequent visitors from new visitors and trying to offer specialized service. Additionally, knowing more about my food challenges and interests, he specifically custom ordered a dish and also made the lunch menu to be one of my favorites. I was so pleasantly surprised with this burning desire to know more about the customers and catering to their needs by customized service.

Both these two businesses realize that I am a passing visitor. Not making any efforts to truly understand my needs, clarifying my requests, and following through on servicing my needs is really within the normal expectations of operating a restaurant or cafe. So long as the quality of the food, timely delivery of order, and demonstrating respect for me has been addressed, both these businesses have met the standard operational definition of customer service. But, both of them redefined customer service in their attempt to understand the food challenge that I faced, clarify the requirements, research more to meet my demands, and then deliver a dish that met my requirements.

To me, they have redefined customer service. Customer service is not mentioning customer is the king but truly making him or her feel like one. Whether the existing products meet the customer's demand or not, trying to understand the customer's request and the reasons behind such a request first applies the four stages of active listening (hear, clarify, interpret, and respond) and follow through with the products they had available to meet the customer's needs. That truly made the customer feel like king and in today's globally shrinking world the customer may be far away but can still be a great marketing aid. As the basic rule of marketing goes, I will always refer them to anyone traveling to Ho Chi Ming City in Vietnam.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Management Presentations are Unscheduled Interviews for Career Growth

Many project managers in a strong project environment have to do presentations before management or client providing management level status updates about their project or program. As the performance review time comes and project managers want promotion accompanied by increased compensation, how much they have used their projects as catalytic vehicles to promote their personal brand is often not understood by many project managers. Little do many realize the type and structure of presentations in the first place in engaging with the stakeholders and use these presentation to their strategic advantage to building their own individual personal brand.

For instance, when the performance review time comes, why should they be considered for a promotion? Granted their ability to deliver projects on budget, on scope, and on time (called often by OBOSOT) is critical. But, despite the best efforts of a project manager to proactively identify risks and have risk response strategies to address these risks, the external environmental factors may adversely impact the project contributing to schedule slips, cost overruns, customer dissatisfaction, or project terminations. The project manager's ability to engage with the stakeholders managing their expectations proactively and communicating these results with the subsequent impacts on the projects positions the stakeholders to represent their interests to their management. The management presentations that project managers delivers is a critical component to this stakeholder engagement that further serves as a critical input to personal brand.

The presentations in general fall under three categories, namely informative, persuasive, or explanatory. 

  1. The informative presentations are often summarizing status updates of a project and reviewing reports and variance analysis to project team members, project sponsor, and some senior members of management depending upon the project visibility. 
  2. The explanatory presentations involve workshop or training style presentations where stakeholders or team members across the functions are trained to understand the processes, tools, policies, procedures, etc. The goal is on what they should know, how they should respond,  where they should access more details, and who they should escalate when issues arise that are outside of the workshop or training. The goal is building team morale, addressing change management, training on tools and technologies, understanding processes, etc. 
  3. The persuasive presentations focuses on lobbying for a solution and presenting a strategy providing substantial reasons on the reasons, risks (threats/opportunities), impacts or benefits if fail to act in a reasonable time. The audience in this presentation is often the senior management including the sponsor involved in the decision making.
This persuasive meeting, for instance, is a moment for management to know more about your critical thinking and leadership skills. These presentations, in my humble opinion, are the unscheduled interviews for the project managers where the management takes copious notes on how well you presented the solution and how thorough your analysis was. It is these presentations that come vividly to the senior management's mind with their mind voice reinforcing your need for a promotion. 

So, don't take these management meetings less seriously. These unscheduled interviews should be followed through on how you did, where you could improve, and have action plans to ensure that you are addressing these that your management sees. Maximize the opportunities, therefore, using your strengths in these meetings and eliminate the threats of stalled career growth by addressing any of your weaknesses. 

How well do you think you can utilize these management meetings productively next time? Share your thoughts by responding to this thread.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Method to create a Risk adjusted estimate - PERT

While estimation discussions come up among project managers or students pursuing project management, many never consider PERT. The discussions revolve around top down, analogous, bottom-up and parametric estimation. While each of these techniques have a place in estimation, I wonder why PERT is never considered. In fact, in one of the chapter meetings organized by PMI MassBay, one of the founders of PMI, Jim Snyder, considered the "Father of the Project Manangemet Institute, expressed how even PMP certifed people cant explain thr basics of estimation techniques like PERT.

I prefer PERT to any estimation technique and only prefer because it builds into a risk adjustment quantitatively. Perhaps I am biased but my bias comes from the fact that the analogous has too much uncertainty and the bottom up estimation drains people time. So, one of the approach that I have taken is to get information using historical data amd expert judjment and extract details for bottom up without spending too much time on the bottom up.  That is, my approach is to get the data required for PERT without asking people. 
For instance, if project archives tell some work took 100 hours when projected estimate was 70, then, I know 70 was a guess at the time it was given. Similarly, if someone said 70 hours but historical projects have taken up 100 hours for that level of effort, I know the 70 hours was the same guess. Now, put them in the normal or bionomial curve. If 100 hours is the regular median, then apply the standard deviation calculations which says rough order of magnitude may go from 25% to 75%. The optimistic is 25% (17.5 less from 70 hours, i.e 52.5). The pessimistic is 75% more than 70 (i.e, 52.5 more from 70, 122.5). Since 70 itself was a guess, I apply a slack based on complexity, unknown assumptions, level of expertise of the person giving, and add 10 to 15% more to 70. So, using 10%, I have optimistic (52.5), optimal (77) and pessimistic (122.5). So, (52.5 + 4*77 + 122.5)/6 = 80.5 PERT.

Therefore, use the statistical ranges amd historical data combined with expert judgment to realistically even out the uncertainties by creating a risk adjusted estimate using PERT.

How do you think you can apply this approach?

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Listening with Eyes

The popularity of communication being the lynchpin for a successful project is very well known. In one of the conferences I had attended, I even heard the speaker say that project success is 80% communication and the other half is communication. People have classified communication by priority, the medium used, accessibility, etc. Communication plans therefore also required to be formal, clear, concise, comprehensive, accessible, and stakeholder-committed. But, one of the most critical aspects of any communication is in listening!

Again, the concepts of active listening have been around for a long time. The four critical steps of hearing, clarifying, interpreting and responding to active listening have been reasonably understood by project management community. During all these sessions, people focus on hearing the person putting aside their opinions and bias and understanding what the speaker says. All these sound great but true active listening goes further beyond what is physically heard by the ears. One should go beyond the words spoken and unearth what is left unsaid. How can you accomplish? This is done by listening with eyes and senses.

When you are listening with eyes, you are not hearing what the person says but watching how the person says. The moments of pause and silence can emphasize the severity of the message while the rolling of eyes and other body gestures may provide indications of ambiguity, resilience, discomfort, etc. Frequent use of checking phones, lack of eye contact, and change of topics are also things to monitor as listening with eyes extend practicing actively non-verbal communication to a different level getting deeper. All these approaches also have to factor along with the geographical cultural components so that your clarifying questions and interpretations are not misleading.

Listening with eyes can also be practiced in written communication where the use of color in fonts, emphasis using bold, use of upper case letters, balanced use of emoticons to soften the message, use of proper white space to give breathing room for the reader, etc. There is a reason why there is a saying "read between the lines" exists.  Practice these communication approaches even when people are not talking to you such as in osmotic communication.

So, don't just focus on creating status reports and publishing emails. Factor as part of your management style "listening with eyes" actively. A good communicator is not always the good writer but the good listener.

Please respond with your thoughts.

Friday, March 31, 2017

RACI Errors: Impact on Project Integration Management

In developing a good project integration management, it is critical to understand the role of responsibility assignment matrix. The goal of project management primarily is to deliver results through other people. This involves clear role and rsponsibility of every work package or function that will play a critical role in project delivery. One such responsibilty assignment mateix is the RACI.

I have often seen RACI filled incorrectly and have blogged earlier that readers may want to refer. However, I would like to call out the following two issues further as they have relationship on other aspects of project management knowledge areas.

1.  Mixed roles with "A" and "R": When a person or function is marked with both these roles, then this may introduce the risk of project schedule slip. If the individual responsible for doing the function fails to perform, then typically the accountable person will monitor the slip and ensure that the work is getting done. Alternatively, if the work is not completed satisfactorily, the accountable person shares the onus to check on the quality and the cost of poor delivery. Howevver, if the "R" person also is the "A" person, then the latter will not put any pressure on the former because they are both the same. This impacts risk, time, cost, amd quality. Similar challenges can be seen with "R" and "C" or "I" overlap.

2. Too may "A"s: If two people are accountable, then there are two types of problems. The first is the blindness game each "A" role plays thinking that the other role will keep an eye in ensuring the task is completed. When this taks fails to be done, the blindness game becomes the blame game reasoning with the "I thought you would have done it." This introduces project delays that may impact time and also introduces challenges with procurement. The second issue is the team gets conflicting directions from each "A" person leaving the team to get caught between power plays. The resulting team dynamics may lead to HR amd stakeholder challenges.  Needless to stay that these may further impact other areas of project management.

There are several symptoms that a proper RACI may resolve for the project manager to proactively address. But unless a project manager is having a good understanding of  RACI, the symptoms deteroriate leading to major problems requiring surgical intervention from executive management.  The project manager can avoid these strategically by planning to succeed with end in mind. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Professional Networking Inevitable for Developing Personal Brand

In one of the workshops I facilitated this month on agile project management, there were questions around gaining real experience that limited student to get gainful employment. In a talk that I gave subsequently later this month on PARAG framework for transforming middle management (Rajagopalan, 2015) highlighting how we should strive to learn from failures of projects within the industry of our specialization, the question revolved around how to go about learning from other project failures in similar sectors or industries.

As I ponder over these questions from both students looking for entry level positions as well as professionals in the work environment trying to improve themselves, there is a good striking similarity of the lack of understanding of professional networking. Perhaps confounded by the proliferation of the number of social media websites, the size of the friends circle within social media network and the practice of liking and sharing posts of people daily life, people think these social media practices are equivalent to professional networking. You can see some of these practices even in professional networks like Linkedln where people seem to follow such practices. I believe people seem to have lost the connection to professional networking and its true benefits.

When colleges seek high school students, they are looking for a lot more than being the first in the school because there will be a lot of such 'first in school' student applying for the college. What distinguishes one student from another is becoming critical as the entry criteria for admission. This fundamental need to differentiate is why the students attempt to do many things, such as volunteering for a social cause, practicing a unique art or music, or excelling in a specific sports. Particularly, this volunteering opportunities opens the doors to the understanding of customer service, accountability, and responsibility among many other indispensable values that students need to be exposed to become well rounded individuals.  How did this core need to volunteer get lost as people go through college or get professionally employed?

While contributing to the society by volunteering time is more rewarding, it provides an opportunity for one to augment their skills and gain experience in many areas, such as event planning, technical skills, customer service, etc. Besides, the same experience introduces other people that know you by face and work ethics, which carry a long way in expanding professional opportunities as one begins to look for gaining experience as well as getting introductions. One is not only helping a cause but also building their reputation and visibility as they meet new people, make connections, learn new skills, gain competencies through experience, and get introductions. This experience is not the same as liking or sharing post in social media or broadcasting forwarded posts through communication vehicles.

Now, the professional networking can also be expanded with a Kaizen (continuous improvement) attitude to professional improvement. By attending professional networking events like the monthly chapter events organized by the local chapters of the Project Management Institute, for instance, one can expand professional associations on topics that they may be unfamiliar with, problems encountered by other professional in the same industry or sector, or creative solutions to problems similar to ourselves. Further, one can even seek input on how to solve a problem that they face in group activities in a larger professional events like professional development days or executive committee meetings. Any information thus gained becomes invaluable as one adapts them to their needs creating new knowledge that can be shared to others through blogs, presentations at local round tables or chapter meetings, through the open space, global cafes, unconference, or lean coffee meetings

One common question that always comes up is the time commitment needed and the cost of the events. It is true that events cost money because they have to be arranged too. Now, if professional improvement is at the core of your growth, then, one can find time because in my humble opinion, TIME is all about taking initiative managing energy. Many organizations support these professional improvement opportunities. One can always find ways to volunteer in part or full to cover themselves to attend these professional networking events. For instance, PMI is a volunteer supported organization that has numerous opportunities and Agile Alliance has the Purple volunteers always available to support large events.

In addition, the best way one can deepen the knowledge and wisdom gained is to share it with others. Similar to how the people in the rally race get a headstart running along with the person passing the baton, it is our responsibility to share the wealth of our knowledge and wisdom to the next generation during the time life can allow us to work together. There are a number of mentorship needs, such as those organized by PMI and NAAAP for professionals to volunteer supporting other students and professionals giving an opportunity for us to question our own fundamental assumptions from a different limelight and offer value to mentees.

In the end, whether one chooses volunteering, mentorship, or just professional improvement, it is imperative that one really understands that the value of one's brand lies much more in how many people know you for what you are! This knowledge of your true worth should be much more than just your organization but for the professional society that made you who you are. The best way to positively develop this individual brand is to be a servant leader in unlearning what you know, learning what you thought you know, and relearning to master what you learned. Then, your reputation precedes you.

Rajagopalan, S. (2015). Product Personification: PARAG model to successful software product development. International Journal of Managing Value and Supply Chains, 6(1), 1-12.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Do we fully understand Scope Management?

The record of how information technology projects fail has been studied and documented in numerous reports, such as the CHAOS, McKinsey, etc. The staggering statistics of the percentage of projects failing to meet their schedules, experiencing budget overruns, and failing to deliver the promised business value doesn’t always lead to technology as a failing component. The origins of failure often are not associated with the technology but the people unable to relate to the scope in the big picture and the inadequate controls in the processes. In this blog article, let us focus on requirements on some of the less known aspects of scope – the boundary of what controls what the project should deliver!

Scope Grope: One of the less familiar aspects of scope management that plague the software industry is the team’s inability to articulate the requirements. These requirements manifest themselves as the rough draft of “wish lists.” This may also include some of those “gold-plated” features that are thought to be adding value. However, since these requirements are not solidly grounded in the technical, operational, and economic feasibility, these requirements do not strategically relate to winning more business, streamlining multiple channels of engagement, increasing employee performance, etc. These kinds of requirements become the "scope drifters" and are often a "productivity spoiler" and "promises stealer" because the business team fails to articulate the requirements clearly for subsequent analysis and design.

Occasionally, this challenge may further be passed from the business team to the technology team where the requirements further need to be assessed for technical plausibility within the constraints of human capital knowledge, budget limitations, security and compliance considerations being some of them. This scope grope may further be experienced by delay tactics by execution team members and the agile approaches to time-boxed delivery may be easily be used to consider spikes as a limited experiment.

Among the many techniques available to use, a good technique to consider by both product managers, project managers, and business analysts is the SIPOC model. Using this model can help understand the relevance and importance of the entire value chain and the business impact of delivering or not delivering these wish-list features! Additional techniques include the benefits register, use case diagram, SWOT, PESTLE analysis, etc.

Scope Creep: This is a popular terminology even among agile practitioners that despises anything plan-driven. Although many relate to these concepts, there is a misconception that scope creep only involves the addition of new features not originally in the scope. Scope creep may also result from removal from scope any requirement and based on the time of the request, there may be rework required to revert some or all the changes done.

Perhaps mistakenly inherited from some of the account managers that view scope creep only as change orders that need to be executed with their client to reconcile financial changes in scope, the need to understand the process used in managing the product, program, or project cannot be emphasized more. Any organizational change control policy or governance framework has to document changes not in the form of scope initiated by the client or product managers due to the market forces in the form of new or modified requirements but also the changes to the environmental context, such as changing from using a No-SQL database to a relational database due to lack of technical support of the old tool, that impact the project’s schedule, cost, risk and quality.
Since the scope may have to reworked to bring the project to the same stability before additional work can be executed or released to the customer, the project manager’s astute awareness of the commercial and non-commercial aspects of the project’s boundary conditions may very well require additional stakeholders to be identified.

Sometimes, people may resort to what is often called “Scope Kill”. It is an attempt to disengage with new ideas because the project’s operating framework doesn’t allow it or the organizational culture doesn’t have an appetite for innovative ideas. There are many reasons for these "scope kill" contributors and some may include scrum masters not parking new ideas to be discussed at a later point and using time-boxing as an excuse to immediately mute the flow of ideas.

Several tools exist to control scope but one of the most critical tools is to have a RACI through which the Stakeholder map can be formed better to build alliances and form bridges to ensure that benefits are aligned, risks are mitigated, and quality is not compromised. The other tools include risk register, communication plan, stakeholder register, risk-adjusted backlog, a documented change control process and blue ocean thinking.

Scope Leap: Another uncommon terminology related to scope management is the scope leap, which is a result of a dramatic shift in the strategic focus or tactical direction of the organization altering the backdrop under which the project, product, or program is operating. In such cases, the measurable organizational value (MOV) no longer holds true completely. As a result, the focus of the minimum viable product may also its significance for the product and project managers.

The biggest challenge comes in when the same techniques for handling the Scope creep are used. Often, scope leap is happening when the project is in-flight and it is understandable why one would resort to these techniques. However, since the project’s assumptions and subsequently the charter have been changed, getting back to the scope grope tools is better to revalidate ourselves before moving forward.

In the end, before any technology can be associated with a project's failure, think of the role played by people, process, and organizations on a product’s and project’s scope and the resulting outcomes. It is possible for an IT project to fail because of technology but not all the techology project's failure come from technology failure!