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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 lynch pin for 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, 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 has been around for a long time. The four critical steps of hearing, clarifying, interpreting and responding of 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 factored 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 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.

References
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!