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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?

References
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. 


References

Data and Business Intelligence (BI) (n.d.) QGate. Retrieved February 27, 2018, from https://www.qgate.co.uk/blog/data-speaks-but-do-you-understand/
Press, G. (2014, September 3). 12 Big Data Definition: What's Yours? Retrieved Feb 18, 2018, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/gilpress/2014/09/03/12-big-data-definitions-whats-yours/#7a5f1f813ae8
Hastie, S. & Wojewoda, S. (2015, October 14). Standish Group 2015 Chaos Report - Q&A with Jennifer Lynch. Retreived February 24, 2017, from https://www.infoq.com/articles/standish-chaos-2015
Rometti, G. (2016, April 12). Ginni Rometty Speech Archives. Retrieved January 31, 2018, from https://www.ibm.com/ibm/ginni/04_12_2016.html

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. 

References
Hickey, K.F. (n.d.) How to take back your productivity with no meeting wednesday. Retrieved January 31, 2018, from https://wavelength.asana.com/workstyle-no-meeting-wednesdays/

Rajagopalan, S. (2014a). Enhancing productivity. Retrieved January 31, 2018, from http://agilesriram.blogspot.com/2014/03/enhacing-productivity.html

Rajagopalan, S. (2014b). Effective virtual meetings. Retrieved January 31, 2018, from http://agilesriram.blogspot.com/2014/05/effective-virtual-meetings.html

Rajagopalan, S. (2016). Agile or Traditional: Productivity management still has basic roots. Retrieved January 31, 2018, from http://agilesriram.blogspot.com/2016/06/agile-or-traditional-productivity.html