Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What should we research?

What should we research?

 I asked a question at the latest PMI Research conference. “What would you consider the research that has had the greatest impact on project management performance in the past 10 years?”

The response from one of the Project Management Giants (the session was called standing on the shoulders of giants). “I pass on that question.” After a short discussion and from my table’s discussion, it was concluded that there has not been any meaningful research that improved our understand or our ability to manage projects in the past ten years.

Let’s explore project management research from a model that looks at the knowledge needed to effectively management a project. This model (the Darnall the Dimensions of Project Management) divides project knowledge into three categories (what a surprise). First is the basic or traditional project management areas of knowledge represented in the PMBOK (5 Process Groups and 13 Knowledge Areas).   

The second area of knowledge (skills and processes) needed to effectively manage a project focuses on the industry in which the project executed. The knowledge needed to execute a project in the construction industry (beyond the traditional PM) varies from the knowledge needed to manage an IT Project or even a movie production project (see my last blog).

The third area of knowledge focuses on the specific project. Most projects fall within a comfort range for most industries or organizations. The construction company that builds houses typically has good processes for managing the construction of houses but when the house falls outside the normal range, the project complexity increase and the normal processes may not be as effective. Understanding when the project falls outside the range and what new or additional processes are needed is important for project success.

As I review the current literature on project management, most of the research appears to be focused on the Industry Specific area. It is also within the range that most of the projects are managed. Most organizations have processes for managing projects within the organization and research and new processes seem to focus on improving the means and methods of understanding and managing these project. The literature on PMOs and project complexity appear to focus on this area.

Project management research dealing with project specific knowledge appears to focus on the large and complex projects. There appears to be an impression that many of these projects are not successful and this research and writing in this area suggest ways to better manage these projects.

Currently, I believe the project management research is to diffuse to address my opening question, “What would you consider the research that has had the greatest impact on project management performance in the past 10 years?” If we want to answer that questions differently in the  next ten years we need to develop new models for understand the project environment and focusing our research.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Could I be the Project Manager for a major movie production?

Could I be the Project Manager for a major movie production?

I watched the extras on the DVD of the Hobbit movie where Peter Jackson describes various aspects of making the Hobbit. There were remarkable similarities between my experience with a large, complex project in Argentina and Jackson’s experience in managing a movie production in New Zealand.

Both were projects by the traditional definition; A temporary endeavor to produce an objective. My objective was to design and build a copper mine in the desserts of Argentina. Peter Jackson delivered one of my favorite movies (trilogies).

To be successful, we both had to manage schedules, estimate budget and manage costs, identify and manage risks, identify and manage a wide range of project stakeholders, as well as a number of project management tools, techniques and work processes. The traditional project management knowledge, skills, and processes are required for the successful management of all projects but they are not sufficient.

Large complex projects have similar requirements. The complexity of managing across international boundaries, managing large (1,000 plus) project team, managing contractors and subcontracts reflected both projects. Both projects housed and fed over 1,000 project team members in remote locations. Both projects managed relationships (permitting, taxation, law enforcement) with local and national (Argentina and New Zealand) political realities.

Success on both projects depended on highly talented experts. Peter Jackson relied on experts in makeup, set design, wardrobe, film editing, as well as acting and directing. Although not as exciting, we had the top mining engineers, hydrologists, civil and electrical engineers (try constructing an electrical transmission line 1,000 km over the Andes Mountains).

The similarity in the need for both foundational project management (KSP) and similarities in the project profile were remarkable. As I think about a Three Dimensional Model for understanding the knowledge, skills and processes needed to manage a project, both of these projects had similar profiles and the need for foundational project management. They differed greatly in the industry knowledge needed to be successful.

I accidentally became the project manager of the Boeing Training Project in Charleston. This was a multimillion dollar project to train new employees (around 2,500) for the new plant in Charleston SC. This plant was introducing new technologies. This meant the project team worked with the design engineers to develop work flow process, determine the knowledge, skill and abilities to accomplish the work, develop training modules, instructor training, recruitment, screening etc.

I recruited the best training expert I could find (Tom Yeoman) and went to the Air Force Base and recruited a senior master sergeant (AB Farington). Tom successfully designed and delivered training in diverse industries for 20 years and AB understood airplanes, FAA requirements and the Boeing culture. Success would have been difficult without this kind of talent and dedication.

Reverting back to my title question; Could I manage a major motion picture project? Short answer; No! 

I believe I could bring value to a project bringing both traditional project management KSPs and on projects where the project profile reflects some of my project experience on large complex projects. As I watched the Hobbit DVD Extras, Peter Jackson was involved in decisions about makeup, directing, stunts, story line that require a vision and an understanding on how to make that vision real on the screen. That takes talent and years of experience. I have neither.

Now I relate to a bigger project management question, that is more relevant than whether I can manage a movie production, How do we improve project management? What implication does this model have on our approach to project management research?


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

2014 PMI Research Conference

PMI 2014 Research and Education Conference; 27 – 29 July 2014, Portland, OR, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

I was able to attend the 2014 PMI Research and Education Conference this year. This is a much better conference when compared to the Global Conference. The research conference keynote speakers are project management professions with interesting, project oriented presentations and instead the management gurus of the speaking circuit at the typical Global Conference. The presentations do not have the glitz that can compare with the consultants of the Global conference but the presentations typically have more project management substance.

The GAC (PMI College Accreditation) invited Universities with Project Management degrees to discuss issues related to accreditation. The new PMI Vice President for Education and Research kicked of the meeting. As a new hire, he said he had no expertise in project management and then gave a speech proving him his point. Overall, a good session.  

There were a couple of things that struck me at the conference. I listened to several conversations on the need for a theory of project management. Interesting discussion but it did not resonant to me as a need for our profession. I asks at a panel discussion on something else “do we ned a theory of project management” and the consensus of this panel was no. I will be interested to see if this discussion develops traction.

Jack Meredith, author of lots of project management books, was the headliner on an unusual session Standing on the Shoulders of Giant”. Jack deserves recognition for his contribution and Erik Larson, another prolific author, interviewed Jack in a setting that gave the impression of a discussion in your living room. Jack met expectations. He reminded me of my grandfather, he had no political agenda and just said what he thought, so of it very interesting. If you can find a transcript, it would be worth listening to.

During the session I asked; “what were the two or three research finding of the past 20 years (this was a research conference) that would impact project management”? Jack thought a minute and then said; “I will pass on that question.” I wonder if he was avoiding the question because he didn’t want to hurt anyone feelings. That had not been the case so far. A small group discussion at our table concluded that Dr. Meredith did not believe that there was any significant research finding in the past 20 years that significantly impacted the management of projects. Think about the implications of that thought.

Here is a list of research projects recently funded by PMI:

  • Establishing a Theoretically Sound Baseline for Expert Judgment in Project Management
    Paul Szwed
  • Translational Science and Its Effects on Organizational Structure and Program Management
    Dorothy Kirkman, Kevin Wooten, Alix Valenti
  • High-performance capital project front-end: a design commons approach
    Nuno Gil, Rehema Msulwa
  • Scaling Agility: Adapting Agile Principles to Large Projects in Large Organizations
    Yvan Petit, Brian Hobbs
  • Project Management as a Dynamic Collaborative Social Practice: Collaborative Innovation Revisited
    Roula Michaelides, Jeanne Dorle, Elena Antonacopoulou
  • Community engagement strategies during the construction phase of controversial projects
    Melissa Teo

I also had a hallway discuss with Hans Georg Gemunden, editor of the Project Management Journal. PMI has struggled to increase the quality of the Project Management Journal. I mentioned that I often blogged a translation of articles from the PMJ for the typical project manager. (most articles are unreadable and only a few are worth going through the pain)
I was surprised to find that they understood the quality of articles did not meet their own standards. They were working hard to increase the quality. I look forward to seeing their new approach.

All in all, it was a good conference.

Next blog: I will presenting at the PMI Chapter in Charlotte in January and will provide a summary here.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

I,m Back

I’m Back

I took a six month hiatus from my blog. Working on a grant proposal, developing a new course for the University and supporting the University in developing and deploying a new Competency Based Learning (CBL). This left little time for the writing I enjoy.

It has been an interesting six months. I continued to read articles in the Project Management Journal (PMJ). Some would make interesting blogs. I attended the Project Management Institute Research Conference, in Portland, OR, which deserves a couple of full blogs. So, I hope to have some interesting blogs in the next few weeks.

 I also developed a research grant proposal for PMI. I proposed exploring the efficacy of a tool process introduced by PMI this year.  Published by PMI in 2014, the Navigating Complexity: A Practice Guide provides an approach for assessing the complexity of a project, conducting a resource gap analysis, and developing an action plan that is fully integrated into the project management plan. The process is complex and PMI is now Beta testing the tools/ processes. I was hoping that PMI would be interested in an independent researcher evaluating the effectiveness of the tool. The grant proposal was accepted for round two but was not accepted in the final round. I was both disappointed and relieved. I was disappointed because I am very interested in the topic and wanted to continue explore project complexity and tool for better understanding our projects. I was relived because the research would consume lots of time and energy.

I suspect PMI was not ready for an independent researcher to evaluate their tool. I asked for feedback on the grant (always looking for improvement ideas) but sadly, PMI said they did not have the resources to provide feedback to people who submitted grants.

So, I am back and will share some ideas about project management. Next week, the 2014 PMI Research Conference, “leading edge or treading water”?


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Changing Careers

I had an email exchange with one of my students in the Master’s Degree Program and though it may be of interest to those think of changing careers. This was a student changing careers and looking forward to a project management future.

Changing careers! I think it keeps life exciting. I started as a medical social worker, then ran the Children's Home for the Cherokee Tribe, went back to school and earned my Masters in Project Management, Worked for a engineering and construction firm and now I am teaching. The skills and experiences I gained were always useful in my next career.

I do not have a technical/ engineering background and I worked for a engineering and construction company. I would not have been good at smaller, highly technical projects but on more complex projects with technical complexity that needed corporation between teams and stakeholders with different agendas, I excelled. I think my social work/ psychology background became an asset. I was also very curious and asked lots of questions.

You have started off right. Ask lots of questions.

1. Should I start building a portfolio now with small to big projects?

Yes, label everything you do that involves working with people/ team and meets our definition of project (temporary/ with defined scope) a project. Keep a list, because you will forget. Start using your project management learning. If you get assigned a project, develop a project charter, budget, schedule, risk plan etc. Even for small projects use all your tools. get use to using your tools, learn and demonstrate to others how it is done.

Volunteer: For example, the boss might ask: “will someone be responsible for managing the company picnic?" You might respond "I will take that PROJECT. Then develop your project charter for your boss to sign off. Develop the budget, schedule, risk plan, HR plan etc. and show the company how it is done. Volunteer at church or local club, get a reputation as the "project manager".

Keep GOOD RECORDS. Every time you do an activity that is done on projects capture what you did, who you did it for and the time spent. You will need this for when you go after your PMP.

Keep your best work, both class work and work on projects, as examples you can share with potential employers.

2.  Are there PM firms that are recommended that may allow for internships?

Most project management jobs are in organizations whose primary function is not project management. I noticed an increase in demand for project managers within the banking industry, within the pharmaceutical industry, etc.

Some organizations are almost your project management organizations. For example when I work for floor which is a engineering and construction company almost all the work was done in projects. There are companies that provide consulting services and training services to organizations attempting to implement project management. These organizations operate like a consulting firm, usually taking in highly skilled and very knowledgeable people farming them out to organizations. These organizations also will provide experience project managers for short duration projects. These type organizations would be ideal for an internship type of experience.

One of the growing trends in industry today is the development of PMO's within the organization. If you can find an organization with an established for developing PMO this is also a great place to get some initial experience.

I do not have connections to organizations that would help me make recommendations to you for internship possibilities. My recommendation is network.

3.  What are some ways I can start now to ensure a solid career in this field?

Good question. think about taking a topic within project management that you find interesting and develop some expertise in this particular topic. For example, project start up. What are the different ways to start up project? What are the tools and techniques a project manager needs at the beginning of the project? Develop a deep expertise in one aspect of project management and publishing articles.

Develop a good project management vocabulary and use of vocabulary often. When I hear people discussing what it is we should be doing,, I ask what our scope of work is?  My wife often frowns at me and then would explain to people that I was a project manager as if she were apologizing, but I wear it as a badge of honor. Develop a project management vocabulary and use it everywhere.

Always act ethically. Project managers are typically given the tremendous threat responsibility and require the trust of their bosses and organization. Build a reputation that you are a person who could be trusted. Stand up for what's right and the people know that you have a very high standard for your expectations of yourself and your team.

Manage your reputation. Develop four or five principles that you will live by that represent you as a project manager. I am always on time. I do what's necessary to make sure that I deliver time. I developed a reputation in my workplace and unprotected that reputation.

Develop trusting relationship with your clients. always be honest with your client, include your client in critical project decisions, at the end of the project you want your client to say if I have another project I want Anita to be the project manager.

4.  I am interesting in becoming a member of PMI, what would I need to do as a student and what should I prepare for now so that I can get my certificate down the road?

You are eligible to become the PMI member now knows you have to do is go on the website plus for membership as a student and you won't have any trouble. If you do let me know.

If you are thinking about the PMP certification, then you will need to be eligible and completing the master's program will take you a long way towards that eligibility. I go back to the first part of this discussion right talk about recording every project activity you do. You will need this list of activities to document your project management experiences to meet the experience qualifications for the PMP.

Let me know if I didn't answer your questions or if there's something else I can do..

Good luck with the program.