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.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Project Management Research Journal Article on Project Sponsors

Project Management Journal/ Research Articles:

When the research journals from Project Management Institute comes in I tried to explore the different research articles and see if I can pull out some nuggets for use of project managers.

I’ve been reading the February/March edition of the Project Management Journal. The first article discussed executive sponsor behaviors, Project Success and Executive Sponsor Behaviors: Empirical Life Cycle Stage Investigations by Kleppenborg, T., Tesch, D. & Manolis, C.

Essentially, the research involved re-looking at data from four previous studies them but one of the authors to discover the answer to what was labeled as two important questions. Over the duration of a project, does relative importance of compulsory executive behavior vary significantly at stages of completion? If you’re wondering what this means you’re in good company. After reading the entire article, I believe the authors want to know if and executive sponsor makes a contribution by doing something at various stages of the project. Second question asks over the duration of the project, does relative importance of the project success done mentions very significantly within and across different stages of completion? The author spent quite a bit of time discussing project success dimensions. At one stage it seems that they are indicating that success of the project means meeting cost, schedule, quality, and customer satisfaction goals of the project. They labeled this success dimensions. Later in the article they used different terminology to discuss success to missions and labeled these; the firm’s future, meeting agreements, and customer success. My understanding is they took the normal nomenclature of cost, schedule, quality, and customer satisfaction and develop their own terminology. They never explained why.

They justified the research in one instance I discussing the Standish group research that I’ve discussed a number of times and pointed out some obvious flaws in this research. I think the reason researchers continue to use this research is because the Standish group concluded that most projects fail. This is a great beginning for any research paper but the research is so flawed I believe it detracts from any conclusions that the authors may develop.

The authors included charts and tables with lots of percentages and data but there’s no real discussion with the charger cables being. There was neither a conclusion section nor a summary of findings section. There was in one paragraph summary of research contributions. In one example of findings in this section was “finding suggest, for example, that during the executing stage, project sponsor should focus on ensuring communications as a top priority and that such a focus will in turn enhance the most important element of success during this particular phrase the project- the extent to which a customer satisfied with the project deliverables.” Understand this to me the project sponsor to communicate a lot during the execution phase of the project.

I often wonder what we would want researchers to focus on as project management professionals. Until we can answer that question, I suspect researchers will continue to be defined terms and write articles that will be read by only a few people will probably writing their own articles on executive sponsorship of projects.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” Albert Einstein

 “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”

Understanding a project is absolutely critical to developing and executing an appropriate project plan. Project Managers spend significant time in defining client’s expectations, defining deliverables for the project and developing the data that we need to be able to develop a project charter in a project scope. We have developed tools and processes for gathering this information in articulating the information in different documents that become the foundation for developing a project plan. From these tools we gather a great deal of knowledge.
Sometimes knowledge is not enough. Developing an understanding of our project requires more than just gathering the data and collating the data into meaningful documents. Understanding requires seeing the interplay between the different components of our project and developing an understanding of how these different aspects come together to form a picture of a project. To understand our projects we need to think about the about the interplay between the different parts of the project, to process our knowledge of the project and develop a holistic view of our project.
The more complex[1] our project, the more difficult the task of understanding and developing this larger or more holistic view. The more complex our project, the greater the difficulty in developing a good understanding of our project. PMI has recently developed a tool for better understand the complexity of our project. In March of this year, PMI published Navigating Complexity: A Practice Guide online, hard copy is now available. Worth taking a look at.

[1]   Complexity can be understood as the number of parts and their degree of differentiation
                                                                Dan McShea,
                             Santa Fe Institute for the Study of Complexity

Thursday, May 8, 2014


Below is come materiel I developed on Complexity and Project Management.  I thought it might be useful.

Although the Project Management Institute’s definition of a project is generally accepted, the definition of complexity is much less clear. PMI defines a project in terms of its distinctive characteristics – a project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service. [1] This definition highlights two distinctive aspects of a project: every project is executed within a defined time frame and every project is unique. 

Complexity; When is a project complex? Not an easy question but if we look at generally accepted complexity models we begin to see a trend that is useful for defining complex projects.  In biology the simplest plant is composed of one cell. As the cellular structure increases in number and number of connections to other cells increase the plant life is seen as more complex. In the animal kingdom, the single cell ameba is the simplest animal and life gets more complex as the number of cells combine to form muscles and organs, leading to the brain, which may be the most complex of all known possibilities, especially my daughter’s.

The complexity of a system is usually construed as number of parts or activities and their degree of differentiation or the structure of their arrangement. Thus, heterogeneous or irregularly configured systems are complex, such as organisms, airplanes, and junkyards. Order is the opposite of complexity. Ordered systems are homogeneous and redundant, like an interstate tollbooth or a production line in a factory. Complex systems have multiple interacting components whose collective behavior cannot be simply inferred from the behavior of the components.

Complexity has morphological and functional aspects. A junk heap (to use a favored example used by McShea and Thomas) may be morphologically very complex (in consisting of so many highly varied and independent parts) but is functionally quiet simple (just a glob for a landfill). On the other hand, what is functionally simple for us might be quiet complex to other users – in this case a seagull that must distinguish all the little bits while searching for morsels of food. [2]

In addition to the number of parts, the degree of differentiation, morphological and functional aspects of complexity, the number, type and strength of relationships between parts or activities also influences the degree of complexity. Typically, as the number of activities increase and the number of relationships between activities increase the project becomes more complex.

Complexity is also context-dependent. A project is more complex or less complex than some reference point, typically another project. The Manhattan Project, building the first nuclear bomb, was more complex than design and production of the F-15 Fighter. Project complexity is therefore better evaluated on a continuous scale than on a discrete measure.

Projects are complex adaptive systems. A complex system is a system consisting of a large number of parts or activities that interact with each other numerous or various ways. A complex system is adaptive if their activities adjust or react to events or the environment. Successful adaptive systems adjust activities in a way that allows the system or project to achieve its purpose.

The dependence of the project on the activities, the interdependence of the activities and the specialization of the activities underscore the relationship dependence of complex adaptive systems and projects. The nature of complex systems can be probed by investigating how the impacts of changes in one activity affect other activities and the behavior of the whole. Activities must be studied and understood as an interrelated, connected part of the whole. If you remove a computer chip form a laptop and the computer powers down, don’t assume that the purpose of the chip was to provide power to the computer. If you remove a project kickoff activity and the schedule indicates a shorter project duration, don’t assume that the project will finish earlier.

Complex adaptive systems have three characteristics that are also reflected in complex projects:

1.      Complex adaptive systems tend to self organize. Formal organizational charts aren’t very effective. Projects organize around the work, the phases or activities. The organization of the project reacts to the nature of the work at any given phase.
2.       Complex Adaptive Systems reflect evolutionary trajectories. The future can not be predicted by knowing the current or present state. Too many possible outcomes exist. If we ran an identical project three different times, we would deliver three different outcomes. We try scenario planning, Monocarlo simulations etc. to develop the most likely outcome but a change in when someone takes a vacation or a small change in delivery of an important deliverable can change the entire personality of a project.
3.       Complex Adaptive Systems co-evolve with environmental agents who themselves are reacting and changing. Projects apply technology that is evolving or developing. Projects interact with people who grow and change. Projects deal with companies who are seldom in a fixed state.

Projects have significantly different characteristics. The Darnall Project Complexity Index, DPCI, is a tool to evaluate various characteristics of a project and to develop a comprehensive understanding of the total project.

Each of these characteristics or elements is evaluated separately, relative to the industry standard for this type of project. A one hundred million dollar project to develop a prototype jet fighter or to construct a new highway maybe considered a small or medium size project in their respective industries but a one hundred million dollar medical drug research project may be considered very large.  The relative size of the project becomes one element in evaluating the project’s complexity level.

Complexity, within this index, refers to the number of cells in the project times the number of connections between cells.[3] As the project size increases and the duration shortens the complexity of the project increases. The technological complexity, cultural complexity, legal complexity and other indicators measured in the Index reflect the complexity of the environment in which the project will be executed.

Measuring the level of project complexity is an important first step in understanding the impact of increasing complexity. Managing more complex projects requires a different project management approach and a different set of management skills, tools and techniques than managing less complex projects.

The various complexity indicators can range from very low to very high within the indicator and when combined with other indicators can the increase the total impact on the project’s complexity. In addition to knowing the total project complexity rating, the implications of the interaction of the various indicators is better understood.

Developing relevant recommendations that will increase the potential for project success is a key next step for the DPCI. Understanding the level of project complexity and the implications of the interactions of the various indicators will allow experienced project management professionals to better customize the project execution plan. This information also allows project management to develop and allocate resources early in the project, in areas where the DPCI indicates potential problems. Understanding the potential problem areas also allows the project management team to better develop and allocate contingency in the project budget and schedule.

[1] A Guide To The Project Management Body of Knowledge, Project Management Institute, Standards Committee, 1996

[2] McShea, 1992,93,94 and Thomas 1993

Full House, The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin, Stephen Jay Gould, 1996, Three Rivers Press, 201 East 50th Street, NY, NY 10022

[3] A project cell is the smallest organizational unit of the project.  On large project this is typically a small team. On a smaller project a work unit or cell can be a person. The simplest arrangement is when a cell receives all the information needed to complete the unit’s work from only one other cell. The more cells that must interact for work to progress the more complex the project. This increase in complexity is impacted by many of the project characteristics measured by the Darnall Project Complexity Index.