Failure is Not a Barrier to Future Success By Paul Dolmon, PACE Cohort 9

Posted in PACE Program / PM POV Podcast Blog on January 14, 2016
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Seasoned project managers have learned to recognize the signs of failure. M Powered Strategies’ (MPS) President Kendall Lott collected a dozen stories about project failure in the latest PM Point of View Podcast, to gather perspectives on the causes and results of failure. Interestingly, many of the interviewees noted that they foresaw the project’s failure at an early stage, but were unable to resolve issues in the following days, weeks, or months to prevent it. The common theme tying these failures together is poor communication, especially where different parties have different expectations and perspectives on outcomes and goals.

One program manager worked on a software-development scheme with the United States Air Force. In this project, the team operated with an initial scope and promised the stakeholders particular deadlines, only to later ask for extension after extension as the scope expanded. Once a project manager came onboard to look at the big picture and re-determine scope, he realized the estimates were wildly off the mark. He brought the flaws to the attention of all parties involved and they created a plan with more variables. This was the same issue with the creation of the tabletop game, Dungeons and Dragons. The business saw infinite growth with the upsurge in popularity and not recognizing the signs of downward contraction.

Communication is vital. One interviewee explained how confusion surrounding leadership in the Affordable Care Act delayed the technical implementation and created a national controversy with the rollout. Who owned the rollout, Health and Human Services (HHS) or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)? Would the correct departments and teams receive the right amount of funding to continue their efforts? Due to a lack of communication, these issues mired the whole IT program. A USAID team operating in Afghanistan suffered the similar issues; they were ordered to carry out specific development programs but were not given the necessary budget. If these questions were answered earlier, these communication errors would not have derailed the entire project. As such, any changes were met with hostility from the others, undermining the project as a whole.

To avoid the most common project failure pitfalls, all stakeholders need to agree on the same timeline, outcome, and goals. Without consensus, individuals may accidentally or maliciously steer the project in a different direction at everyone else’s expense. Clear communication between all parties is critical to successful project management.

Your Network is Your Net Worth by Anya Clifford, PACE Cohort 9

Posted in PM POV Podcast Blog / Professional Development on November 20, 2015

Podcast BlogThough networking is not covered in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), one of our biggest and longest projects is managing our careers. With that in mind, it makes a lot of sense to build a strong network. MPS President Kendall Lott recently sat down with three experts in the latest PM POV podcast to discuss how to reframe the networking process and be more meaningful in our interactions.

Many of us serve clients every day, helping to build and strengthen organizations and companies. But let’s face it, we can often be our own worst client. In order to remedy this, Sheila Savar, Founder of the Savar Institute, recommends keeping our desired outcomes in mind in order to more efficiently and effectively get what we need. This requires defining our own project scope with a project roadmap and clear deliverables, such as specific networking events to attend and tasks that will help you connect with the people you want. This also requires investing in research – something we emphasize with clients, but often neglect to do ourselves when attending conferences or reaching out to connections.

Savar also outlines the concept of RONI, Return on Networking Investment, and how being helpful to others through networking functions can make us more credible, approachable, and useful. John Gilroy, Director of Marketing and Business Development at BLT Global Ventures, builds on this by emphasizing the need to be specific. Gilroy suggests asking new contacts what a good referral might be for them as a pragmatic conversation-starter that goes straight to the point. While that question may be too specific for those of us not working in business development, it touches upon an important point that Adam Grant illustrates in the bestselling Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success. Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton Business School, asserts that people who prioritize giving over taking are typically more successful in the long-term, in large part due to building stronger relationships and networks than takers.

Finally, Kari Mirabal, founder of The Connection Coach, emphasizes the importance of your LinkedIn profile, which serves as your online personal brand. She outlines a LinkedIn strategy to plan, connect, and grow your online network. Some specific tips she offers are to update your profile with keywords so that others can find you and to engage with the community, which brings the “social” aspect of social media to the forefront.

As with traditional project management, you will be most successful when you approach networking opportunities strategically, well prepared, and ready to collaborate and share with others. With these tips, networking events do not have to be as daunting as they appear – but before jumping in, invest the time to reflect on who are you are, what you can give, and what you need.

Why Non-Profits Need Project Management by Bryan Kovalick, PACE Cohort 8

Posted in PM POV Podcast Blog / Project Management on September 14, 2015

Podcast BlogHow do you break a non-profit out of “the hamster wheel of survival?” With project management, argues Max Skolnik, Director of The Taproot Foundation’s DC office.

Mr. Skolnik sat down with M Powered Strategies’ President Kendall Lott for a podcast interview to discuss how pro bono project managers can professionalize non-profits’ work, while increasing their fundraising success. Too many non-profits are mired in a fundraising trap, where their only focus is fundraising for next quarter, or next year. They need project management, and desperately.

While I agree with Mr. Skolnik’s perspective, I disagree with him in one critical way. Non-profits need more than just pro bono labor from their project managers—they also need these project managers to build the capacity of their employees. Training employees to eventually take on project management roles themselves is the only way to liberate non-profits from the “hamster wheel of survival.”

In their defense, many non-profits live on a razor’s edge of fundraising just to keep the lights on. According to the Urban Institute’s 2014 brief on non-profits, 66.4% of all charities raise less than $500,000 a year. Many non-profits don’t survive in this environment; from 2007-2011, 13,591 human service non-profits closed their doors.

You cannot fault non-profits for focusing so heavily on fundraising, but I have observed that many non-profits put the cart before the horse. They focus on raising additional funds before proving they can work efficiently with limited funding. Furthermore, small non-profits are often competing for scarce funding opportunities with larger non-profits, staffed by fulltime fundraisers and grant writers. To that end, the federal government is increasingly cautious with grant funding, demanding documentation of successfully completed projects and deliverables.

Even non-profits that rely primarily on private donors are not isolated from these trends. Donors today are far more in-tune with non-profit practices and exceedingly empowered in their donation decisions. Consumer-conscious donors may take the time to research a non-profit’s transparency and effectiveness before donating. Tools like Charity Watch or Charity Navigator make this research exceptionally simple.

Because of these developments, non-profits can ignore the demands for professional project management to their detriment. As they compete with a growing number of non-profits, over a shrinking pool of resources, the necessity to train employees on effective project management is more important than ever. By internalizing this mindset, non-profits won’t just survive, they will thrive.

The Countdown to Presidency—Why Project Management Wins the Race by Rima Abou Ziab, PACE Cohort 8

Posted in PM POV Podcast Blog / Project Management on August 19, 2015

Podcast BlogWhether navigating the internet or listening to the latest on the radio, there’s one thing I can’t seem to escape this month—frenzied election coverage. Headlines are buzzing with presidential candidate updates and debate drama, marking the unofficial kick off of the 2016 Presidential race. While the amount of media attention spent on the race is already enormous, the amount of money spent is even greater. The cost to finance all these candidates is predicted to reach unprecedented levels, making campaign management more important than ever.

President of M Powered Strategies, Kendall Lott, sat down with campaign expert, Tom Bowen, to get to the bottom of it—what is the role of project management in executing a winning political campaign? With analysts predicting the most enormous spending in America’s electoral history, at $2 billion or more per candidate, Lott’s podcast “The Campaign Trail: Project Management on the Run” explores the specifics that will make—or break—a race for the presidency.

Tom Bowen weighs in with over a decade of campaign experience to cut to the chase about what matters most: effective project management for overseeing a big budget and a dynamic team. Unlike businesses, presidential campaigns have a two-year lead up, a highly specific purpose, and a very specific end date. Not to mention a very targeted and simple scope: winning. These pose challenges that make running a campaign more like managing a high-intensity, long-term project rather than a business.

Bowen and Lott agree that campaigns are not won or lost by the candidate alone, but rather by the team. To better understand the relationship between the team players, Lott asks: “Is your candidate your boss, your sponsor, the person you are trying to satisfy, or are they your product?” To Bowen the candidate is all of those things. The candidate is your leader and sponsor, and yet his or her hopes, dreams, and vision, are the product that you are trying to sell.

In order to balance stakeholder interests and the chaotic nature of campaigns, the manager’s ability to hire and lead the best team possible is critical. When the risks range from fundraising fiascos to candidates being caught off guard in public, the stakes are high. But when, as Bowen asserts, “most people vote the way that I’m going to buy a toaster: they don’t think about it very much, they don’t do it very often,” then the risks are even higher!

Bowen projects the growth opportunity for project managers to be exponential in the campaign market. As the scale and budget of campaigns continue to reach remarkable heights, this does not come as a major surprise; however I wonder, does Bowen believe this growth to be sustainable, particularly in the wake of increased scrutiny over campaign spending from the public eye? Still, a huge network and professional industry is now built around elections and candidates. Media and campaign managers should take note: beyond the billions, it’s effective project management that will make the difference.

When Innovation is the Goal by Emily Gallery, PACE Cohort 8

Posted in PM POV Podcast Blog on August 07, 2015

Podcast Blog“Organizations today face a hard truth: innovate or perish.”

And so MPS President Kendall Lott introduces this PM Point of View podcast with Dr. Oliver Schlake, Clinical Professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business and Michael Hannan, Principal Consultant & Founder, Fortezza Consulting. To address the high level question of how project managers can foster innovation, Dr. Schlake and Mr. Hannan discuss a variety of topics, including company culture, risk acceptance, evolutionary v. revolutionary innovation, and network accessibility.

In the podcast found here, the group observes that planning for predictable, reliable innovation is key. According to Mr. Hannan, one significant indicator to help organizations predict innovation is the size of their cross-disciplinary networks—meaning, the number and types of connections they have. When cross-disciplinary perspectives start to mingle, innovation bridges the gap between evolutionary (methodical, tested, and true) and revolutionary (new and untested). As Dr. Schlake points out, sometimes just adding the cross-disciplinary perspective opens the possibility for revolutionary innovation. A physicist experiments very differently than a consultant—but both have the capacity to innovate.

Dr. Schlake and Mr. Hannan describe a selection best practices to foster innovation within project teams. One is promoting a culture where team members are comfortable with experimentation and reassured that achieving 100% success is not the ultimate goal. Another is selecting team members with diverse skill sets and backgrounds, and being comfortable with looking outside of the immediate team for support, ideas, and help. Finally, aligning research and development more closely with strategic focus will help an organization plan smarter and think farther afield.

While these are great ideas, the biggest challenge is always implementation. How can project managers integrate these qualities into teams that are already established? How do managers ensure they are expanding and maintaining their networks effectively, especially when daily demands and deadlines take precedence? This podcast provides a great starting point for project managers hoping to answer some of these questions and begin supporting innovation within their teams and organizations.

The Importance of Experience by Sam Taylor, PACE Cohort 6 Alumnus

Posted in PACE Program / PM POV Podcast Blog / PREP / Project Management on June 03, 2015

Podcast BlogIt’s generally agreed that project managers are go-getters by nature. One can take many different occupational and educational paths to become a project manager, and there’s no minimum or maximum age to become one. But no matter how hard one works to move ahead of his or her peers, there remains one intangible that cannot be substituted. As former Department of Energy (DoE) CIO Bob Brese explains in MPS President Kendall Lott’s recent podcast, “Experience Matters,” it takes careful planning and sound judgment to execute any project – and the key to successfully managing large, visible projects is experience, though the reasons why are varied.

First, with experience comes skillsets and strategies for handling stakeholder expectations. When there are several types of stakeholders involved, managing expectations can be exceptionally difficult. Key stakeholders often drive expectations, so it is important that the project manager, her superiors, and all other stakeholders involved agree on what the final product will be. If the project manager and her boss expect the bridge to be finished in 2020, then the Department of Transportation better be expecting that bridge in 2020 as well.

Experience also helps project managers understand their roles more clearly. According to Brese, though typically it is higher management’s job to ask the hard questions, it is ultimately the project manager’s job to execute the task at hand. Experienced and knowledgeable project managers are often more able to answer those difficult questions effectively. Having the experience to answer questions with confidence will not only help move the project along, but can improve your client’s perception of you while also reassuring them that everything is under control.

Additionally, risk management is a factor that all project managers must plan for and monitor throughout the lifecycle of projects. When assessing risk, some are more obvious than others. “As projects get larger and more complex you need a project manager who has enough breadth of experience that he or she can account for a broader set of potential risks,” says Brese. For example, if a brand-new project manager is assigned to a major initiative at DoE, that individual may not be able to draw from experiences on past successes and crises to produce the most inclusive risk assessment.

Some may find this idea frustrating, but experience is not taught in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). Acquiring every last possible bit of experience is something all project managers should do if they have aspirations of being leaders in the field. With more experience comes more responsibility, but also more exciting, fulfilling, and (hopefully) successful projects.

Pragmatism from the Ivory Tower by Sam Taylor, PACE Cohort 6 Alumnus

Posted in PACE Program / PM POV Podcast Blog / PREP / Project Management on May 13, 2015

Podcast BlogAwareness of project management in a formalized context has exploded in recent years. American universities are perhaps the best example of the increased interest in project management. Since 1999, the number of higher learning institutions offering project management degree programs has ballooned from 12 to over 600. MPS President Kendall Lott recently sat down with Mr. John Cable, Director of the University of Maryland’s Project Management Center for Excellence, to discuss the recent demand for formal project management education, which you can hear in his podcast, “Pragmatism from the Ivory Tower”.

Nearly everything people do, especially in the work place, can be analyzed through a project management lens. As the American work environment becomes more competitive, formalized project management experience helps job applicants immensely. According to Cable, the demand for employees with project management skills has increased, leading to a spike in professionals pursuing project management degrees, especially at the graduate level.

Cable, a licensed architect and general contractor, has been teaching graduate level engineering courses at Maryland since 1999. Cable says his typical student is one who has spent a few years in the workplace since receiving a Bachelor’s degree in some area of engineering. When asked, students often feel comfortable with the technical aspects of their jobs but admit they lack planning and decision making skills. Cable also says that the successful students in his project management courses are level-headed professionals with a knack for seeing the big picture without ignoring the details.

“We are looking for individuals that have a very unique characteristic in one sense. And that characteristic is somebody that can think in the macro view and in the micro view.”

Traditionally found in business departments at universities, project management is now an integral part of several different academic disciplines. At Maryland, the Project Management Center for Excellence is part of the A. James Clark School of Engineering. Project management courses have also been incorporated into law and policy degree programs, particularly in the area of legal contracts.

As the number of workers with project management training grows, Cable predicts the future American labor pool will be much better at linking technical skills to management skills than in the past.

“I see a future in which the individuals that are involved in project management have far superior people skills to the one’s today.”

With an increased demand for formal project management education, it will be interesting to see how the supply of project management programs will continue to unfold. Perhaps programs specifically dedicated to project management will blossom. Maybe project management curriculum will continue to be integrated with disciplines such as engineering and law or even become part of the typical undergraduate’s core classes alongside writing and baseline math courses.

No matter which trends evolve in the future, Cable does not see project management as an isolated field of education. Project management is a complement to – not a substitute for – technical knowledge.

Go Green, Save Green by Sam Taylor, PACE Cohort 6 Alumnus

Posted in PACE Program / PM POV Podcast Blog / PREP / Project Management on May 08, 2015

Podcast BlogProject Managers’ careers depend on successful completion of short term missions. Organizations ranging from private corporations to municipal and federal governments embark on projects designed to position them for better futures. More broadly, the lifespan of today’s biggest governments and corporations will be but a mere fraction of our home planet’s existence. The dinosaurs died and the Romans fell; there is no reason to think we are any less vulnerable. In his podcast on corporate sustainability, MPS President Kendall Lott chats with former PMI CEO Gregory Balestrero about how project managers can impact an organization’s survival and commitment to social responsibility.

For the duration of a project’s lifecycle, successful project managers identify how to add value, save money, and accomplish more with fewer resources. Amidst a daily grind of meetings and deadlines, however, project managers’ visions often ignore what may happen long after a project has been completed; most project work statements do not include clauses that detail expected results half a millennium after a project’s completion. Balestrero, author of Organizational Survival: Profitable Strategies for a Sustainable Future, believes that short term and long term value creation are not mutually exclusive concepts. By planning for the future and adapting to externalities, whether they be environmental, social, or financial, project managers can position their organizations to succeed over a prolonged timespan.

Organizational sustainability initiatives are often dismissed as short-sighted PR stunts rather than as financially responsible practices. Project managers need to be aware that environmental and social responsibility can strengthen their organizations’ long-term futures. Often, there is little, if any, immediate financial threat to accounting for social responsibilities and values. As long as the changes are more than just cosmetic, finding ways for your organization to become more sustainable is smart business.

Organizations increasingly emphasize ethics and values as project pillars whose values should align with those of broader stakeholders. Balestrero recommends project managers to “spend one hour talking about the team’s perspective of values of the project and its relation to corporate values” when undertaking new projects. Awareness of values is not only good for project management, but it also benefits the client. When aggregated with other projects of similar intentions, benefits extend far beyond a project’s scope.

While corporations are often portrayed as soulless machines who aim to maximize short-term profits, some success stories prove the contrary. Lott’s podcast highlights BMW’s efforts to become water neutral. BMW is socially responsible, but as governments impose stricter regulations on water use, BMW will be poised to comply with minimal cost and disruption to its financial bottom line. BMW’s cars are cultural icons and engineering marvels; maybe the same engineers and artists behind the “ultimate driving machine” are inspiring BMW’s project managers’ efforts to create the ultimate responsible organization.

A Planned and Creative Process, by Patrick Hendrickson

Posted in PM POV Podcast Blog / Project Management on April 30, 2015

Podcast BlogCreativity can be a struggle. I am constantly trying to find the right approach to discover original ideas. As a musically challenged person, I wanted to understand what an artistically creative process might look like and to learn how to integrate greater creativity into my everyday work. MPS President Kendall Lott examines creativity and project planning in his PMI Podcast, “The Creative Process, Music and Project Management.”

Lott tracks down Chris Wilson, creative music lecturer at the University of Derby, for insight on applying pragmatic thought processes to creative work. This obstacle seems to be common among many industries and across a variety of projects. To keep the project on track an artist must understand the processes’ steps. Wilson explains that creativity is essential for generating good music, but he emphasizes that the process of producing music and reaching listeners also requires a broader, holistic plan; a complex, beautifully-written, piece of music is only a small part of a musician’s delivery process. Lott points out that “…art, the outcome of the project, is the product of planned effort.” In art, just as in engineering, information technology or project management there are countless hours of preparation and expertise required before the outcome is of any quality. Wilson asserts the perceived differences between art and other fields lie in an inaccurate belief that most artistic talent and creativity is either innate or comes easily to the artist. Michael Jordan took thousands of shots and played for over a decade before setting foot on Chicago Stadium’s floor and the Beatles spent innumerable hours perfecting their music in Liverpool’s clubs before they became a twentieth century pop-cultural icon.

Inspiration can come from anywhere and Wilson highlights some effective ingredients for a good creative stew that can dramatically change outcomes. He mentions how disruptions like increased risk, entering a different genre and implementing new elements or partners are all proven methods for developing creativity. Taken a step further, it is your experience, when pushed into a new environment that spark the creative energy that often lead to serendipitous ideas. The businessman who runs for public office, the statistician that becomes a baseball scout and the chemist who opens a restaurant are examples of life experience augmented by a new atmosphere that ignite something extraordinary.

Steve Jobs famously cited a calligraphy class he audited as the impetus for the beautiful fonts in his early computers, which have since been standard features in word processing programs. The cross pollination of ideas and practices from seemingly disparate fields allows us to reexamine our daily assumptions from unfamiliar perspectives. From design to delivery, artistic approaches require creativity and carefully laid plans that are still flexible enough to allow for imaginativeness. The next time I struggle to find a creative push in my work and I pop in my headphones for a little inspiration, I will have deeper appreciation for the process behind the music in my ears.

Veni, Vidi, Vino by Cliff Katz, PACE Cohort 7

Posted in PACE Program / PM POV Podcast Blog / PREP / Project Management on April 16, 2015

Podcast BlogMany of us have our wine preferences, but, most of what I like is based on trial and error and the off chance I remember what particular vintage I imbibed on a given occasion. However, MPS President Kendall Lott’s PMI podcast from the Keswick Winery, found here, further unmasks my already large naïveté of a nearly $100 billion global industry. For many, a glass of wine commences a special occasion, but I now realize that the moment I take my first sip actually concludes a carefully orchestrated balancing act of tuning a variety of unknowns. Ultimately, the glass of wine we consume is the product of a lengthy process that is “part science, part growing, part luck, part artistry.” Unfortunately, my knowledge of viticulture is limited to what is contained in this paragraph and Kendall’s podcast, but the hurdles and roadmap of creating an ideal wine are similar to a passion of mine and many others at MPS: travel.

I suffer from a chronic case of wanderlust. Even on my morning commute, I stare somewhat longingly at the airplanes blasting out of Reagan-National airport en route to a plethora of cities across the US and Canada. Literally and figuratively, I view the world above and below differently from 35,000 feet, and I can relax up there in ways I am not sure I can on the ground. When I travel, I get to know a small part of our world a little bit better, and I feel more connected with myself.

Like Stephen Barnard, the vintner profiled in Kendall’s podcast, any experienced traveler knows the best plans can be instantly rendered worthless. I’ve been held up at immigration repeatedly and have had accommodations go awry late at night in Rome on Easter weekend. I’ve lost an ATM card (recovered three days later) and misconnected baggage, and I’ve gotten sick at inopportune times. I’m sure a quick survey around MPS headquarters would unveil a lengthy list of similar anecdotes.

Like Stephen Barnard and his career with wine, I’ve learned how smart trip preparation gives me much more bandwidth in accommodating for the unexpected road bumps and illnesses that may occur. I can’t always prevent a lost bag or a brief, momentary lapse in judgment, or even how a meal will impact my stomach, but I know how to mitigate and adjust for those instances. Akin to inhaling the aromas from a freshly uncorked bottle of wine, the moment I arrive in a new place and my eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and body are overwhelmed by everything around me is not merely an isolated circumstance but rather the product of a lengthy planning process combined with some carefully tuned improvisation. Like a surprise ingredient in a peculiar glass of wine, the surprising, even if unpleasant, moments and flavors on a trip often turn into the richest stories that are best shared over a bottle.

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