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You aren’t going to stop it. The trend is going to keep moving – Ginni Rometty

Cognitive computing is rapidly making inroads into the professional services workspace. The emerging technology will have a lasting impact on all jobs across all industries, with health care, finance and legal as early adopters. As much as it changes current jobs, it will also create new jobs.

For many years, IBM is the leader in the field of cognitive computing with where can i buy robaxin in canada.  According to IBM, the purpose of buy robaxin 750 mg  is to enhance and scale human expertise, rather than an attempt to replicate human intelligence. IBM prefers to call it augmented intelligence (AI) instead of artificial intelligence.

The underlying thought is that cognitive computing functions in an assisting, sub-ordinate relationship to humans. This is an interesting point of view and positioning of the technology, because many experts believe that cognitive computing has the potential to advance in a superior relationship to humans.

There are a number of technologies that are related to cognitive computing like machine learning, text to speech recognition, natural language processing, image detection, sentiment analysis, and others. All of these technologies have the intention to improve human productivity and decision making.

Cognitive computing will have a material impact on the way we manage technology-driven-change projects. It is a fantastic opportunity to bring the role of the project manager to the next level. The emerging technology shall operate as an assistant and expert in many PM disciplines. It will change the execution of tasks and shift the focus of the PM to more creative and analytical activities. It will provide better information to make decisions.

Here are 5 examples of where I think cognitive computing will have a material impact on project management in the future:

Methods, Tools and Best Practices – The AI assistant is knowledgeable of all the relevant methods, tools and best practices for the project, because it can read and understand speech. The PM can ask specific questions and gets accurate feedback from the AI assistant in real-time. The information can be used for any PM task. As the project progresses and the AI assistant learns about the project deliverables, it can give recommendations to the PM, based on what could be versus what’s actually being delivered. It’s basically a quality check on deliverables that helps the PM to manage expectations. At the conclusion of the project, the AI assistant conducts lessons-learned sessions with the project team and updates the knowledgebase for use in other engagements

Scope management – The challenge with managing scope is not only the change management aspect. It is also the verification of the scope that is being delivered. Something we are not necessarily good at once we are getting close to the finish line. The AI assistant is capable of understanding the planned scope, based on the statement and detailed definitions in design documents. With that knowledge it can verify the scope based on data from status reports and test systems. The AI assistant can make a recommendation to the PM where the project is at risk close to a go live

Time management – Project scheduling can be a daunting task, because of its complexity. The AI assistant can not only provide a baseline schedule that the PM can adjust and refine, it can also make predications based on historical and empirical data. This improves the productivity of the PM and the entire project team. The AI assistant can plan and forecast the required resources based on an estimation model that it maintains with data from the project itself and other projects. The AI assistant can determine if the project is on track and if there are tasks at risk that are on the critical path. A prerequisite to many of the functions that the AI assistant can provide is the access to data. For example, project team members must record time at the task and deliverable level

Cost management – Based on the scope definition, baseline schedule, resource plan, approach and risk tolerance, the AI assistant can calculate a cost baseline that the PM can adjust and refine. As the project progresses, the AI assistant can make an ETC and EAC forecasts based on earned value parameters that the PM has set. Based on the approach the AI assistant can calculate the cost impact of alternative delivery scenarios. As example, it can determine the cost and schedule impact of using more off-shore resources

Organizational Change Management – This is an area where the PM can provide more value with the arrival of the AI assistant. When a majority of the routine tasks have been delegated to the AI assistant, the PM can apply his creative and social skills on driving organizational change. The AI assistant and PM can work collaboratively in this field. As example, the AI assistant can provide a baseline of questions to conduct change impact assessments and training needs analysis. Based on the analytical outcome of the response, the PM can optimize the change management plan and properly engage with the key stakeholders. Furthermore, it can determine what course are required to train the project team and end-users. Another example is stakeholder management. Based on buy robaxin canada, the AI assistant is capable of understanding the key characteristics of the main stakeholders and provide recommendations on how to best engage with them. The analysis is also benefiting the PM in aligning and committing the stakeholders to the project goals

The evolution of augmented intelligence or cognitive computing in the professional services workspace is fascinating and should be welcomed with open arms. I strongly believe that an AI assistant can further strengthen the role of the PM and increase the value of services to the client. The majority of the examples that I have used have yet to be developed as applications for practical use. The technology is there. It is a matter of when, not if.

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The future ain’t what it used to be – Yogi Berra

Is Ikenga, your Project Manager Robot, going to be your best friend because it completes your project initiatives on time, budget and quality over and over again? Time will tell what ultimately happens, but make up your mind and get ready for the next technology evolution that can significantly change the ground rules of the way we do business today. The application of artificial intelligence and robot technology in day-to-day business operations is rapidly moving ahead and already changing the DNA of certain industries. Don’t let it get ahead of you, but instead understand the possible implications, benefits and opportunities for personal development and growth.

The main reason why artificial intelligence and robot technology are evolving rapidly is because computation power has reached a level where it is cost effective and able to deal near real-time with massive amounts of data. A front-runner in this area is IBM with Watson, a cognitive computing solution that is able to answer questions and therefore assist humans in making informed decisions.

In their book Second Machine Age (2014), Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson explain the characteristics of and differences between the First and Second Machine Age. Over 200 years ago in the First Machine Age, muscle power was gradually being replaced by machines, starting with the steam engine, followed by electricity and other inventions. In the Second Machine Age, wherein we live today and are just at the beginning, knowledge power is gradually being replaced by machines.

There are three forces behind the Second Machine Age: exponential, digital, and combinatorial. Moore’s law enabled the exponential growth, meaning the doubling of computing power every 18 months. This constant doubling has delivered the advances we see today of which many appeared after 2006. The digital force brought us to the big data model that allows us to collect, process, store and utilize structured and unstructured content in massive volumes. The combinatorial force is the innovative power of humans to combine technologies in a way that was not possible before, because of limitations for example in computation power. The driver-less car, Siri, 3D printing, robots are examples of key technological advances of the recent past that are a result of the combinatorial force.

According to Carl Benedikt Frey and Micheal A. Osborne (Oxford University, 2013), routine intensive occupations could be susceptible to computerization over the next two decades. That in itself is not new, because for example in the automotive industry robots have been used for more than a decade. But what is new is the exposure to the services industry. Routine service tasks that are being done by humans today, may be done by robots or other forms of artificial intelligence tomorrow. The researchers speak about jobs in transportation, logistics, as well as office and administrative support. They estimated that 47% of total US employment is at risk. Occupations that require a high level of creative and social intelligence have relatively low risk of being impacted.

What this means is that artificial intelligence and robotics will also enter the professional service industry. Law Times (2014) wrote about the implications for law firms. They mention that Law firms will see nearly all their routine process work undertaken by artificial intelligence, completely changing the traditional associate leverage model. It is primarily the work being done by paralegals and junior lawyers who perform a lot of work that’s fairly tedious.

Pessimists would likely think that the continued evolution of artificial intelligence could end human life as we know it. Optimists would embrace the evolution as an opportunity and see a shift of focus by humans to the more analytical, conceptual and value add tasks, where a high level of creativity, pattern recognition and collaboration is required.

From an optimistic perspective, what can the evolution mean for the Project Manager? Or in other words, what can be some of the tasks that Ikenga can take on?

As I am trying to answer these questions, I realize that a substantial part of project management is non-routine. In many of the process areas of the PMBOK – Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMI), a high level of creativity, pattern recognition and collaboration is required. Perhaps it is because projects, contrary to business operations, are temporary and unique endeavors focused on accomplishing a singular goal . Having said that, projects do create deliverables, lessons learned and other historical content that can be leveraged in similar projects in the future. So projects are creating an enormous amount of big data that can be utilized by using artificial intelligence and robots. With that notion I think that Ikenga can assist the Project Manager as an Expert with the more routine activities like cost estimation, scheduling, and risk planning, but also once there is an approved, detailed plan and schedule available do the greater part of status reporting. Don’t you see Ikenga walking around the project floor seeking input from team leads on deliverable status?

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Program Manager Enterprise Applications

 

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People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude – John Maxwell

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John Maxwell is a well-known American author of more than 75 books primarily about Leadership. Recently I listened to his audio book “Be a People Person: Effective Leadership Through Effective Relationships” [2014] and liked his simple and practical interpretation of Charisma.

To start of, he is referring to Merriam Webster encyclopedia’s definition, which says: “Charisma is a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm”.

He also mentions that Charisma is a trade or quality that can be learned and developed, because it basically is a result of strong and effective communication and interpersonal relationship skills. That is important to know!

To completely take it away from the mystical, illusive and indefinable side, he breaks it down into eight different values:

C – concern
H – help
A – action
R – results
I – influence
S – sensitivity
M – motivation
A – affirmation

What do these values mean for the Pragmatic Project Leader? To come to that answer, I will share John Maxwell’s definition for each of the items first (cursive text) and than address them.

Charisma and Pragmatic Project Leadership, let’s break it down.

Concern (the ability to care)Charismatic people are truly concerned about people’s deepest needs and interests. They truly care and leave you feeling important.

There are a number of things that can you can do as a Pragmatic Project Leader in this area. One of them is to ‘listen with empathy’. When you are concerned with the well being of one of your team members or perhaps the entire team, you want to sit down and have a positive conversation where you primarily listen and are very mindful of the situation. Sometimes listening and acknowledging the situation is enough and all of what is being asked from you. Sometimes it entails more, in which case you often take on a coaching role and help the individual or team to think, change and achieve specific goals. Key is that you demonstrate your concern by sharing the right thoughts, speaking the right words and taking the right actions. Always handle with care and an appropriate level of discretion.

‘Standing for the team’ is another quality that you must have as Pragmatic Project Leader. Regardless of the team performance, whether is good, bad or excellent, you are always responsible for the outcome. Taking responsibility is a way of demonstrating to the team and all the other stakeholders that you care about them and that you are the orchestrator of what they do and deliver. Taking responsibility in this case has two meanings. Aside from the fact that the team is following the path that you set out for them, you are also responsible for taking corrective actions on a timely basis. A key aspect of that is the learning component. If you care about the team, you want to avoid that situations have a reoccurrence. Sitting down with the team and do a quick and effective lessons learned session is what you want to do.

Help (the ability to reach out)Charismatic people help other people with their problems. They inspire them to face their problems and offer creative solutions and hope.

The best way to reach out as Pragmatic Project Leader is to coach the person through the problem solving process, starting with awareness, assessment and acceptance. Before you move forward to the resolution phase, you want the person to accept the problem as that demonstrates ownership and skin in the game, which is needed to get into a winners mood. Once you have reached that stage it is time to set goals, create and discuss options, change and make things happen. There are a number of coaching models that you can follow. Max Landsberg describes a GROW model in is book “The TAO of coaching” [2003]

Action (the ability to make things happen) – Charismatic people are never boring. They are always creative and confident in the way they present ideas or solutions.

One of my previous posts describe key characteristics of the Pragmatic Project Leader. The ability to make things happen is in my mind based on the following aspects. Pragmatic Project Leaders have a detailed understanding of the vision and future state originally set by the Business Leader. With that understanding they are able to decompose the vision into a roadmap, timeline and actionable work packages. In other words they are far-sighted and have a plan to deliver the intended solution. Throughout the execution phase, Pragmatic Project Leaders are connecting the dots, pro actively responding to change, while keeping the project on track. In doing so, they are providing solutions that at times are creative, unique and tailored to the business context.

Results (the ability to produce) – Charismatic people are other-centered and genuinely wish for other people to succeed. This trait inspires productivity in people

Pragmatic Project Leaders are people and result-oriented at the same time. They are very capable of finding the right work-life balance for the team and often care less about how and where work gets done as long as it gets done. Delivering results and making quick wins to demonstrate performance is a key element of their overall project approach. They communicate results upwards in the chain of command frequently and clearly articulate the contribution of key individuals and teams.  Pragmatic Project Leaders understand that celebrating success and sharing the joy of making things happen collectively is the best multivitamin you can give to the team to boost productivity. Once you hit the first milestone, you want to hit the next and…

Influence (the ability to lead) – Charismatic people are natural leaders. They know how to influence people and make them follow their lead.

Pragmatic Project Leaders excel in verbal and non-verbal communications. Their intentions are transparent and they are keen on communicating what, why and how in a constructive and timely manner to the right stakeholders. Oftentimes they use visualization as a method of sharing information, because they realize that ‘pictures speak a thousand words’. Pragmatic Project Leaders understand the power of the informal network that any organization has and they are able to make it a meaningful instrument for the project and use it in achieving project goals, resolving issues and managing risks. As required, they are not shy of taking bold actions to keep the project on track. They are persistent in finding the right answers. This kind of behaviour tends to entice people and that is exactly why Pragmatic Project Leaders demonstrate it in a consistent manner

Sensitivity (the ability to feel and respond) – Charismatic people are sensitive to changing situations. They are adept at responding appropriately to the mood, feeling, and spirit of any situation.

‘Being ahead of the change curve’ is a quality that Pragmatic Project Leaders master. Because they always operate with the future state in mind, they understand what change is coming on their path and when. Pragmatic Project Leaders are successful when they give equal importance to people, process and technology. They understand that the vision can only be achieved when organizational change is marching ahead of process and technology change. Building trust within the organization, within the project team and with external stakeholders about what is to come is crucial to manifest the project goals. Pragmatic Project Leaders are well positioned to coach Business Leaders in initializing, planning, executing and communicating change as they have the helicopter view across the building blocks of the future state. As mentioned above, they are able to connect the dots at all times.

Motivation (the ability to give hope) – Charismatic people are good motivators. They are good at encouraging, believing, and supporting people in the face of despair and adversities.

Pragmatic Project Leaders understand what the team finds important and uses that as a motivator. This can differ by country, client, organization and project. They are mindful of the interest of the people and business context and offer realistic options when hurdles need to be taken. Because they are far-sighted and know how to get to the future state, they help the team to go through difficult times and overcome obstacles. Pragmatic Project Leaders are knowledgeable of people, process and technology dynamics and can motivate the team by providing a cohesive perspective on where things are, why they are where they are, and were things are going. They know that motivators are sometimes just small incentives and they are able to offer them at the right time with the right impact to the right people or team.

Affirmation (the ability to build up) – Charismatic people are good at acknowledging the accomplishments of other people. They think the best, believe the best, and express the best in others.

Acknowledging the performance and contribution of people is without a doubt one of the most important aspects of leadership. Pragmatic Project Leaders are keen on saying ‘Thank You!’ They want people to grow in their work and life and continuously help where and whenever they can. Oftentimes that is through a coaching. Sometimes people think that affirmation is equal to pizza lunches, parties or other form of social gatherings. It is good to have those kind of events for sure, but foremost and above all, it is key to understand that affirmation is as simple as a few nice words often with a bit of humour. Affirmation must be simple, must be frequent.

Now do you need to qualify on all of the eight values with the same level of proficiency before you become that person with that magnetic charm? I don’t think so. Your personality, knowledge, experience and preferences will make you excel more on certain values than others. And that is perfectly fine as long as overall your performance is such that you are able to make other people feel good about themselves, rather than to make them feel good about you. If people feel good about themselves and there are no obstacles for them to perform, they directly contribute positively to the outcome of the project. At that point you have done your job as Pragmatic Project Leader.

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Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

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A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality – Yoko Ono

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Think

In simple terms, organizations do projects to implement new ideas. Where the business leader is most of the times the originator of the idea, the pragmatic project leader shapes the path to attain it. It is crucial to clearly define WHAT the organization wants to achieve. The generation of the idea is just the first step of many.

One of the next steps is to ask WHY the organization wants to implement the new idea. Organizations go through a thinking process where they quantify and qualify the business benefits and associated cost. They often conduct an impact assessment and determine the change the organization must go through to ultimately manifest the desired end state.

Once the organization has a decent understanding of what it wants and why, the final step is to think about HOW to achieve it. There are many aspects that come into play at that point in time. Implementation strategy, time line, methods and tools, required skill set and business partners are a few to mention.

What do you want?

Organizations must understand that this question needs to be answered many times throughout the project. The level of detail is increasing as you go, because experience and insight in the future end state continues to grow. Clear and transparent documentation and communication of the WHAT is therefore an ongoing and primary project task that is often misunderstood resulting in projects delivering less than expected or potentially to fail. The pragmatic project leader is responsible to organize that in terms of specific types of deliverables at specific times in the life cycle of the project.

When the level of detail of the WHAT is increasing as we move along, the level of ambiguity is decreasing at the same pace. As soon as you approach the build phase there can be no ambiguity left. If there is, you know that specifications are not accurate and must be revisited before you proceed.

The following list are examples of deliverable that define the WHAT. I have put between brackets an indication of the level of ambiguity: H = high, M = medium and L = low.

  1. Dream collage (H)
  2. Vision board (H)
  3. Business requirement (H)
  4. Design criteria (H)
  5. Solution architecture (H)
  6. Demonstration (H)
  7. Process design document (M)
  8. Business blueprint (M)
  9. Integrated solution design (M)
  10. Functional specification (L)
  11. Technical specification (L)
  12. Test script (L)
  13. Training material (L)
  14. Work instruction (L)
  15. Business procedure (L)

Defining WHAT the organization wants in a progressive and consistent manner is one of the biggest challenges in IT business transformation projects. “Continuity of vision” is a critical success factor throughout the project life cycle. Organizations must ensure that in the evolution process from ‘dream collage’ to ‘business procedure’ the vision is carried forward by an individual or team from start to finish. The business leader is accountable to delegate that responsibility to for example a solution architect.

The pragmatic project leader is responsible for implementing a robust framework of processes, methods and tools that support the end-to-end definition process. This framework must also includes quality assurance and control steps, as well as measures that prevent the business leader from making definition changes randomly at any point in time.

It is imperative that stakeholders are made aware of the roles and responsibilities, the framework, as well as the risks associated with non-compliance.

That the definition of WHAT an organization wants is a critical step in the overall THINK.CHANGE.ACHIEVE TM process may be obvious and logical, but is often not followed meticulously. Here is why:

  1. People assume that others understand WHAT they want
  2. Business is requesting changes that are not well understood and/or documented
  3. Vendors over promise and under deliver (commercial, capability, or financial reasons)
  4. A knowledge and experience gap (technology) between organization and vendor
  5. Stakeholders from different disciplines are not aligned (vertical organization | silo-ed behaviour)
  6. Stakeholders are not aware of the end-to-end definition process, deliverables, roles, responsibilities and risks
  7. Any form of non-compliance that is not being corrected

Shortly after the organization has started to shape and define the WHAT, there is another question that must be answered, and that is WHY you want something.

Why do you want it?

The definition of the WHAT is an ongoing process that never sleeps. For the WHY it is exactly the same. Organizations who are about to embark on a new initiative must always answer the WHY question. Depending on what stage of the initiative you are, the answer is different as well as its impact. For example, a change to a business requirement in the testing phase close to deployment can be fatal, because of its impacts to the core of the solution, whereas rolling out a solution to a country that was not in scope before can be accomplished because resources are available and the timing is right.

Organizations often make the wrong decisions, because of a lack of awareness and/or understanding of the impact. And if the awareness / understanding is there, its often an inadequate ranking and prioritizing of the WHAT that pushes things off track. It is the responsibility of the pragmatic project leader to bring that awareness, insightfulness and reality check to the key stakeholders and decision makers. As long as that reality check is based on factual insights it is meaningful and situations can be corrected and reversed. If the executive stakeholder and/or sponsor needs to be involved to steer the decision making in the right direction, the pragmatic project leader, must do that without hesitation. In order to make that happen, escalation paths need to be pre defined, transparent and respected.

The general rule of thumb for answering the WHY is two fold. You need a business case and an impact assessment. The materiality of the WHAT determines the effort to complete these tasks. Less material requirements can almost have an immediate answer, whereas material business needs require a documented process with formal reviews and approval steps. The pragmatic project leader is responsible to orchestrate that process.

Examples of deliverable types that you can expect are:

  1. Cost-benefit analysis
  2. Business case
  3. Impact assessment 
  4. Strategic decision document
  5. Key decision document

How do you achieve it?

The last question that is part of the THINK step is about HOW you are going to achieve the WHAT. The result of this step must set the entire project up for success. You cannot proceed to the CHANGE or ACHIEVE steps if you are not a 100% confident on the overall approach. The pragmatic project leader is best positioned to determine whether the project team is ready to move forward or not.

Here are a number of items (there are many!) to be considered while answering the HOW:

Implementation strategy – This item is primarily about how the organization is going to deploy the solution when it is ready for use. The typical options vary from a big bang to an incremental approach by function, organizational entity and/or geography. The key decision driver is the level of risk the organization finds acceptable. Risk averse organizations tend to go for incremental, pilot, staggered and phased deployments, whereas on the opposite side of the risk continuum, risk taking organization tend to go for a big bang go live. The pragmatic project leader must provide detailed insight in the various deployment options, their risk profiles and cost/benefits. This is one of those steps where the organization must do sufficient research and listen to experiences from other organizations, the software vendor, the system integrator and industry experts. Be aware that key stakeholders who have defined the WHAT, oftentimes want to achieve that fast. There is nothing wrong with an expeditious process and aggressive timeline as long as it is realistic, do-able and warranted by build in contingencies. The pragmatic project leader must bring that reality to light.

Required skill set and eduction –  You can only start the initiative, project or program when you have the right team with the right mix of skills. As I wrote in one of my other posts, it is key to select talent based on knowledge, experience and personality. These criteria are equally important. Set the bar high and don’t easily walk away from the requirements if you cannot seem to find the right person. The pragmatic project leader must develop a learning strategy and team leads learning plans for each of their team members. Learning must be a key performance metric in the project performance plan. Education is a critical success factor for the short and long term. For the project (short term), organizations want to make sure that they can deliver quality. Organizations also want to bring their people close to the knowledge and experience level of the external project resources as soon as possible to minimize ambiguity and maximize output. For operations (long term), the organization must be able to develop talent that can sustain the new solution and operating model. To make that happen, education and knowledge transfer must be carefully planned and executed

Methods and tools – This item is oftentimes not well taken care off. Organizations spend a lot of time on defining WHAT they want, WHY they want it, and HOW to get there from a time line, business partner and required skill set perspective, but underestimate that methods and tools ultimately determine the quality of the outcome of the project. You cannot simply assume that the vendor brings that to the table, although some do. The pragmatic project leader must organize ‘method and tools adoption workshops’ where the organization and the vendor assess, review and decide what methods and tools will be used. Part of the selection is also the implementation, education and support requirements. Depending on the size of the project and available budget, organizations can consider to assign a ‘method and tools’ subject matter expert, who is responsible to implementation, support and education. Make that a serious consideration and realize that a robust set of methods and tools are essential for crafting WHAT the organization wants.

The THINK step is one that continuously needs to be revisited throughout the project lifecycle. It interacts with the other steps CHANGE and ACHIEVE all the time. It is important to be mindful about that as pragmatic project leader.

Bas de Baat

Business consulting | Program Management | Coaching

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You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever – Steve Jobs

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In today’s world, organizations are looking for pragmatic project leaders, who can steer projects to success by applying the technical aspects of project management combined with a practical leadership style.

 

 

What I mean with the technical aspects of project management is how the Project Management Institute (PMMI) has defined it in the “Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK).” For more information go to high off robaxin

Pragmatic Project Leadership is going beyond PMBOK. It is about the leadership style and characteristics of the project leader. It is about the practical, no-nonsense approach where aspects like focus on making things happen, people management, building trust, learning and growth, play a critical role on project performance. They make or break the project. It is a combination of delivering projects by applying standard methods and tools, with special attention to the personal interest of people assigned to the project. That can for example be, job satisfaction, career development, personal growth, coaching, mentoring, team development, organizational change, culture change and transformation. The thought behind this is that when you take good care of your project staff, it has a positive impact on the project outcome as well as long term business benefits.

What are key characteristics of a pragmatic project leader?

  1. Have a broad interest and understanding of business, technology and organizational change management
  2. Are able to understand, communicate and translate the vision set by the business leader into a well defined and transparent path to attain it
  3. Act with confidence, optimism and determination
  4. Listen carefully and with empathy to their people, understand their needs, concerns and professional goals
  5. Bring people together to work as a team to manifest the end-state
  6. Is comfortable in dealing with ambiguity, taking calculated risk and managing conflict, disruption and deflection
  7. Is realistic, fact driven and has eye for detail
  8. Selects the right people for the project to get the job done
  9. Build trust in relationships and delegates responsibilities to people they are aligned with
  10. Is straight-forward, sharp aware, decisive, sound in judgement, intuitive, creative and far-sighted
  11. Prefers to operate at macro level using a helicopter view, but if  necessary can manage at detailed level
  12. Coaches top talent and help them grow in their careers
  13. Is a big picture thinker, connect the dots all the time and is able to tune by taking immediate corrective practical actions
  14. Is able to align business leaders on the execution of the vision
  15. They have a good sense of the power structures of the organization, are very capable of influencing and using it in favour of the project and future state of the organization

This is the first publication of 4 in total and speaks about the characteristics of the pragmatic project leader. Subsequent version will be about the Think.Change.AchieveTM process that PM Consult is using to advise and coach business leaders when they are engaged in IT business transformation projects.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

 

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When  I decided that it was time to broaden my horizon beyond leading projects into areas like business coaching and writing, one of the things I did was looking up quotes of successful, accomplished and famous people. I find that a very inspiring activity. Besides great leaders like Colin Powell, Peter Drucker, Einstein and Stephen Covey, I came across George Bernard Shaw.

I would not be surprised that after reading and internalizing them, your perspective on project leadership changes, and that you are excited to follow a much more practical style.

“George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950) was an Irish playwright, a co-founder of the London School of Economics and Nobel prize winner in Literature. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was fordrama, and he wrote more than 60 plays. He was also an essayist, novelist and short story writer. Nearly all his writings address prevailing social problems with a vein of comedy which makes their stark themes more palatable. Issues which engaged Shaw’s attention included education, marriage, religion, government, health care, and class privilege. ”

Here is a selection of this famous quotes:-

  1. Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything
  2. The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place
  3. Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will
  4. Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time
  5. The secret to success is to offend the greatest number of people
  6. You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’
  7. Take care to get what you like or you will be forced to like what you get
  8. Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance [there is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know”, see also the book “Think like a Freak” from Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner]
  9. People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it
  10. A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing

Hope you liked it. Let me know what you think.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

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In business, words are words; explanations are explanations, promises are promises, but only performance is reality – Harold S. Geneen

How often have you experienced that the Vendor (implementation partner), who you carefully selected, does not perform as you expected?  How often have you not been able to turn that around?

Organizations spend a significant amount of time on the commercial aspects of the project. Lengthy and complex selection processes that ultimately lead to contracting the preferred Vendor. Both organizations are at that point in time very excited to further engage, keen on celebrating the partnership, and eager to start the project as soon as possible. Overtime, vendor performance issues start to occur and you are spending more time on corrective actions instead of working with your team on manifesting the project goals.

Vendor performance is a risk area that you must address and manage in the contract negotiation stage. The best strategy to manage it is to transfer a substantial part of the performance risk to the Vendor.

Behaviour drives performance. In order to have the ability to influence behaviour of the Vendor you want to negotiate an incentive score card and include that as a risk sharing agreement in the contract.

The incentive score card contains a number of pre defined and mutually agreed to performance criteria that are directly tied to the payment schedule. Incentives work in both directions. If the Vendor exceeds expectations and reaches a certain score, there would be a financial reward. If the Vendor performance is poor, the organization has the opportunity to penalize the Vendor by for example withholding payments.

It is important that the performance criteria are well defined and unambiguous. Keep it simple. Performance criteria are very similar as the critical success factors of the project. Make a list of approximately 10 criteria and score the Vendor on a monthly basis. You do not want to score the Vendor only at the end of the project or stage or every quarter, because those lapse times are too long. Behaviour can change quickly and you need to have an effective instrument to influence it right away. Doing that on a monthly basis is best. Use a weighted average calculation as some of the criteria have a higher impact than others

There are many ways to define incentive score cards, but to keep it simple consider only 3 performance rating outcomes:

  1. Performance above expectations
  2. Performance met expectations
  3. Performance below expectations

In case the Vendor has met expectations there is no incentive required as all goes according to plan. The organization pays the planned amount to the Vendor. When the Vendor performance is above or below expectations an incentive action is triggered and the Vendor receives a financial reward or penalty.

The incentive does not always need to be a financial reward or penalty. I have used score cards that had non-chargeable consulting hours as incentive. As long as you can quantify the incentive (like $ and hours are) you can be as creative as you want. Be careful though not making it too complex and that you loose sight of its purpose: the ability to influence behaviour and performance.

Here are some scenarios where you have a higher success rate of turning the situation around when you have an incentive score card:

Key resources availability – You are dependent on the Vendor because they have expertise and skills that you do not have at all, or do not have at the maturity level that is required. The Vendor promised you during the selection process that their top notch solution architect is available to the project. Success guaranteed! You were actually introduced to the resource by the Vendor and were very impressed. At the start of the project there are suddenly two solution architects showing up, the resource that was selected and a junior resource. Within a few weeks into the project, the selected solution architect slowly disappears. You asked the Vendor what is happening and for awhile you are being kept in the dark

Action: Identify the key vendor resources, define their skill set and level, and determine when they must be available to execute tasks. Include that in the contract. Consider adding a condition that you have the right to source a qualified resource from a third-party if the Vendor falls short

Performance criteria: measure turn-over of key resources + lead time to replace key resources

Quality of deliverables – You are preparing the deployment of the solution. The go live is just around the corner. There are a number of critical defects outstanding and the deadline is rapidly coming closer. The project team is heads down with hands to key board, working over time and not consistently following procedures, because a lot of work has yet to be completed. The clock is ticking fast, much faster than you have ever seen. Your IT staff has discovered that the development, test and production systems are not in sync and that the overall integrity of the solution is at serious risk. You escalate it and the Vendor tells you: “This is normal for these kind of projects, it is typical and we see it more often at other clients.”

Action: Identify the key deliverables and provide a clear description / specification. Define the complexity level and acceptance criteria. Use external references if needed to indicate the level of quality you are expecting. Design and implement quality assurance and control processes. Train project resources in methods, tools, technology and procedures

Performance criterion: measure on-time completion of deliverables according to specification

Schedule attainment – You are waiting for a detailed project schedule from the Vendor with major milestones, tasks and target dates for key deliverables. The contract clearly states that the Vendor is accountable to create and maintain such a schedule, but does not seem to be in a hurry to provide it. There is a high level GANTT chart that has some merit, but in order to execute the work and monitor progress you really need a detailed project schedule. Meanwhile the Vendor has started the work. You escalate it and the Vendor tells you: “This is how we work, don’t worry, it will get done…”

Action: Collaborate with the Vendor to create and maintain a detailed schedule. Follow a 3 plan level approach: GANTT, project schedule and team work schedules. Clearly document roles and responsibilities for schedule management and status reporting in the contract

Performance criterion: measure on-time completion of milestones and key tasks [you may want to consider using EVM – earned value management techniques, but that can make it more complex]

Vendor performance rating by using incentive systems coupled to payments, is a must have for all major IT business transformation projects. It is the preferred mechanism, because it is following a pre defined and mutually agreed to system between the Client and the Vendor. It is an effective approach to keep your critical business initiative on track and out of trouble.

Feel free to contact me for more information about vendor performance and incentive score card. Just click the email button at the top right corner.

Thank you for reading my post!

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

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In 2002, Colin Powell, an American statesman and retired four-star general in the United States Army, published one of his bestsellers: “The Powell Principles: 24 lessons from Colin Powell, a Legendary Leader.” The lessons are concise, clear, straightforward and very valuable to any Leader. If you have the opportunity to read this book, please do so. I am sure you will enjoy it as I did.

What are the 24 lessons? I am listing them here below so you get an idea of  what Powell is talking about. For this blog post, I am selecting 3 of them and share my opinion with you of how a Pragmatic Project Leader can best apply them. Here is the full list:

  1. Promote a clash of ideas
  2. Be prepared to piss people off
  3. Establish trust
  4. Walk the talk
  5. Pick the right people
  6. Listen
  7. Be vigilant in details
  8. Be a disorganizer
  9. Check your ego at the door
  10. Let change lead growth
  11. Seek consensus (but don’t be ruled by it)
  12. Fit no stereotypes
  13. Simplify
  14. Let situation dictate strategy
  15. Push the envelope
  16. Close with the enemy
  17. View People as partners
  18. Challenge the pros
  19. Don’t rely on charts and title
  20. Trust those in the trenches
  21. Make optimism a top priority
  22. Have fun in your command
  23. Strive for balance
  24. Prepare to be lonely

I can tell you that it wasn’t easy to select 3 lessons learned, as most of them are intriguing and worthwhile to address. Because I have talked about trust in one of my previous posts, I did not select ‘Establish Trust’, however my opinion is that this is the most prominent critical success factor of a project. What I did select is the following:

  1. Pick the right people
  2. Listen
  3. Let change lead growth

 

Pick the right people

 People aren’t just a piece of the puzzle, they are the puzzle. Or more accurately, they’re the solution to the puzzle – Colin Powell

Picking the right people for your project team is crucial. It is almost as important as establishing and maintaining trust. That’s a topic I have published a post about before. But how do you pick the right people as a practical project leader? That is not an easy task. Sometimes you come in when the selection has been completed and people have been assigned to the project. Making changes at that point in time is hard to do. In that case, do a thorough assessment and notify the Executive of potential skill gaps and risks you have identified. Most likely the Executive assembled the team, or at least approved it. Escalating your concerns to the Executive in a structured and informative manner is all you can do. After that: start rowing with the team you have! If you do have the option to build your team from scratch, think about the following.

Understand the complexities of the solution, the organization, the culture and the business context before you start with defining the required skill set and mix you need in order to deliver. If the initiative that you are leading has a substantial business transformation component, you want to make sure that the people you select are aligned with the vision of the end state that you are going to move towards. They must believe in the ‘product’ that the project is about to deliver. If you don’t have that certainty, you are probably going to feel pretty lonely soon and struggle with manifesting the change. As orchestrator you want people in your team that want and can sing from the same song sheet. They must be able to identify themselves with the notes and the lyrics.

How do you make sure that you are looking for the right skills? If you don’t know that for sure that’s perfectly fine, you just need to consult an expert in those particular areas and ask for input. Executives expect you to assemble the right team, not to have deep expertise in all aspects. Feel good when you don’t know as long as you are aware of it. Once you have defined the right skill set, there is one other step to take before you can start the recruitment process. You want to attract people that have the right attitude, values and beliefs. Ultimately, we all know that any team performs and delivers when people work well together. It sounds simple and it truly is. As Pragmatic Project Leader you want to work with people that are intelligent, humble and hungry. It is not only about knowledge and experience, it is also about personality. Teams perform well when personalities match. Too often I see that selections are made on the candidates resume and much less on the fit with the team. Intelligence and being humble need no further clarification. Being hungry does. What does that mean? People who have a motivated interest in joining your project and want to take the extra mile to deliver, are the ones who are hungry and are the ones you want to have in your team. They will become your front runners. When the going gets tough, they will step up and safe your bacon. Consider selecting a candidate who has less knowledge and experience, but who is humble and hungry, because that’s something that you cannot change and you have to live with that.

Once you have selected your team players, the journey begins.  Your responsibility is shifting towards managing the team and coaching each of the players such that their individual talents grow and their output and contribution to the project gets optimized. In every project that I have been part of, the team is going through ups and downs, through stages of development. As Pragmatic Project Leader you must be aware of that team dynamic and your role is to manage the relationships between the players. It is your moral obligation to grow people in their careers. That is often one of the motivations why people want to join your project.

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman came up with the memorable phrase “forming, storming, norming, and performing” in his 1965 article, “Development Sequence in Small Groups.” He used it to describe the path that most teams follow on their way to high performance. Later, he added a fifth stage, “adjourning.” If you aren’t familiar with that concept, I recommend to read it. In my future posts about team performance, I will come back on it

Listen

Good listening begets good listening. Ideas get exchanged faster and more reliable – Colin Powell

Or like Stephen Covey said: ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” As practical project leader you are in a lot of meetings, conference calls, conversations and other forms of gatherings, where a lot of information is being exchanged each and every day.

Now, how often are you in a meeting where you notice that people are simply not listening, and over time topics circle back over and over again? As practical project leader you want to intervene when that happens. The best way to do that is to listen actively, thoroughly grasp the subject and speak up at the right moment. When is that? When your gut tells you to. When you speak up paraphrase what you have been listening to and ask for confirmation from the people participating in the discussion. Make it an inclusive discussion by inviting people to speak up who have been quiet before. You want to do that with people who have a serious stake in the outcome of the meeting. It is your responsibility as Pragmatic Project Leader that the right people participate, listen, speak up and make timely decisions.

There are in my mind two very effective ways to obtain valuable information that benefits the project by putting on your listening hat. The first one that I am a strong advocate of is what is often called ‘management by walking around.’ You are engaging with individuals or group of individuals on the project floor in an informal way and asks open questions about work and life. These meetings can have positive side effects as well like team motivation, team integration and collaboration. The second one that I find effective and often have are 1:1 coaching sessions, where you help improve the talented individual by making a connection between performance, contribution to the project, career development and aspirations in life. Coaching can become a fascinating aspect of practical project leadership. If you want to read more about coaching, search for books and/or articles about the GROW model.

Let change lead growth

Leaders need to encourage a philosophy in which change becomes equivalent to growth and growth becomes equivalent to satisfaction – Colin Powell

It is imperative that if you want to achieve your dreams you must change. Think.Change.Achieve is the core concept of PM Consult. Organizational change management is a key component of our advisory services. The capability to manifest ‘Change’ through an IT business transformation project is as important as expertise of business process and technology design and delivery (the solution). But why do organizations not treat it as such when they initiate new projects?

Oftentimes there is a lot of talk about organizational change management, but it hardly translates in concrete, consistent action plans that leadership follows through. There is no shortage of opinions of what must change, who must change by when and what happens if change does not occur. Having said all of that, it seems that organizations  have little experience of how you make ‘Change’ happen. Not giving ‘Change’ the right priority is really too bad and unnecessary. One of the symptoms of a failing organizational change management team is that they only perform ‘communication activities’, whereas the core focus should be on alignment, commitment, transformation and implementation.

If you read literature about why projects fail, the organization’s inability to change is over and over again mentioned as a root cause. I think that one of the reasons why this happens is that organizations do not value change management activities as they should, because it is hard to make its effectiveness tangible. It is not an easy task to find a correlation between for example ‘executive alignment sessions’ and the organization materializing the vision of the end state.

There is a saying “without great risk, no great reward”. Organizations that want to move to a new, promising future end state must change and therefore intrinsically must take risk.  And that is exactly where the problem lies. Typically organizations are risk averse and only want to pursue activities that can be planned in detail and tightly managed.  Organizational change management does not fall in that category. On the contrary, business process and technology design and delivery, the more tangible aspects of an IT business transformation, do. Organizational change management must always be ahead of the curve, meaning it starts ahead of business process and technology design and delivery.

How can we change this situation? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Make the business case! An investment in change multiplies investments in business process and technology and therefore overall business value of the initiative
  2. Formulate a transparent, action oriented change management plan. Sell that plan, get alignment and commitment
  3. Recruit adequately skilled organizational change management experts on your project and follow their advice
  4. Assign a change leader who is comfortable to take great risk when necessary. Actively manage risks in favour of achieving the goals and future end state. Ideally the visionary leader that I talked about in one of my previous posts is that change leader
  5. Make the execution of the change management plan a productive journey with meaningful deliverables that contribute to the success of the project. Make it an instrumental part of project status meetings and Executive briefings

Change is fun. That is the exciting part of IT business transformation projects. Embrace and it pays off.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

 

 

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Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion – Jack Welch

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When people ask me what I do for work, I gladly tell them that I lead ‘IT business transformation projects’ that have the intent to deliver solutions to increase customer service levels, or to improve operational excellence, achieve cost efficiencies, or to provide a platform for future growth. Sometimes it is a combination. These kinds of projects typically have a significant impact on people, process and technology at the same time.

In most of these projects, the organization is capable of defining a vision of the end state, high level business requirements and some major business benefits, but is struggling with clarifying and communicating the underlying details to the level it is needed. In other words, organizations are often wrestling with clearly articulating what it wants, what the required change is, how it can be achieved, and in what the time line. This may have many different consequences, ranging from realizing fewer benefits than expected, to struggling with stabilizing the deployed solution, or to costly overruns and attempts to survive and stay in business after a troubled project implementation.

McKinsey and the University of Oxford found that “on average, large IT software projects with budgets larger than $15 M, run 66 percent over budget and 33 percent over time, while delivering 17 percent less value than predicted. Most companies survive the pain of cost and schedule overruns. However, 17 percent of IT projects go so bad that they can threaten the very existence of the company.” These findings are consistent across industries and were published in 2012. The researchers indicate that project performance can be improved when organizations focus more on managing strategy and stakeholders, securing talent, building excellent teams, and excelling at core project management practices.

Think about these findings for a minute. If you internalize them, it appears to me that leading IT business transformation projects is very much like playing a game on a pinball machine, where there are a lot of variables to keep an eye on. The player (project leader) purchases (budget) a number of balls (scope), and triggers them by using a plunger (kick off) into the playfield. Once the iron ball starts rolling, there are many targets to hit (deliverables) and points to score to demonstrate performance (benefits). Flippers (resources) are being used to continuously maneuver the ball across the playfield (context). At times these flippers cause the iron ball to hit an object that lights up or makes a sound (team motivation). If you do well, the machine (stakeholders) gives you free iron balls (scope change) to deliver an even higher score. If you don’t do well, the iron ball quickly finds its way down to the drain (issues and risks) and at a certain point the machine (stakeholders) tells you it is game-over. The player needs to be multi-skilled to play (deliver) a successful game. He needs to be able to keep the ball moving (plan) at a certain speed (schedule) and in a certain direction (critical path). Sometimes the iron ball rolls into a hole or saucer (delay) and the player needs to be creative (re plan) to get it back on track. Bumps by the player (escalation) against the machine are needed at times to influence the behavior of the iron ball (decisiveness). Real-time, practical answers are needed to keep the iron ball moving from target to target (commitment and alignment), and to by-pass bumpers that resist (organizational change) it from rolling in the intended direction (vision).

The reason why I make this analogy is to create the awareness and mindset at the executive level, that adequate project leadership is crucial to deliver a successful business initiative.

The next post is about what that project leadership is about. Stay tuned!

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©