Book Review: From Projects to Programs, a Program Manager’s Journey

  • Can you define Program Management?
  • How different is it from Project Management?
  • What does a Program Manager ‘do’ if they are not managing the projects in their program?

Those are a few of the questions that a new Program Manager would be looking to answer when they open From Projects to Programs, A Program Manager’s Journey, by  Samir Penkar, PMP, CSM.  Outside of the Standard for Program Management, most new Program Managers seemed to be on their own in figuring their roles. Until now.

When you start the book, our hero, Susan Codwell, takes a stab at the definition by writing down the following list of words:

“Oversight, oversee, orchestra conductor, communicator, benefits focused, manage uncertainty, strategy alignment, stakeholder engagement, governance, program cadence, risk management, resource optimization, manager of project managers, financial management, mentoring, creating accountability, leading multidiscipline teams, interface with senior management, competency in project management discipline and integration management.”

It seems like a lot, doesn’t it?  Not to worry – Susan will walk through most of these roles during the story and give you an inside glimpse on her choices and decisions.

It’s this inside view that makes the book unique.  As Susan learns how to step back from the Project Manager’s perspective and look at her program as a whole, you can take notes in the margin on how she evolves.

With your front row view of her program, you can see how a Program Manager picks up a large, undefined set of projects and begins to create a governance structure and the processes she needs to track program benefits.

While the story is useful for walking through her thought process and learning, I found the interviews and resources in the Appendix to be almost as valuable as the story.  The Appendix provided two interviews with program managers, a brief Agile Primer and resources to help define and track your program benefits and a short article on how the role of a PMO.

In the end, Susan Codwell boiled her long list of Program Management responsibilities into three core focus areas for a strong Program Manager.

  • Governance
  • Benefits Management
  • Integration

At the end of her story, she is successful and we have a few nuggets of wisdom on how to be a program manager, but a few nagging questions remain.  Our character never really faced / worked through a problem in the plot.  So the new Program Manager would be  left with a few open questions:

  • What are warning signs of a program in trouble?
  • What happens if my PMs are struggling?
  • How do I manage stakeholders who don’t like some of the program’s benefits?

On the other hand, there  aren’t many books out there that can help a PM in the middle of Transitioning into a Program Manager role.  For an introduction to the world of Program Management, this book is a good place to start.  Have you read any other Program Management books you’d recommend?  Leave a comment, send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

A Project is an Act of Creation

Quote

A project is an act of creation, whether it simply repeats a product that has been made before or boldly attempts something novel…. The process of creating involves both originality and appropriateness. An original thought is nice, but if it doesn’t fit anywhere, it is simply noise. An original thought that solves a nagging problem or resolves uncertainty – and is therefore an appropriate original thought – is a thought that has value…. Contemporary projects demand creativity, not only to make innovative products, but also to solve complex social relationships and to work around challenging boundary limits. – Right Brain Project Management, B. Michael Aucoin

Manage Conflict Through Discovery?

There’s more than one way to skin a cat.Remyonmybooks

This is a very old saying essentially meaning there is more than one way to get to your goal.

Most people would agree with that idea, but how many people actually believe it?

It certainly is easy to say.

Can you be as flexible when you find yourself in conflict with someone with an opposing point of view?  How do you respond to someone who objects to your plans?   

Caught up in the drama, your view of the conflict could look more like Godzilla versus Mothra.  But I assure you – the view from outside looks more like two dwarves mud wrestling.  And while that might be a spectacle, it won’t help you move your project along.

Avoid the spectacle by changing your paradigm:
In The Magic of Conflict, written by Thomas F Crum, Crum recommends that instead of jumping in the mud, you take a step back and look at the situation in a different way.
Instead of coming at them from attack mode.
Shift into Discovery mode:

When you discover something you don’t need to defend it or attack others ideas about it.  From this perspective you are open to have your beliefs changed.  There is no attachment.  If you’re looking at a risk or a problem – you can be in perpetual learner’s mode.  Not ‘knowing anything’ as a certainty – and open to the different perspective.

When you discover something you don’t need to prove the other viewpoint wrong.  You want to learn more about the different idea.  Instead of judging it, you are free to truly listen to the other perspective.

When you discover something your focus isn’t on yourself…or being perfect.  You are more willing to take risks and make mistakes in  an attempt to explore different options. As Crum writes, “The power of discovery encourages us to explore solutions rather than spend excess energy on blame and justification.”

When you find yourself caught up in a drama with someone – instead of looking for ways to prove them wrong or justify yourself, step back and change your perspective.

If you’re willing to look at your situation through the eyes of discovery, you may find another way to achieve your goal…or you may learn something new.

Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Meeting Manners: 3 Project Management Hacks

I’m always searching for new hacks for Project Management.  This past week I ran across two from different sources: one from Inc magazine, another from SPAM.  Since three really is a better number, I thought I’d throw in a third that is a long-time best practice.  You have a minute to guess what it is…

So here we go:
1. Acting Immediately on Meeting Takeaways
Writing about a meeting hack that he claims has saved him 900 hours this year alone, Dave Kerpen recommends the following: Take the last few minutes of your meeting to review action items.  This isn’t new.  But taking immediate action on your actions is.  Read his article here.  After a few days of trialing this hack, I have to admit that this was far more effective than circling back to my minutes several hours later to follow up on actions.

2. Mind-maps to Capture Decisions
If you’ve been a Project Manager long enough, you’ll have had to transition a project to another project manager or to another team.  While scrolling and deleting piles of spam this week, I came across a suggested hack to capture Project Decisions.  Rather than use an Excel spreadsheet, he suggested that the PM use a Mind Map so that another manager could see in a glance:
1. The stakeholders involved
2. The reasoning behind the decision
3. The pros and cons of the decision

It was a random piece of SPAM probably trying to sell me some mind mapping software, but the idea is a keeper.  Documenting a decision in an excel spreadsheet or a bulleted list is fine for what it’s worth.  But when you’re trying to transition a project, it can be useful for the newcomer to know more of the history, the politics and the things that are not said or can’t be said.  A visual display of the decision might provide more detail than a bulleted list, proving that a picture is worth a thousand words.

And finally, the one you probably already guessed…
3. The Agenda – Your Friend and Mine
Finally, the last hack I wanted to mention is not a new idea.  Most meeting facilitiators are familiar with the idea.  You know the meetings that seem to have no focus and drag on unless someone leaves? This is what was missing.  I am happy to say that where I work – our PMO’s leadership has ‘strongly communicated’ that our meetings should not be without an agenda, but I know that out there, somewhere, some hapless person clicks on the Outlook Meeting button and puts a meeting on two or more people’s calendar without an agenda in the body of the meeting invite.

One-line explanations in the meeting notice don’t tend to make up for this gap in expectation.  An agenda that shows your topic, your progression and provides the reader with the impression that you intend to have a set of actions that result from the discussion resolves the anxiety that others may feel.  Think of it from their perspective: you are taking time from what they view as critical and you’re not telling them why you want them to dial into a 30 to 60 minute meeting.

When I was a very young project manager I was guilty of this.  Thankfully, I have passed from this to better things and hope to keep improving my meeting manners.

Have you come across any helpful PM hacks lately?  Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Give Yourself the Gift of Patience

EyeballDo you have the patience to wait
until your mud settles and the water is clear? 

- Tao Te Ching

 

 

 


 

Last Saturday I had plans to go downtown to see the opening of the Chicago Art Institute’s new installation of Magritte.

  • I had purchased a Membership to get in early
  • I had reserved a parking spot
  • I had checked my purse to see it fit their size requirements
  • I went to the library to print my Membership receipt to get a temporary Membership card so I could get in as a Member
  • I found directions via Google Drive
  • I put together a mental checklist/ timetable to get out of my house on time

THE DAY OF MAGRITTE:
I woke up.
I started stepping through my mental checklist.  So far, so good.  Dressed and ready to leave.  8:15 on the dot.
My plan was to get there by 10am with time to leisurely walk to the museum.*
I walked over to the keypad to set my alarm.  And it was frozen.
Nothing was working.  8:30 am and daylight was burning.

I called my provider, listened to the please hold message for a minute and a half…and the line disconnected me. 

I called them a second time. Hung on for another minute and half…and the line disconnected me.

The third time I put my cell on speaker and someone picked up.

After I reached someone, they tried to walk me through resetting my system, but we ran into a roadblock:  I couldn’t unscrew the back of the keypad because it had tiny screws.

And my tiny screwdriver kit was missing.  

I searched for it for 5 minutes while the lady hung on the line.

At this point, it was 9:15 and I was a little anxious.
Ok, I admit I was furious.

I thanked the lady, scheduled an appointment to have a technician come out and hung up.

I kept digging through my kitchen drawers and finally found a screwdriver tiny enough to unscrew the back of the console and rebooted my keypad.
Halleujah I was back in business!

I was still furious, but I had learned one thing:

 

Sometimes patience is a gift that you give yourself.

 

I could have blown a gasket

  • When I got the audio message: “You have a ton of other people in front of you”
  • When the line disconnected me twice
  • When the the lady made me walk through powering up my modem and router – when the problem was the keypad
  • When I went to look for the missing screwdriver kit
  • When she signed me up for a technician visit that I would have had to pay for

You always have multiple opportunities to lose yourself in the drama – “Nothing is working like I expected.”   

Give yourself the gift of patience.  Patience…
1. Prevents you from jumping to conclusions
2. Gives you space to respond
3. Allows you to be diligent in ensuring that the little things get done

And above all, it keeps you from ruining your day.
I was a little late to the museum, but I was able to be one of first in Chicago to see the new Magritte exhibit.  And it was wonderful.

Have you given yourself the gift of Patience lately?  Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

* Sure I didn’t need all that time to get downtown, but I know my method of navigating space: I drive in circles until I find myself in the right place.

Critical Customer Requirements or Understanding Remy

RemyonmybooksRemy-chan is my one-eared white fluffy cat.*  He’s lived with me for over 10 years.

Keeping Remy happy and giving him a quality environment is very simple:

  1. Feed him cat treats every morning at 6am and 8:30 pm every evening
  2. Fill the cat food bowl to the brim daily
  3. Refill the water bowl daily
  4. Empty the litter box daily……And most importantly:
  5. Feed him canned food for dinner every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

If I miss #2 or #3, Remy’s eyes may sparkle a little less, he might meow at me reproachfully, but the world is not ending.

if I miss #4, Remy will pick fights with my other cat to get him to stay away from the limited space in the box.  No Litter No Peace.

If I miss #5 and fail to feed him canned food on the weekends, I will wake up to an angry cat and am likely to see a one or more hairballs because he hyperventilated out of irritation.

All five of these things are important, but not all of them are equally important to Remy.  If I want to keep Remy happy I have to prioritize the critical items he believes are important.  You can guess which requirements are Remy’s Highest Priority Critical Customer Requirements.

Your customers all have requirements that they have communicated to you.  All of them are NOT equally important.  You could be on target with 8 out 10 of their requirements and miss the one or two that are their CCRs and lose some of their goodwill.

I’ll keep this short:

  1. When you’re defining the scope of your project, make sure you understand which requirements are critical.
  2. After you’ve defined our scope, make sure your plan builds those CCRs in.  Hoping that I’ll have enough canned cat food at the end of the week will not guarantee that Remy will have canned cat food for dinner. Planning to buy cat food every Saturday and keeping a reserve keeps cat food in the house.

It’s important to understand your customer’s view of a Quality deliverable. But it’s even better to understand how they prioritize their requirements.  Don’t guess which is more important – sometimes the only way you can find out is to ask.

Leave a comment or send me a tweet.  My id is @jgodfrey.

* Remy lost his right ear in 2008 due to a bout with cancer

Project Management Coaching Workbook: Book Review

Self-improvement doesn’t happen by chance or by accident.

However, if you don’t have any place to start from and nothing to set a goal against, the odds are that your desire for improvement will go nowhere.  In order to put together a plan to move forward, you need something to  measure your progress against.  

And there lies the problem.  

After a PM has achieved their Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, it can be hard to find a standard to set goals or gauge your improvement against.  Where do you find a good benchmark of progress?

Resources at Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

A couple of weeks back, I recommended Personal Effectiveness in Project Management as a good resource to use as a personal effectiveness benchmark.  Professor Wong’s book helps PMs look at what internal motivations or behaviors that prevent her from growing/ achieving more.

On the other end of the spectrum, The Project Management Coaching Workbook, written by Susanne Madsen, is another resource that will help you look at personal effectiveness through the lens of a more project management process-focused model.  Madsen’s book focuses on the external processes that if implemented well, result in a successful project.

Madsen identifies 10 project management themes that are critical for effective project management that anyone can use to develop goals and track improvement against:

  • Managing Product Quality
  • Tracking Cost & Schedule
  • Risk, Issue & Scope Management
  • Managing & Motivating the Team
  • Stakeholder Relationships and Communication
  • Self-Management
  • Leadership Behavior
  • Project Stability and Identity
  • Skills & Knowledge
  • Project Initiation & Planning

The key benefit to Madsen’s book that it gives the reader a guide on ‘what to do’ to be a better project manager.  Personal Effectiveness serves as a guide on ‘how to manage yourself’ so that you can be more effective as a project manager.  In my opinion, I think both are valuable and can be used to improve your personal effectiveness as a PM.

How does it work?

So how does Madsen’s ‘Project Management effectiveness gauge’ work?
Using a spider diagram, Madsen asks her readers to gauge their performance against the 10 themes.  She asks PMs to…

1) Imagine what a 10 out of 10 score would look like on your project: what would you be doing or feeling?
2) Perform your own self-assessment against the themes
3) Check your self-assessment against someone else’s feedback

Looking inward first, then reaching out to others provide their input, the PM will be able to get a clearer sense of the areas they need to focus on.

Why Read the Book?

I recommend the book because:
1. It is focused on Project Management processes.
2. It includes Team / Stakeholder management as a critical aspect of project success
3. It seems like an excellent book to be read alongside the internal focus of Personal Effectiveness for Project Management.

So if you’re looking for a book to help guide you in your personal development planning, The Project Management Coaching Workbook would be an excellent resource for both the beginner and seasoned project manager.  Do you know of another book everyone should read on Personal Effectiveness?  Leave a comment of send me a tweet, my id is @jgodfrey.