What Is Project Management?

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff.
In project management workshops, I often kick off each class with questions for table-teams to answer as a group, then report to the class: 

1. What is your definition of a project?
2. How does a project differ from other work?
3. What is project management?

Definition of Project Management--Goff

I began this practice long before Max Wideman’s PMBOK, and Duncan’s PMBOK® Guide. Despite efforts of practitioners and professional associations, there remains a wide variety of answers to my third question, What is project management?

After the teams report, I proclaim that each team’s answers were excellent. I also say, that, at the end of the class, I will share my answer to that third question, which is in the graphic at right.

I will parse this simple twelve-word sentence, and see if we can add any new insights for you, our reader.  Continue reading

PMR Interview: Small Projects

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff.

In July, Project Management Review (PMR, in China) published an interview with me, covering seven topics. The interview appeared in their online magazine, their paper magazine, and in PM World Journal. This interview topic is about Small Projects.

PMR: You’ve mentioned that the secret weapon of high-performing project teams is small projects. What is the logic behind this statement?

For many organizations, small projects are an invisible 20-35% of their entire annual expenses. Funding usually comes from an operations budget, and staffing is based not on prioritized portfolios, but instead, on ‘who isn’t doing anything important right now?’ Most organizations don’t even have a definition of what constitutes a small project, or apply a consistent approach for identifying, prioritizing, delivering, and evaluating their success.

I noted this in the early 1980s, as I was coaching my clients to develop portfolios of their projects. I saw, in the most-advanced organizations, including global businesses and government agencies at national and local levels, an understanding that small projects needed different treatment than larger ones. For example, they often solved symptoms, rather than spending the time to understand underlying causes. Many times, the same symptoms occurred dozens of times before finally, someone would realize it was far too expensive to continue doing repetitive ‘quick fixes.’ Then, they would finally understand the root cause, and permanently cure the problem.

I defined a taxonomy of project sizes, and surveyed my clients for the relative delivery efficiency of project results across those sizes. The analysis for each project size was very interesting:

  • Small projects were the least efficient and least effective way to deliver project results.
  • Very large projects, with multiple years of duration and more than 24 people on multiple project teams, were next-least efficient way to deliver results. (We did not have programs in our survey.)
  • Large projects, six months to a year in duration, and one to three teams, were significantly more efficient that were very large projects, and faced lower risk.
  • Medium projects, three to six months in duration, and having three to seven half-time team members, were the most efficient way to deliver project results.

Continue reading

Article’s 10th Anniversary: “Everything I Know About Project Time Management, I Learned in Sports Car Racing”

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff.
During the 2000s, we published a series of articles on the “Vital Signs” of project management. We included insights on project time, cost, risk, quality, scope, talent, communication, and stakeholder engagement.

Our 2008 article, “Everything I Know About Project Time Management, I Learned In Sports Car Racing,” was one of the most popular of the bunch. It remains so today, ten years later. So on this tenth anniversary of its publishing, we highlight that article.

Since its original publishing, this article has been the basis for global and national keynotes and webinars, and for chapter meetings and project team discussions.  Continue reading

What Makes IPMA’s Certifications Stand Out?

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff.
To help you decide which project and program management certifications are best for you, and to show why ours stand out, we researched and published an article on the subject. This post is an introduction to the article; see the full article download link below.

This fresh new analysis helps to balance misinformed impressions seen elsewhere on the web. As credited in the article, we based the analysis is on three independent studies and reports.

The full article, in Adobe Acrobat pdf format, is available here on the ProjectExperts website: Comparing PM Certifications. Below are a few of the highlights from the article.

Everywhere you look, on the web, in magazine ads and articles, and in some training companies’ marketing materials, you see a wide range of assertions about the value of a variety of project and program management certifications. What is a decision-maker to think? Are there rational ways to evaluate and compare the myriad offerings?

Certification Effectiveness Cube

To explore the differences between the many PM certifications, we evaluated the factors that make a difference in their effectiveness. The result: the Certification Effectiveness Cube, a representation of three factors that are important in evaluating any certification:

A. Prerequisites
B. Breadth of Coverage
C. Rigor of Assessment

The full article explores those three factors, or criteria, and acknowledges that popularity is also an important consideration; the article also reveals an interesting relationship between popularity and effectiveness.  Continue reading

The ProjectExperts Bring Back Our PM Pills!

We first offered our PM Pills in 1983, and they were a very popular hit! They were merely candy in pill bottles, with tongue-in-cheek labels. Even six years after our first release, we occasionally saw the bottles on our clients’ office shelves. We also released a series for IPMA-USA, and they were very much in-demand in IPMA, the International Project Management Association. 

The Talent Series

The latest release is based on our recent series of articles, webinars, and blog posts on Project Talent. You can see our latest article, Acquiring, Developing, and Retaining Project Talent, here on our website. Inspired by the four Talent Areas in our Talent Tetrahedron–in our chart, they looked like M&Ms–we ordered the right colors, printed labels, and filled the pill bottles. TalentPillslg Continue reading

You Might Be a Project Manager If…

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff.
Several years ago, I had a bit of fun with the title of this posting; I suggested the usefulness of this Jeff Foxworthy take-off for project managers and business analysts to a good friend, Tom Hathaway, of BA Experts. He followed through with it at his website. Click his link and see Tom’s results; I think he did a great job!

This year, the “You might be …” set-up came to mind as I was putting the finishing touches on an update to IPMA-USA’s PM-SAT; a self-assessment of knowledge, based on the new, 4th Edition of the IPMA (International Project Management Association) Individual Competence Baseline. What makes this 4th Edition especially interesting is the inclusion of 2-5 Key Competence Indicators for each competence element.

But, before we get into that, and for those who are unfamiliar with the genre, let’s explore the Foxworthy theme. It started with a rather cruel statement, then a series of ‘interesting’ indicators. For example, “You might be a Redneck if…”  followed by something like, “The taillight covers of your car are made of red tape.” Cute, and fun; and not too outrageous. It occurred to me that people who are friends (or family) of project managers probably have the same sayings about us–but are too polite to divulge them to our faces.

Re-purposed For Project Managers: You might be a project manager if …  Continue reading

Imagine a World Where All Projects Succeed

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff.

I have used this article’s title as my kick-off phrase at a half-dozen project-related keynotes and presentations over the last few years. Most audiences immediately “lean into” the thought, and its ramifications. For example, in Moscow, Hong Kong, Beijing, Tianjin, Brussels, and in the USA, my audiences immediately took notice, became engaged, and were eager to hear more.

This August (2015) was the first exception I’ve had to that typical reaction: As I voiced the introductory statement, I immediately detected disbelief among many in my audience. This was at one of the USA’s best PM Symposiums: I think this is one of the best because of the high-level audiences, the speaker selection process, and excellent event organization.

When I sensed this audience’s disbelief, I immediately asked the question, “How many think this (for all projects to succeed) is even possible?” Less than a quarter raised their hands. So I launched into an extended introduction, pointing out that …

  • Project managers cannot improve project (and business) success just by working harder. Most of us are already working our hearts out;
  • Nor can we improve performance by sending people to still more training;
  • Our team members? They are not only committed to our projects—they are over-committed;
  • And our stakeholders? They are engaged, and expect us to continue to make miracles happen.

No, (I asserted) it is our layers of managers, from first-level to the executive suite, who hold the keys to higher levels of success. And (I said), the purpose of this presentation is to identify  seven key insights that can help our organizations to improve PM performance—and business success. The paper that supports that presentation will be posted at PM World Journal (and later, at IPMA-USA), but the purpose of this article is to further explore this question of disbelief. Continue reading

Prototyping and Agile: Twins, Separated at Birth?

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff.
We’ve written before about the intelligent application of Agile methods in Information Technology (IT) projects: See part 3 of our 4-part 2011 series, The First 10% of a Project: 90% of Success, here in our ChangeAgents articles. This article is a follow up with more insights. And, much has happened since our earlier article.

agile_tightropeAgile is maturing, and moving beyond the last-half-of-the-IT-life-cycle. For example, we have seen excellent discussions on the “hybrid” approach. This involves using Agile where it is most appropriate (and where the prerequisites are in place), and using other insightful pm methods where they are more appropriate. That approach in IT, plus increasing use of Agile concepts in areas such as New Product Development, shows promise.

I do still have concerns about a few agile zealots who insist upon contrasting Agile to Waterfall. Competent PMs moved away from “pure” Waterfall in the early 1980s. We also disposed, for the most part, of years-long, hold-your-breath-and-wait-forever IT projects. What did we replace them with? Three-to-six-month bursts (we called them iterations, or increments) that delivered prioritized useful business functions.

Prerequisites for Success

Of course, in addition to speeding useful delivery, we also identified the other key prerequisites for success:

  • A good, high-level project plan;
  • A clear business case;
  • Understanding of the information and data structures;
  • Customer-driven high-level business requirements;
  • Risk assessment, and mitigation responsibilities;
  • The right talent assigned, the right amount of time; both on the IT side, and from customers;
  • Facilitated sessions (Rapid Initial Planning and Joint Application Design) for fast project planning, and requirements elicitation in 1-2 weeks;
  • And, all the other factors mentioned in part 3 of our Success series, mentioned above.

Continue reading

Exploding the Myth of PM Best Practices

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff; ProjectExperts CEO.
What are the Best Practices in the world of project and program management (PPM)? Are there a few immutable truths that are transferable across nations, organizations, industries, cultures, and project teams? I often see assertions promoting PM Best Practices—despite my belief that the phrase is an oxymoron—that our discipline is not yet mature enough to have universal best practices. This article is a recap of many discussions on best practices over my years as a PM practitioner, then as a consultant.

best_practiceMy opinions about PM Best Practices go back to the early 1980s, when, as a PPM consultant, I frequently encountered executives, line managers, project managers, and other consultants, who expected to hear my handful of easy-to-implement “PM Best Practices.” In that era, I often made recommendations for improved effectiveness, but I called them “Competitive Practices.” And I usually sought, uncovered, and identified them from within their own organizations. I understood over thirty years ago that one organization’s best practices could be a scourge for others. Here’s why… Continue reading

My First Project Portfolio

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff; ProjectExperts CEO.
Many years ago (1973), in a Data Processing group in a local government organization (Lane County, Oregon) we had several large projects, and a large backlog of small maintenance, support, and “quick fix” projects. And, for this backlog of projects, the priorities continually changed. The changes were so frequent that we could plan our week’s work on Monday, but by Friday, little of that work was complete, because of many new, “even more urgent” projects, and because of priority changes in our backlog.portfolio

We addressed this challenge by prototyping a solution: Keeping track of our “backlog” in (of all things) a box of punched cards. That was the primary input to many computer systems in earlier days. After we perfected the information we needed to track, we began to use an online version. In that era, online often meant a simple listing of card images on an 80-character screen. Unfortunately, our solution did little more than depress us—the backlog kept growing.

And then, several new books on Time Management emerged. We especially liked Alan Lakein’s How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life. We decided that his insights, including better methods of prioritization, were the key. We added Urgency and Importance fields to our backlog list, with entries limited to 1, 2 and 3, where 1 was most important or most urgent. Note that Alan Lakein used A, B and C for the three choices, we used 1, 2 and 3, because they could be more easily averaged. And, we required that all entries must average 2, to force a sense of high, medium and low Urgency and Importance. Otherwise, everything would soon become Priority 1, destroying the value of the system. Continue reading