The Importance of Writing Well

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
For years I’ve used an introductory dialogue for classroom Communication topics. It involves a tee-up: “Based on research done by the US Navy years ago, different people have different preferences in the way they receive information.” And then I write on a flipchart the following, while saying most of these words:

  • 45% Readers
  • 45% Listeners
  • 5% Both
  • 5% Fool

The key is this: While I’d write Fool, I’d say Neither. Typical of American humor.

In a room of 20-25 people, around half would laugh, the others would wonder why they are laughing. It is because some were listening, and others were reading.

Improving Communication Effectiveness

But this little vignette brings up a very important point: Statistically, about half of all people prefer to listen to get their information, and about half prefer to read it. Which are you? The cited statistics say that about 5% do both equally well. But the majority of all participants usually think they are part of that 5%. And too many think their husband/wife/manager/co-worker/customer (pick one) is the last on the list above.

Great communicators seem to intuitively understand the preferences of their audiences. Meanwhile, I resort to using simple models and observation to approximate a similar result. At least, I do when I focus on Conscious Communication, rather than just using my own preferences. In that case, I merely hope that everyone else understands perfectly. Is this Reader/Listener preference why many of us only communicate effectively with half our audiences? And then we wonder what’s wrong with them? Perhaps we can all benefit from a bit more Conscious Communication.

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Project Management: Delivering The Promise

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
This posting is inspired by the theme of IPMA’s 25th World Congress, Brisbane, Australia, October 10-12 2011. Thanks to the insight and graciousness of the Australians, we are again using the theme one more time. This use, with Aussie permission, will be at the IPMA-USA Congress scheduled for 5 March, 2012, in Washington DC. Nothing like taking a good idea and re-using it multiple times!

First, our thanks to IPMA Member Association AIPM (Australian Institute of Project Management) for a great 2011 IPMA World Congress. And, thank you again for your inspired theme of the Congress: Project Management—Delivering the Promise.

The promise of project and program management is efficient, effective and beneficial change. We as a profession make that promise to four types of audiences:

  • Individual PM Practitioners;
  • Project Teams and Stakeholders;
  • Enterprise Managers and Executives; and to
  • Nations and Society.

Each of these audiences has different needs and different expectations. Let’s explore them.

Our First Audience, Individual PM Practitioners

This audience expects to improve their project performance, while increasing their job satisfaction and career opportunities. To accomplish that, we must move beyond classroom knowledge and testing that brings only short-term results. Why is this important? Based on recent research, the half-life of knowledge acquired but not applied is only two weeks. We must follow classroom training with on-the-job application of that knowledge, with four goals: Develop needed skills, improve behavioral competences, gain end-to-end project experience, and achieve measurable project performance results.

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Exposing the Myth of “Doing More With Less”

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
We first heard it in the early 00s—Executives and Managers saying, “We’ll just have to do more with less.” Well-intended at first, for some it became a poor alternative to managing effectively. In some situations the statement can be temporarily true. In most cases, those who proclaim and perpetuate this excuse are practicing malfeasance. This is not an appropriate way to manage a workgroup, department or enterprise; they are demonstrating their failure to manage.

What triggers this commentary is a recent workshop I performed for a customer I have worked with for over 29 years. I have seen them flex, grow, improve, and cut back, all in response to market conditions, and the shape of their business, They are astute in their sense of coming business pressures. I did discuss the dangers of the “more with less” message with Executives and Managers 8 years ago, in an Executive Overview. With just a few exceptions, they have fortunately not fallen into that “More With Less” trap during this latest downturn. But in my recent sessions in this industry-leading business, I detected something sinister and terrifying.

Employees I encountered demonstrate strong loyalty to the organization. They show a sense of strong rapport up and down the chain of command. But, I detected some individual contributors, project managers and managers alike who are overwhelmed and exhausted. Many have prided themselves on the quality and efficiency of their work. Some must now decide which essential project results they must eliminate or reduce. Or, which project double-checks to push into post-project support. For some, it is which internal customers to choose to fail to respond to. I have seen this death spiral before.

A Jobless Recovery

I think many organizations are facing this dilemma. This is, in part because of the uncertainty in the US, between politics, consumer spending, and a high unemployment rate. They see the threat of possible hyperinflation, and the unknowns in the next set of policy decisions that will affect their business. These concerns are a root cause of this Jobless Recovery, as businesses are afraid to add staff to meet current demands. So instead, they continue to manage increasing business with existing, or remaining staff. And even when they are not using the tired “more with less” mantra, that is what it looks like to their employees. If you think this only affects project success, this affects the operations side even more than the projects side of the business.

How To Honestly Do More With Less

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Working Towards PM Perfect, Now and Free

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
We participated in a Decision Sciences Institute conference in Toledo in April, and it was a very interesting event. A combination of practitioners and educators with a learning focus, the variety of papers presented was impressive. We presented on the educational outreach opportunities of PRO, the Performance Rated Organization standard. Drs. Gary Klein and Neeraj Parolia presented our unique SCiPM program–which generated great interest among the participants.

Exploring Perfect, Now and Free

But the purpose of this posting is to acknowledge the stellar paper of one of the participants. She appears to have a clear grasp of what project stakeholders really want. Ms. Pushpa Agrawal, from the MBA Program Office, University of Nebraska at Kearney, is the presenter who impressed us with her insights. She spoke of the “voice of the customer”. She acknowledged that projects that are Perfect, Now and Free are (currently) unachievable. And yet, she pointed out that this outcome is what every project customer (and manager) desires.

Of course, popular project management practice continues to obsess about the “triple constraints”, or “iron triangle”. Meanwhile, others, such as Duncan, continue to distinguish between project success measures and business success measures. And from our own part, we have for years treated them as part of the Vital Signs of project success.

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Overcome the Double-Whammy of Executive Grief Over IT and PM

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
An intriguing article in the 1st Quarter, 2010 CIO Insight magazine summarized the results of some major research. The research was completed by Valuedance and Harvard Business Review. The article, Not So IT Smart, was filled with (appropriate for the magazine) insights. What stood out was a significant perception gap about performance on a range of key factors, as perceived by Business and IT Leaders. We would urge you to read that well-researched and well-written article—unfortunately, the article is no longer available.

The Executive’s Grief over IT

I recall the challenges of 35 years ago, when it appeared that Executive Managers just didn’t get it. Get what? The proper use of what we called Data Processing. Then we changed its name to Information Technology. Perhaps we thought that relabeling the same behaviors would change things. Of course, there were savvy, Executives who knew how to make DP the centerpiece of competitive advantage. But those appeared to be in the minority.

Most of us hoped that those Execs who refused to even use a keyboard would soon retire. Their successor would eventually become the visionary strategic leader, and bring us out of our wilderness. But for most, it never happened. The criteria listed as differing perceptions in the above-referenced article are much the same as they were over 30 years ago.

Which could lead one to a conclusion that it is not those Executives at all, but a young and immature practice. A practice that still focuses too much on the latest technologies and the detailed last half of the life cycle.

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Who Really Manages Your Projects?

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
In many organizations today, there exist competent and experienced Project Managers, Senior Project Managers and Program Managers. We refer to them all as PM or PMs in this article. And, they all have the responsibility and authority to deliver the organizational changes and benefits.  Senior Managers, Executives, and internal and external customers expect those actions of the PMs. They are a credit to their organizations. The Managers and Executives are incredibly effective, and their organizations (Government and Enterprises) thrive as a result. We shall call this phenomenon Exhibit A.

IPMA’s* Advanced Project and Program Manager certification program, is perfect for these competent and performing practitioners. And IPMA-USA’s PRO program, Performance Rated Organization, is a perfect match for the Exhibit A organizations.

And then we have the other organizations, that we shall call Exhibit B. In the Exhibit B organizations, project success usually depends on several layers of Managers, rather than the nominal Project Managers. These other layers are directing or controlling Time, Cost, Scope and Talent (and other factors). They leave the PM to be a mere implementer; despite his or her best efforts. The result: Poor PM Performance, and Executive Managers, who blame the practice of PM, rather than their misplaced authority.

Who Sets Time, Budget, Scope and Talent?

Some of those Exhibit B organizations depend more on team heroics than deft management. Too often, Project Managers are identified after timelines and budgets are set; scope is never quite “nailed down”. Not only that, promised talent never appears, while cherished talent disappears. Much to the chagrin of PMs, requests for some flexibility somewhere are met with the classic excuse: “we just have to do more with less”. This almost always results in delivering far less with less.

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