If you are a software engineer or other technie who has suddenly found yourself responsible for managing a team and IT projects then you wouldn’t be the first.
It’s common for IT professionals of all disciplines to take the step into a role where their neck is on the line for managing a software project through to completion.
The skills required for managing developers and successfully delivering a project are not the same as the programming and development skills required to produce good components and code. Growing Software: Proven Strategies for Managing Software Engineers* aims to breach the knowledge gap for software engineers who receive that promotion.
I read this book a few years ago but it remains one of my all-time favourites and the one I often recommend to new IT project managers, even those who don’t come from a development background because it helps explain how those teams and individuals work. It’s a good primer on communicating with technical people as well.
Setting the scene for software teams
The book is split into five parts, beginning with the environment of a software development team and what it means to create and grow a good team.
Part Two looks at the technology aspects of the management role: defining a product, managing releases and the evaluation and assessment processes required to turn out good quality code. There is an excellent section on prototyping here.
Part Three considers how the engineering function fits into the wider organisation, and there is some good advice here on working successfully with other departments. Testa’s approach to software development is holistic, in that he advocates involving the end users and a wide group of stakeholders as much as possible.
Advice for the whole project and software lifecycle
The last two parts of the book cover what the software development manager is likely to need for the long term, not just for getting the first project off the ground. Part Four looks at the processes that make up software development and they are covered in some detail. The text reads like it is aimed at smaller development companies and start ups, as it provides advice for the creation of a software-development methodology. However, even if this is not relevant for some readers, there is benefit to be gained in the assessment and review of existing processes.
The final section provides pointers on creating a software strategy, technology overhauls and roadmaps for taking the team and the company forward. Again, this reads like it is aimed at smaller companies, but much of it will still be of use to software-development managers working in larger organisations.
From the beginning of the book you can tell that it is designed to be a practical, grounded book. The style is realistic, and it explains how the internal politics of an organisation actually work. There are also hints about establishing the company culture – essential in a new role – and deciding if it is for you. Growing Software also includes appendices and I found Appendix B, about internationalisation, particularly interesting as it covers all types of questions and guidance for converting software for use in other markets. This underlines for me the major premise of the book: it is very commercial and is designed to be of as much practical use to the software manager as possible to ensure positive company results as well as quality software outcomes.
Review updated September 2015. A version of this review was first published in The Computer Journal, 2009, and on this blog in 2010.
*This article contains affiliate links at no cost to you.
“Too often, potentially great projects are dismissed by management, investors, and regulators simply because those decision makers can’t understand their value”, writes Frank J. Pietrucha in his book, Supercommunicator. “Opportunities can be missed and bad things can happen when content originators don’t explain their subjects in easy-to-understand language.”
If you have recently put together a business case or project initiation documentation, then you’ll know how important it is to set out the benefits of what you are doing. Getting the information across to those who need to know in a way they can understand it is the main challenge of project communications.
Pietrucha writes: “The digital age is about information. Finding new ways to obtain, analyse, and share data is essential. Providing information to audiences clearly is the essence if what we do as communicators, but shouldn’t we aim higher? Our mandate should be to strive not just to deliver information but also to bring meaning to our audiences through thoughtful explanation.”
Data alone isn’t enough
Project reports often focus on numbers, statistics and the graphical representation of results. Pietrucha says that we often worry so much about data that we forget to explain why those facts and figures are important. Setting data in context and making it accessible is important if you want people to get the message.
He talks about different types of multimedia and digital communication tools like infographics and video as options for displaying data in meaningful ways. He doesn’t recommend a particular approach, instead saying that you should choose what works for your audience. Of course, you need to know how to work with data before you can present it to others.
Part 5 of the book focuses on guidelines for effective communication. One of those is to be culturally aware. For example, there’s no point in me telling you that the title of this book makes me think of the Supercomputer running segment in Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. Unless you happen to watch the show, which pretty much limits it to UK audiences, it won’t mean anything to you. So, Pietrucha says, don’t use references that your audience won’t understand or you risk alienating them.
The other guideline I found good was about keeping it simple. However, as Pietrucha says, there is such a thing as too simple. “Don’t oversimplify when your audience needs substantial content,” he says. Don’t assume they can’t learn.
In summary, his guidelines are:
- Relevance to audience
- Build: start with one idea then add others to allow the audience time to take on new concepts
- Make it real: use analogies, stories, testimonials and case studies. The book uses a lot of these to illustrate various points (including this one). In fact, this is covered in a lot of detail. He suggests you test your analogies on friends first to make sure you are not introducing ideas that have too many interpretations as this leads to misunderstandings.
“If you can see data, instead of just hear or read about it, naturally you’re going to understand a topic faster and more effectively.”
Getting the message across
“People pay attention when they comprehend there’s something in it for them,” Pietrucha writes. “Do your job and help them get to the ‘aha’ point of realisation.” There’s a lot in the book about communicating effectively including the advice that you should lead with the conclusion.
Pietrucha writes about making difficult subjects accessible by presenting them in a practical, visual way including using:
- Simulations and games
- Physical models
“If you can see data, instead of just hear or read about it, naturally you’re going to understand a topic faster and more effectively,” he says.
He takes it further than your typical presentation advice. People don’t only learn visually and through hearing information but through experiencing it, he says. As a result, participatory learning is gaining traction. How could you do this on your project? Think about where you could introduce ways of involving users in training and learning.
I thought that the book ended abruptly. I also thought it could be shorter as it does seem to cover the same points several times in different chapters. But overall it has some good advice that can be applied to project communications.
Copyright © A Girl's Guide to Project Management [Book review: Supercommunicator], All Right Reserved. 2014.
“The explosion of mobile and social technologies means that we have to live as if our mother, boss, coach and enemies are watching us…because they are,” writes Erik Qualman in his book, What Happens in Vegas Stays On YouTube.
The book is basically 36 rules for better social interaction and for making the right choices about your digital legacy. It’s a two-pronged approach: first, don’t post anything stupid on social media sites. Second, the book recommends that we all live better lives, as if our mothers are watching (Rule 2). The point of that is that if don’t do anything cringe-worthy, nobody can post embarrassing photos of you. Qualman argues that if you don’t post images of what you did at that drunken party, someone else will. (Or you could just get yourself a better class of trusted friend.) So don’t do anything stupid, online or offline.
Most of the short sections include one or more ‘learning moments’. These are little stories of how social media has caught out people and companies, causing problems. For example, after the Toronto riots police used social sites to share photos of rioters to help catch them. Although it isn’t mentioned in the book, after the London riots police did the same here to identify looters. Then there’s a short takeaway lesson.
Lessons in common sense
Some of the lessons are obvious, like think before you tweet and don’t criticise others online. “If you have to think for more than 3 seconds about whether something is appropriate – it’s not,” Qualman writes. “Our tone in digital messages is misinterpreted 50% of the time.”
Some of the lessons are more thought-provoking, for example, it’s not a question of whether we will make a reputation-damaging mistake but how we handle it. “Often it’s not the crime, but the cover up that gets us in to trouble,” he says.
Other advice he offers includes don’t multi-task as you are more likely to post something you’ll regret when you are distracted. The book includes several examples of people who posted stuff on their corporate Twitter account when they meant to do so on their personal accounts. Unsurprisingly, their companies weren’t that impressed when their personal opinions were presented as company views.
This also goes for comments that are published under personal accounts, but where the individual concerned is so linked to a company, team or other group that they can’t get away with expressing that as an opinion without it reflecting on their colleagues. “Know your professional position and understand that while your friends may post something on a particular topic, you may not have this same luxury based on your job, position, team or company,” he advises.
“Admit and own your flaws either as an organization or as an individual and the world will think you are awesome,” Qualman writes. “Flawsome is described as owning your mistakes and taking the necessary steps to correct them.” This, he says, it mainly around being authentic, but he also shows through the stories that you can gain customer loyalty by putting things right.
Section 2 of the book is focused on lessons learned and is basically more stories. It includes one about Chrysler which also appears earlier in the book, so that might be an error. The book is so short that you wouldn’t need to dip and out of it, although as it is not organised to present a structured narrative, you could do that if you wanted.
Section 3 is a list of resources and tips, like digital reputation management tools (Klout, Google Alerts etc), tips for protecting yourself against identity theft and tips for looking good on video (not sure how this ties in with the rest of the book). Finally, the book ends with lots of people’s Twitter ‘digital stamp’ (i.e. motto for what they see themselves as doing online and how they want to be remembered). I found this whole section a bit pointless, especially the pages of mottos from people I don’t know.
Do you need this book?
You don’t have to read a book to find out the stupid things people do online. A quick Google search for people who have lost their jobs because of what they shared on social sites is very enlightening. Then there are sites that catalogue the stupid things people share, like Failbook. The book is mainly a collection of social media stories, so if you are worried about your children or junior colleagues and the way they use social sites without regard for potential consequences, it could be something to buy for them. If you feel that you have no knowledge of what could go wrong from having your own Twitter account and have never considered how your use of social networks could affect your career prospects, then by all means read it. But my view is that if you have a mature, professional approach to what you post online, then the stories will make you realise there are plenty of people in the world who don’t think before they act, and that’s about it.
I think it’s a shame, as Qualman’s other books sound excellent and would be well worth a read. This one doesn’t have much substance and although it is a quick read, it didn’t give me any new insights to managing my digital reputation.
Copyright © A Girl's Guide to Project Management [Book Review: What Happens in Vegas Stays On YouTube], All Right Reserved. 2014.
At first glance, Healthcare Project Management by Kathy Schwalbe and Dan Furlong is an ugly book. The cover isn’t up to much. However, open it up and you’ll quickly see how comprehensive this book is. It includes quick quizzes, learning objectives, team projects to carry out (for students), case studies, discussion question, links to videos and additional resources for trainers. And if that wasn’t enough, it has an accompanying website, healthcarepm.com, with more stuff.
Healthcare is a very specific niche when it comes to project management, so a dedicated book for this industry is a great idea. As the authors write:
“The healthcare industry has initiated and completed projects for a long time, but not necessarily using formal project management techniques. New technologies, health reform, evidence-based medicine, health networks, patient-centered care, medical homes, and improved patient experience are some of the many forces that are radically changing the healthcare environment, and where there is change, there are projects!”
Healthcare projects do have specific challenges such as:
- The legislative landscape
- The shift to evidence-based medicine
- Collaboration across entities and practitioners
- Fluctuating budget conditions i.e. you never know when you’re going to need to kick off a new project based on new regulation or improvements in care
- A mobile population which increases the need for technology and electronic medical records
- A cost-controlled environment
- Difficulty applying metrics to human health.
All of these equal the need for lots of projects. And, as the authors put it, “The successful execution of some healthcare projects can mean the difference between life and death.” So no pressure then!
The book is US-focused but this sentiment is certainly relevant to the UK healthcare industry too, and probably many other countries. However, some of the contextual healthcare information wouldn’t be relevant to project managers based outside the US.
Skills for healthcare project managers
The book says that project managers and their team must have the appropriate knowledge and skills in these areas:
- All 10 knowledge areas from A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide®) – Fifth Edition
- The application area e.g. domain, market, industry segment etc
- The project environment e.g. organisational politics and culture
- General management e.g. strategic planning, expense management
- Human resource management e.g. leadership, motivation, negotiation skills etc.
That’s a lot, but having worked in healthcare myself for a fair few years I do agree. I have found in particular that project managers need to know when to defer to clinical colleagues and how to manage the relationships between clinicians and non-clinical staff and Schwalbe and Furlong cover this too: “Skilled project managers working in the healthcare domain know when to hand off control, enlist a champion that a particular group may favour, and negotiate differences among various factions to direct the project towards success.”
A practical guide
“Skilled project managers working in the healthcare domain know when to hand off control”
There’s also plenty of general information that will help your project be successful such as stuff on managing teams. One section includes various theories of HR management including Thamhain and Wilemon’s nine influence bases which I had not come across before.
The book is very much, in my opinion, aimed at students (of all ages) as the additional resources point to the book being used in a learning environment. It’s compatible with the PMBOK Guide 5th Edition but also references some software tools and has a substantial appendix on how to use Microsoft Project 2013: these features could date the book quickly as it will be out of date as soon as new versions are issued. However, much of the information in the book will not date and, of course, it is all relevant right now.
I liked the fact it includes cartoons from xkcd.com and I enjoyed the ‘what went wrong/what went right’ case study boxes. There are examples of everything including a business case and it goes through the whole project lifecycle. It is a comprehensive book, so if you are looking to move into project management in the healthcare sector it will certainly speed up your learning curve.
Copyright © A Girl's Guide to Project Management [Book Review: Healthcare Project Management], All Right Reserved. 2014.
“Project management is indeed a very exciting and rewarding profession, but at the same time, it is one of the most difficult jobs, often misunderstood by project team members and management alike,” write Dan Epstein and Rich Maltzman in their book, Project Workflow Management: A Business Process Approach. I agree; it can be a challenge to get anything done as a project manager, and Epstein and Maltzman explain why:
“The project manager will never win a popularity contest, because even though he or she is not usually a personnel manager of team members, he or she nevertheless sets work deadlines, demanding status reporting and requests adherence to the project work rules and schedules. These demands – coming from someone who is not technically their supervisor – won’t necessarily win you any favours with team contributors.”
The concept behind this book is that it is a full project management workflow, covering the whole project lifecycle. The authors define ‘workflow’ as ‘a means to identify and diagram procedural steps and logic used to achieve a specific goal.’ They say that this step-by-step sequence is different from the process models in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) and other project standards because it gives you the detail of how to do each step. That’s why the book is so chunky.
Running a project with the workflow
You can use the book to execute projects with very little formal project management training, but I think you’d find it easier to put the concepts here into practice with some understanding of projects. It’s very detailed and there are numerous tables, templates and diagrams. It would help to have access to the flow diagrams while reading the process descriptions and steps, and that’s hard to do on an iPad. You could print out the diagrams and have them with you if you wanted to get this book on an e-reader.
The explanations are comprehensive and there are worked examples where necessary to help you. For instance, there’s a step-by-step worked example of cost benefit analysis. Getting into this steps you out of the process so it’s a bit of a diversion from the flow of that section but the idea behind it is to ensure that you know how to do each step.
Useful pointers for project processes
The book includes a whole chapter on estimating and has a useful checklist for requirements. There’s a good section on earned value and another good chunk about training. Another thing I particularly liked is that the authors recognise that you don’t just work on projects during a normal day in the office – and even if you do, the chances are that poor planning makes you ineffective some of the time. They write:
“Delivery team members spend around 20% of their time on phone conversations…ad hoc meetings, conversations, coffee breaks etc…The efficiency of resource utilisation depends on the project manager’s planning skills. A skilled PM may reach 90% resource utilisation at best. In other words, 10% or more of resource time is often not productive due to inefficiencies in resource utilisation.”
They also recognise ‘project management time’ as an overhead. In other words, you have to ‘do’ the project management and this takes, they say, between 10% and 20% of the total project effort, so make sure you are adding that on to your task estimates.
A downside of this book is that I found it very technical and difficult to read in parts. There are also lots of acronyms, and if you miss the explanation not all of them are obvious, so you have to go back and check earlier in the text to find out what they mean.
Should you share your plans?
The authors advise project managers not to share their project schedule with the client “to avoid clients’ attempts to micromanage the project or request reporting the completion of every scheduled task.” They go on to write:
“If you admit them into this level of project detail, they may interfere with the project management processes, even asking to remove some quality or risk related tasks in order to save their costs. The second reason is that you cannot show the client some of the project tasks, like internal project reviews and meetings or tasks related to the containment of some negative elements related to the client in the project risk assessment. If the client is aware of those meetings, you cannot stop them from sending their representative.”
I don’t agree with this advice. I don’t think there is any reason not to share the plan with the project customer. If they don’t have the maturity and project management knowledge to know what the tasks are, then it’s your job to explain it. Of course there are discussions you have with your team that you wouldn’t have in front of them (mostly about how awkward they are being changing the requirements or how they are keen to push blame for delays on you when it’s really them causing the hold up). But you can have these discussions outside of the formal risk meetings. And surely if you are having these discussions about them it’s best to find a way to discuss it with them as well.
Overall, Project Management Workflow is a new approach to project execution. The supporting diagrams and tables make it possible for you to adopt this approach on your projects, and it would also be useful at a corporate level, especially for companies looking to formalise project management processes and methods within their teams. It is a comprehensive resource that walks you through the processes with detailed flow diagrams and clear guidance for making your projects a success – although like all project management processes and approaches, you can ultimately decide for yourself which bits to follow to the letter and which to adapt for yourself.
Copyright © A Girl's Guide to Project Management [Book review: Project Management Workflow], All Right Reserved. 2014.
In Microsoft Project 2013: The Missing Manual, Bonnie Biafore aims to share the basics of project management and how to achieve what you want to do in Microsoft Project 2013. That’s quite an ask for one book. Part 1 is a primer on project management and I was surprised that there was so much about this including project selection. It’s written as if it is aimed at a complete beginner – at least, the early bits are; the book gets technical pretty quickly – and there are nice boxes called ‘reality check’ scattered throughout. They tell it how it really is, like this one (which you probably can’t read) titled ‘When Stakeholders Aren’t Supportive’.
Chartering the project
As part of the ‘how to do project management’ stuff, Biafore describes a project charter as a press release. This appeals to me as someone who writes press releases and I’d not thought about it like this before. She writes:
The project manager needs some publicity, too. Your authority comes from your project and its sponsor, not your position in the organisation, so people need to know how far your authority goes. The project charter is like a project’s press release – it announces the project itself, as well as your responsibilities and authority as its manager.
There’s lots of practical advice like this, including the handy tip of not getting the most senior manager to send out the charter unless they actually know something about the project. You need authority, but you also need credibility, so choose someone who can give that to you, not any old senior manager in a suit.
“Like the pop-fly ball that drops to the ground as the third baseman and shortstop stare at each other, project work can fall between the cracks,” she writes, whatever that means.
Getting technical: MS Project 2013
It’s not until Part 2 that the book starts talking about MS Project. The biggest news since the product’s last release is that Project is now part of the Office 365 suite and there are easier to digest reports (which frankly wouldn’t be hard). In fact, there’s a lot on reports which leads me to believe that getting them to look how you want could be tricky.
The book only covers the Standard and Professional editions, not Project Server. Some of the 365 suite features are covered but that software is evolving and the book is likely to get out of date quickly (and Biafore acknowledges that).
There are usability tips like collapsing the ribbon so you can see more of your plan on the screen and keyboard shortcuts. Biafore uses an example to create a basic project and then goes on to use another example to create a ‘proper’ schedule in a lot more detail.
She also includes tips on using other Microsoft products alongside Project, such as how to create a RACImatrix in Excel and importing resource names from your Outlook contacts.
The book is full of tips like how to create a resource and assign it to tasks at the same time, which are all aimed at getting you operational faster. I like the idea of downloadable worksheets for things like capital budget planning from the book’s website and also links to MS templates online, which this book provides. They make the book more useful (and give it a longer shelf life) and the added resources will help you get your project on track more quickly. Having said that, I haven’t downloaded any to try them out.
Check your schedule
There’s a lot about how calendars control resource and task scheduling with plenty of detail and screenshots about how to set up the correct variations of working time for your project.
You could get really whizzy with your resource management using the advice in this book, but many of the features described will be far too much detail for the average project.
As well as detailed walkthroughs and how to information, there is also practical advice for making the best possible schedule. For example, Biafore says you should be on the look out for these 8 things as you refine your schedule:
- Task dependencies that shouldn’t be there or should be a different type.
- Tasks with inflexible date constraints that they shouldn’t have.
- Manually scheduled tasks that should instead be auto-scheduled.
- Work or duration values that see too low or too high.
- Work packages/tasks without assigned resources.
- Summary tasks with assigned resources.
- Overallocated resources.
- Resource calendars that don’t represent people’s actual availability.
You can do some really advanced stuff, like setting work contours within an individual task to reflect how work is actually done – after all, resources don’t work at the same pace for the entire duration of a task, especially if it lasts over several days. You could get really whizzy with your resource management using the advice in this book, but many of the features described will be far too much detail for the average project.
While it’s good to know what Project can do, it would be useful to have some sort of signpost in the book to say ‘you can do without this feature if your project environment is not that mature or is relatively straightforward’. This would help new project managers work out which features they should use (like dependencies and baselines) and which ones they can leave and learn about another day (like creating an Excel form to display task information from Project and use it to get task updates from team members).
At over 800 pages the book covers a lot of ground. Much of that is screenshots, which are good and helpful. What surprised me was the breadth of the book, which covers everything from ‘what is a project’ to crunching some serious project calculations using data cubes. I don’t think you could read this knowing nothing about project management and turn into an expert by page 800, but if you need a detailed knowledge of MS Project 2013 then you certainly will get it from this informative and practical book.
Copyright © A Girl's Guide to Project Management [Book review: Microsoft Project 2013: The Missing Manual], All Right Reserved. 2014.
“When you view influence as ‘getting people to do what I want,’ you actually reduce your influence,” write Mark Goulston and John Ullmen in Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In.
The authors position influence as not something you do – people are hyper-sensitive to that sort of marketing. They call this disconnected influence i.e. manipulative techniques that create short term buy-in. This way of working, they say, means viewing the other person as an object or target to be pushed or pulled.
They want us to use what they call connected influence instead.
In short, disconnected influence is about getting what you want. Connected influence is about leading others to better results. And this book is about making connected influence work.
Our here and their there
The central premise of the book is ‘our here and their there’. This basically means understanding the starting positions of both parties when you come to the influencing table. You aren’t starting from the same spot, so don’t pretend that you are. Appreciating their reality and what this discussion means for them is the main starting point.
“When you practice disconnected influence, you’re stuck in what we call your here. You can see your position, your facts, and your intentions clearly. But to connect with the people you’re trying to influence, you need to communicate from a perspective we call their there. You need to see their position, their facts, and their intentions clearly.”
Got it? The rest of the book is mainly strategies and approaches to help you engage with others in that way. The authors believe that this makes it easier for an end result to be positive all round, and they include plenty of examples and stories to illustrate their points.
Goulston and Ullmen give readers a number of pointers in order to influence effectively. Here are 6. You need to:
- Go for a great result
- Build a great reputation
- Build great relationships
- Listen for things you don’t know.
- Be influenceable, as this shows people that you are open to other suggestions, and they will be more open back.
- Influence by getting out of the way.
Disconnected influence is about getting what you want. Connected influence is about leading others to better results.
Real influence is a state of being. It’s not about negotiating techniques or win-win situations. instead, the authors say it is about making sure that you are the kind of person other people want to work with. So, are you?
Copyright © A Girl's Guide to Project Management [Book review: Real Influence], All Right Reserved. 2013.
Do you have too much to do? Are you worried about going away and leaving your project? Do you take your laptop on holiday? When you come back to your project, are there always pressing issues, loads of emails and a crisis to solve?
Keith Murnighan, author of Do Nothing!: How to Stop Overmanaging and Become a Great Leader, believes we need to stop. “Conscientious, dedicated leaders do too much – way too much,” he writes. “What if you actually did nothing and it worked?” He advocates facilitating and orchestrating the work of others instead. “You will be a more effective leader if, rather than doing the work yourself, you let other people do it,” he says. “In other words, stop working and start leading.”
The leadership law
Murnighan’s leadership law is this: “Think of the reaction that you want first, then determine the actions you can take to maximise the chances that those reactions will actually happen.” In other words, don’t think about your own actions but instead focus on the reactions you want.
The reason leaders don’t get the results they want is that they suffer from 4 problems that stop them putting the leadership law into action. These are:
- A lack of empathy,
- A focus on their own actions
- The belief that others understand them completely.
In addition to these, Murnighan says that we are not good at understanding how our behaviour influences others.
Fixing leadership problems so you can do nothing
Murnighan presents several solutions to the common problems leaders face. So if you are struggling to get people to follow you on your project, what should you do?
- Focus on them: put your team and stakeholders at the centre of your actions.
- Understand their point of view: ask if you don’t know it already!
- Actively listen: use active listening techniques to really hear what they are saying.
- Walk the floor: get closer to what you team is up to and make sure that you are approachable.
And above all, think of the reactions that you want, and shape your behaviour to achieve those.
Making teams work
“What if you actually did nothing and it worked?”
He recommends that you scrap performance goals as these become irrelevant as soon as you have hit them and are replaced with another target set by management. Instead, set some learning goals. Aim to learn more and get better. I’m not sure how this fits with project methodologies overall but you could take this approach for improving estimating, for example, and making better use of your post-project review data. Sharing your own mistakes openly, Murnighan says, makes others feel compelled and safe to bring up their own failings too.
There were a few too many basketball references in this book for me, but there are some other interesting anecdotes and stories woven through about successful teams and shooting for goals. Chapter 9 looks at the profile of 7 leaders (including one related to basketball). It is interesting to have stories that illustrate the book’s key points but this chapter feels a bit like it has been tacked on to make up the word count and doesn’t integrate that well.
However, the concept of doing less of the doing and more of the leading is something I think project managers are going to have to face up to in the years to come as project management is definitely moving towards being more about project leadership.
Buy Do Nothing! on Amazon.com
Buy Do Nothing! on Amazon.co.uk
Copyright © A Girl's Guide to Project Management [Book review: Do Nothing!], All Right Reserved. 2013.
Did you fall into project management? Or get promoted to a project management role? Then you are probably a ‘accidental project manager’ – someone who never set out to study project management at university but who ended up doing a PM job by accident rather than design.
Now, apply that same thinking to your project sponsor. Did they study sponsorship, or did they simply end up sponsoring projects because their boss asked them to? They are an accidental sponsor.
Strategies for Project Sponsorship came out earlier this year. The book, by Peter Taylor, Ron Rosenhead and Vicki James, taps into the current trend of project leadership, by focusing on the role of the sponsor. It’s a good premise for a book, especially as it contains a lot of practical advice for helping project managers to work with the project sponsor they are given. And accidental sponsors can need a lot of help.
The accidental project sponsor
The authors write:
‘Many speak of the “accidental project manager”, but the reality is that the current generation of project sponsors can also be considered accidental project sponsors. Although they may not have any background in project management or project-based activity, having reached a senior level within their organisation based on other achievements, they have assumed that role.’
And that is where the problem lies for many project managers: working with sponsors who have no idea what they should be doing or how they can best lead a project to success from the sponsor role.
What is that role? The authors say that, “Project sponsorship is an active senior management role.” The sponsor gets funding in return for the expectation that he or she will take responsibility for the project and provide executive oversight and guidance for the project through to completion. “The project sponsor is the person in the org who cares most about the project and its success. At least she should be.”
Meeting your sponsor for the first time
An important day in any project is the day when the project manager first meets the sponsor. Do your homework: what else have they sponsored, who else have they worked with and what was it like? What do you think of their influence in the company?
The authors say that at this meeting the priority is to develop your relationship and capture important information that you can use for initiating the project. Use your ignorance of the project to your advantage by asking all those ‘stupid’ questions. Try to understand the drivers behind the work. This is your opportunity to impress and the book includes a suggested agenda for this first meeting to ensure it’s a useful session.
They also suggest finding out what your sponsor’s experiences of sponsoring have been like. what does she think is expected of her? Discuss decision making and time frames: the authors recommend getting your sponsor to agree to making decisions within 24 hours, so good luck with that.
Being a sponsor for the first time
The book defines what makes a good sponsor, discusses sponsorship from the project manager’s perspective, from the sponsor’s perspective and then looks at implications for organisations. In the section about being a sponsor, they stress that the role is more than just being the project’s figurehead.
Sponsorship, say the authors, is real work. They write:
“When it comes to financial accountability, it seems – at least anecdotally – that projects often go over budget, deliver late and deliver less than was expected…and there are absolutely no consequences. No one appears to be accountable and no one gets removed. Now, if something goes wrong in the “real” side of the business – sales down, profits falling, share price dropping – then it seems like something will be done and someone will be held accountable. Maybe this is because this is seen as “real” business and “real” work and as such has to be taken seriously.”
The book sets out the role of the sponsor and encourages them to ask for help when they need it. The sponsor’s role, the author’s say, includes evaluating the success of the project and understanding the difference between completing it to time/cost/quality measures and delivering proper business benefits.
Checklists and more
The problem for project managers is that they are working with sponsors who have no idea what they should be doing or how they can best lead a project to success.
There are also some new ideas. For example, the authors discuss the difference between the engagement and management of stakeholders. This is interesting because I always thought ‘engagement’ was the modern way of managing, simply a 21st Century update to project management vocab. I thought engagement replaced management in stakeholder thing, but the book challenged me to reassess that idea.
For a book that is aimed at project managers, sponsors and those making business decisions to support project managers and sponsors, it could have ended up pretty muddled. But it doesn’t. Each section is aimed at a different group but not to the exclusion of others. It helps to know how sponsors think, so that you can help them.
Strategies for Sponsorship concludes that you won’t get the perfect sponsor and you shouldn’t expect to. Therefore you need to learn to work with what you’ve got. This book will help.
Copyright © A Girl's Guide to Project Management [Book review: Strategies for Project Sponsorship], All Right Reserved. 2013.
I was a volunteer. I lost count of how many hours of community service I donated over 13 years of providing first aid cover at school fetes, amateur dramatic theatre productions, Remembrance parades, or in teaching others. But I don’t volunteer any more. Instead, I have a standing order that pays an amount to charity monthly. I don’t even think about it, except to wonder, during the worst of the financial crisis, whether I should cancel it (I didn’t).
If I’m typical, the face of charity support has changed drastically, and that’s what PMI Fellow Karen R. J. White’s new book is about – how nonprofits can do more with limited resources by applying Agile project management principles.
The book aims to help nonprofits “learn how to apply just enough project management to assist in your decision making as you face continuing economic pressures.” It’s a niche book, but useful to those in the sector.
What makes your nonprofit agile?
The book acknowledges the evolution in volunteerism and addresses the ‘what’s in it for me’ component that is so important today. Understanding these things are the first step to moving your nonprofit to agile thinking. Other important shifts, according to White, are:
- To include social media outreach
- To minimise bureaucracy
- To recognise volunteers’ efforts
- To embrace business practices which make the best use of the available volunteers, wherever they happen to be based.
This last one is important as she talks about tapping into volunteers around the country and further afield, whereas previously charities relied on local support.
The book doesn’t pack any punches. “Nonprofits often don’t focus their efforts on what truly matters,” White writes. “Instead they focus on the projects that volunteers want to undertake.” She goes on: “Their resources are spread too thin and the most important projects suffer because of that lack of focus.”
Portfolio management, she says, is the way to address this. Another way to make sure you’re making the most of your resources is to create a resource pool that details volunteer interests to ensure volunteers are matched with projects they will enjoy and be good at without losing the focus on what is strategic.
Covering the basics
Chapter 5 is an introduction to the project management lifecycle including a project charter-style and status report template. Other chapters have more templates like a communications matrix, risk log and milestone schedule.
The next chapter covers planning, with new terms like project artifact and scope defined in clear boxes through the text. You can tell this book is aimed at non-experienced project managers – people who have probably just been given the job title and need to get things done within a nonprofit setting.
White really starts to talk about agile in Chapter 7. She says that a project manager in this kind of environment needs to be:
- An active leader
- Tech savvy
- And with good technical project management skills.
One of these tech project management skills mentioned is the ability to integrate social media in projects (for more on this, you can have a look at one of my books, Social Media for Project Managers). This is particularly important in a nonprofit environment as it helps engage with younger volunteers and also to tap into current ways to communicate outside your local area.
Managing a volunteer workforce
One issue that nonprofit project managers have that many other project managers don’t have is that their project teams are mainly made up of volunteers. White dedicates Part 3 of the book to managing volunteers, particular the resource issues projects suffer when including volunteers on the team.
She talks about providing the opportunity for motivating volunteers through leadership opportunities, taking account of local law (for example, not using volunteers as a reason to terminate employed staff), and the inevitable churn. I imagine staff turnover is higher in some volunteer groups than it is on projects with a fully employed team.
She also talks about recruiting and retaining good, reliable volunteers and avoiding ‘warm body syndrome’ where you simply end up with a human assigned to the task but they have no skills or interest in the job at hand.
Using your PMO
The PMO has a role to play in nonprofits as well. This can be in the form of training, making sure that appropriate training and mentoring is given to volunteer project team members so they don’t give up as it is ‘too hard’. White says it is not essential for nonprofits to have a PMO function but believes it will help standardise things and ensure best practices are shared, which seems very sensible to me.
Finally the book talks about portfolio management and how an overall approach can help keep the focus on projects that contribute to the strategic objectives. “The lack of a project portfolio management approach can result in an organization that’s chaotic, misses opportunities, burns through resources, and doesn’t achieve its strategic goals,” she writes.
Whatever you decide to do, she encourages you to make an agile approach that works for you by following the basic project management phases but tweaking it to suit your workforce and environment.
Despite the fact that this book is not aimed at people like me, I enjoyed it. It’s well laid out, it makes logical sense and doesn’t jump around and it is very, very practical. There is no pretence at living in a perfect world where all volunteers immediately answer their phone and dedicate their time to the most mundane of project tasks. The heavy dose of realism ensures that this will be a very useful desk reference for people who’ve been asked to get things done with no money and practically no permanent staff. Even if you don’t work in a nonprofit, if that description fits you, you’ll probably find something in here that you can use yourself.
Copyright © A Girl's Guide to Project Management [Book Review: Practical Project Management for Agile Nonprofits], All Right Reserved. 2013.
“Many of the most popular books on change address its psychological aspects, and focus on people and their internal states or motivations,” write Gregory P. Shea and Cassie A. Solomon in their book, Leading Successful Change: 8 Keys to Making Change Work. They go on to say:
This psychological perspective taken alone, however, can promote the belief that the success or failure of any given organisational change effort comes down to motivating individual members of the organisation and that, correspondingly, a leader’s primary job comes down to inspiring the troops.
If a project leader’s main role is inspiring others, and the project doesn’t go well, the risk is that the leader gets labelled as uninspiring and not very good at her job. And the team members get labelled as resistant and unwilling to change. Everyone loses and the change doesn’t happen. The project is a failure.
Why change projects fail
Shea and Solomon argue that change fails for two main reasons.
First, leaders set vague targets like ‘increase profitability’. I would hope that project business cases and charters mean that this doesn’t happen when the change initiative is run as a project or programme. We should know better than to start a project without clear, measurable objectives!
Second, leaders underestimate the work environment. In other words, what we tell people to do is not backed up by what they see when they turn up to work. Conflicting messages about how to change and why change is required mean that the change programme stalls or fails.
Changing behaviour by changing the environment
The main premise of this book is that you can’t dictate change in vague terms. You have to change behaviour. And until everyone changes their behaviour to fit with the new working model, the change isn’t successful.
“Alter the environment, and people will adapt to it.”
The recipe for success that Shea and Solomon present is that you should focus on the behaviours you want from people and then design the work environment to give you those. “Alter the environment, and people will adapt to it,” they say.
This is in contrast to advice you may have heard from enthusiastic project sponsors, who say that if the people can’t change to fit the new processes or ways of working, then they’ll be asked to leave the company. Shea and Solomon argue that humans are good at adapting. If the new processes adequately support the behaviour that you want to see, the new work environment will be enough. The people will change accordingly, and there’s no need to fire anyone.
“Change often fails not because people lack the capacity to change but because the work environment does not change in ways that encourage people to employ their adaptive capacity to change,” they write.
The levers of change
The book gives several examples of successful change programmes that have used this approach at Lloyds of London, Whirlpool and others. The focus for these projects has not been on inspiring the troops or forcing people to change but on targeting several of the 8 levers of change. Shea and Solomon identify these as:
- Workplace design
- Information distribution
- Decision allocation
The book extensively covers these levers. The authors have also developed the Work Systems Model, which is a holistic (systems thinking) way of looking at change across a number of those levers and reengineering the work environment to encourage the behaviours you want to see.
Overall, this is a useful book for looking at how you can make change stick and what is required before people will adapt to new ways of working. If you are leading a change project or programme, it could be interesting reading for you. It’s aimed at large programmes of organisational change though such as major business re-engineering, so you may have to scale down some of the ideas to make them fit for smaller projects.
Copyright © A Girl's Guide to Project Management [Book Review: Leading Successful Change], All Right Reserved. 2013.