Saturday, October 18, 2014

A New Role for the IT Department

I'm preparing to teach an IT management course for our MBA program next term and I want to begin the course by showing what the modern IT organization looks like. When I was reviewing articles on IT organizations I came across a great article explaining how some IT organizations are becoming sources of revenue for the firm. This is quite different than the typical cost center role the IT department played in the past.

Thanks to the Internet and the emergence of cloud computing as a viable option for enterprise applications, distribution of centralized software and hardware services has never been easier. IT departments are now able to partition their data to sell extra capacity and their proprietary software to other firms. This means that an IT department in a small insurance firm is now able to create new sources of revenue for the organization by selling access to in-house developed software. In some cases, organizations are able to sell access to purchased software as well.

Over the past few decades, in-house developed applications have taken a backseat to purchased "off the shelf" applications from software vendors. Perhaps, as more entrepreneurial IT departments continue to find profit in selling their own software, we will see more organizations move to developing their own software again. This will result in more software options and software more closely integrated with specific industries.

It will be exciting to see the trend of renting out in-house developed applications and services continue. However, I have concerns over these organizations' ability to provide adequate support and the willingness to offer ongoing enhancements or customizations.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

MVP Process in Knowledge Management Systems

Today I read David Weinberger's article on the MVP process in this month's issue of KM World. In the article Mr. Weinberger described the use of minimum viable product (MVP) and how this approach is applied today (think Apple products) and early on (Ford Model T). The point of the article was that both of these companies developed simple products for a small set of early adopters and then allowed the product to mature as the desired features for the product emerged. This allowed the product to be produced while limiting the unwanted features and using the market to determine future features.

I enjoyed the article but found the MVP concept was not applied to the context of knowledge management systems. This was a knowledge management magazine so I was looking for insight into the application to the KM field. Since this application was not included in the article I thought I would build on Mr. Weinberger's article by applying MVP to the KM field.

The MVP concept can be applied to knowledge management systems but, if applied incorrectly, it may result failure. If the product, in this case a KM system, is designed with a minimum set of features or a minimum set of content, the early adopters of this information system will be frustrated by the lack of ability to locate and add knowledge or by the quality or quantity of content available in the system. We can't build a KM system based on a small set of content and functionality and then simply allow it to mature over time as we see the needs emerge. This initial offering must provide value in order for it to attract users and for users to continue to rely on the system.

The MVP approach to KM systems can still be used but this initial system offering must be focused on specific value. Perhaps it is the scope of the value proposition that can be minimized for the initial offering. Beginning with a specific scope for the KM system and then providing all functionality and content needed to achieve the goals within the scope should be the objective.

Viewing the MVP approach for KM systems only makes sense if we shift the perspective of product functions to product scope. Offering a minimal viable product scope (MVPS) allows an organization to produce a valuable KM system to satisfy a narrow purpose and then, over time, this scope can grow along with the functions and content needed to fulfill the growing scope. So, lets apply the MVPS approach to KM systems rather than the MVP approach.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Project Management Conference Presenters

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about the new project management conference The College of St. Scholastica is co-sponsoring. This conference will take place October 16th and 17th at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, Minnesota. The conference features presentations from project managers across the area.

Now that I recruited the presenters for the conference I thought I would share the lineup of the conference presenters. Below is a list of presenters (myself included) that will present at the Central Minnesota Conference on Project Management. If you would like to attend the conference, you can register on our conference website.

  • Becoming a Better Project Manager - Brandon Olson, Ph.D., PMPAn overview of project management competencies and preparing a professional development plan.
  • Optimizing Stakeholder Management - Beth Olson, M.Ed.
    Fostering relationships with even the most challenging project stakeholders and the value of these relationships bring to the project.
  • Effective Time Management - Chad McCoy, M.A.
    Techniques for improving your team's time management capabilities.
  • Organizational Transformation to Agile - Hasnain Somji, M.S., PMP
    Experiences and outcome of moving from traditional to agile project management.
  • Dictator to Coach - Kathleen Bartels, M.A.
    Discussion on the differences of the traditional project managers and a scrum coach.
  • Designing, Evaluating, and Maintaining Effective Project Teams - Kathy Modin, M.A.
    Hands-on experience with several techniques and tools for effective and cohesive project teams.
  • Effective Team Building - David Swenson, Ph.D., LP
    Review of the team factors related to project team success and failure and a model for team building.
  • Preparing People for Change - Kent Lacy, Ed.D., PMP
    Project management solutions and tools for understanding, planning, managing, and implementing change in the organization.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Passed My PMP

It has been awhile since I last posted to the blog and there is a reason for this. Over the past few weeks I have been spending my free time preparing to sit for my Project Management Professional (PMP) exam. This past Monday I completed the exam and passed! I am now a certified Project Management Professional.

In preparing to take the exam I decided to use a book rather than the training/boot camp courses offered by many firms. In addition to reading through the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) book I also purchased a copy of Rita Mulcahy's PMP Exam Prep book. Between these two sources I was able to feel prepared to take the examination.

When conversing with other individuals with a PMP I found that each of us used a different means to prepare for the exam. Some, like me, used a type of training book, others attended classes, and others used training materials offered through their workplace. So there are many ways to prepare for the exam and it seems that it is best to pick the resources that you feel will best prepare you for the exam.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Learning from Government Projects

government funded projects
In one of my project management workshops I lead the attendees through several examples of failed projects. The point was to understand a few of the common sources of project failure and to develop risk plans to address these sources. As I prepared the workshop I noticed that almost all of the examples of failed projects were government funded. These failed projects include the Denver International Airport baggage handling system, the FBI Virtual Case File/Sentinal project, and the Sydney Opera House construction.

Due to the public-nature of these projects (versus confidential information on private sector projects) government projects are more accessible and, as a result, are more visible and make headlines when they fail. Unfortunately, the successful government-related projects don't make the headlines. Surely a large percentage of government-funded projects are successfully delivered and many aspects of project management are derived from government-funded projects. So, there must be some positive things we can learn from these government-funded projects and their corresponding practices.

Today I came across a brief but valuable article pointing out some of the excellent project practices we can learn from the government projects. I found the arguments over project requirements processes to be very enlightening. Since the project requirements drive the final deliverables and can determine the success of the project it does pay to improve how we consider and filter these requirements. Tips such as sunset clauses and testable requirements make sense.

While we see spectacular project failures in government projects, we also must realize there are some very good practices embedded in their processes. The project management field has benefited from these practices but we can also learn a lot from their failures too. So let's keep an eye on these government-funded projects, learn from these projects, and improve our own project management practices.

Monday, August 4, 2014

CMCPM 2014 Call for Presenters

Earlier this summer I announced that we are offering a new project management conference. As of today we are now actively looking for conference presenters. If you have knowledge or experience you would like to share with our attendees please let us know. Check out our Call for Presenters page at and submit your presentation description.

The Central Minnesota Conference on Project Management is a joint venture between The College of St. Scholastica and Central Lakes College. The conference takes place October 16-17 at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, Minnesota. We will have more information on our conference website as it becomes available:

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Project Manager - Assessing Organization Expertise

project manager building blocks
Earlier this month I presented a conceptual model that I referred to as the project manager building blocks. This model was based on the Project Management Institute's Project Manager Competency Development (PMCD) framework. The framework covered the project competencies but did not address the details behind the industry and organization expertise needed to develop project manager competency. In my previous post I outlined the attributes of the industry expertise and today I will describe the attributes of organization expertise.

Organization expertise is the awareness of the organization providing that provides the proper context of the project. The expertise can be broken down into knowledge of the organizational structure, mission and values, the experts and leaders in the organization, the workflows and processes, professional expectations, appetite for change, and communication styles across different groups.

Having an understanding of the organizational structure, what is important to the organization, and the organizational culture allow the project manager to better understand some of the politics of the organization. Insight into the subject matter experts, influential people, overall workflows, and individual processes enable the project manager to recognize how the organization operates and identify the key people and trigger points. Finally, the social norms, organizations tolerance for change and new ideas, and the types and channels of communications provide the project manager an appreciation of the basic ground rules for working in the environment and moving the project forward.

These organization attributes are by no means inclusive of everything a project manager must know about the organization. However, many of these appear to be key drivers leading to project success. Developing greater awareness and understanding of these seven areas, a project manager should become more effective in navigating the organization to remove roadblocks for the project team.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Project Manager - Assessing Industry Expertise

attributes of industry expertise
Two weeks ago I wrote about the industry expertise project manager building block. In this post I argued the role industry experience plays in developing competency as a project manager. This was a part of the project manager building block model. In this earlier post I simply described the industry expertise building block. I will now provide more detail on this building block.

The Project Management Institute's Project Manager Competency Development (PMCD) framework covers project management-specific competencies but the framework does not include any attributes of industry expertise. In my model I build on the PMCD framework to include attributes of industry expertise that are relevant to effective project managers.

Project managers build competency in project management through their expertise in the industry. This expertise is derived from industry language and terminology, workflows and processes, process performance, history and change, professional ethics, and external constraints. The project manager is more effective when able to speak the language of the industry specialists, understand their workflow and work processes, and appreciate the amount of work and skills required to perform industry processes.

Project managers also need to have a historical context of the industry, understand the origins of change on the industry, and how the industry responded to change. Project managers should have a good understanding of the industry's code of ethics and the type of ethical issues that arise in the industry. Finally, the project manager must be aware of the governing bodies in the industry and any legal or regulatory constraints these agencies may place on the industry and any projects executed within the industry.

Each of these six attributes of industry expertise contribute to the project managers proficiency and should improve the project manager's ability to be successful leading projects within the industry.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Strategy and Big Data

Early this year I wrote a post arguing that business strategy and business needs must drive data collection. In this post I explained that the data and information available in a business intelligence (BI) solution must be the right type of data; the data and information needed to make informed decisions. The BI solution should be based on the information needs rather than simply reporting on the data from the existing information systems.

This week I read another article that reminded me of this issue. This article discussed the technical challenges of developing a Big Data solution. Just like big data is an extension of BI but with new problems to solve, the data issue I described associated with BI solutions is further extended compounded in a big data solution.

The issue of business needs driving big data solutions is far grater in big data solutions than for BI solutions. Both big data and BI solutions require the right type of data to yield systems that provide meaningful results and lead to improved decision making. The data issues with Big data solutions are compounded due to significantly larger volume of data, significantly wider scope of data collected, and the mixed type of data collected (structured and unstructured). Big data solutions require more processing horsepower than traditional BI solutions.

It is the processing horsepower and storage limitation issues that further require a focus on the end result when designing and implementing big data solutions. The volumes of data can be reduced if only data contributing to the decision making for strategic efforts are collected. The reduced data collection also leads to reduction in the data compression and filtering, data storage, data cleaning and integration, and data representation needed to process all of the data in the big data solution.

If we allow our business strategies to determine the types of decisions we need to make we will then be able to better focus our big data efforts. With focused efforts we reduce the data and processing needed to yield meaningful outcomes. This results in improved decision making in areas that are strategically important to the organization. The strategic focus reduces the big data load and improves the value derived by the organization.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Project Manager - Professional Behavior

This post is the final post on the discussion of my conceptual model for project manager competency building blocks. I have previously explained the foundational building blocks of industry experience and organizational experience and described the process knowledge building block and the project performance building block as two of the three project management-specific competency building blocks. In this post I'll explain the third and final project-specific building blocks - professional behavior.

The professional behavior is based on the personal competencies in the Project Manager Competency Development framework. This building block consists of the ability to manage the project resources, guide a team through motivation and goal setting, communicate effectively with all project stakeholders, understand the project complexities as well as the external environments affecting the project, applying good judgement in evaluation the project environment leading to good decisions, and demonstrating ethical and professional behaviors to achieve the desired project results.

The professional behavior is developed outside of the project management skills and knowledge. The professional behaviors must be developed through experience, education, and mentoring. A project manager may be technically sound in the knowledge and application of the processes and tools but, without developed professional behaviors, the project manager will struggle in leading the team and stakeholders to achieve the desired results.

The professional behaviors building block along with all of the project manager building blocks require continual development. The project environment is always changing and we can always find ways to learn new techniques or improve our existing practices. These building blocks are simply a way to view the different types of skills and knowledge needed to be a successful project manager. Use these building blocks to begin evaluating and improving your own project management competency.