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.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Project Manager - Project Performance

This post is a continuation of my discussion from a previous posting about my conceptual model for project manager competency building blocks. I have explained the foundational building blocks of industry experience and organizational experience and described the process knowledge building block as the first of the three project management-specific competency building blocks. In this post I'll explain the second of these project management-specific building blocks - project performance.

The project performance competency building block represents the project manager's ability to apply the project process knowledge and technical skills to the project environment. Project managers must not only know the project management processes and tools but also must be able to apply them to real projects. The project performance competency is developed by identifying the performance elements, determining target performance criteria, evaluating the individuals project performance competencies, identifying gaps between performance and target criteria, establishing a development plan, engaging in performance competency development activities, and re-evaluating the performance. The evaluation, gap analysis, development plan, and development steps are continually iterated as the project manager continues to develop project performance competency. This cycle of performance competency development should continue throughout the career as the project manager constantly learns and improves in applying project management process knowledge.

There is a lot more to the project performance competency building block that what I covered in this brief explanation. A project manager needs to determine the elements of project management that are important to evaluate, determine how to measure the performance for each of the elements, define a target goal for each element, and discover ways to improve in the lower performing elements. I'll try dive into this further in a future post on this blog site.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Project Manager - Process Knowledge

In previous posts I explained my conceptual model of the project manager building blocks and have described the foundational building blocks of industry experience and organizational experience. In this post I will describe the first of the three project management-specific building blocks - process knowledge.

Anyone new to the project management field will begin developing project manager competencies in the process knowledge building block. The process knowledge competency is developed by identifying and understanding all of the processes used across a one or more project management methodologies. For instance, becoming familiar with the Project Management Institute's Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), reading project management textbooks, discovering project management tools and resources (ie and, and other resources.

Understanding the common processes and tools successful project managers use is an important step in developing as a project manager. Although the project management field is fairly new, there is a growing body of best practices available and these best practices help a project manager understand and adopt proven project management practices.

In developing the process knowledge building block, a project manager becomes familiar with common and unique processes and tools and understands how they are applied to the project setting. While process knowledge building block is primarily developed when new to the project management field, a project manager should continually refine their process knowledge to discover new and changing tools and processes in order to improve their own project management practice.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Project Manager - Organization Building Block

A few days ago I posted an introduction to the project manager competency building blocks. These are the categories of skills and knowledge project managers should possess in order to be effective. I also previously posted a description of the industry building block that is one of the foundational project manager competencies. Today I will describe the next competency; the organizational building block.

Similar to industry experience, organizational experience is a foundational competency for project managers. These skills and knowledge are not directly related to project management but provide the background needed for a contextual understanding of the project environment. The industry experience building block I previously described represented the industry-specific experience that help project managers understand how projects are successfully executed within a specific industry. The organizational experience, on the other hand, provides the project manager with an understanding of how projects are executed within the context of the organization.

Organizational experience is gained from developing an understanding of the processes an organization follows, recognizing the power structures that exist within and outside of the organization and realizing who has the authority to make things happen, and observation of the unwritten rules and expectations the organization has for its employees and supervisors. These organizational factors may be unique in each organization and it is beneficial for the project manager to understand these characteristics before initiating a project.

Organizational experience is an especially important competency for project management consultants who may be experts in the project management field but may be at risk in the role due to insufficient experience with the organization. People unfamiliar with the organization will need to quickly understand the organizational context and apply it to the project.