Thursday, October 30, 2014

Experience at PMI Congress 2014

I just returned from the Project Management Institute's North America Congress in Phoenix this week. This was my first time attending this conference so I thought I would share a few observations about the congress and about the project management profession.

The conference was a large event that took place across the stunningly beautiful Phoenix Convention Center. The three days of the conference were filled with presentations but there was still plenty of time to network with other project managers or visit with the vendors in the exhibit hall. Most of the presentations provided excellent perspectives into current project management issues and practices. Although some of the presenters could have been more engaging (especially after a full day of listening to presentations) all of the presenters understood their audience and focused their presentations on a set of outcomes. Since the project management field covers so many areas (leadership, communications, risk, strategy, scheduling, etc) there were many topics to choose from throughout the event.

Attending the conference presentations and speaking with many project managers from around the world I gained additional insight into the project management profession. Project managers from all industries and all regions of the world share common issues and are looking for solutions or ways to improve their project management practice. I noticed many project managers are interested in learning more about designing and building effective project teams, becoming better leaders, improving stakeholder communications, developing better project plans, and dealing with challenges (risk) that occur during the project. In addition to these operational interests I also found many project managers interested in program management, portfolio management, and agile approaches to project management.

During two of the mornings I led discussions in project management career paths and founds some common concerns and observations from the attendees. I'll share these findings in my next blog post. My experience at PMI's North America Congress was a good one. I may not attend the PMI Congress every year but I certainly see this as a valuable event for project managers and encourage others to attend a congress in the near future.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Solution to Automation

I just finished reading Nicolas Carr's The Glass Cage. This is Carr's most recent book in his series of books dealing with the influence of technology on society. In this book, Carr discusses automation with a thesis that automation removes us from the processes, dulls our skills and knowledge, and reduces our role in our work. Carr argues that, through automation, humans are relegating to monitoring processes and stepping in to handle exceptions; both of which we are not very good at doing.

Throughout the book Carr makes compelling argument for the need to understand the downside of automation. While we often focus on the benefits of efficiency, accuracy, and cost savings of automation, we tend to ignore or downplay the role automation has on changing the nature of work and our role in work. He offers plenty of examples of automation changing the nature of work and makes a particularly strong case for airline pilots.

Carr provided many insightful reflections on automation but offered little in terms of specific solutions. The approach of human-centered automation rather than technology-centered automation was suggested and the author pointed to video games as a better model for automation. In this approach, technology is used to enhance our skills and help us accomplish our goals rather than taking over the process and having us step aside and monitor the work.

In a brief section of the book Carr described his experience with the game Red Dead Redemption and how he, as the user, was coached by the software to perform a task, provided with feedback (death of his video game character) and allowed to reattempt the task until it was mastered. This example helped illuminate the human-centered design but I would have liked to see him apply this concept to examples of automation of work. Although I appreciate this example (and Carr's admission of playing Red Dead Redemption which helps me justify my affinity for Assassins Creed) I would have liked to see more of the book dedicated to applying this human-centered model.

If human-centered design is the solution to better apply automation to our work, we must develop a better vision of what this looks like and strategies for how we can apply this to our work. This is not an easy task since technology-centered automation promotes efficiency, accuracy, and cost savings while human cannot make these same claims. Do we offer enough value to work for organizations to abandon the benefits of technology-centered automation? We must first answer this value proposition before we can hope for change.

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.