Beyond PMO Consulting

"welcome to my personal blog," Ammar W Mango

  • about me

    Organizational Project Management Consultant, using profession as a platform for learning beyond just work. My passion is learning more about self, people, universe, and God.
    I am into Religion, Meditation, Yoga, and Tai Chi. I love learning about human behavior and motivation.
    I am a gourmand who loves healthy food and following latest research into health and natural healing and remedies. I jog and swim whenever I get a chance.
    Please write and tell me about yourself
    Welcome to my blog

  • New!

    PMPNOW Download Link

    Download my new Mobile App PMPNOW! FREE

Posts Tagged ‘PMP’

Is Project Management Moving Away from Analytic Models?

Posted by Ammar Mango on January 23, 2014

Summary:  When I learned Project Management in Undergraduate and Graduate studies, I remember scheduling taking a center stage.  We were taught everything about scheduling, its models, relationships, PERT, CPM, PDM, dependencies, etc.  Today, most projects are succeeding or failing, for reasons other than how “perfect” or “imperfect” the project schedule is.  Furthermore, I feel that the love that engineers have to the scheduling and its intricacies has  counterproductive effect on the project.  This is why the role of scheduling and its value needs serious and brave reconsideration.

When I teach project management for PMP candidates, you can immediately see how engineers and programmers love the part related to scheduling; it is common sense to them, and puts them in their comfort zone: 1+1=2.  However, in the context of the project management knowledge, scheduling techniques are taking less and less percentage over the years.  The domains of knowledge of project management are being enriched in the areas of stakeholders management, soft skills, leadership, risk management, etc, and less attention is given to scheduling.  This is important as project management is about value, people, and interactions, beyond what a scheduling model can describe. In Project Management, one of the most detrimental things a manager could do to the project is to assume that the project models, including the schedule, to be the absolute truth.  Models are there to help us comprehend reality, not to replace reality.  So, to rely completely on analytic models in project management is like fooling oneself that everything in project management is as simple as a formula to calculate the forward pass. Understanding the way of thinking of your key stakeholder, or making sure they can imagine the value the project will deliver might be more important than any schedule or cost baseline.  Also, a market that is stalling, or a cash-flow that is dwindling due to external factors, might not show on your schedule or cost forecast if you do not stay alert to what the world is telling you about the project and its environment. GIGO my professor used to tell me about models: Garbage In Garbage Out.  What we put in the model, and what we know about what the model cannot represent might be more important than the model itself.  KISS another professor used to tell us: Keep IT Simple (lets skip the last S), and definitely this is more relevant today than any other time.  if we start complicating models, then changing them will be become very hard, especially in the fast paced world of today’s projects. So, what is a project manager to do? in addition to the above advice, it is important to stay close to the stakeholders, get used to working in a grey zone of “mushy” information that is not a product of a cast in stone analytic model.  This includes “feeling” the vibes from the stakeholder, learning to build decisions on bet available information, not just data.  Also, keep your toughest critics close, so they help you improve on your plans.


Posted in The PMO | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Why Successful Project Management is so Illusive

Posted by Ammar Mango on August 26, 2013

A lot of what experts say seems like common sense: “Plan well,” “communicate with team,” “manage your stakeholders,” etc etc.  All of it seems like the old adage : “Buy low sell high” kind of advice.  We all know we need to plan.  We all know that communication is important.  Yet, in real life, none of that takes place; we do not plan and we do not communicate.  So what gives?

In reality, many of us abuse project management.  Every time we have a project, we go about it the same mechanical way of filling the necessary forms with the necessary information, get approval, start work, and collect and report on progress, and handle issues and risks.  Yet, the project fails, again.  The reason might be that we did all the “mechanical” parts of  project management.  There is a missing important part: The intelligence.

Project Management is not about filling forms.  All the tools we use in project management are just mechanical tools to help the intelligent navigator carry through the project successfully.  The mechanical tools without the intelligence are useless and here are examples:

– How many projects do you know, where project management forms were filled and projects were managed, but the whole business model behind the project was flawed? ie the company ran out of cash, or the market did not accept the product?

– How many projects do you know had reports that clearly stated certain major risks in manager reports but no one took action until the risk hit the project?

So, everything we do in project management is meant to help an intelligent pilot and team navigate through the project risks.  if that intelligence, attention, commitment, and leadership are not there, then project management is a waste of time.

Let us take this a step further.  I believe that the avalanche of documentation and information collected on a project might be to the detriment of the project.  For example, Developing a detailed schedule might be a waste of time on some projects.  Other projects estimating and setting a detailed cost baseline might be a waste of time.

The other side of the coin is that not doing enough documentation is detrimental to the project.   Sometimes for convenience purposes we assume we do not need a schedule when we really need one.  Then we get into trouble.

So, too much documentation is as bad as too little.  Too much detail in irrelevant parts of the plan are as bad as too little detail in the relevant parts.  A judgment call is needed to determine how much is necessary, and in many cases that judgment call is flawed.

This is the trick in project management.  To know what the real challenges and opportunities on the project are and gear project management towards exploiting these opportunities and dealing with the challenges.  If the key is the cost issue, then put a lot of effort on the cost, and reduce information from other factors that are not as important.  If the schedule is of essence, focus more on the schedule.  If the issue is on the soft side managing client expectations, then put more effort there.

So, the intelligence, commitment, and leadership are prerequisite for successful project management.  Also, the art of knowing how much or how little information is needed in each of the project phases, and how to manage this information, are also prerequisite to successful project management.

This is easier said than done, and this is why project management will remain an illusive art more than an engineering science.

Posted in The PMO | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Certification mindset and the training dilemma

Posted by Ammar Mango on May 10, 2013

PMP training might be the most popular project management training out there.  It should not be.  Not in this day and age.  PMP played a key role.  While important and necessary, it is not sufficient.  PMP is the Project Management Professional certification by the Project Management Institute, PMI.  Hundreds of thousands of project managers have been certified and have the PMP designation next to their name.  While this helped the industry, we are today at a cross-road where the PMP training is not enough.

Most organizations are finding out that it takes more than just hard project management skills to succeed in projects.  While knowing how to develop a project charter, a schedule, a budget, or a breakdown structure are key, they are not enough to ensure success.

Consistently, surveys from leading organizations worldwide are showing that those who are among the best project managers possess skills beyond those required to calculate a critical path, or earned value.  They are leaders.  They have a business sense and an understanding of the value sought from the project.  They are able to engage stakeholders and empower their teams.   They know how to negotiate and use opportunities available to them for the betterment of their projects and their chances for success.

Organizations are looking for project managers who are proactive not reactive.  They are not waiting for input from their sponsors on what to do, but to the opposite, they are giving directions to their management and their sponsors and clients on what is needed to make the project a success.  They have the virtual power to demand that their employers and clients do the right thing to reap the project benefits.

It seems that organizations do not want project managers anymore and want more of business project managers who can ensure value and benefits from the project, the same way a project manager is responsible for value and benefits not just deliverables.  I think this will give rise to the importance of the program manager role, who is responsible to ensure benefits, and be responsible for maybe operations of the handed over deliverables from projects, to ensure delivery and sustaining of value.

I think it is time for the professionals in the industry to start helping business executives understand the role of a program manager beyond what a project manager can do.  Also, professionals should start designing leadership and soft skills courses that target project managers specifically and help build their soft skills as leaders from a business perspective not a technical perspective.

There is still room for the technical project manager, but even they will need the soft skills to empower their teams and communicate with stakeholders.

So the need is there for businesses and organizations to recognize the need to build leadership and soft skills, and for the industry to start offering these courses, beyond the generic form, and specifically target the project and program manager needs.

I believe the older generation before the PMP understand the project manager skills needed more than those who became project managers during the PMP era.  Pre PMP, there was no defined or structured certification for project management.  They had to take care of business and they knew they needed the soft skills to handle the project.  Post PMP I think many project managers started relying on the certification assuming it will suffice and replace the need for soft skills.  Apparently that did not work, and organizations are still looking for the leader project manager.



Posted in Uncategorized, Understanding OTHERS | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

“Certified Project Executive” Anyone??

Posted by Ammar Mango on March 26, 2013

I was reading earlier an article in the PM Network issue this month, that quotes Mr Mark Langley, Project Management Institute – PMI President, challenging audience to become “Project Executives” not only Project Managers.  This really clicked for me and I think he hit the need right on.  We need a level of project management competency that ensures leadership at the BUSINESS level of the project.  This is how I understood Langley’s comments and this is the need that I see on the ground.

If one looks at what the organizations consider as the best project managers, they are are those who:

1. Understand the Project Management Knowledge

2. Know how it is applied

3. And most importantly know how to masterfully apply it or lead a project management team that applies it in a business setup.

I think the PMP certification can shed light on the first two points, but might fall short from guaranteeing the third.  It is one thing to be a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) (All rights reserved to the Project Management Institute – PMI, but it is another thing to be a competent project manager.  I am a proponent of certification and believe that the PMP certification has served the industry and the project management professionals very well, myself included.  However, many companies are seeing the need to differentiate between someone who has 3 years experience in project management and passes the PMP exam, and someone who can really lead the business of the project.

For example, as a PMP, one might know:

– How important a project charter is,

– When it must be developed,

– Who should be involved,

– What should be in it.

But still a PMP might not be able to develop a value adding project charter, or evaluate the quality of a project charter.  Just because a project manager knows a project charter should include clear definition of the business need, does not mean that manager know how to articulate it.  I have seen project charters that are a waste of time, as if they were written just to get checked off someone’s checklist.  Sometimes because the project manager does not really believe in its importance, and other times because of external pressures of others who refuse to cooperate or subscribe to its development and chartering.

On top of what is required to be certified as a PMP, a competent project manager, also needs the following essential attitudes, competencies, and abilities:

– The Project Manager has the conviction that this is an essential document

– The Project Manager has the leadership abilities to use influence and resources to get others to subscribe to the charter and its development

– The Project Manager knows how to develop or ensure quality value adding content is in the charter, not just a space filler kind of information.

– The Project Manager knows how to communicate the charter and when to refer others and self to it throughout the project

– The Project Manager knows how to use the charter to improve chances of project success throughout the project

The above skills and competencies are needed for all other tools and techniques of project management including managing stakeholders expectations, developing a communication plan, managing conflict, etc.

In the big scheme of things, I see the PMP as a good place to start to acknowledge a project manager who understands how the PMBOK should be applied on actual projects.  But then, there is the project manager who does not only know how, but a master of this application in real life.  At this level of competency, the project manager should be tested in the ins and outs of the technique, the outcomes, and the actual development of the outcome, and how to use it.  The PMP exam is not designed that way in my opinion.  To give an example, the PMP exam asks questions that ensures I understand the importance of the communication plan, its main components, who should be involved in developing it, etc, but I can know all that and not be able to write a decent communication plan.

When I keep using the word masterfully, it does not mean “perfectly.” There is no black and white in the management science and organizational theory.  There is always a better way, and room for improvement.  So, “masterfully” means the wisdom and experience to utilize what is available to the best of one’s ability to create value, and be ready and flexible to modify as needed to meet needs and expectations.

I understand the difficulty coming up with such new certification can pause, as far as logistics, design, etc, especially when trying to apply this globally.  However, I believe it must be done.  At a high level, this is how such certification might look like:

1. Pass a preliminary test that shows that they have sufficient PM knowledge, leadership abilities, and experience.

2. Qualifying application, CV review, and multiple interviews including some kind of a 360 evaluation

3. Read assigned reading which will include books, papers, etc pre-selected to cover the key focus areas of the certification.  There will be no one reference.  Also, for tose who prefer to learn in a course setting, a training will be provided on each focus area online and classroom style, but they will be optional not mandatory.  The key focus areas should include:

– Organizing and preparing for initiation

– Project Initiation

– Project Charter Development

– Securing Management Support

– Managing Client Expectation

– Cross Organizational Stakeholder Management

– Initial Project Setup

– Risk Management, beyond the mechanical structure, and into engaging stakeholders, clarity, commitment, and decision making

– Defining the project organization structure and its support structures

– Managing Stakeholders Expectations

– Scope Definition and the skill of writing a scope statement, building the WBS, and writing the WBS dictionary in way that serves the WBS purposes

– Developing a baseline at the right detail level, and additional derivative baselines for different project working levels

– Distributing work and project ownership

– Managing Subject Matter Experts and resource managers

– Project Reporting including report design based on level of reporting and stakeholders needs

– Estimation techniques and its relationship to type of work, team motivation and type, and other behavioral factors, and linking estimation with risk management and progressive elaboration

4. Attend a workshop to cover the focus areas that the certification focuses on.  The workshop will allow discussions of these areas and presentation of the take home assignments in the next step.  The workshop will be 5 days.

5.  Take home assignments to develop necessary artifacts based on a given case study. These will be presented by candidate to panel of experts at the end of the workshop.  The review will be elaborate, where a day will be assigned per candidate for the discussion and review of the candidate’s work.  The work will be scrutinized and this will be the most challenging part of the certification process.

5. Final exam, not multiple choice, where candidates have to demonstrate their ability to deal with open scenarios that do not have a clear “correct” answer.

6. Once passed, the candidate will receive not only a certification, but a presentation and media from certifying body about the skills and abilities of the candidate who carry the certification.  The candidate will be certified only in the areas he or she demonstrated competency in, so it does not have to be all or nothing.  So, If I am competent in managing stakeholders expectations, but did not reach that level in estimating, I will get a certificate of competency that lists just the areas I covered.  Later, as my competency is verified in other areas, they are appended to the certificate.

7.  The certification is a lifetime certification, not subject for renewal.

I believe that the main driver for this certification will be companies who hire the certified professionals, and how easy the certification makes it to select the practitioner who can run their project as a business, not merely has the project management knowledge and how it is applied.  Instead they can apply what it takes for projects to succeed and provide value.

I know that such level of complexity is difficult to achieve, but if this is what the industry needs to grow and mature, it might be necessary to overcome the challenges and come up with such certification.

For PMP to continue its success as a certification, we need a distinguishing certification that acknowledges the big difference between a three years experienced project manager who learned the structured PM approach and had a brush with its application, from the competent project manager who also knows the structure, but is a master in applying it in real world projects.

Posted in Understanding OTHERS | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

%d bloggers like this: