Category Archives: Project Management

Minimal Viable Bureaucracy

I recently attended a conference where one speaker had a great phrase – “minimal viable bureaucracy” (MVB). Being in government for nearly twenty years, I love the idea of no more bureaucratic process than is necessary to achieve an objective. MVB reminds me of adaptive case management (ACM), which I have used in several agencies to build processes.

The idea behind ACM is to create a simple process and then evolve the process when encountering new cases. Instead of building a process designed to handle all eventualities (which never works), the process grows to handle exceptions and incorporates what is learned into building out the process. Learning is built into the system.

MVB is the approach I take to project management. I have seen too many project managers spend more time managing the project process, rather delivering on the project product. I remember working with one person who continually fiddled around with his Microsoft Project spreadsheets as if that would solve the project issue. I had him abandon his spreadsheets and focus on the project team and customers in front of him.

We redesigned his project management process to be simpler and focused. Thankfully, we were on time and successfully delivered the project product without too much schedule delay and disruption to the customer. This incident and others taught me the wisdom of keeping it simple and focusing on outcomes.

The trick is that once you start with a simple process and grow it in complexity, how do you keep the process from becoming burdened with no-longer-needed routines? How does the process grow and shrink as needed? Something that I plan to explore in future postings.

Launching Three Online Courses in the Fall

One free introductory course to project management, a paid course in advanced agile project management, and a paid course in marketing training courses in your organization.

After a successful training at the 2019 Drupal GovCon, I had several emails asking if I could send the training slides and materials to the people who missed the session. It was then that it hit me. And I am surprised why I didn’t think of this before.

Especially after teaching online for four different universities and training other instructors in online teaching for over 15 years. I suppose what led to my hesitation was not finding the appropriate teaching platform.

However, I have recently found a good online teaching platform and am ready to release three courses based on my books, articles, and presentations. Look for the course launches in late August/early September.

Hand pushing pin into a board that has cards connected by strings.

Small Project Management – My gentle introduction to project management. This free course is great for those who want to get into project management but don’t know where to start. This course is based on a free guide that I authored in 2012. Since then, I have given this course to government offices and nonprofits.

Lean Scope Project Management – I created this project management method by combining design thinking with agile project management. This is an extreme project management to create novel products or services quickly and with heavy customer input.

I first designed this method in 2014 and continually update it as I continue to learn from managing projects. Participants will this course useful in helping execute on their world-changing ideas.

New Ways to Market Training – This training is based on my experiences in marketing training courses in organizations. It was surprising to me that there is very little guidance on how to market training courses to internal audiences. What is unique about my training course it deals with using the latest social media and workplace digital collaboration tools for marketing.

More details as we come closer to the course launch dates.

ROI in Agile Project Management

The last two weeks were filled with excellent training. I spent two days in a good Association of Training Development course on coaching. Then, it was four-and-a-half days in Return on Investment (ROI) training. If you are not familiar with ROI, it started as a way of evaluating the efficiency and effectiveness of training programs. ROI has then been used to measure coaching, leadership development programs, project management, and even innovation.

When I first signed up for the course, I questioned how we could spend 36 hours talking about ROI. ROI seemed straightforward and easy to grasp. It is but, there are a lot of nuances to making ROI work in an organization. As I sat in the course, I begin thinking of how ROI could be used in agile project management. Especially the form of agile project management I am creating to manage training programs.

person holding several hundred dollar bills

Recently, Dr. Kerzner and Mr. Ward from the ILL released a white paper on the future of project management. Kerzner and Ward see project management as “the delivery system for sustainable business value.” In their whitepaper, describe a five-level project management maturity model (PMMM) based on project management metrics. There are several significant parallels between ROI and the Kerzner and Ward PMMM. First, there is an alignment between the project metrics and strategic business needs. Second, the consideration of intangibles in delivering project benefits. And, third, the value from innovations in the project management process.

I have sketched how to apply ROI to agile project management. In a future posting, I will describe how to apply ROI to agile project management and my version of agile learning program management.

Why Communicating Understanding Is Vital to Project Managers

As a practicing project manager, I knew that just merely telling my team, stakeholders, and executive sponsor information did not mean I was communicating effectively. Yes, I was technically communicating but just giving information didn’t mean I was an effective communicator. What was needed is another component to transferring information – understanding.

Understanding is a topic in epistemology which is the study of knowledge. Don’t worry; I will keep the philosophy brief and to the point. Even though the study of knowledge is ancient, the study of understanding is relatively new (just like the study of project management communication). According to philosophers, there three main ways of understanding.

There is know-what in which I have an understanding of some concept, physical object, or process. For example, I know what a work-breakdown-structure (WBS) is in the sense of it being a tool in project management. I may have a simple understanding of what a WBS is because I recognize a WBS when I see it. Or my know-what may be that I know WBS exist but, that is all I know. In contrast, I may thoroughly understand WBS including the history of the concept. Know-what is often the first step in creating understanding.

When I can construct a WBS, I have know-how. As you can see, know-how is more involved than know-what. For me to have know-how, I must possess these six attributes:

1. Ability to follow the explanation of the concept, physical object, or process.

2. Ability to explain the concept, physical object, or process.

3. Ability to draw conclusions from the concept, physical object, or process.

4. Ability to conclude opposing conclusions from the opposite of the concept, physical object, or process.

5. Ability to conclude the correct ideas when given the concept, physical object, or process.

6. Ability to conclude the correct opposite ideas when given the opposite of the concept, physical object, or process.

The third way of understanding is know-why. You may know what a WBS is and how to construct the WBS. However, your understanding is incomplete if you don’t know why you need to use a WBS. Know-why may seem the same as know-what, but there is a significant difference. For example, I may be an expert on Monte Carlo simulations in risk management. I can explain the concept and even create a spreadsheet that uses Monte Carlo simulations for risk management. However, I may not be able to explain why you need a Monte Carlo simulation in your project. I just want to use a Monte Carlo simulation in your simple weekend project to build a deck just because I like building Monte Carlo simulations. I know-what and I know-how but I don’t know-why we shouldn’t use the Monte Carlo simulation in your particular project.

It is unnecessary to have three ways of understanding to be effective. For example, your senior sponsor may only need to know why your project needs a risk register but, has only a partial understanding of what a risk register is. The senior sponsor doesn’t need to understand how to create a risk register. And the senior sponsor needs only a cursory understanding of why a risk register is needed. Just enough know-what and know-why to reassure the sponsor that the project’s chances for success will increase if you use a risk register.

An important decision for a communicator is to determine the level of understanding that his or her audience needs for successful communication. That is why communication is more than information transfer. The communicator and the receiver must use feedback to determine how the message was received and if the communicator created the intended level of understanding in the receiver for the communication to succeed.

[This is an excerpt from my recently published book, The Persuasive Project Manager: Communicating for Understanding.]

Training the Next Generation of Federal Government Program and Project Managers

In a recent Government Executive column, John Kamensky writes about the second anniversary of the passage of the Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act (PMIAA). “Two years after its passage, slow but steady progress is being made to implement not only the law’s requirements but also its underlying intent—to improve the government’s ability to manage large and complex programs,” Kamensky writes:

The Office of Management and Budget has a five-year plan to implement the PMIAA. The first phase of the five-year plan was to create governance networks in the 24 major federal agencies. The second phase is conducted portfolio reviews for major acquisition programs. However, it is the third phase that most interest me – building the leadership and technical capacity to manage complex programs.

“OMB is working with the Office of Personnel Management to define the strategic talent management needs of agencies and the training needed by the current workforce. They are also working on defining potential job series, career paths, and mentoring programs, with an initial focus on acquisition staffs. OPM has announced that it will be conducting assessments next year of program and project managers across federal agencies to determine the competencies of the management workforce. According to Federal Times, this will be done in a phased approach across four groups of agencies beginning in May 2019.”

I agree with Kamensky’s reasons on why implementing the PMIAA is more difficult than originally thought. The first and second reasons revolve around defining what a government program is and how to manage a government program. The first two reasons probably lead to the third reason which is that many program managers do not see themselves as program managers. “They see themselves in the context of their professional communities (e.g., social worker) or their career’s policy domain (e.g., managing foster care).”

I especially agree with this point.

“Furthermore, program management has traditionally been treated as an acquisition function, when in fact it is much broader role, involving human resources, IT, financial management, mission-delivery functions, potentially other agencies, contractors, the media, and even Congress.”

It is the third phase that will be the real challenge. The first reason is that program management and project management, although closely related, have enough significant differences that only training for program management will not address the shortage of trained project managers. The second reason is there are 15 types of government programs with wildly different characteristics and purposes (pp. 7 to 8 of A Framework for Improving Federal Program Management, 2018). Each type of program will require a different variety of management techniques along with a common set of project management skills.

“Even the most inclusive list of discrete skills struggles to cap­ture the complex, imaginative, and dynamic experience of leading a federal program. Successful leaders require discrete skills, and the capacity to deploy those skills skillfully and strategically, to meet changing circumstances. Program managers themselves have a wide range of views about the skills that they need, given the demands of their programs.” (p. 40 of the Framework).

There are promising initiatives in meeting the project management and program management training challenge as PMIAA enters the next three years of implementation. Individual agencies are working hard to meet the training challenges as Kamensky recounts in his article. I will be looking forward to seeing what will happen in the next three years of PMIAA’s implementation.