The People in Your Neighbourhood

Do you remember Sesame Street and the song ‘Who are the people in your neighbourhood’? Have you ever stopped to consider just how many different people we meet each day – from family and friends, to complete strangers, including some people we might prefer to avoid!  Have you considered how much we rely on them, without even realising it?

Firstly, there’s friends and family; we look out for each other, rejoice in each other’s success as if it were our own, and we support each other in times of need. You don’t get to choose your family, but you can choose your friends – these are the people we grow up with and, in the words from the Friends theme song “I’ll be there for you ’cause you’re there for me too”.

We regularly meet the friendly postman who hands over bills with a smile on his face, or the local shopkeeper, who knows you by name and is always ready to discuss today’s weather. We are slightly obsessed by the weather; it’s always too hot, too cold, too wet or too windy – but it’s never boring, and a great topic of conversation!  We have a mutual interest when we meet our children’s teacher, so here the weather topic is dropped, and we discuss the current school extension funding efforts, or the approaching school holidays.  The periodic visit to the hairdresser or barber is always accompanied by a discussion on vacation plans, or reviews of a recent holiday trip.

We also rely heavily on those people we meet in times of mini crisis. It might be when an electrical fault causes you to stumble through the house in the dark, searching for your phone to speed dial your trusty electrician.  Or it might be when that dripping tap in your bathroom turns into Niagara Falls, and you need your plumber to appear and save the day (and your house).  It might be when your car splutters to a halt with a very strange noise coming from the engine, and you rely on your long-suffering mechanic’s magic touch to resuscitate the vehicle, so you can ignore all rattles for another twelve months!

Five days each week we meet work colleagues; catch up on the evening before, figure out how to share the workload for the day ahead, and make plans for the upcoming weekend. In many ways, companies are much like families.  Sometimes a ‘family member’ needs a little extra help to get that project completed by the due date, maybe the project has gone completely off track and needs some expert help in Disaster Recovery.

Sometimes the company may need to take on a completely new project, but simply not have the manpower. This is where you reach out to the ‘extended family’.  Aspira work closely with many companies to provide that helping hand when needed, asking our Project Managers, Business Analysts or IT Support consultants to fit right in with their ‘long-lost cousins’.  They help out by hitting the ground running and providing support throughout the whole project and beyond.

As with all families, if you need that extra helping hand, pick up the phone. We’ll be there for you.  www.aspira.ie

Author: Noreen Quinn, HR Partner, Aspira.

Do you need to be a Mentalist to be a Project Manager?

Last night I went to see the English hypnotist and mentalist Derren Brown perform an amazing show, where he performed uncanny acts of mind-reading and influencing through the power of suggestion.

As Derren asked his audience to promise not to reveal the contents of the show, I will stick with that promise – no spoilers – but I did think afterwards about the importance of influencing skills for Project Managers.

I don’t think Project Managers will ever need to be able to influence people to choose a particular card from a pack, but they will need to get people to select their project when making a priority call, or get people to put in some extra work over the weekend, or encourage people to get their action items closed out in time.

So what tips can we learn from Mr Brown? I learned three tips last night:

  1. The power of story telling. While delivering his show, Derren doesn’t say “and for my next trick…”, instead he tells us a story about himself, his childhood, his personal experience. He then draws from that experience an underlying lesson – a deeper truth.

It’s a compelling performance. His story captivates us, we are drawn in and we engage with what he is telling us.  A Project Manager could benefit so much by using that technique to influence stakeholders.  You win hearts and minds not by saying “this project will reduce the cost of goods sold for this medicine by 2%” but instead by showing how the efficiencies that can be delivered by this project will reduce the cost of medicine, making it accessible to thousands of more people in the world whose lives will be transformed.  A very different message.

  1. Use of metaphor and analogy. Derren uses language very effectively to tie together concepts and generate emotional responses from us. By deeply connecting emotions and anchoring those emotions with his influencing messages, he is able to effectively connect with people’s emotions.

This approach is exactly how advertising companies operate, and it can be just as effective too for you dealing with your project stakeholders. If you need to win the minds of your management team to invest in new technology or processes, get them to recall how it felt last year when the technology let them down, and they had to work long hours and miss vacation just to compensate.  Then show how this new technology will solve the problem.  I feel supportive already!

  1. The importance of body language. He reads people like a book. A very open book.  Not many of us can do it to his level of skill, but if you do take the time to focus on people’s body language, you will often become aware of how they really feel.

You will sense when they don’t agree, giving you an opportunity to re-phrase your argument. You will sense when they don’t understand, letting you try to approach it from a new angle.  Or you might sense that you have had enough and simply want to walk away, in which case you should simply stop, regroup and ask for a follow up meeting.

Aspira Project Management training courses will help you identify and engage your project stakeholders – check us out at www.aspira.ie

You don’t need to be a mentalist to be a Project Manager – but it sure can help.

Author: Pat Lucey, CEO, Aspira

Deadlines Rule My Life.

It’s 5.00pm on a Tuesday evening and I get called into my boss, Pat Lucey’s office. Not good. I’m already thinking I need to be gone out of the office by 5.30pm at the latest to collect my kids at 5.45pm. Nobody gets out of Pat’s office quickly.

Pat has a request for me to write a blog for the Aspira website. I start sobbing (internally). Not alone is writing not my forte, but he wants me to develop an outline for it in the next 15 minutes (louder sobs). He asks me what I want to write about and the first thing that comes into my head is ‘Deadlines’.

As a professional with young kids and a demanding job I have realized recently that my life is either being ruled or ruined by deadlines. The two definitions of a deadline are “the latest time or date by which something should be completed” and “a line drawn around a prison beyond which prisoners were liable to be shot”. I think that they might both apply to my life.

In a typical week I need to complete the school run by a deadline, get to work by a deadline, meet lots of deadlines during the week, pick up kids at various deadlines and deliver them to their many after-school activities.  Then start again the next day.  This is a very familiar routine to many of you.  On weekends the deadlines change to revolve around sports games.  If a deadline is missed there can be carnage.  If a deadline is hit then it’s just taken for granted and it’s on to the next one… So, do we ever stop to ask if all those deadlines are useful?

Let me lay out my position from the start: I think that overall, deadlines are useful – they give me structure to my day/week /year and help me prioritise which tasks need to be done now, and which can be deferred.  For people who tend to procrastinate, deadlines can ensure that important things don’t fall between the cracks – they ensure something will get done.

But on the flip side they can take over your life and you can be left with no free time if you are constantly running from one deadline to the next.  There are Four Tips I can offer that help me manage my deadlines:

 

  • Set achievable deadlines, don’t let optimism take over when setting a completion date for a task.  If the deadline will only be achieved if everything goes perfectly to plan, well guess what – you will be in trouble because nothing ever goes perfectly. Plan some contingency.

 

  • Don’t overcommit, don’t try to be a hero and take on too many overlapping tasks.  Finally, let’s stop and think before you set ourselves another deadline. Think through an average day and you will see many of the deadlines we set are self-imposed deadlines. Remember that help is usually available if you need it!

 

  • Don’t overstress if you miss an occasional deadline – remember that we are here for a ‘good time, not a long time’ so don’t beat yourself up as it’s never the end of the world if a deadline is missed.  In fact, if you do miss one, use it as an excuse to remind everyone what an unusual event that is because you are such a dependable person! .

 

  • Recognize your achievement of meeting deadlines (even if nobody else does) and reward yourself for consistently delivering on time.  Whether it is delivering kids to their classes on time or delivering a major project for Aspira on time – they are both about meeting your commitments and keeping your stakeholders happy!

 

Deadlines are important and a Project Manager can help deliver your deadlines on time.  Contact us today to discuss https://www.aspira.ie/project-resourcing

 

Footnote: I left Pat’s office at 5:30pm that Tuesday and collected my kids on time. Pat insisted I wrote that bit in ?

 

Author:  Emma Hayes, HR Business Partner, Aspira

Back on the Saddle – Project Managing your Team to Victory

 

 

 

Last weekend legendary cyclist, Sean Kelly, & I undertook a most enjoyable spin around The Burren & Cliffs of Moher in Co Clare on a beautiful Spring day. The fact that there were over 2,000 others on the cycle shouldn’t detract from what became a serious grudge race between Kelly & myself (that Kelly was not aware he was in a race with me is irrelevant ? )

In the interest of suspense, I won’t reveal who won until the end of this piece!

Afterwards, Kelly took part in an informal Q&A session. One question raised was what separated a social cyclist, club racer & top pro. Apart from the predictable key areas of ability & dedication, an interesting point made was about project management – both race management and lifestyle management. It is not enough to be a strong finisher if you are left behind caught by a break half way through a race. There isn’t much good in being a hard trainer if you didn’t know how to rest & recover.

Sport is rightly viewed as an emotion driven, primal activity, but successful sports managers remove some of the emotion & replace it with good project management practices.

So if we are to take some key traits of a Project Manager in the world of Sport, who can we look to for examples of best practice and who could benefit from fine-tuning their PM skills?  Let’s look at three key areas of Project Management:

  1. Collaboration – How to develop a great team and keep it productive;

Best Practice – Joe Schmidt (Ireland Rugby).

Joe has created an environment with at least two players vying for every position, everyone ‘on message’, and arguably the strongest coaching team around him in world rugby. This is critical chain project management at its best.

Needs to Improve – José Mourinho (Manchester United).

While there’s no “I” in TEAM, there are five “I”’s in “Individual Brilliance” – it seems to be a case of ‘all about me’ with José it. Recently throwing his players to the wolves after a poor performance. His highly successful predecessor, Alex Ferguson, always defended his players – taking action behind closed doors when necessary.

  1. Communication – Great communication is a must to keep all stakeholders on-side, on schedule & focused;

Best Practice – David Brailsford (SKY Cycling).

Despite the bad smell now emanating from the SKY camp, Brailsford captured the cycling public’s interest for many years with a compelling story & consistent message of ‘marginal gains’. From nowhere, SKY became the No 1 team in world cycling & gave a new hope to the sport.

Needs to Improve – Jim Gavin (Dublin GAA).

Perhaps on his way to becoming the most successful ever Gaelic Football manager, Gavin remains enigmatic, having communicated none of his team’s ethos, dreams & goals to the Dublin GAA public, an important stakeholder.

  1. Leadership – Setting the tone for the project with integrity, providing a clear vision for the team

Best Practice – Brian Cody (Kilkenny Hurling).

Cody works long hours to prepare precise plans for all his management team & players. Consistently combative, sometimes cranky, but fiercely loyal to his organisation and never crossing the line by taking shortcuts to success. Treats everyone equally & shows respect for all opponents.

Needs to Improve – Eddie Jones (England Rugby)

Jones was glib, condescending & argumentative while enjoying a record-breaking winning streak, but took a major wobble in team selections, public utterances & body language when the pressure was on following three consecutive defeats. In danger of ‘losing the dressing-room’, Jones would do well to remember that a calm, even-handed leader in good times & bad will earn the respect of his/her team.

 

Our  Project Management course will give you the knowledge and skills required to be a successful project manager including the ‘hard’ skills of managing and planning the scope, schedule and budget and also the ‘soft’ skills of engaging and communicating with your stakeholders and ultimately managing their expectations and meeting the customer requirements.   Details are at: https://www.aspira.ie/training/

Footnote: In a disappointing end to my duel with Sean Kelly, he opted to complete the 125km route when the courses diverged, whereas I stuck to the much more difficult 80k route. I look forward to crossing swords with him again in the future, meanwhile Mr. Kelly remains oblivious to the whole episode!

 

Author: Philip McGillycuddy, Client Services Manager, Aspira.

STEM Subjects – why Maths is Cool!

Maths was always my favorite subject and is at the core of STEM subjects (Science Technology, Engineering, Maths).  I was fascinated by how people used maths to solve real, practical problems.  Like the Egyptians building their pyramids, like carpenters using Pythagoras’ theorem to construct a right angle, like Marconi inventing radio – but more on that later.  In the present day it is used all around us – cryptography uses prime numbers to keep our passwords safe, social media sites use complex algorithms to figure out which video to show you next so you’ll stay glued to your screen, Spotify analyses the number of beats per minute of the music you like in order to suggest other songs you might like.

On the window of my office there is also a Mathematical formula written:  e =  -1  , which is Euler’s equation. It’s there because it’s my favourite – it’s where Mr. Euler brings a cast of super-star numbers together and then there is a big surprise ending.  The first super-star is Pi, which has a value of 3.14… and it goes on forever after the decimal point.  The second super-star is e, the exponential number which has value 2.718…. and it also goes on forever.  The third star is i, (or iota, the Greek letter for i).  It doesn’t have a decimal value as it is an imaginary number – it is the number than when multiplied by itself gives the answer -1.

Euler takes these three superstar numbers and combines them in a formula, and the answer is … wait for it…  minus one.  So, by multiplying these never-ending number and imaginary numbers, you get -1.  That is just so surprising!  And it helps calculate satellite trajectories.

Maths makes for a really cool exploring tool.  Marconi was interested in Maths and Physics, and studied the new science of electromagnetism.  While most people were trying to figure out how to generate power, Marconi was interested in the fact that the mathematical models of electromagnetic waves suggested that in theory they could be transmitted over large distances.  Marconi went on to build a transmitter and receiver that proved the mathematical models were correct – and so came the telegraph, radio, television, Wi-Fi.  It was only because the maths predicted it, that Marconi had the stubbornness to try it.

The same phenomenon happened in the past few years – back in the 1960’s a mathematical model suggested the existence of a new elementary particle, called the Higgs Boson (aka the God particle).  Because Maths showed it should exist, scientists spent the next 50 years searching for it, until in July 2012 they found it, measured in and weighed it.

Maths is also a really useful tool when embarking on a new project or business venture.  ‘Do the numbers stack up?’ is a frequent question.  When setting up Aspira back in 2007, my co-founder and I made a list of all the costs we could think of, how much money we had available, and the likelihood of generating some sales.  By putting this into a spreadsheet, it told us how long we could survive even if we made no sales (the answer was six months) and it also told us how much sales we needed to win in order to break even.  The mathematical model we built gave us the confidence to embark on the journey to set up Aspira.

Mathematicians are like explorers, on a voyage of discovery, looking off into the distance and predicting things that are far away.  But those predictions are what cause people to choose their target and set sail for new horizons.

For all your consultation (maths!) needs, please visit our website https://www.aspira.ie/contact/

Author: Pat Lucey, CEO, Aspira.

Transition in style to the new PMBOK6

In case you missed it, the PMBOK5 is changing to the PMBOK6 on the 25th March 2018. The following are the main changes:

  • There is new information on project and development lifecycles, phases and phase gates.
  • Additional key project documents are also introduced including the Business Case and the Benefits Management Plan.
  • Both the internal and external environments are explored in detail.
  • The role of the project manager is discussed in terms of The PMI Talent Triangle. The talent triangle focuses on three skill sets, namely technical project management, leadership and strategic business management.
  • Each of the knowledge areas highlights key concepts, trends and emerging practices, tailoring considerations and considerations for agile/adaptive environments. The latter reflects the increasing adoption of agile techniques in Project Management.
  • Two knowledge areas have been renamed – Project Time Management is now Project Schedule Management and Project Human Resource Management is now Project Resource Management (not just human but all resources on the project).
  • There are now 49 processes – 1 removed, 3 added and 1 moved.
  • Tools and techniques can be categorised into Data Gathering, Data Analysis, Data Representation, Decision Making, Communication and Interpersonal & Team Skills
  • The word Control has been replaced with the word Monitor in some instances where people are involved.
  • No changes in Project Scope Management & Project Cost Management
  • Project Integration Management – Manage Project Knowledge has been added which is concerned with both tacit and explicit knowledge for two purposes including using existing knowledge and creating new knowledge.
  • Project Schedule Management – Estimate Activity Resources has been moved to Project Resource Management
  • Project Quality Management – Perform Quality Assurance has been renamed to Manage Quality and many of the tools and techniques have been streamlined.
  • Project Resource Management – Since this knowledge area now focuses on all resources, the process names in this area have been changed to reflect this. They include Plan Resource Management, Estimate Activity Resources (the one that was moved from schedule), Acquire Resources, Develop Team, Manage Team and Control Resources (the one that was added).
  • Project Communication Management – Control Communication has been renamed to Manage Communication.
  • Project Risk Management – Control Risk has been renamed to Monitor Risk. Implement Risk Responses has been added. A new risk response strategy has been introduced, namely Escalate.
  • Project Procurement Management – The content has been updated to reflect global practices. Administer Procurement has been renamed to Control Procurement. Close Procurement has been removed.
  • Project Stakeholder Management – Plan Stakeholder Management has been renamed to Plan Stakeholder Engagement and Control Stakeholder Engagement has been renamed to Monitor Stakeholder Engagement.

 

Woah – quite a lot! Don’t panic we have designed a one-day transition course from PMBOK5 to PMBPOK6 with exam questions. So, email us now on training@aspira.ie or call Norma Lynch on 021-2352550 for more information and make sure you visit our training page at https://www.aspira.ie/training.

 

Author: Norma Lynch, Head of Training, Aspira.

The Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) is a registered trademark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

Power of Project Management: Linking strategy to action

Organisations are facing significant events and uncertainties such as GDPR, Brexit, adoption of Artificial Intelligence and President Trump’s new America. These uncertainties give rise to a dilemma for established businesses.  Should they adopt transformation programs within their organisations and risk cannibalising existing profits, or should they preserve what has made their organisation great?

 

Many organisations are opting for major transformation programmes in pursuit of competitive advantage. These programmes may require a shift in strategy, structures, systems, processes and culture while maintaining critical assets.

 

So if you are considering such a transformation, you need to ask yourself:

 

  • How widespread is the required scope of change – does it affect the entire organisation or is it concerned only with a particular division?

 

  • Who are the stakeholders that can have a positive or negative influence on the transformation? Who are the people you need to engage with?

 

  • Do employees see the need for the transformation and understand the importance of the change? In times of change, our autopilot mode stops working – choices suddenly proliferate, decisions need to be made – and this creates uncertainty. Sometimes what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. So you need to create clarity by communicating a compelling vision with a real sense of urgency.

 

  • Are you communicating for buy-in? Organisations need to appeal to employees emotional side, ‘find the feeling’ and make people feel something. People must feel they are capable of change and need to be encouraged to accept the challenges the transformation brings despite the complexity and risks.

 

  • How much time does the organisation have to achieve this transformation? A realistic schedule with clear deliverables and milestones will be required to shape the path and provide the plan for action. Achievement of these milestones will create short-term wins and build confidence and momentum for change within the team.

 

Sustaining competitive advantage has never been more challenging, and the stakes have never been higher. That means you have a tremendous opportunity.  By making the right big-picture, strategic decisions, you can chart your company’s course amid great uncertainty.

 

Aspira consulting services can help you navigate this complex environment. Our clients’ testimonials demonstrate the value of strategic input in realising their vision.

Contact us now for free consultation at info@aspira.ie

 

Author: Norma Lynch, Training Manager, Aspira.

Revealed! The Secret Language of Software Developers

 

I work with a bunch of extremely smart, extremely talented software developers. There’s no denying that seriously hard-core techies have a secret language they use to communicate. It doesn’t have to be in 1’s and 0’s, but it can still be unintelligible to those outside the caste. So we are going behind the scenes to reveal ten of the most commonly used phrases by developers – and what they really mean!

10:       “That’s a nice-to-have feature”

The real meaning is: “Are you crazy!? We have to figure out how to make the software actually work first”

9:         “I am not an expert in <insert technology name>”

The real meaning is: “I may well be an expert in this technology, but I will never admit to it because I like to be modest”

8:         “The complexity was under-estimated”

The real meaning is: “Aha! Now I finally understand what we need to do!”

7:         “I’d like to tweak the design”

The real meaning is: “Now that I finally understand what we need to do, it’s time to throw everything out and start again.”

6:         The customer is using it wrong

The real meaning is: “You asked me to design a toaster and now you’ve told the customer it can bake the bread”.

5:         You’re a manager – you wouldn’t understand.

The real meaning is: “The amount of energy necessary to translate the technical explanation into something you might understand is greater than the total energy in the universe!”

4:         The tester isn’t testing it in field conditions.

The real meaning is: “That tester is good… s/he has figured out ways to break my software that I never even imagined!”

3:         How long is a piece of string?

The real meaning is: “You’ve asked me to estimate something but I have no idea what the context is – please give me a few assumption I can use to come up with a reasonable estimate”

2:         The asynchronous SNR module has created a race condition so that the state machine’s stability renders the RCA status inaccurate and it will take a week to fix.”

The real meaning is: “There is a problem that will definitely take longer than a week to fix!”

1:         That’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

The real meaning is: “Yes, that is indeed a bug, but it would be really hard to fix, so maybe we can dress it up and call it a feature?”

 

Thankfully, if you choose the Aspira Software development team to take on some software development work for you, you will never* hear any of our developers use one of the above phrases, because they recognize that good communication is a critical part of any software development project.

*By never, we mean hardly ever, or at least not every day.

For all queries please contact 021-2352550 or 01-5175777  www.aspira.ie

 

Do unlikely alliances breed success?

 

The festive season is well and truly over and we find ourselves in the depths of January, which we all know is the season of regret, self-loathing, resolutions and discounted Christmas wares. Or as I like to call it, “The season of Ginuary”.

Last weekend, in an effort to pursue all of the above, I found myself browsing the shelves of an upmarket gift shop – you know the type; architectural display of overpriced designer wellingtons alongside “vintage” tinplate toys, alpaca-wool scarves and monogrammed hipflasks. Notions!

While there, I happened across “The Crap Secret Santa Gift Book”. The book describes itself as “A budget-friendly Secret Santa present …featuring advice on how to survive the office Christmas party, silly games to play in meetings and, on one page, a picture of a really evil swan. Perfect for that bloke in marketing whose name you’ve forgotten”.

Sold!

 At this stage, I’d like you to just go ahead and assume that I’m the type of super-organised individual who has the foresight to buy a Secret Santa Gift a full eleven months in advance of possibly needing it. The reality is that by next December, I will most likely have completely forgotten the very existence of this book. In fact, it’s likely that the next time I lay a hand on it will be in the midst of regret, self-loathing, resolutions and decluttering – aka Ginuary 2019. But hey! Let’s save that for another blog.

Now, I haven’t had time to actually read my new book yet, but among other things, it promises advice on how to survive the office Christmas party, which I assume will be a series of quirky instructional guides, such as:

  • Preventing imaginative use of the photocopier – Just say no!
  • Tips to console the weeping lady in the toilets – Crying tears of pure chardonnay, but too upset to explain why she’s crying
  • How to safely wake the sleeping man – Has his tie around his head, one trouser leg rolled up to the knee
  • Dealing with “Mistletoe Mike” – Mild mannered by day, Greek God of kissing by night
  • The Senior Manager and the Intern?? – How to pretend THAT never happened *it didn’t, I’m using artistic license

And it’s this last one that got me thinking. What is it about unexpected alliances and unforeseen collaborations that makes them so often successful? In some cases, their success is purely accidental, in others it’s down to the unpredictable or disproportionate nature of the pairing. But then there’s another category; the ones that are so blindingly obvious that you find yourself asking “Why didn’t someone think of that before?”

 

A prime example of this last category is Microsoft’s latest online solution for project portfolio management. The easiest way to describe it is to say that it’s like MS Project and SharePoint got together and had a baby. They called their new arrival Microsoft Project Online.

Delivered through Office 365, Project Online enables powerful project management capabilities for planning, prioritising and managing projects and project portfolios. It can be accessed from almost any device, anywhere, and has licence options (or plans) available to suit viewers, team members, project resources, administrators, project managers, resource managers and portfolio managers.

It’s got all the usual bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from MS Project, but also features intuitive collaboration along with easy time and task management and integrated tracking of issues and risk mitigation.

 

It’s easy to think of examples of strange bedfellows; Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito in Twins, Riggs and Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon, Holmes and Watson, Yin and Yang, big fish/small fish/cardboard box. But what makes the odd couple of MS Project and SharePoint the epitome of success?

The simple answer is that it’s the Swiss Army Knife of Project Portfolio Management offering something for all target users.

For power users and decision makers it offers robust portfolio management and along with powerful consolidation and reporting capabilities and simplified strategic alignment.

Project managers and administrators have a familiar desktop client with enterprise resource management capabilities and seamless integration with collaboration tools.

Project teams access an intuitive interface which they quickly recognise and adopt.

To Conclude:

 “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail”.

Don’t fear Microsoft Project Online…give it a go. Like me, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Then try crisps with chocolate…yum!

Author:  Karen O’Sullivan, Project Manager, Aspira.

 

What Drives the Different Approaches to Project Planning?

The Project Management Institute Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide ) and the Agile industry organisation define two very different ways of managing projects.  This blog will focus on comparing their suggested project planning approaches.  We focus on this comparison because there’s a misconception that the PMI approach is outdated and cumbersome, or conversely, that Agile guidelines dispense with planning, in a dangerous way.  We will explore how their project planning guidelines compare, and what drives them to define planning, if at all?

PMBOK® Guide  is compiled and managed by the Project Management Institute (PMI) industry association.  The 5th edition of the PMBOK® Guide encompasses a total of 47 defined processes that are matrixed into 5 Process Groups and 10 Knowledge Areas.  Planning is the largest of the defined 5 Process Groups, and alone, Planning contains 24 distinct planning processes.  See the PMBOK® Guide 47 defined processes in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1 – Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide ) Process Matrix
Agile, on the other hand, dictates “Working software over comprehensive documentation”, so are these Project Planning approaches tailored for their environments, or is there a trend behind there adoption rates?

So, we look to answer these two questions,
1. What project environment is well supported by the breadth and approach that PMBOK® Guide Project Planning defines?
2. When is the PMBOK® Guide framework not as suitable as other Planning approaches?

PMBOK® Guide  Approach

The PMBOK® Guide Planning Process Group activities stretch from the broad statement of project scope, to detailed estimates and schedules for the tasks required to deliver that scope.  The outcome of Planning Process Group is a baselined schedule containing every project task.

PMBOK® Guide  5th Edition supports overlapping Process Groups, so that it is common for the implementation of a project to start prior to the completion and base lining of a project schedule, but PMBOK® Guide advises that the project baseline is completed substantially before the core implementation has begun.

Because PMBOK® Guide stipulates that project planning should precede the implementation phase (albeit with minor overlapping allowed) the underlying assumption is that features are largely fixed and that change requests should be infrequent, because the “value” appraisal for the project output is well understood.  The PMBOK® Guide planned project may be complex, with regards to numbers of tasks, but the stakeholders and the project customers have a shared appreciation of the value the project is delivering on.  If customers of PMBOK® Guide projects didn’t have well understood project outcome valuations, customers would be unlikely to commit to large complex projects thousands of fixed requirements and features.   Once a PMBOK® Guide project plan is produced, the project plan facilitates many of the project internal challenges such as project stakeholder management and project resource management.  It is typically easier to convey the benefits of a large project when the details for the project cost, project schedule, and project outcomes, can be comprehensively conveyed.  Examples where PMBOK® Guide Planning suits complex projects would be skyscrapers, luxury cruise liners, or housing estates with thousands of homes, and all of these require thousands of requirements and tasks that can be articulated across the whole project scope, in minute detail.

Software Projects

Software projects, in particular, have complexity because there are almost unlimited ways to architect and design a given solution.  In many complex software projects, it is not uncommon for the solution developer to be unaware of the detailed designs that will eventually be deployed, due to the volume of custom design required to produce a solution.
In addition to the design challenges that developers have for a given solution, it is also very common for the complexity to mask customer usability issues.  Complexity makes it difficult for a customer to envision the quality of an intended project, and it is frequently only after the customer has been given the opportunity to test an application in an authentic environment, can they offer valuable and relevant feedback.  It is very cumbersome and commercially challenging for developers to create facsimiles of solutions in authentic environments, without actually going to the trouble of building the actual solution!  When software projects are delivered in short iterative releases, customer value can be quickly assessed and rectified, if necessary.

This concept of short customer feedback iterations is one of the key drivers of “Customer Development” .  Customer Development suggests that software vendors should plan incremental deliveries to customers, and use feedback from the deployments to tailor subsequent deliveries, with short turn-around time periods.  This approach ensures that the subsequent solutions are built on top of software that has been tailored for customer value.

The Agile software development process is specifically geared to supporting incremental customer deliveries.  Scrum, which is one of the most popular Agile frameworks (there are over 40 different Agile frameworks!), defines an iteration as a “Sprint”.  Common Sprint iteration cycles are two to three weeks.  Scrum also defines an explicit process for planning each Sprint, and planning the higher-level scope for a chain of Sprints.  From experience, the success of each Sprint is proportional to the planning effort put into each Sprint plan, so although the Agile principle of “Working software over comprehensive documentation” puts emphasis on getting working software, the principle doesn’t imply that planning can be omitted.

Summary

We have seen that very large projects, requiring thousands of detailed tasks, are ably planned from beginning-to-end because there exists alignment between Stakeholders and customers on the outcome value.  The alignment lessens the need to reconfirm value, through the likes of an iteration feedback loop.  Planning projects in full detail and scope, from beginning-to-end, facilitates many internal project challenges, such as project stakeholder management and project resource management.

We’ve also seen there are projects that require more frequent alignment checks to ensure the vendor development is meeting customer value expectations. We have seen that complex software projects are examples of projects like these. The frequent checks are facilitated by iteration feedback, ensuring that customer value is maintained.  Iteration feedback also lessens the likelihood that end-of-project customer reviews will highlight value issues with early project features.  The cyclic feedback catches issues early, which leads to reduced project maintenance costs.  Modern Customer Development movement is built on the belief that short iteration feedback delivers substantial commercial benefits for both customers and developers.  This philosophy is gaining popularity amongst software product development teams because of the focus on delivering projects through flexible, quick-turnaround feedback cycles that continually reprioritise customer value.

My 30 years of product and project development has shown me that there are many ways to plan complex projects, but regardless of the project management framework chosen, all project require professional planning.

 

Author: Jim Blair, Aspira, Senior Consultant/Trainer.

 

The Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) is a registered trademark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

 

The Project Management Professional (PMP) is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

Ireland Chapter of Project Management Institute appoints new President

 

 

01 December 2017: The Ireland Chapter of Project Management Institute (PMI) has appointed Pat Lucey as President at the association’s Annual General Meeting last night (Thursday).

 

The Cork-based businessman succeeds out-going Ireland Chapter of PMI President, Niall Murphy, in the two-year voluntary role.

 

Pat has been on the Board of the Chapter since 2011, with responsibility for membership and sponsorship. CEO of consulting and enterprise IT services company, Aspira, Pat has more than 20 years’ experience in managing large-scale enterprise projects. He has also provided project management consultancy internationally to Fortune 500 companies and public bodies.

 

Speaking about his new role, Pat said: “I am honoured to be elected President of the Ireland Chapter of PMI. Thank you to Niall for his commitment and dedication to the Chapter over recent years. He has built a strong foundation that has seen our membership grow by 26% in the past 12 months. I now hope to build upon his legacy.

 

“We are also lucky to have a group of committed volunteers, without whom the Chapter would simply not exist. I look forward to working with them, and our new Board, to further strengthen project management within Ireland.

 

“There is no doubt that the role of project management will inevitably become more valuable in the coming years, ensuring the effective management and delivery of new projects coming into Ireland as a result of Brexit. The Chapter knows the importance of supporting these professionals in the times ahead. We are always focused on development opportunities and industry insight.”

 

New Principal Officers also appointed at the AGM include Jackie Glynn as Vice President and Clive Carroll as Membership Officer.

 

There are currently over 50,000 employed in project management across Ireland, in sectors such as IT, public sector, construction, pharmaceuticals, professional services, financial services and manufacturing.

 

For more information on the Ireland Chapter of Project Management Institute see www.pmi-ireland.org.

What is GDPR?

 

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force on the 25th May 2018. It is now vital that businesses review how they handle and manage personal data that they collect.

What is GDPR?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) outlines the rights and responsibilities that a business has when collecting, using and protecting personal data. For any business that collects personal data it puts focus on the need for transparency, security and accountability by data controllers. The regulation also gives more power to an EU citizen by:

  • Providing a “right to be forgotten”.
  • Allowing easier access to any data of theirs a business may have.
  • Requiring explicit permission whenever the business processes their data.
  • Requiring a business to inform them of any data breach within 24 hours.

The recommendation is to take a “Privacy by Design” and “Privacy by Default” approach to data to reduce potential problems with this regulation in the future.

Privacy by Design

This term is used to describe an approach to designing a system that takes privacy into account at every point of the process. It is not about protecting the data as much as it is about designing the system in such a way that the data doesn’t need protection.

Privacy by Default

This term is used to describe the idea of using the strictest privacy settings by default for a user. This will be more noticeable in areas such as social media and marketing email lists, where a business is storing or publishing additional data that is not needed to sign up to the service.

How Does this Impact your Business?

Preparing your Business

The first step is to review their data for any Personal Identifiable Information (PII) they may be storing.

Personal Identifiable Information

This term refers to data that could be used to identify, locate or contact an EU citizen. This can range from date and place of birth to financial or medical information.

It is vital that a business takes inventory of any PII within their business. This review should take into account questions such as:

  • How did you obtain the data?
  • Was the user notified that this data would be stored?
  • Is there any clearly defined reason for this data to still be stored?
  • How long do you plan to store the data?
  • Is there a retention policy on this data to ensure it removed when the retention period expires?
  • Who has access to the data?
  • Do third parties outside your business have access to this data?

Reviewing these questions with a GDPR consultant will give you an overview of the issues to be resolved.

Planning for the Future

Your business may need to have tighter controls on some data in order to avoid potential data protection issues going forward. These may include:

  • Appointing a data protection officer
  • Setting out clear processes for accessing personal data
  • Strict policies for deleting, sharing and transferring data
  • A process in place to handle data breaches

It is vital that these processes and policies are clearly defined from the outset.

Managing GDPR Going Forward

Monitoring and reporting will be integral to dealing with these changes within your business. For companies currently using SharePoint and reporting tools such as Power BI or SQL Server Reporting Services, these can be leveraged to provide your business with:

  • Effective tracking and reporting of data breaches
  • Approval workflows to manage data access requests
  • Team sites to store documentation on data policies

Microsoft have provided an Activity Hub as a starting point for this here. Consulting with a SharePoint architect who is well versed in GDPR can provide additional changes to better fit your companies needs.

GDPR is a big change for any business dealing with personal data. It is vital that you take a proactive approach to dealing with it. Investing time and effort now into the processes and policies you implement will ensure they are robust and maintainable going forward.

Author: Ian Jones, Software Developer, Aspira