From Complexity to Ingenuity

I have learned from the project management course that risk management is the essence of project management, by understanding, analyzing, mitigating, and monitoring project risk the company would reduce the number of surprises and that will leads to project success and increase stakeholder satisfaction. According to PMI’s report Pulse of the Profession in 2013 “Every $1 billion spent on a project, will have $135 million at risk, the trend becomes more troubling for projects with added complexity, which, on average, have budgets nearly twice as large.”

Project manager must identify complexity in a project from the beginning to help control the risk through the life of the project, to make sure his or her team is focused and the project is better governed and managed. Also, he or she would decide if the project is worth the risk and what should be done to manage the risk through the life of the project. According to PMI’s report in February 2014 “From Complexity to Dexterity” the report added seven tips to taming complexity in a project as follows;risk_measurement_400_clr_5483

1. Project and program management culture comes from above.
Having engaged project sponsors is one of the main drivers for project success.

2. Set a clear vision for project outcomes.
Setting specific goals for what the project needs to define how decisions are made, and prevent scope creep from pulling the project of track.

3. Break highly complex projects into manageable pieces.
Determining the elements of complexity early when problems are cheaper to solve.

4. Establish centralized functions for oversight.
Setting guidelines and providing tools between project teams and leadership to ensure they remain aligned.

5. Create a formal governance process and follow it.
Diligently oversight projects by people empowered to make decisions to mitigate issues before they become a major problem.

6. Invest in people.
Developing the expertise of project leaders ensures the organization has a broad pool of leaders ready to manage highly complex projects.

7. Communicate effectively with all stakeholders.
Seeking out different perspectives and ensuring project objectives are widely understood.

The report indicated that the pharmaceutical business is a prime example for complexity when dealing with uncertainty about the future of creating new drug to market. “We are trying to predict what’s going to happen 10 years from now with respect to multi million euro rug development projects.Research wants to develop a new drug, commercial wants something to sell, and customers and stakeholders want a product proven safe and effective.” says Ken Jones, President and CEO of Astellas Pharma Europe Ltd. As organizations have little choice to deal with indexcomplexity, but such project management strictness helps Mr. Jones’ team better control the risks and determine which projects should be fast-tracked, slowed down or killed.

Which one of the tips do you find most important to taming complexity in a project and can you think of any additional tips to add to this list?



Tips for Project Management Success

In our project management course we have discussed the use of a Work Breakdown Structure and a Responsibility Matrix in order to assist us in effectively managing a project. We also need to keep in mind that there are other tools that one acquires outside of a classroom. The author in the article below shares several secrets to project management success. I have listed a few of them with my thoughts.

1. Have full project details before starting.
Understand the scope of the project, and make sure all the stakeholders agree. The project details should contain dates, budget information, and milestones. I have worked on projects that didn’t contain the budget information, and then I was told that we have spent more than we were supposed to.

2. Have the right size project management team in place.
Once you know what the project details are, determine the skills and experience that is necessary, and then select the people you will need. I feel that if you only need 4 people for example, than only select the 4 people you need. Selecting more people then needed will add more work because the project manager now needs to manage a larger group.

3. Be clear about who is responsible for what.
Determine who in the team is responsible for which part of the project, and make sure they are accountable. This step is critical because the project manager and the team need to know what everyone is working on, and what everyone will deliver on the due date.

4. Don’t micromanage.
It’s okay to meet regularly with your team members, but allow them space to work. I have seen this too many times; where a manager doesn’t give his/her employee the space needed to work. What this causes is resentment, and your team may challenge your leadership.

5. Keep team members motivated by rewarding them when milestones are reached.
It is a good idea to motivate and recognize members of your team with some kind of reward. I have worked on projects where the manager has awarded their teams with a lunch or outing during certain milestones.

6. Hold regular project status meetings or calls, but keep them short.
Meetings or conference calls should be scheduled regularly so everyone is up to date on the project’s status. In my experience, meetings need to be long enough to discuss the status, and any open issues that need to be addressed. They don’t need to be too long.

7. Build in time for changes.
Allow time for last minute changes that may need to be made to your project if the specifications change or requests are made. Based on my experience as an engineer, almost all projects always need that extra time to address last minute requirements.

The author states several good tips that I agree with.  Are there any additional tips that you can share that may help one be successful at managing projects?


A Risk Management Lesson from “Silicon Valley”

The video clip linked below is from HBO’s “Silicon Valley”. This television program follows a group of software engineers as they launch an innovative app and their associated start-up company (both named Pied Piper). This clip focuses on Pied Piper’s primary competition, a tech conglomerate named “Hooli”. The clip shows a speech by Hooli’s CEO, followed by several discussions between members of a project team.

HBO’s Silicon Valley on Risk Management

This scenario highlights several instances of risk management failure which are tragically relevant to the workplace. Some of the failures I observed are lack of communication within the project team, lack of escalation within the project team and larger organization, and absence of risk planning and mitigation planning early in the project. In today’s hyper-competitive, fast-paced marketplace proper risk management is critical to project success. Has anyone observed this type of situation at their workplace?

Recently I encountered a scenario where the customer made a significant design change late in the project. The product was nearly qualified, but was deemed unacceptable due to reliability and performance requirements. The team was faced with a tough decision: kill the project or redesign.

As the contract manufacturer in this arrangement, I raised concerns regarding the potential risks this design change could have on the project. Any delay or high defect rate would result in lost revenue and profit to my organization as well as the customer. I was reassured there would be no issues and no change to the product ramp/launch dates and product cost.

As we built increasing numbers of the product the failures began to pile up. Both customer and manufacturer turned to firefighting mode and additional resources were dedicated to expedite resolution. In my customer’s organization I could see finger-pointing among several teams as each department tried to cover themselves and avoid being the next bearer of bad news to upper management.

Eventually the product was fixed and had a successful (yet slightly delayed) launch after several weeks of many stressful meetings. Could this situation have been prevented? I believe so, but only if the correct tools, controls, and planning were put in place at the beginning of the project at both the customer and manufacturer. The following article details such risk management best-practices:

Risk management and project management go hand in hand

Some noteworthy items include ingraining a risk management culture/mindset in the project team, frequently analyzing the project status and forecasting new risks, developing and agreeing to risk response plans in advance, and assigning an owner to each risk who can drive corrective actions and track progress. Although you cannot predict every possible risk in a project, I’ve seen how important it is to conduct this planning at the beginning of the project to avoid firefighting late in the project.

Does your company have a formalized process for risk management? Are these successful, or would you suggest alternate approaches? Do you have any horror stories similar to mine? Please share your experiences!


Product manager vs. project manager: who is what, and why is each important

During our first 2 weeks of class, I have been assessing how my company handles project management, and where to find our PMO group. Regrettably, our company does not have a dedicated group that handles all our company’s projects. This led myself to re-assess how our company operates under its current organization, which based on our customer needs, Hotwire serves to be a fun, spontaneous travel site that attracts advantageous travel geeks. Our goal is to develop a great travel experience, and this hinges on product development. Product development has similarities with project management, developing a scope, executing on the deliverables, quality control, and completion. So I searched what was the main difference between these organizational groups, and found an article that describes how a product manager sees the difference (listed at the end of this post).

The article discuss the differences between product and project management. Product management is “focused on the end-to-end life cycle of an identified value-proposition”, and I see this group supporting an on-going goal. Ultimately, product managers serve the purpose of delivering products to its customers. The article breaks down project management simply as having a “narrower scope, delivering an outcome defined by someone else”, and which gives the impression that project managers have a purpose based on around strategic decision makers.  The article gave me the impression that product managers are miss understood, and should have a clearer view of their role in the organization.

So, I as reflect on the author’s view of product management and project management, I see the similarities with my own firm, but in the reverse. Project managers have an unclear role in our organization because of how our company organizes it’s priorities around product development. As a Hotel Account Manager, I work closely with our product teams, who oversee different functionalities on our site. These functionalities include product placement, special tagging, promotion features, and specialized amenities (like free parking or complimentary breakfast). In addition to these different product types, our product teams are organized into different categories like mobile, supplier tools, content, pricing and email marketing.

When it comes to our company’s project managers, they are involved in new product releases, technology conversions, and having ownership over key initiatives. Some of these initiatives are related to our companies score card that track different strategy goals, and our project managers are either key senior managers or proven contributors assigned to a special project. To give further insight, our team assigned one of Regional Managers a project to oversee a conversion of a sister travel site. Our Regional Manager led the project for 3 months, and after completing the project, continued to manage his region. Ultimately, I believe our company is set up for success, but I wonder how we could be a better organization with a dedicated PMO team.

Does anyone see a similar project management set up with their organization?


7 Ways Project Managers Can Anticipate, Avoid and Mitigate Problems

Big projects consume a lot of resources and time with some spanning over years and costing millions of dollars. However, multiple studies have shown that over half of the projects fail and these failures have devastating consequences to companies in terms of econ cost and employee morale (1).

As a result, it’s important to have a good Project Manager (PM) to oversee a project. One of the strengths of being a good PM is being able to anticipate problems and deal with them timely and effectively when they arise. In the article, “7 Ways Project Managers can Anticipate, Avoid, and Mitigate Problems”, Jennifer Lonoff identifies 7 problems good PMs face and what they do (summarized below) do to anticipate, avoid or mitigate them.

Problem No. 1: Team members not knowing or understanding what their responsibilities are, not owning their part of the project.

Author: Good project managers let team members know, up front, who is responsible for what – and clearly lay out expectations.

My thoughts: I feel that for a project to be successful, it’s important to get a buy in from all the team members. Many times, the directives come from senior management and the members may not be confident in the project. This makes a PM’s job very difficult. I believe a good PM or even a good Functional Manager will find ways to get the team engaged and make them feel that their contributions are valuable to the project.

Problem No. 2: Having key personnel pulled off the project, either temporarily or permanently.

Author: Use a “project management system that provides resource visibility and forecasting tools, so PMs can [quickly make decisions, re-allocate resources and] ultimately reduce schedule thrash. Another way is by convincing management that removing a vital team member could delay the project (or worse).

My thoughts: It’s not unusual to lose key members of a project while the project is still ongoing. While it may be worth the effort to convince senior management that pulling a key member could have adverse effects on your project, it’s mostly futile to try because they have already made the decision and won’t change their mind. As a PM, you are expected to deliver no matter what the obstacles. One way to mitigate this problem could be to cross train team members or have a contingency plan for each team member, which could be time consuming and challenging.

Problem No. 3: Meeting deadlines.

Author: Assign team members specific deadlines for their parts of the project and the dates given are always much earlier than needed. This way if something needs to be fixed, there is plenty of time for changes and another review.

Bottom of Form

My thoughts: I agree with the author it could be good to assign an earlier deadline to the team, however, you have to be careful not to make it too early that it puts undue pressure on the team members. In addition, it would be helpful to break the projects into smaller chunks so to manage it better.

Problem No. 4: Scope creep.

Author: A good PM will need to document the change, validate, assess its impacts, find a solution and have the change request approved before executing the solution. A great PM, however, will do proactive risk and quality management throughout; and not just react to changes,

My thoughts: Scope creep is a common with most projects. As a PM, it’s your responsibility to manage scope creep; otherwise, the project can be easily derailed. It’s important for PMs to exert their authority when needed and say no. Any changes to the original scope should be thoroughly evaluated before any decisions are made.

Problem No. 5: Not being aware there is a problem or potential problem.

Author: A successful PM should have standing weekly [or more frequent] status meetings with team members, to check if everything was achieved as per the timeline; what issues, if any, anybody is facing and remove them; and, if required, re-plan certain tasks. Another way is to utilize collaborative task tracking software.

My thoughts: A good PM should be aware of what each team member is working on and have constant communication about status. This can be accomplished with software or by other means. This way, the PM is able to anticipate any potential problems and deal with them promptly and effectively.

Problem No. 6: Managing and collaborating with team members in different locations and time zones.

Author: Using a mobile collaboration tool for communication.

My thoughts: A mobile collaboration tool is very important. Frequent calls with each team member could also be effective to maintain good communication.

Problem No. 7: Lack of communication, or hostility, among team members.

Author: A good project manager checks in regularly with team members, either by phone or in person, to see how things are going – and if there are any professional or personal issues that could affect the project, which need to be addressed.

My thoughts: Unless the team was handed to you, it’s important for a PM to evaluate the members before undertaking a major project. As a PM, it’s important to lay out the expectation before the project begins as far as what the PM expects from the team. In addition to technical skills, respect and cooperation among members should be emphasized. It’s also a good idea to have a plan to deal with conflicts and differences. As a PM, it’s important that you are engaged, fair and trustworthy. This will ensure their trust in you.

I felt that the author has identified some key problems PMs face. I agree with all of them in some capacity. Do you agree with us? Can you think of other problems PMs face and how they can be addressed?


Resources Competition in Project Management

I like the case that competition for resources between the project managers at Moss and McAdams Accounting Firm that we were talking last Saturday. It’s such a common problem but difficult to solve.

I was working at Samsung, China’s Mainland before. Almost all of the business departments are based on the project, and each business department has a number of projects at the same time. While carrying out multiple projects, allocating resources between projects has become a very complex task. Resources, especially scarce resources are limited and resulting in project competition. It’s the direct cause of conflict between projects. As the company, they want to invest resources to the most needed place to ensure maximum benefits. Therefore, I think resource management is essential in multi-project management.

We need a lot of resources to implement and complete a project, such as human resources, material resources, equipment resources and information resources. As I worked in the HR Department, so I prefer to talk about the human resource management in project management, especially the human resource contention. Too many talents will be resulting in a waste of resources. Oppositely, not enough talents will lead competition for resources. Our company has a resources pool which is target on the core resources. Because we believe that the management of core resources is the main factor affecting the success of the project, such as technology stars, each project wants technology stars in their group. Just like the case we were talking about at class. Firstly, manage resources pool typically contain the job level and technical expertise of the core employees,  personnel current working condition, and staff selection and assignment system. The staff and assignment system states clearly how to distribute the team members among project. It is prohibited to share team members during A level project or project period that is pretty long. Although the system or policy would play a management role, but the actual project management has a variety of complex situations. So I think the role of effective coordination of functional department is important. Such as management department, human resources department. Secondly, the resources pool should be updated to the  status of the staff periodically to see whether the project goes well and whether need to adjust staff.

Here is an article <How to Manage Key Project Management Resources>.  <> It’s a short article with a video at bottom. It explains the same way how important to plan and get your resources from a resource pool. Not every company has a resources pool, but the project manager should think the same manner to get what you need for the project from all the resources you could find though company.

Project Management: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Do you sometimes see your project manager as just the “jerk in charge?”

The course material has resonated with me in that I am able to identify the need for project management in certain areas of my workplace where this is lacking; such as developing systems for interdepartmental communication and talent acquisition and retention. But, can this be done in the project/program setting with definitive time lines, goals, budget, planning and execution? I think so!

To examine this further, let’s review two examples of projects that I’ve taken part of during my career in the Association Management Field which starkly contrast with each other. One, the successful implementation of a global acquisition strategy for a stand alone association. The other, an abysmally failed attempted to reorganize the digital file structure of an Association Management Firm representing 40 clients and employing almost 250 people.

The latter project, in my opinion, was the attempt of an executive assistant to prove her worth to the company. Beginning with the notion that a one size fits all file structure would be suitable for different account teams representing vastly different clients from many different industries was mistake number one. The project managers did not take the time to properly assess what the organization’s true needs and wants were and simply operated under assumptions. They may have been doing this to avoid scope creep, which often happens in the Association Management Firm setting because there are so many different agendas that come to the table. However, in this instance where the project largely affected day to day operations, failure to involve the entire organization in the planning process lead to a great amount of internal imbalance.

The next mistake was formulating an unreasonable timeline, which included several hours of pointless meetings and then full days, or even weeks, where entire account teams were taken away from their work and forced to moved files around within the network to comply with the new uniform structure. I was personally affected by this as my account team had a system in place for invoicing which relied heavily on file paths – all of which would have to be changed due to the relocation and none of which was considered or anticipated by the project manager. This was an absolute waste of human capital and client’s suffered because of it.

The successful project was one that was carefully cultivated over a two year period by a project manager with a strategic and forward thinking mindset. The Global Development Department at my current company put together an ROI tool which will allow them to assess how to approach various different markets. Each department had a seat at the table and everyone’s role in the process was considered. While implementation is just now beginning, there is great excitement! A good project manager should be able to generate positive feelings about the project – as opposed to the previous example which generated a lot of groaning and eye rolling. I hope to be able to partake in and lead more successful projects like this one in the future.


Good versus Great

My experience to project management is minimal; and the actual idea seems slightly ambiguous. According to, it can be defined as the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements. To some degree the idea of PM has been informal, and as of recent (mid 20th century) has it began to emerge as a distinct profession. In an article I found on “Good to Great: How to be the best Project Manager” it discusses several areas of topic on how to be more successful.

The first point compares a Good Project Managers actions versus a Great Project Managers actions.

•A Good Project Manager simple takes care of scheduling, communication issues, and production.

•A Great Project Manager is more deeply involved in building the skills of team members. They are also more involved in the tactical execution of the strategic vision of the project.

Lessons to take away from this are that Great Project Managers are more adaptive. They know how to bring the best out from their team. They know when to encourage rather than push.

A second point that the article highlights is the mapping of the project.

•A Good Project Manager will try to stay on task

•A Great Project Manager knows that the track will have unexpected turns and can created real-time solutions.

Lessons to take away are that aside from the top priority of helping customers/products reach success; Great Project Managers are aware that the administrative details of their projects have a higher purpose. Taking the time to look up from the projects plans and schedulers to consider the long-range, strategic outlook.

One of the more important points that the article alludes to is the communication abilities of a good and great Project manager.

•Good Project Managers hire talented teams

•Great Project Managers know their team at hand and know how to utilize each person’s skills at the correct time.

The lesson to take away here is that a great Project Manager will know how to use the talents of each team member on his or her team. Knowing how to get everyone on board with the projects strategic vision will bring out the best work. Effective communication is a key attribute to a Great Project Manager.

These are all key areas that I agree make a Great Project manager. However, I think to get to great you have to be good. You talk with people and you ask how they got into this profession, and often times it seems as if they fell into the position. I think these people start in smaller roles with less responsibilities and take the initiative on certain tasks that may demonstrate or exemplify these characteristics of a good project manager type role.

Project Risk Identification for New Project Manager

Rajman Md Rawi on his article “Project Risk Identification for New Project Manager” for PM Times gives us a few tips to identify risks as a project manager.

It starts the article with a very clear definition of Project Risk Management, taken from the book Project Management Institute. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge “Project Risk Management includes the processes of conducting risk management planning, identification, analysis, response planning, and controlling risk on a project. The objectives of project risk management are to increase the likelihood and impact of positive events, and decrease the likelihood and impact of negative events in the project.”

Then Rawi gives us a few tools/techniques to identify risks like: Documentation Reviews, Information Gathering Techniques – Brainstorming, Delphi Technique, Interviewing, Root cause analysis, Checklist analysis – previous similar project, lowest level RBS, Assumption analysis, Diagramming Techniques – cause and effect diagram, system and process flow chart, influence diagrams, SWOT Analysis and Expert Judgment.

He also gives us 5 categories of potential risk that a project could be exposed: Human Resources & Contractors Risk, Customer Risk, Product/Technology Risk, Requirement Risk, Schedule Risk.

Schedule Risk, he advise us to be aware when our schedule is not realistic,  we have a missing task in the schedule, we don’t take on account a potential delay in one task that could delay other tasks in the future, and unfamiliar areas of the product that could take more time that initially though due design and implementation.

Requirement Risk, he recommend to be alert to continuing changes in requirements, requirements poorly defined, some areas of the product could be more time-consuming than others, we are only aware of some requirements when the project start, and total features could be more than what the development team can deliver at the time.

Project Management Risk, he mention that the project manager could have little authority in the organization and low power to influence decision-making and resources, priorities change during the project, we have to clearly defined evaluation criteria for every project phase, we have to be aware that multiple projects within the same company could need the same resources at the same time. And that sometimes the date is driven by marketing demo, tradeshows or other events and not been taking under consideration project teams estimates

Product/Technology Risk, we have to be vigilant that development of the wrong user interface, application or program could result in redesign and implementation errors. Development of extra software functions that are not required could extend the schedule. You could depend in technology that is still under development. And the technology selected could be a problem to the customer

Customer Risk, customer could insist on new requirements or other technical decision, Customer review/decision cycles for plans, prototypes, and specifications could be slower than expected. Even if you product meets all specifications, the customer could not accept the product. And Customer has expectations for development speed that developers cannot meet.

Human Resources & Contractors Risk, Critical development work is being performed by one developer, some developers or contract personnel may leave the project before it is finished, hiring process takes longer than expected, Personnel need extra time to learn unfamiliar software tools, hardware and programming language, there could be conflicts among team members result in poor communication, poor designs, interface errors and extra rework. When looking for new personnel, there is a risk that you cannot find someone with critical skills needed. And contractor could not deliver components when promised.

I agree with his conclusion, I also think that in order to manage and successfully complete a project we have to be able to identify risks and have to be proactive to mitigate the negative impacts that those risks could have, and make a routine out of identifying risk because as he explains, risk can be change throughout the project and vary their importance.  The only statement that I disagree is “we should not spend too much time in identifying risks”. Even though it could be time consuming I think that, you should spend time identifying risks to mitigate future negative outcomes.


PMBOK; 2013 ; Project Management Institute. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) – Fifth Edition
Donna Ritter; 2013; Identifying Risks in Your Project. Retrieved 15 December 2013, available from


Process Improvement Certifications for Project Management Exposure

It’s the first day of class and the professor is going around the room for introductions. When asked if we had any project management experience, the majority trend of the class was “No, I have not had any formal project management experience, BUT I have led…”. What this revealed was that everyone has led some project or team in their career that has exposed them to some level of project management experience. I myself was among those that didn’t think we could claim having project management experience due to the lack of certification or title.The holy grail of all project management certifications is the PMP (Project Management Professional) Certification. For those seeking a career in Project Management, this is definitely a certification you would want under your belt. But what about those individuals who are either interested or have led projects as a part of their job and simply want minimal exposure to managing projects without devoting the time and resource of a PMP certification? Aside from the list of certifications recognized by the Project Management Institute, ( there are alternative certifications and methodologies that can provide you with the exposure needed to lead and manage projects.

Lean Six Sigma

Last year, I decided to pursue my Lean Six Sigma certification through an opportunity provided to me by my employer. Lean Six Sigma is a process improvement methodology that works to improve performance by eliminating waste.  Certifications are structured in belts, similar to that of martial arts.

I started with my Green Belt which practices the methodologies of the process improvement application such as the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) process. In an improvement project, Green Belts help with the details, data analysis, and data collection for the team leader or Black Belt. Much like our current field project, green belts are similar to the team members that help organize the fundraiser/charity event. After my Green Belt certification, I went on to pursue my Black Belt certification. Comparable to a Project Manager, Black Belts lead the process improvement project. In my role as a certified black belt, I have led a few projects that improved the business processes of our agency. What’s great is that these projects do not limit team members to only those certified by Lean Six Sigma. My team involved all individuals whose work played a role in the process being improved, from front line staff to senior executives.

Although not officially being titled as a Project Manager, it was empowering to be given the exposure and opportunity to lead projects. Like many of my classmates, I initially thought that the role of a Project Manager was limited to a certification and specific prior work experience. Process improvement has been increasingly popular among businesses in the recent years and will continue to grow as resources become limited. There are so many types of certifications out there that will provide you with project management experience and I encourage everyone to research the opportunities out there.