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And the winner of the 2018 PMI Fellow Award is …

Posted by on Oct 11, 2018 in Leadership, Project Management, Workforce Management | 0 comments

And the winner of the 2018 PMI Fellow Award is …

It’s often said that the most important asset in any organization is its people. It’s true in the public sector, it’s true in the private sector and it’s definitely true here at Management Concepts. We can deliver superior solutions not just because we have great course content, but because we also have amazing, highly-qualified instructors with a passion for teaching. One instructor that we are extremely proud of is Cynthia Snyder-Dionisio. It turns out that we aren’t alone in finding her exceptional. On Saturday, Cynthia was named a Project Management Institute (PMI) Fellow at the 2018 PMI Professional Awards Gala. The PMI Fellow Award is the highest and most prestigious individual award presented by the Project Management Institute for service to the organization and profession. With membership of over 500,000, and almost 1 million certified project managers around the globe who are potentially eligible for the award, this is no small feat. Cynthia has had a remarkable career with Management Concepts since she joined us in 2004. She played a pivotal role as a lead consultant and instructor on multiple key accounts such as Medtronic, ViaSat, NASA and NASA JPL. But perhaps the biggest feather in Cynthia’s cap was being a key part of the Management Concepts team that developed the Federal Acquisition Institute’s Federal Acquisition Certification for Program and Project Managers (FAC-P/PM) curricula for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VAAA considers the FAC-P/PM certification to be one of the most successful training programs in the Federal Government. Ms. Dionisio was awarded a letter of commendation signed by the Chancellor of VAAA, based on her work on this project. Subsequently Cynthia developed our popular PMP Exam Prep Bootcamp based on the updated PMBOK 6th edition. High quality work, high caliber professional. We could not agree more with the PMI decision to name her a Fellow. Congratulations,...

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Why Pure Agile Doesn’t Work in Government: Part 1

Posted by on Aug 2, 2018 in Project Management, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Why Pure Agile Doesn’t Work in Government: Part 1

When the 17 founders of the Agile philosophy met and agreed upon the values and principles of what has become the Agile Manifesto, they brought with them a wealth of experience, skill, and knowledge on developing, testing, and deploying software in private and commercial industries. But very few of the founders had much experience in developing software within the environment of government. As a result, the Manifesto reflects this limited background and does not align with governmental software projects. The Agile Manifesto contains four foundational values: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools Working software over comprehensive documentation Customer collaboration over contract negotiation Responding to change over following a plan While these values work very well within lesser regulated commercial markets, they don’t meet the demands of governmental requirements and mandates under which Federal, state, and local IT projects operate. A more effective and appropriate set of values that make the necessary accommodations needed for public IT software-type projects are: Use of properly trained individual using vetted processes and tools Frequent delivery of working software and required documents User collaboration supported by flexible acquisition contracts Use of change-friendly processes described in meaningful plans These modified values provide a more appropriate foundation for software projects within a government venue by shifting the mindset of both government agencies and their contractors towards an effective working solution that embodies the strengths of the Agile adaptive philosophy while supporting the more rigorous legalities of project management in government. Agile and its many implements such as SCRUM, XP, Kanban, Lean, ScrumBan, and others are based on primary development methodology concepts of modular deconstruction, incremental application, and iterative processes. These concepts collectively provide a dynamic software developmental environment that facilitates a more discovery-based, collaborative approach allowing for a higher level of...

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The PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition Moves PM in a Business Value, Strategy Alignment, and Adaptive Direction

Posted by on Apr 21, 2017 in Project Management | 0 comments

The PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition Moves PM in a Business Value, Strategy Alignment, and Adaptive Direction

In April 2016, we highlighted several of the changes to the Standard for Project Management from the PMBOK Guide 6th edition. In February of this year, the Project Management Institute (PMI) provided a pre-release Draft of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition to registered education providers (REPs) so that training materials can be updated to align with the new PMBOK® Guide, expected to be officially released in the 3rd quarter of this year. Also, on December 14, 2016 the new Program Management Improvement Accountability Act was passed into law. Two major objectives outlined in the law relate directly to changes in the PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition: Governmentwide standards, policies, and guidelines for program and project management Widely accepted standards for program and project management planning and delivery The scope of the update includes several objectives, but overall the update is primarily focused on ensuring consistency among the various PMI standards and practice guides. The PMBOK 6th edition standardizes the 49 processes, and provides clarity by refining and standardizing the language and terminology throughout the processes and related PMI standards. The overall feel of the new PMBOK® Guide is one that elevates the content to more of a business-oriented philosophy and raises several elements to a holistic, truly integrated approach. Many of the changes include an increased importance of Agile Principles, Adding Business Value, Strategic Alignment, and Tailoring. These are based on several contributing factors, such as the amount of governance/oversight required, management and stakeholder, and organizational and environmental factors. Another major change is the increased importance of understanding Overall Project Risk, and not just the more narrowly focused individual activity risk. These changes should help organizations execute better portfolio and program management and help ensure that projects decisions are viewed not only from a tactical/operational perspective, but from a strategic one as well. Here’s our brief overview of key changes: The initial sections – 1, 2, and 3 – have significant changes. However, the Guide continues to lay basic foundational understanding of the overall project environment, roles and responsibilities, and how projects fit within their related programs and portfolios. Three major changes to the initial sections include: A high-level discussion of development lifecycles and the importance of the project team to determine the best lifecycle based on internal and external factors. Expanding the elements of project characteristics to include the notion that projects drive change and projects enable business value creation. These two themes are reinforced throughout the Guide via continuing references to the Business Case and a Project Management Benefits Plan. Discussion on the role of the PM as a separate section emphasizes that PMs need to clearly understand their levels of influence and competencies, giving special attention to the competency talent triangle, project management skills, and leadership skills. The role of the PM is also reinforced through all the knowledge areas. Whether PMI did it intentionally or by accident, I found the latest edition to be a little more directive with respect to guidance on when processes are executed, when documents should be completed and by whom, and more guidance on what should be included in various plans and project documents. For example, all processes included statements such as, “This process is performed once or at predetermined points in...

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Federal Program Management Gets a Boost

Posted by on Feb 16, 2017 in Project Management | 0 comments

Federal Program Management Gets a Boost

In February of last year, we highlighted a new legislative effort to improve Federal management of programs called the Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act (PMIAA) of 2015. This Act would amp up the Federal effort by formalizing the role that Program Managers play in Federal operations through a series of directed actions. Among the various actions President Obama took in the final days of his administration was to sign the new Program Management Improvement Accountability Act into law on December 14, 2016. As with the PMIAA 2015 version, this effort adds language to Section 503 in Title 31 of the U.S. Code, which applies to all Executive Branch entities (Defense excepted). Here’s a quick summary of actions the Office of Management and Budget and Agencies are assigned by the change: OMB Deputy Director for Management shall: Adopt governmentwide standards for program and project management Oversee implementation of program and project management standards, policies, and guidelines Establish and chair a Program Management Council comprised of the Program Management Improvement Officer from each Agency, five OMB executives by position (DDM, OPPM, OFFM, OFPP, and E-Gov), and others as appropriate. The council shall meet not less than twice per fiscal year and it will review “programs identified as high risk by GAO.” Establish a 5-year strategic plan for PPM Agency heads will designate a “senior executive” as the Program Management Improvement Officer who shall: Implement the agency’s program management policies Develop a strategy for enhancing the role of program managers within the agency to include: Enhanced training and educational opportunities for Relevant (private sector) competencies Training in cost containment Mentoring by experienced senior executives and PMs in the agency Improved career paths and career opportunities Plan to recruit and retain highly qualified individuals to fill PM roles Improved means of collecting and disseminating best practices to enhance program management across the agency The Program Management Policy Council will be the principal interagency forum for improving agency practices related to program and project management and shall: Advise and assist the DDM Review programs identified as high risk by GAO and recommend actions Discuss topics of importance to the workforce, including: Career development and workforce development needs Policy to support continuous improvement Major challenges across agencies Advise on the development and applicability of standards, governmentwide, for program management transparency Review information published on the OMB website on Transparency of Programs, Priority Goals, and Results The legislation has a very aggressive timeline: No less than 1 year after the enactment of this Act, OMB shall issue the standards, policies, and guidelines required by the Act. No less than 90 days after the above action, OMB shall issue any regulations as are necessary. No less than 180 days from when the standards, policies, and guidelines are issued (by OMB’s OPPM), OPM will issue regulations that: Identify key skills and competencies needed by PPMs (Program and Project Managers) Establish a new job series, or update existing ones, for PPMs Establish a new career path for agency PPMs No less than 1 year after enactment, OMB shall submit a report to Congress on the Strategy developed. No less than 3 years after enactment, GAO shall issue, in conjunction with the GAO High Risk list, a report on the effectiveness of: The standards, policies, and guidelines for PPM...

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Comparisons of Agile vs. Traditional Approaches

Posted by on Aug 17, 2016 in Project Management | 0 comments

Comparisons of Agile vs. Traditional Approaches

Can this discussion be condensed down to a set of graphs that illustrate the areas of “applicability” for both Agile and current best practices for project management, or “traditional” project management? Fortunately, the answer is yes, and the following graphs are offered in support of this response. The first graph illustrates the comparison of Agile, traditional, and other project management philosophies and methods when plotting two independent variables: The size of the project team as a proxy for size and complexity of the project The proximity of the team and project/product owner These variable are independently correlated since the literature currently discussion both Agile project management philosophies and traditional management philosophies do not indicate that by choosing a team size automatically determines the proximity of the team and owner, or vice versa. From this graph, Figure 1, it can be seen that each philosophy and/or methodology has its area of ‘applicability’ as determined by the practitioners of the specific discipline. What that reader should take away from this quadrant graph is that it shows why the application of traditional project management (the green area) just barely touches the applicability of the Agile methods. This would seem to show why Agile is enjoying such successes in the small team size within close proximity of the project owner while the more traditional project management methods had such a difficult time in providing the environment for success. The reverse conclusion is that until the Agile philosophies and methods come to grips with distributed or remote located project owners and team sizes in the 25 to 75 range, (current research is under way to attempt such solutions) the Agile methods will do better when paired with projects where these parameters are the project characteristics. Major Differences between Approaches What are the major differences between the Agile philosophies and traditional project management? Figure 2, The Area of Applicability based on the Physicality of the Deliverable, or ‘Bits vs. Atoms’ illustrates where these disciplines have their best impact. This can lead to understanding where practitioners can best deploy particular philosophies and their associated methodologies. The project manager or Scrum Master (each philosophy has differentiated roles and titles) will have to decide if their particular philosophy is the correct choice given the particular characteristics of the deliverables they have agreed to offer to the project owner. Can each particular practitioner be counted to be objective enough to accept the limitations and boundaries of their particular form of project management? This is one of the questions that each organization must answer before deciding on a particular philosophy opposed to all others. An analogy of myopic perspectives comes down to this quotation by a very observant practitioner of management philosophies: “If all the dogmatic practitioner has in his toolbox is a hammer, then everything must look like a nail; if not, than he will apply his hammer until it resembles a nail.”  CJ Stoneman, 1989. Agreements and Points of Contention Organizations must first understand the areas that Agile and traditional project management excel in given their particular strengths and weaknesses. Then, they must decide if these two development philosophies can work in conjunction within the framework of the organization’s expertise and human resource talents. It is precisely because Agile and traditional do not overlap in major applicability that...

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Strengths and Weaknesses of Agile

Posted by on Jul 11, 2016 in Project Management | 0 comments

Strengths and Weaknesses of Agile

Agile style methodologies seem to have had some success in environments with common conditions: Software deliverables Small team sizes (5-9 is usual sizes surveys contend) Co-located deliverable’s owner or owner’s representative Senior developers populating the team Beyond these four most commonly discussed Agile/Scrum project characteristics, the success rates from the last Agile community survey from Scott Ambler indicated that for 2009 the respondents said their Agile-inspired projects enjoyed a 10 point (58 vs. 48%) improved success rate over the “traditional” project management current best practices. There also appears to be some anecdotal evidence that Agile style methodologies have a statistically significant impact on projects that are of larger size and complexity. When confronted with the aspects of building something like the Hoover Dam, the Freedom Towers in NYC, the ‘Big Dig’ in Boston’s Harbor, or again, the Millau Viaduct in France, Agile practitioners seem to be a bit less vocal about the benefits of Agile-style methodologies. For proof of these discussions, check out any of the Agile Forums and ask the following questions. Please explain how Agile/Scrum would be used to manage a project that had as a deliverable like the Hoover Dam? Please explain how Agile/Scrum would be used to manage a project such as the ISS (International Space Station)? Please explain how Agile/Scrum would deal with the legislative and legal requirements of documentation for a Phase III FDA clinical trial by a major pharmaceutical company? Then sit back and let the community go to work; during the information annealing process that will take place, the range of answers and suggestions will most likely be both wide and broad. The answers will discuss having a Scrum of Scrum architecture where virtual teams are connected via their Scrum Masters that collectively form a Scrum Oversight Council (SOC). The SOC will then transfer the necessary information between Scrum teams, allowing a nine person SOC to coordinate up to 63-81 Scrum team members depending on the size of the Scrum teams. The question that will remain open is how does Scrum deal with deliverables with an atom-based physicality? How are requirements firmed and agreed to when they form the basis for the physical reality of the deliverable (i.e., the formula for 1000 tons of quick-drying concrete that must be able to withstand underwater pressures of 2000 lbs. per square foot)? Three standups a day even with the owner in the room may not be enough to provide the documentation or requirement firmness a physical deliverable may demand. Strengths and Weaknesses of Predictive IT Project Management However, the strengths and weaknesses of current project management best practices can be very quickly grouped into the following categories with the necessary details being discussed: Strengths: Well-known processes with over 400,000 practitioners trained in their use Significant number of successes in the physical deliverable arena Support of very large project team with distributed locations and languages Knowledge of what constitutes a successful completion (if planning done correctly) Arms-length relationship between project owner and project team Up front estimation of project’s scope, schedule, and budget Identified responsibility for the project’s success or failure Weaknesses: Rigidity when applied to “bit-oriented” deliverables such as software projects Limited ability to respond to scope changes during project execution Overhead in definition of requirements, scope, and costs before anything happens Limited...

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Agile: Bits vs. Atoms?

Posted by on Jun 2, 2016 in Project Management | 0 comments

Agile: Bits vs. Atoms?

Building on the frustrations now evident at the basis for the Agile Manifesto’s creation, where did the current project management best practices seem to go “off-rails,” when this previously venerated philosophy had worked so well in the heavy construction, civil engineering, and physical product development environments? The answer to this question lies in understanding one of the causes for such an alarmingly high rate of failure when IT projects are attempted using this previously universal form of project management philosophy. The themes or indications of application for Agile methods illustrate a point that seems to have been missed by many project management thinkers and philosophers when understanding why so many IT projects fail. For proof of this statement, check out the Standish Group’s often quoted project failure studies of 2003 and 2009. As mentioned previously, a strong basis for the project management “current best practices” of stringently defining requirements with copious amounts of documentation had their roots in the construction industry of the 1930-1960’s when humans were doing some of the most complex building projects outside the ancient projects of antiquity. Software development, however, is an entirely different endeavor from hard construction, and to apply concepts involving the creation of physical artifacts to the construction of computer applications appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding of the core difference between these types of projects, and that is: The physicality of the deliverables, where hard construction delivers physical artifacts (atoms), and software projects deliver non-physical artifacts (bits). The 17 signatories of the 2001 Agile Manifesto were software engineers attempting to deal with the frustration, overhead, strict, and probably inappropriate nature of normal project management methods when applied to the computer software development environment. The need to define requirements when producing ‘atoms’ overly constrained the software project where deliverables are ‘bits.’ Agile style methods appear to solve the problems of managing work product when the deliverable is not physical or analog, but digital in nature. This difference in deliverable physicality is at the heart of the current Agile revolution where software project management is finding its own voice in managing “bits” to a successful outcome requires very different methods than managing or producing “atoms.” With an understanding of Agile, its values, and principles as a foundation, the next discovery phase needs to uncover the move of Agile concepts into the larger realm of general, or non-IT project management. This leads to the question: What is Agile Project Management (APM)? Is APM an attempt to apply the values and principles of the Agile philosophy to the problems of “atoms-oriented” project management? Can these values and principles hold up when the deliverable is not “bits,” but atoms in varying shapes and sizes? To put a finer point on it: could the Millau Viaduct in France have been built using the values, principles, and practices of Agile? Are the values and principles of APM different from those of the Agile Manifesto? What is common amongst most of the practitioners of the Agile philosophy of project management is that is works well in certain areas of application, but there have been few case studies of application when the deliverables are “atoms” and not “bits.” The project management blogosphere has had significant discussions on the use of Agile-based methods for large projects such as the Boeing 787...

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Can Agile and Traditional (Predictive) Software Development Co-Exist?

Posted by on May 13, 2016 in Project Management | 0 comments

Can Agile and Traditional (Predictive) Software Development Co-Exist?

Beginning with this post, we will be posing a series of discussions on this question: Is Agile (Agile/Scrum) able to either peacefully co-exist with traditional (predictive) software development, or is the former on track to totally replace the latter? These blog posts are based on a whitepaper that I published in 2010 on this topic of the ability of Agile to co-exist with traditional software development. For those not completely aware of the birth of the Agile software development philosophy, a bit of non-Agilist history is in order. I use the term ‘Agilism’ to indicate the form of the software development practices that conform to the purest definition of the Agile values and principles. So let us start our journey towards trying to answer the question above that has many in the software development field still in arguments and debates. First, let us lay some ground work so we are all on the same page about just ‘What is Agile?’ The answer can be found initially in the Agile Manifesto of 2001. Well, let the Agile Alliance state this in their own words: On February 11-13, 2001, at The Lodge at Snowbird ski resort in the Wasatch mountains of Utah, seventeen people met to talk, ski, relax, and try to find common ground, and of course, to eat. What emerged was the Agile Software Development Manifesto. Representatives from Extreme Programming, SCRUM, DSDM, Adaptive Software Development, Crystal, Feature-Driven Development, Pragmatic Programming, and others sympathetic to the need for an alternative to documentation driven, heavyweight software development processes convened. This manifesto espouses the guiding values and principles of the Agile philosophy: Agile is guided by four values: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools Working software over comprehensive documentation Customer collaboration over contract negotiation Responding to change over following a plan And supplemented by 12 principles: Customer satisfaction by rapid delivery of useful software Welcome changing requirements, even late in development Working software is delivered frequently (weeks rather than months) Working software is the principal measure of progress Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace Close, daily cooperation between businesspeople and developers Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location) Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design Simplicity Self-organizing teams Regular adaptation to changing circumstances By 2001, there were already many Rapid Application Development (RAD) methodologies in existence ; what was lacking, it appeared, was a concise statement of value and focus. The Agile Manifesto provided this for the above listed RAD methodologies whose representative practitioners became signatories to the Manifesto: Kent Beck: Creator of eXtreme Programming (XP) Jeff Sutherland, PhD: creator of Scrum Scott Ambler: Creator of RUP, AUP, and EUP Alistair Cockburn: Creator of Crystal Jim Highsmith: Prime mover behind APM (Agile Project Management) The current literature on Agile methods have two consistent themes involving the use of Agile methodologies and the best way to ensure their benefits to the organizations using Agile methods: Agile is best used in developing software for computers, and The team size and co-location of the project/product owner and team are crucial The frustration of the Agile signatories were evident in the manner in which the Agile Manifesto swung the philosophy pendulum in completely the other direction. If you read the...

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What Changes are Ahead with the new PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition?

Posted by on Apr 13, 2016 in Project Management | 11 comments

What Changes are Ahead with the new PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition?

It’s that time again for PMI® to update the PMBOK® Guide and release the next edition. You may or may not be aware, but since the PMBOK® Guide is recognized as a standard by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as an American National Standard, with the current 5th edition being BSR/PMI 99-001-2013. As a result, the PMBOK® Guide must be updated about every four years to reflect the latest in industry best practices. In March, PMI® released the exposure draft of the PMBOK® Guide 6th edition for review and comment. The 6th edition is scheduled for release something during the January – March 2017 timeframe. This blog will address some of the proposed changes to the next edition. Remember, this is the exposure draft and may not fully reflect the final version we will see next year. PMI® has finally done what many in the field have been requesting for years – structure the PMBOK® Guide by process group and not by knowledge area. Not only have they done that in the 6th edition, it looks like they have also done a good job of ensuring that the PMBOK® Guide better aligns with the most recent Role Delineation Study released in 2015, on which the current exam is based as was represented by Table 3-1 – Project Management Process Group and Knowledge Area Mapping on page 61 of the 5th edition. You’ll find basically the same processes, they are just organized differently. This is both good news and bad news. Good news for project management practitioners and those studying to become PMPs® in that the knowledge areas will now be presented in the PMBOK® Guide the way they are tested on the exam and used in practice. However, this is bad news for all the project management training companies that have their course materials structured and packaged by knowledge area in that they may have to repackage their courses to align with the process groups. Another big change is that the 6th edition is basically six chapters and not 13. If the exposure draft is any indication, the 6th edition should also be much smaller. Looking only at the content chapters and not including the table of contents, appendices, glossary, and index, the 5th edition had 13 chapters and 415 pages. The 6th edition has 10 chapters and may only contain 84 pages. Much of the page reduction is because the 6th edition does not go into detail on all of the inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs. The focus throughout the new edition is on project plan components, project document examples, and project document updates. Inputs and outputs are presented in a table for each process, but not discussed individually as they were in the 5th edition; and, tools and techniques are no longer specifically identified in the process tables or discussed in detail. Chapters one, two, and three have been combined. Instead of providing detailed information on project manager interpersonal skills and organizational structures, these chapters have been integrated and many of the concepts have been summarized into a single paragraph instead of several pages. Also, the discussion on the Project Life Cycle has been simplified and the Life Cycle graphic has been changed to better illustrate the integration of the process groups and knowledge areas...

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A New Prescription to Cure What Ails Federal Program Management?

Posted by on Feb 16, 2016 in Project Management | 0 comments

A New Prescription to Cure What Ails Federal Program Management?

In December of 2008 the now defunct Council for Excellence in Government, presented a report entitled “Delivering Program Results: Improving Government Performance and Delivery”. (Note: Not to be confused with the recent report of a similar name from NAPA and PMI. My colleague wrote on that late last year.) This report capped an eight month study of Program Managers in the Federal government. The report was commissioned by the Office of Management and Budget’s then Deputy Director for Management, Mr. Clay Johnson III. The steering committee of the study was headed by Venable’s Rob Burton, former Deputy Administrator at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, and included members from several Federal agencies, The Council for Excellence in Government, The Professional Services Council, and several industry firms (including myself and another colleague at Management Concepts) with deep knowledge of Federal programs and management. The report made several recommendations: Establish or change existing policies to clarify responsibility and accountability for delivery of program results Improve oversight and management of agency performance through legislation and executive branch actions Establish Federal program management as a career field and recruit, sustain, and retain talent and expertise in program management The report was issued in the waning days of the Bush administration and consequently soon forgotten in the transition. Those of us on the steering committee felt strongly about the leisurely manner in which program managers were selected, tasked, and supported based on the feedback we obtained from those serving in these positions. After all, these people were responsible for 95% of the government’s expenditures through their programs. More importantly, they still are! Fast forward and we’re in the waning days of yet another administration and along comes Senate Bill 1550 (Program Management Improvement Accountability Act of 2015) and its companion, House Resolution 2144 (Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act of 2015), hereinafter referred to as PMIAA. As that baseball great Casey Stengel once opined, “It’s Deja Vu all over again.” The House Resolution was introduced on April 30, 2015 and referred to committee where it now languishes with the Senate Bill that was introduced in June 2015 and passed by the Senate on November 19, 2015. The two bills are virtually identical as both are designed to “establish entities tasked with improving program and project management in Federal agencies, and for other purposes.” I believe many of us would agree that this is sorely needed. The major difference between the two bills is the Senate version inserted “certain” before “Federal agencies” to exclude the Department of Defense as the provisions are “substantially similar to provisions in Title 10.” Interestingly, the PMIAA amends Title 31 of the US Code which applies to all Executive Branch entities. These “certain Federal agencies” (interpret that to mean non-DoD organizations) would be subject to the Act’s provisions which are (in summary): OMB Deputy Director for Management shall: Adopt governmentwide standards for Program and Project Management Oversee implementation of standards, policies, and guidelines Establish and chair a Program Management Policy Council comprised of the Program Management Improvement Officer from each agency, five OMB executives by position (from The Office of Performance and Personnel Management, Office of Federal Procurement Policy, Office of E-Government and Information Technology, as well as OMB’s Controller and Deputy Director for Management), and others as appropriate. Council...

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The Learning Organization: Insights from NASA

Posted by on Dec 2, 2015 in Project Management | 0 comments

The Learning Organization: Insights from NASA

In my last blog I discussed the findings from a study the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), in conjunction with the Project Management Institute (PMI)® recently published in a white paper, “Improving Program Management in the Federal Government.”   They found acquiring knowledge to develop new skills or improve current skills is important, but it is just one factor in managing the challenges associated with delivering projects successfully. The organization and the context of project management in the organization can directly influence the success of projects. There are Federal government agencies that have, or are, building organizational program / project management capabilities. One of them is NASA. Their Academy of Program/Project and Engineering Leadership (APPEL) has been known as a global leader in project management training. I am very familiar with APPEL having assessed their capabilities against other companies that also have formal, structured entities, or “academies” that promote project management competencies. It was no surprise to me when I learned PMI had named APPEL the “best academy in the world” for its project management learning and development. NASA’s journey to project management excellence was achieved by addressing the human dimension of managing projects. The journey was based on remarkable achievements and agonizing failures. Interestingly, APPEL’s starting point was in realizing project failure was a catalyst for learning.   These failures were opportunities for transforming NASA – first with a focus on individual competency, then to developing teams, and finally to becoming a learning organization. Building Individual Capability. In response to the Challenger accident, NASA focused on building individual competence. Through research and studies on how individuals learn to do their jobs, they identified four dimensions to personal effectiveness: Ability, Attitude, Assignments and Alliances. APPEL promotes individual professional development by addressing these four dimensions through multiple channels, including: Identifying a career development framework and an integrated competency model for project management and systems engineering Offering a curriculum that includes both core and in-depth courses Sponsoring developmental assignments and hands-on opportunities to help individuals develop their skills Building High Performance Teams. NASA experienced back-to-back failures with the Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander. In the aftermath of those setbacks, APPEL was mandated with developing the capability of teams as well as individuals. APPEL’s work with teams has included activities such as workshops focusing on team effectiveness; online assessments of team performance; intensive coaching; and technical support. Their approach to team building begins with something they call the “project story.” Simply, it is the ongoing conversations about a project. It is the project’s context – how the team thinks and behaves in dealing with both adversity and successful outcomes. The team building approach at NASA focuses on developing the behaviors found in high-performing teams and eliminating those found in teams with poor stories. They use a survey-based assessment tool to help interpret a project team’s context by measuring how often teams and individuals say that they meet eight key behaviors. Post-assessment services include a combination of team workshops, personal coaching, and consultations with experienced practitioners. Knowledge Services: Building Organizational Capability. Based on several findings in the wake of the Mars failures and the Columbia accident, it was found that NASA had a fundamental deficiency in the collection and sharing of lessons learned across the organization. It was also found that NASA...

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Improving Project Management – Insights from NAPA

Posted by on Oct 20, 2015 in Project Management | 2 comments

Improving Project Management – Insights from NAPA

In past blogs I have been sharing project management success factors and discussing the challenges associated with delivering projects successfully. These have primarily been focused at actions the project manager and team can take. However, the organization, and the context of project management in the organization, can directly influence the success of projects. The National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), in conjunction with the Project Management Institute (PMI)® recently released a whitepaper, “Improving Program Management in the Federal Government.” NAPA identified five key challenges to building effective program management capabilities across the Federal government and seven conditions needed to support the development of program management in organizations. Although the paper is focused on program management, several of the findings and recommendations presented have a direct correlation to successful project management. NAPA found successful program management to be more consistently achieved with well-trained, experienced professionals within a supportive infrastructure, based on proven management standards and practices. Specifically, effective program management depends on a cadre of professionals including the program manager, but also an array of technical specialists with the skills in areas of requirements development, cost and schedule estimation, and risk management. Interesting. These are the very aspects of successful project management I have presented in past blogs. Projects with skilled personnel and mature processes in these areas have demonstrated greater success. NAPA found organizations that develop and maintain a “culture” of program management were more likely to consistently deliver successful programs and projects. These organizations realized the value of program management and how organizational success, delivering services, and products to their customers was based on successful program / project management. Several key practices in developing a PM culture were identified in the NAPA paper. You may notice that these are key practices in change management, and they include: One senior position and / or office responsible for program management in the organization. This position has the authority to direct resources in support of program management, skill development, tools and processes, and performance improvement. I often have seen enterprise Program Management Offices (PMO) provide these functions. Senior-level support to recognize and communicate program management value and champion its development. This is a key component – being able to demonstrate and articulate the value of program management within the organization. The value statement often starts with a small initiative supported by the champion – something that sets the example with minimal effort and resources. Program management professional community across the agency. This is a very beneficial way the organization as a whole can improve management capabilities – by sharing knowledge of successes and failures. Through discussions with program managers (what is working and what is not) the programs and organization can learn to use the skills and process to become more effective in managing programs. Managers can have the skills and still not be successful because they are not effectively using them. Knowledge sharing provides the opportunity to become effective program managers. The NAPA paper not only reaffirmed several of the success factors I have discussed previously, but it showed how organizational support is also a key contributor to effective program management. In future postings I will discuss the approach a couple of Federal government agencies have taken in building organizational program management...

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Managing Requirements: Verification vs. Validation

Posted by on Oct 2, 2015 in Project Management | 0 comments

A common source of project failure over the past two decades has continued to be the management or mismanagement of project requirements. We are not going to discuss project failure, but only to show that a clear understanding of some of the management concepts for project requirements is crucial to the dismantling of this frightful statistic of poor performance. One such understanding is the difference between requirement verification and validation: a concept in its current state of confusion that in our experience continues to provide a level of misapplication of requirements, management techniques, and practices. This is especially true of Information Technology software-oriented projects. The two major, but not only, processes to a successful IT project is the planning of the project and its execution. They are inexorably linked together for without sound planning, execution will be lacking in direction and focus; without sound execution, planning becomes a waste of time and resources. However, in the successful completion of any IT project, understanding the needs of the stakeholders is only part of the equation for success. The proper implementation of a feasible solution that can produce ‘fit-for-use’ deliverables able to provide for the stakeholders’ needs is also crucial to this success formulation. Thus, it is important to understand where verification and validation fits into these activities of an IT project. First, it does not matter how the project is to be developed, using either a predictive or an adaptive style environment to understand the different perspectives and value of verification and validation. Secondly, the purposes of verification and validation while complimentary are focused on addressing different questions confronting the IT project manager and team. Finally, these processes provide checks on the planning and execution activities of the IT project ensuring that they have been appropriately implemented and completed. What are these different questions that verification and validation address? Verification seeks to answer the question: Are we building the right solution? Validation seeks to answer the question: Are we building the solution right? The first question therefore tries to discover if the stakeholders’ needs and business issues will be met (resolved) if the IT project provides deliverables that meet the elicited or discovered stakeholder requirements. This is similar to the manner in which an architect using blueprints and models attempts to show their clients that the proposed solution will meet their needs, constraints, and utilization once it has been constructed according to plan. Thus verification processes occur prior to the completion of actual product (software, applications, and systems) and is thus a CHECK on the efficacy of the project team’s PLANNING efforts and actions. Verification precedes the development (predictive or adaptive) of the solution component in an attempt to decide if the development activity is the correct action to take in order to provide the stakeholders with a desired and necessary feature and/or capability. Verification seeks to match need with plan or direction. The second question thus seeks to determine if the stakeholders’ needs and business issues have been met by the development of the actual IT component under production in either lifecycle environment. In order for this question to be answered, actual deliverables have to have been completed to a point of testing (unit, system, regression, performance, or user) where the efficacy of the project team’s EXECUTION is now...

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Success is Difficult: Part Three

Posted by on Sep 11, 2015 in Project Management | 0 comments

I started this series of blogs on project management challenges with a discussion of project management success factors (“Three Pillars of Project Management”). Then I asked the questions – if we have known how to be successful for more than 20 years, why is it so difficult? What are the challenges? In my most recent blogs, I talked about Challenge #1 – Uncertainty and Challenge #2 – Requirements. Today I will share some thoughts on about managing Challenge #3. Project Management Challenge #3 – Constraints Keeping with the theme of requirements, I feel project constraints are a type of project requirement in that they are expectations for the project. And they are a factor in determining project success. The constraints can be self-imposed, specifically in terms of cost, schedule, and performance baselines – the triple constraint, or project trade space (e.g., the left-hand diagram in the figure). This is very essential part of managing projects and is the result of project planning and governing-body approval. Constraints are also imposed by project stakeholders. Probably the most significant stakeholder in terms of constraints is the customer; the recipient of the product or service resulting from the completion of the project. A project can be delivered on time, within budget, and to specifications and still be unsuccessful if does not meet the customer’s satisfaction. So this adds a fourth trade-space to project constraints (e.g., the middle diagram of the figure). I feel this was the driving factor in PMI’s addition of the Stakeholder Management knowledge area in the most recent version of their Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)®. But there can be several stakeholders with constraints that can be a factor in delivering a successful project. For example, the right-handed diagram in the figure was a trade space I identified for a nuclear weapons test project. In addition to the four from the middle diagram, other key stakeholders put constraints on the project, including one of the most vocal stakeholders – NIMBY, or “Not in My Backyard” – otherwise known as, the general public. Managing the Challenge Here are several practices that I have used to manage the challenge: Project Planning and Controls. To be effective with planning and control processes is to produce sound baselines. It starts with a Work Breakdown Structure that details 100% of the scope. Then valid and realistic cost and time estimates are developed, performance baselines are established, and deliverables and milestones are clearly documented.   Effective controls involve establishing performance measurements and monitoring the accomplishment of project objectives throughout the life of the project, and making adjustments when necessary. Stakeholder Management. Understanding the unique needs and expectations of project stakeholders—anyone with a vested interest in the successful outcome of the project—is a critical element in managing constraints and delivering a successful project. This involves actively building and managing stakeholder relationships. It involves establishing stakeholder management processes that are maintained through the life of the project, acquiring skilled resources to execute the processes, and continuous monitoring of changes in stakeholder constraints (e.g., laws, policies, business process improvement, competitive pressures, and changes in organizational strategic objectives). Communication is a key skill for project managers for effective stakeholder management. Every stakeholder is different and project managers need to understand which forms of leadership and communication are best suited for...

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Establishing a Successful IT PM Mentoring Program

Posted by on Sep 8, 2015 in Coaching & Mentoring, Project Management | 0 comments

Establishing a Successful IT PM Mentoring Program

Welcome back and if you did not read my previous blog post for August, you might want to quickly do that as it is background material for this follow-on post on how to establish a successful IT Project Management Mentoring Program at your organization. As we previously discussed, having a mentor when you are beginning or seeking to enhance your skills and abilities as an IT project manager, a mentor can provide help you achieve this objective. However, most companies or organizations do not have such a program to assist their PM staff. To start, what is a mentor and how does this role differ from a coach or manager? With specific reference to IT project management, a mentor is an experienced, skilled IT project manager with the willingness to provide suitable knowledge by example to others seeking to improve their project management acumen. What this means is that an IT project manager with a proven track record provides those without with the value of their ‘time in grade.’ Thus, a mentor imparts wisdom by example, not by directive or email. To establish a successful IT PM mentoring program, an organization needs to have and be willing to: A willing supply of experienced IT project managers, of course Support by senior management for the program Provide resources to ensure the program success A program champion The first three are what they are, either you have them or you do not. So without the first three, the chances for implementing a successful program are almost nil – move on, and attempt improvement in other areas. If on the other hand, you do have the first three requirements, the program champion is the most critical key to success for the mentoring environment. Your program champion must be both an experienced IT PM in their own right, but also have the aptitude to transfer such knowledge and wisdom to others that could eventually replace them. This is absolutely mandatory. A mentor is someone that is not threatened by others wanting to learn what they know, but seeks to provide this knowledge to such motivated individuals. Your program champion will need to accomplish the following program milestones once approval and resources for the mentoring program have been obtained: A program plan detailing the approach and milestones for success of the program An internal ‘marketing’ effort to unveil the program to potential mentors and mentees A ‘kick-off’ meeting with potential mentors An assignment gathering between ‘vetted’ mentors and potential mentees The purpose of your mentoring program is NOT to standardize how the mentor-mentee relationship will unfold, but to simply introduce the parties and provide the time to support the mentoring process. Let me just warn, however, that not every successful IT PM is right or able to be an effective mentor. The following characteristics are needed in such a responsible party: Most important and above all – patience! Knowledgeable in IT PM practices demonstrated by a proven track record of successful project completions Willingness to guide and lead by ‘doing it right,’ not by just talking Ability to work one-on-one with someone less experienced and capable without frustration Understanding of when to allow ‘trial and error,’ and when to demonstrate effective practices To put it into a formula: a good mentor is 50% experienced...

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Integrating Internal Controls with Best Practices

Posted by on Aug 28, 2015 in Financial Management, Project Management | 2 comments

In my previous blogs I talked about the different components that comprise the organizational environment where best practices can survive and thrive and the necessary role that leaders play in ensuring best practices are understood and followed through proper governance. In this blog I’ll address how the organization’s internal control program can ensure best practices become a vital part of the culture and management fabric in an organization. Internal control has a rocky history in the Federal government. I can remember when it was referred to as the “internal review” program and was the sole responsibility of the Comptroller or financial manager in the military organization. I had a staff that spread out through the military command to ensure all our assets (financial and property assets) were protected from fraud, waste, and abuse.  We were supposed to verify those protections were written, understood, and followed to prevent loss of resources for our military mission. In those days these internal reviewers were considered a disruption to the normal operational tempo and were met with reluctant cooperation. The people performing these reviews were mostly junior folks with no real idea how to conduct the review other than following a checklist and their own intuition. Invariably the reports were focused on compliance with various laws and regulations and not the effectiveness of actual practices in meeting mission requirements. Over the years it has matured into what OMB hopes is a vital part of managing all agencies in the Executive Branch. In 2004 major changes were made to OMB’s Circular A-123 (update coming soon!) to make Federal managers and employees more accountable. Its name was changed to Management’s Responsibility for Internal Control and it clearly tasked “key business process owners” to step up their game with respect to non-financial processes and procedures in terms of their efficiency and effectiveness and reporting of material weaknesses. We all know that funding is the lifeblood of agency operations and most actions have a financial consequence of some type, be it major acquisition or the payroll of those civil servants performing them. But A-123 isn’t just about financial reporting, its also about ensuring accountability of Federal management. In the aftermath of The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX), the A-123 revision does incorporate many components of SOX in detailing how Federal agencies use internal controls to ensure financial reports have a “clean audit opinion.” But there is another aspect to internal controls that has everything to do with how effective and efficient an agency’s operational processes are designed, managed, and executed. You may have heard of GAO’s “Yellow Book” that describes auditing standards, or GAO’s “Red Book” that details proper application of Appropriations Law. But, have you heard of GAO’s “Green Book?” This is a must read for any Federal supervisor, manager, executive, or employee for that matter. The Green Book details the standards for internal control systems agencies are required to follow. Its purpose is focused on achieving an agency’s objectives effectively and efficiently. These objectives could be about operations, reporting or compliance. As Figure 2 shows, the standards are composed of five components: Establishing a proper control environment Insightful assessment of risks, Establishing the policies and procedures whereby the agency will achieve its objectives Ensuring quality information is communicated to managers and personnel Effective monitoring of...

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IT Project Management Theory vs. Practice

Posted by on Aug 13, 2015 in Project Management | 2 comments

IT Project Management Theory vs. Practice

A question that is asked in many of my seminars is: “This is fine in theory, but what about practice: how do you manage IT projects in real life?” This is the fine line between what is being provided by the current “bodies of knowledge” that exist in the project management discipline and what actually works when a project manager has to put together a team and execute a real project. What from the theory of project management actually helps an experienced project manager in managing his/her IT project? First, it should be understood that the concept of “best practices,” in my opinion, does not exist since project management is not a ‘one size fits all’ discipline. What will work for a commercial banking enterprise will probably not work for a government agency and vice versa. What works for your organization must therefore be discovered as ‘workable practices.’ Begin with so-called best practices, but determine what is working for your organization and do not be afraid of altering these so called body of knowledge ‘best practices’ to suit your needs. Second, understand what can be learned from reading and what must be experienced in order to be effective in managing your projects. Reading and attending training or seminars is a great way to begin and further your education and understanding of what has been applied to other project environments, but there are activities that need to be experienced in order to make them applicable. Reading how to plan a project, how to write a project charter, how to analyze a schedule, or how to form a team are topics and knowledge that can and should be garnered from reading and seminars. For example, in our new IT PM Mastery Suite curriculum, we have designed the curriculum to provide what are being used in today’s IT projects, not just what is listed in bodies of knowledge Instructors are actual practicing IT project managers – not professors or career teachers – they are on the front lines applying their knowledge and experience in actual IT project conditions and circumstances. Third, once you have read and attended your chosen seminars, take the knowledge, and find a mentor with the years and experience that you may lack. Ask them to assist you in improving your professional capabilities in the actual application of the ‘book knowledge’ towards the successful completion of your assigned IT project duties. A mentor is someone that teaches, educates, and directs through their own example and practice; someone that is willing to share what they have experienced with those that will fill in behind them as they move up in their professional career. If your organization does not have an IT project management mentoring program, suggest that they immediately establish one. This will be the topic of our next blog – how to setup and run a successful IT project management mentoring program. Finally, keep a professional journal of your IT project management activities, assignments, successes, and failures. Learn how to be both self-critiquing and objective about how you are progressing. Those that do not keep a record of their professional career will soon stagnate or worse, repeat your failures without the ability to repeat your successes. Recording what you did and the outcomes of these activities is one of...

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Why Success is Difficult: Part Two

Posted by on Aug 4, 2015 in Project Management | 0 comments

Why Success is Difficult: Part Two

I started this series of blogs on project management challenges with a discussion of project management success factors (“Three Pillars of Project Management”). Then I asked the questions – if we have known how to be successful for over 20 years, why is it so difficult? What are the challenges? In my most recent blog, I talked about Challenge #1 – Uncertainty. Today I will share some thoughts on about managing Challenge #2. Project Management Challenge #2 – Requirements There are a myriad of examples in the literature (and the web) on how unclear and ambiguous requirements contributed to project failures.   This occurs at both “layers” of requirements I presented in the previous discussion on project management success factors. There are challenges associated with each. Often project goals and objectives are cannot be articulated, so how do you know they are achievable? How can the project be successful? Often they cannot be articulated because they are not derived from solid business requirements. I have been in projects where the sponsor or business owner was uncertain about what they wanted. Other times the stakeholders had different ideas about the goals and objectives of the project. The technical and performance requirements provide the details of the product or service to be delivered. The project is not a success if we cannot deliver what the customer needs.   On just about every project I have managed there were business needs and advances in technology that resulted in changes in requirements. I have worked with customers that constantly changed their mind about what they wanted and even one customer admitted they were unsure about what they wanted. Managing the Challenges Here are several practices that I have used to manage the challenges: Ask for the Business Case. The business’ justification for the project should be documented. The justification will include the business requirements, often expressed as expected business benefits. The business case should provide the purpose of the project, the expected business benefits, and the different options considered to meet the business need for the project. Other business requirements such as expected costs and duration, as well as associated risks should be in the business case. Additionally, key stakeholders and sponsors should be identified and their expectations reflected in the business case. Use a Business Analyst. One of my key resources on a project is a business analyst; someone who works with an organization or business and analyzes a domain (real or hypothetical) and documents its business processes. They analyze new capabilities or gaps in capabilities and present them as business requirements. They have the skill to interact with customers and work with them to prioritize the requirements. A business analyst can help set up a requirements management / configuration management process. They help ensure technical / performance requirements meet business needs. Build a Work Breakdown Structure. From a project execution perspective, a work breakdown structure (WBS) will put structure to the project work. The technical and performance requirements can be identified for each WBS element, usually in a requirements or specifications document or WBS Dictionary. Implement a Requirements Management Process. A formal requirements management system will provide a process to identify, document, analyze, and trace requirements, including validation and verification of requirements, throughout the project lifecycle. A key part of the system is...

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Leadership – The Critical Element in Best Practices

Posted by on Jul 27, 2015 in Project Management | 0 comments

Leadership – The Critical Element in Best Practices

In my last blog, “What makes a ‘Practice’ Best?” I used a client example to cite various components that create an organizational environment where best practices can survive and thrive. In this environment, executives, managers, and supervisors coach, mentor, and support those at the operational level who are supposed to follow the policies and procedures set out by their leaders. Unfortunately, our team found multiple GAO, Inspector General, and audit reports on failed programs and projects where effective policies and procedures were in place but not followed. In many instances, the organization’s leaders were “shocked” to learn that this was the case. Was this a failure at the operational level or a fundamental absence of leadership? Increasingly, GAO reports cite executive and stakeholder involvement as a key or critical success factor in Federal agency’s large and complex projects, programs, and acquisitions. In our work with several organizations, omissions at the operational level are matched by gaps of involvement by middle, senior, and executive leaders. Governance is established to ensure that policies and procedures are adhered to at each level of organizational performance. Managers and executives are accountable for the vital role they play in organizational key business processes. Here are just a few vital roles for leaders in oversight and decision making from various recent GAO reports: Ensure requirements are well-defined Secure stable funding that matches resources to requirements and programs receive sufficient funding Establish an adequate program workforce with the necessary knowledge and skills Clearly define and empower leadership at the program/project level Continually make informed go/no-go decisions Ensure pre-solicitation planning is effective and approve necessary documentation Make sure the procurement request is complete, up to date, and includes all necessary documents for contracting actions to begin Confirm that appropriate solicitation reviews have been completed Ensure effective acquisition planning and oversight practices are followed Encourage stakeholders to actively engage with program/project officials Build senior department and agency executives support for the program/project Ensure government and contractor staff are stable and consistent Establish and implement incremental development policies Given the multiple GAO reports where this list of key activities is cited as crucial “get rights” for major procurements, this should be a call to action for an organization’s leaders at the mid, senior, and executive levels. Organizations should assess whether key leaders and decision makers know what these actions consist of in order for them to ensure their programs and projects are compliant. It is simply not sufficient to receive a regularly scheduled 30-minute status brief. The leader must be an active participant and know when the program/project manager needs their intervention to be successful. Here are three things leaders can do that will make a difference: Be involved and be proactive. Passiveness is not a trait of good leadership. To be involved you should know the policies and procedures that govern the relevant processes (requirements management, budget and finance, program/project planning, risk management, acquisition strategy, contract administration, and contractor oversight, etc.) and what to expect. Break down barriers. These stand in the way of progress. Resolve issues at your level or escalate them on behalf of your PM. Be a champion for the program/project, not an observer. Ask insightful questions. PMs can be too focused on the here and now and solving current issues. By taking a broader...

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FITARA: Improvement or Impasse?

Posted by on Jul 6, 2015 in Acquisition, Project Management | 0 comments

FITARA: Improvement or Impasse?

Anyone associated with government IT acquisitions, project management, or systems operation is likely to be familiar with the recently passed (Dec. 19, 2014) Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA). This overhaul of the IT acquisition and oversight for most Federal agencies and departments is the largest action signed into law since the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act. There are many opinions and summaries of the FITARA’s requirements and stipulations, we are only going to discuss its potential benefits and possible implementation roadblocks in this post. Most recently, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued its final implementation guidance for FITARA on June 10, 2015 which lists its objectives, scope, resources, and recommendations for agency implementations. The most significant recommendation is on the implementation of FITARA’s ‘Common Baseline’ which modifies the roles and responsibilities of agencies’ senior management positions (CXOs) related to the acquisition, management, and oversight of each agency’s IT assets and resources. The most dramatic change is the largely expanded role of the agency’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) in all aspects of the agency’s IT budget and acquisition processes. Additionally, OMB recommends actions on several other fronts, such as continued support and implementation of the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) to further reduce the number of government data centers and hubs. The technical aspects of the OMB’s guidance can be discovered in the referenced OMB memorandum of June 10, 2015. However, in the limited space of this post, it is more advantageous to discuss the potential benefits and improvements that FITARA may bring about if the issues and roadblocks of its wording and interpretation can be overcome. The benefits and improvements are several: The agency CIO is raised to the true level of a ‘C level’ executive with suggested reporting directly to the agency Senior Executive The agency CIO is to be the primary decision maker and approver of the agency’s IT budget, resources, and acquisitions Completion of an agency self-assessment and implementation plan to be submitted to OMB no later than August 15, 2015 Implementation of all FITARA provisions by the agency no later than December 15, 2015 These enhancements and additions to the agency CIO position can provide the potential benefits of establishing an enterprise-wide perspective of the agency’s acquisition, development, and deployment of IT resources and assets – as opposed to the somewhat fractured perspective now evidenced by the more than 250 CIO positions currently in place in the top 26 agencies. For example, a recent GAO study revealed that only two of 24 agencies have a current inventory of their software licenses from an enterprise viewpoint! Another possible benefit will be the partnerships between other agency ‘C-level’ executives such as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Chief Acquisitions Officer (CAO), and the agency’s CIO. Together they will collaborate on the planning, acquisition, and budgeting of IT assets and resources. This will be accomplished through the implementation of a ‘Common Baseline’ which defines new roles and responsibilities along with standard agency reporting on the success of implementations by Federal agencies to both OMB and the agency’s Chief Executive. While these benefits and improvements are laudable and hopefully achievable, FITARA, due to the wording and ambiguity of its provisions, has the possibility of spawning several significant issues and roadblocks that can ONLY be addressed by...

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The PMP® Exam Is Changing – Update

Posted by on Jul 1, 2015 in Project Management | 0 comments

The PMP® Exam Is Changing – Update

In May, we told you about how the PMP Exam is changing effective November 2, 2015 to align with the annual PMP® Role Delineation Study (RDS) conducted in March 2015, which updated the description of the project management professional role. As a result of the study, exam content and qualification criteria is being updated to reflect the current status of the profession. Previously I focused primarily on describing the changes to the performance domains and the domain tasks which have now been finalized in the PMI® PMP® Examination Content Outline, dated June 2015. This update will address the percentage of exam questions that will come from each domain, and provide you with the domain-specific and cross-cutting knowledge and skills required to perform the tasks associated with the five domains. Domain Question Percentages The table below provides the percentage of questions from each domain area. The percentages are consistent with other exams. The content has changed, but the exam format stays the same – 200 questions, of which 175 questions are scored and 25 are not. The 25 non-scored questions are randomly dispersed through the exam.   Domain Percentage of Items on 2015/New Exam Percentage of Items on 2011/Current Exam I. Initiating 13% 13% II. Planning 24% 24% III. Executing 31% 30% IV. Monitoring and Controlling 25% 25% V. Closing 7% 8% Total 100% 100%   Domain and Task Knowledge and Skills There have been significant changes in the knowledge and skills for five of the domains. Below I’ve noted the current knowledge and skills for each domain with those tested in the revised exam. There are some new knowledge and skills and some of the current ones have been deleted. In addition, the RDS also lists several cross-cutting knowledge and skills that are applicable to all domains. Some of the key changes in the domain areas are below. For a side-by-side comparison of the content outline changes click here. Domain 1: Initiating the Project – The new exam has five domain-specific knowledge and skills compared to the six in the current exam. The change appears to be focusing more on understanding the overall benefits and strategic importance of projects and less on more generally applied areas such as stakeholder and risk management. Two of the five are new or modified, and three from the current exam (2011) were deleted. Domain 2: Planning the Project – The new exam has 17 domain-specific knowledge and skills compared to the 13 in the current exam. Much of this has remained the same. Besides common planning practices, there is an emphasis on a generalized approach to cost and schedule planning, regulations and the environment, as well as lean/efficiency planning, and a reduced emphasis on organizational structures. Six of the 17 in the new exam are new or modified, and two from the current exam were deleted. Domain 3: Executing the Project – The new exam has seven domain-specific knowledge and skills, compared to the five in the current exam. The biggest change is around contract/vendor management and interdependence among all the project elements, not just the WBS and schedule. Three of the seven are new or modified, and one from the current exam was deleted. Domain 4: Monitoring and Controlling the Project – The new exam has 10 domain-specific knowledge and skills, compared...

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Moving IT PM to Agile

Posted by on Jun 18, 2015 in Project Management | 0 comments

Moving IT PM to Agile

One of the trickiest and formidable challenges facing many organizations is that of moving from the Waterfall to Agile lifecycle approaches to their IT project management activities. For instance, government organizations have a long and practiced history in the application of the traditional or sequential approach to managing all types of projects. These involved major weapon systems and construction projects such as the US Naval Nuclear Fleet build-up and the US Interstate Freeway System. These types of ‘atoms-based’ projects delivered large physical outcomes that required well-defined, up-front requirements. When the computer digitalization revolution began to overtake everything in modern business activities, it was natural to continue managing IT project in the manner they were most adept at using. However, since IT projects produce deliverables that are ‘bit-based’ these traditional, sequential practices did not provide an adequate requirements definition or management practicum. In early 2001 a group of disgruntled software engineers codified a more flexible and powerful approach to defining and management IT projects called Agile. This philosophy of ‘bit-based’ software projects was soon paired with a delivery methodology called Scrum and has now become the most popular form of IT project planning and development. Agile/Scrum is based on several very difference principles than the predictive styled approach, these include: Software development is inherently an innovative development activity Heavy up-front effort of defining the entire requirements package for IT projects is wasteful IT projects must respond to user requirement changes during in-flight development activities More permanent, smaller, cross-functional teams are better at developing innovative solutions Software projects need to deliver smaller, more frequent working software components These concepts have provided a significant challenge to many in governmental organizations, given their more glacial ability to change and implement innovative processes. However, the ice is beginning to thaw as the sunlight of Agile/Scrum successes is beginning to shine on the older predictive project management approaches. Several oversight agencies such as GSA, GAO, OMB, and OFPP, to name a few, have begun to highly recommend a more modular approach to IT projects. These oversight groups suggest that Federal agencies and departments consider the use of Agile/Scrum in the planning, development, and management of all their IT projects. While the Agile/Scrum approach (as defined by the 2001 Agile Manifesto and other process defining organizations such as the Agile Alliance, Scrum Alliance, and the Project Management Institute) is likely to be too extreme for direct implementation with Feds, it can be implemented using a more ‘disciplined approach.’ Such an approach realizes that a hundred years of traditional project management cannot be overthrown easily, but needs to be implemented more carefully and in phases. Our new IT PM Mastery Series is an entire IT project management curriculum designed from the ground up to address the needs of such transition challenges. Moving from the sequential/predictive or Waterfall project management approach to the more adaptive Agile approach will take time, effort, and most importantly, planning for most large, complex organizations. Change, while valuable and necessary, requires overcoming a significant amount of inertia and standard operating procedures. The following are aspects that such organizations can begin to accomplish that can ease this transition from the predictive to the adaptive without ‘upsetting the apple cart: Establish an adaptive strategic planning group to oversee the transition Develop an organizational-wide adaptive approach...

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What Makes a “Practice” Best?

Posted by on Jun 16, 2015 in Acquisition, Project Management | 1 comment

What Makes a “Practice” Best?

During the Civil War (as the story goes) a Union Soldier’s widow approached President Lincoln to complain about her husband’s death. Her complaint was that her husband died, not from a grievous battle wound, but an infection in his feet. It began with sores worn into his feet by the shoes he was issued. Letters to his wife always mentioned how these shoes fell apart when they got wet, never seemed to last long, and had to be constantly repaired with whatever materials he could find. In those days war profiteers (many of whom were Union Officers or government employees) set up make-shift manufacturing operations and turned out sub-standard shoes by the thousands for the Union Army at great profit. After hearing of her plight the President asked Secretary of War Stanton to investigate. As a result, new procurement regulations were posted requiring competition, quality standards, and inspection upon receipt. Today there are almost 1,900 pages in the Federal Acquisition Regulation’s two volumes. A complicated Gordian Knot of rules, exceptions, and various clauses that takes years to master. As time has passed, the needs of the government have grown while budgets were cut, the workforce has been reduced, and workers have aged. Many organizations are reaching out to determine how to best navigate the troubled waters of acquisition. In the aftermath of yet another failed large procurement, a client recently tasked Management Concepts to collect “best practices in acquisition” for use in focusing their workforce on practices and approaches to the process of acquiring goods and services. We identified more than 150 citations that cited key issues, critical factors, success factors, preferred practices, essential practices, and other actions leading to more effective, efficient, and successful acquisitions in the Federal government. Our research confirmed that “best practices” are a part of the organizational environment in which they operate. There are interrelated forces at work that require, encourage, mentor, and ensure that these practices are part of a successful organization’s decision and operational actions taken to achieve its goals and objectives. Federal government workers often navigate a complex web of rules, regulations, and laws in their operations. These forces take specific actions to support the successful implementation of a best practice. The best practices we examined all had eight components in common as outlined below: Policies are written by higher authority to establish the outcomes and constraints that guide Federal activities. Policies themselves are not specific enough to achieve the outcomes alone. They are the basis on which subordinate organizations determine how these outcomes will be achieved given the constraints that exist. Successive subordinate entities may issue supplemental policy guidance based on what is received from higher authority. Procedures are written that specify how the work is to be performed in order to comply with the policies, actions to take, processes to follow, roles and responsibilities, and authority. This component is the birthplace of a practice. Guides supplement procedures with specific details of the methodologies, key activities, decision points, workflows, artifacts, etc. that are to be used consistently across the enterprise to achieve the outcomes specified in the policy. Templates establish the format and content of artifacts created for use in the activities to make decisions, provide information, or collect and use data maintained in the organization’s systems. Job Aids can...

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If We Know How To Be Successful, Why Is It So Difficult?

Posted by on Jun 12, 2015 in Project Management | 0 comments

Last time I talked about my “three pillars of project management.” They were built from an analysis of project management success factors. During that analysis it struck me that I was reading about the same success factors that were being discussed when I started managing projects 20 years ago (e.g., Pinto and Kharbandra. 1995). So it struck me – if we have known how to be successful for so long, why is it so difficult? I came up with a list of “challenges” that could help answer my question. I will provide these, with some ways to address them, over the next several blog posts. Project Management Challenge #1 – Uncertainty There is inherent uncertainty in delivering projects. Look at PMI’s definition of a project: “A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.”   They go on: “…because of the unique nature of projects, there may be uncertainties or differences in the products, services or results that the project creates.” It is this need to identify and understand the uncertainty in projects that has promulgated and standardized project management processes and practices. We can start with the baselines that comprise the key constraints on projects. We have to estimate the cost and the time to complete, of a “unique product, service or result; usually something that has not been done before – and thus the uncertainty.  In addition, estimates used to justify the project (e.g., business case, budget requests) are made some time before the start of the project. The cone of uncertainty provides a good visual of the relative amount of certainty over the life of a project. Source: ops.fhwa.dot.gov The one process that helps us better understand the uncertainty in delivering projects is risk management. This process identifies and manages future, uncertain events that, if they are realized, can impact project objectives. My mantra: risk management is project management. Meeting the Challenge There are several best practices that I have used to help reduce uncertainty. Assumption documentation and testing. When we lack data in developing estimates, assumptions are used as to fill the gaps. The more details in our documentation of the assumptions, the easier it is to test the assumptions / validate the assumptions as we learn more and obtain additional data. Using three point estimates. Developing estimates based on three points (optimistic, most likely, and pessimistic) provide a more realistic estimate – it accounts for the uncertainty in the estimate (the range from optimistic to pessimistic). It also helps identify those work packages with the greatest uncertainty (range) in the estimate and provides a way to focus efforts to reduce uncertainty on those parts of the project that are driving uncertainty. Several specific techniques and tools include PERT, Monte Carlo, and sensitivity analysis). Asking one question. Risk management is easy – just continuously ask one question: “What is going to prevent me from getting this done?” It is forward looking and should be focused on important aspects of the project – completing a work package, meeting an objective, etc. Then frame the question in an “if – then statement:” if _____ occurs, then the project will_____. Delivering a successful project not only involves knowing the “success factors,” but also understanding the challenges in managing projects, and more importantly, the ways to address...

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The PMP® Exam Is Changing

Posted by on May 21, 2015 in Project Management | 2 comments

The PMP® Exam Is Changing

If you are considering sitting for the PMP® exam, you might want to hurry! PMI® recently announced that the PMP® exam is changing. The new exam becomes effective on November 2, 2015. Until then, the current PMP® exam is still in effect. Why the Change? The changes are the result of the annual PMP® Role Delineation Study (RDS) conducted in March 2015 which updated the description of the project management professional role. The RDS gathered information from project management practitioners and examined the specific tasks of a project management professional, as well as identified the knowledge and skills required to perform project management tasks competently. Study participants came from a large cross-section of industries, work environments, and geographic regions. As a result of the study, exam content and qualification criteria is being updated to reflect the current status of the profession. This study serves as the foundation for the PMP® exam and helps to ensure that the exam is valid and relevant to the project management practitioner by validating up-to-date performance domains, tasks, knowledge, and skills. This blog will focus primarily on describing the changes to the performance domains and the domain tasks. The April 2015 PMP® Exam Content Outline is not final – the proportion of each domain’s exam questions are not yet decided, and the knowledge and skills for each domain and task are not yet included. We’ll post a follow up blog when these are released, on or before June 15, 2015. What is Changing? Several tasks were added to four domain areas. A review of these tasks reveals that many of them are related to stakeholder management activities, most likely resulting from the fact that it was added a new knowledge area in the PMBOK® Guide 5th edition, released in 2013. Some of the other tasks are related to elements of portfolio management. Specific Domain and Task changes that affect the exam content are: Domain 1: Initiating the Project – 3 new tasks were added: Task 2 – Identify key deliverables based on the business requirements in order to manage customer expectations and direct the achievement of project goals. Task 7 – Conduct benefit analysis with stakeholders (including sponsor, customer, and subject matter experts), in order to validate project alignment with organizational strategy and expected business value Task 8 – Inform stakeholders of the approved project charter, in order to ensure common understanding of the key deliverables, milestones, and their roles and responsibilities Domain 2: Planning the Project – 1 new task was added: Task 13 – Develop the stakeholder management plan by analyzing needs, interests, and potential impact in order to effectively manage stakeholders’ expectations and engage them in project decisions Domain 3: Executing the Project – 2 new tasks were added: Task 6 – Manage the flow of information by following the communications plan in order to keep stakeholders engaged and informed Task 7 – Maintain stakeholder relationships by following the stakeholder management plan in order to receive continued support and manage expectations Domain 4: Monitoring and controlling the project – 2 new tasks were added: Task 6 – Capture, analyze, and manage lessons learned using lessons learned management techniques in order to enable continuous improvement Task 7 – Monitor procurement activities according to the procurement plan, in order to verify compliance with...

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Three Pillars of Project Management

Posted by on May 14, 2015 in Project Management | 1 comment

Three Pillars of Project Management

I continually research project management “success factors” – those things successful projects do better than other projects. If success was just about getting a project management certification, I would think there would be a correlation between the increase in project management certifications and an increase in successful projects.   I contend we are getting better at delivering successful projects, however, I feel there are still major obstacles in being successful. In compiling this list of project management success factors, including looking at why projects failed (with the rational they failed because they did not use /apply that particular activity), there seems to be three broad groupings / categories. I call these my “Three Pillars of Project Management.” The pillars provide the foundation for successful project management. Another analogy would be the three legs of project management. In both scenarios, take any one away and the project fails. Requirements There are several “layers” of requirements. It begins with project goals and objectives that are well articulated and achievable. These should be found in a business case that provides the strategic need for the project. It should provide a justification for the project based on business requirements and expected benefits. These goals and objectives should encompass stakeholder expectations and have executive management support. This will help determine the feasibility of success based on the customer’s needs. The business requirements are decomposed into technical and performance requirements. These need to be clear and unambiguous. From these the detailed specifics of the product or service to be delivered are elicited and identified. The requirements must be testable to verify clarity and feasibility and traceable to assess the impacts of any changes. Through testing of requirements you can ensure the project will meet the business needs. User involvement helps identify the “need” from “nice to have” requirements, ensures customer satisfaction and helps avoid scope creep. Processes Processes include the work, tools, and techniques used to manage the project – the contents of PMI’s PMBOK® Guide. The key is to put the right processes with the rigor necessary for the size, strategic importance, complexity, and risks of the project. There are two key processes. One is planning and controls. To be effective with planning and control processes is to understand the constraints on the project – the trade space necessary for effective decision making. It starts with a Work Breakdown Structure that details 100% of the scope. Then valid and realistic cost and time estimates are developed, performance baselines are established, and deliverables and milestones are clearly documented.   Effective controls involve establishing performance measurements and monitoring the accomplishment of project objectives throughout the life of the project. The other key process is risk management – realistic, proactive, and anticipatory in the identification and management of threats and opportunities to project objectives. It can be as easy as asking “what is going to prevent me from getting this done?” Or it can be rigorous to include assumption testing, root cause analysis, and Monte Carlo simulations. Regardless of the rigor, the process has to incorporate stakeholder risk tolerances. People The last leg, and arguably the most import, is people. After all, they deliver projects. Resources are needed to do the work and manage the work – resources with the right skills and knowledge that are adequate for the...

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Project Management for Non-Project Managers

Posted by on May 1, 2015 in Project Management | 0 comments

Project Management for Non-Project Managers

Almost everyday someone has a “project” for you to do. It may be a formal project that is accomplished by an Integrated Project Team (IPT) with some form of formal planning and control, or an assignment that is a quick-response informal task such as the preparation of a briefing or a report. The first example might be given to a recognized or certified project manager, but not necessarily. The second example is often given to whomever the manager feels can do the work or who is available. Projects are not defined the same way in all organizations, nor do they require the same amount of rigor, formality, and documentation. In general, small projects or efforts are less complex, fairly low cost, and can be completed quickly and informally. The same holds true for the application of project management tools, techniques, and practices. The more complex the project, the more complex the planning and reporting tools – and reporting may require something like a project management software system. Smaller projects still need documentation (schedule, budget, resources, scope, and risk); they just do not need it to the same level as more significant efforts. Many “projects” are accomplished by team members and employees who are not, nor have any intention of becoming, project managers; however, everyone applies the elements of project management to some degree in the accomplishment of their daily activities. Consider the performance evaluation criteria found in most annual performance reviews. Almost all performance reviews have criteria that include items such as, timeliness of delivery, quality of the output, how much work is accomplished, resource management – human, equipment, material, financial, leadership, and team cooperation – all elements of project management. You don’t have to be an expert in project management to apply project management principles. Whether you are launching a new product, organizing a social event, fixing Thanksgiving dinner, taking a cross-country driving trip, or pulling together a presentation for your manager,  there are some basic steps that everyone must take in order to achieve a successful outcome and deliver the product or service for which the effort is being undertaken. They include: First – Define and understand what is to be done. What needs to be done? – Clearly understand the requirements and the deliverables to be provided and to what quality standard must the work be done. For whom is the work being done? – Who is the primary customer (generally the requestor) and who is the ultimate, or final, customer? It is also important to remember that with almost all work activities there is often a third customer; that is your internal management who is concerned not only about the deliverable, but meeting internal strategic and operational objectives. Why is the work being done? – It helps to have a good understanding of the reason why the work is being done. For most work not classified as a formal project, the rationale might not always be communicated because the requestor may assume that the reason is understood or that you do not need to know. However, if it’s not clear, ask. Whether a presentation or report is going to be used internally or externally makes a big difference in the approach you take to planning and accomplishing the work. What are the major activities or...

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Project Management Plans

Posted by on Apr 21, 2015 in Project Management | 0 comments

When I am asked for a template for a Project Management Plan, I have to give my usual consulting answer – “It depends.” Because I have found that there is no one template that works for every project. The plan must be tailored for the type of project, the rigor of the processes required to manage the effort, and the organizational requirements for documentation. The rigor is determined by the complexity of the project (e.g., number of interactions, type of work), risks (e.g., new technologies, new policies), size (e.g., number of people on the team, dollar value of the contract), and the amount of stakeholder involvement (e.g., governance processes, oversight requirements). So what do you include in the Project Management Plan? Or any management plan? It should include the processes, methodologies, tools, and techniques that will be used to plan, execute, and monitor the work. Regardless of rigor of the processes required to manage the effort, there are eight questions that need to be addressed in the Project Management Plan: What? – What is the purpose of the management plan? This includes the project objectives and success factors, a high level description of the work, and the constraints and assumptions used in developing and justifying the project. Why? – Why is the plan being developed? This includes external and internal oversight requirements, organizational conditions, and an overview of the justification for the project (e.g., alignment to a specific strategic / business objective). How? – What processes, practices, and tools will be used to plan, execute, and monitor the project? This includes the key process for managing constraints (e.g., scope, cost, and time management; customer satisfaction). This section should also include any of the knowledge area processes in PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®) (e.g., communication, risk, quality, stakeholder and procurement management) and any organizational processes and templates, and any tools that will be used (e.g., schedules, risk register, communication portal) as needed to meet the management requirements / rigor. Who? – Who is going to execute the management plan? This includes the roles and responsibilities of the management team and key stakeholders. When? – When will the different management activities occur? This is the schedule of the management activities (e.g., reporting requirements, risk management meetings, interactions with stakeholders). Where? – Where will the management activities occur? This includes the physical locations of meetings, team rooms, and tools. It should also include a description of virtual meeting formats. How Much? – How much does the management effort cost? Management is work and there are costs associated with that work. This includes costs of all resources (including people) and tools that will be used in managing the project throughout the anticipated length of the project. It also includes the costs of any procured support. How am I doing? – How can you tell if you are managing effectively? This section should identify performance measures and other techniques to gauge management effectiveness. This includes provisions for management process improvement and team development. The degree of detail in management plans will vary project to project. The detail will be in the processes and tools and techniques necessary to effectively manage the...

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The Struggle to Improve IT Acquisition

Posted by on Mar 13, 2015 in Acquisition, Project Management | 0 comments

The Struggle to Improve IT Acquisition

The Federal government wastes about half of the $80 billion per year it spends on IT. Agencies spend, on average, seven times more on IT per employee than their counterparts in the private sector. These alarming figures come out of a recent report from the International Association of Information Technology Asset Managers (IAITAM), which criticizes the Federal government’s unreasonably high spending on IT. The report says that, on average, private sector companies spend under $5,000 per employee on IT; while on the Federal side, the report shows that agencies average about $36,000 per employee. The Department of Education stuck out for dropping $168,000 per employee on IT. While you can question the usefulness of the spending-to-employee metric (as some do) or debate the percentage of IT spending that actually constitutes “waste,” no one is making the argument that the Federal government currently handles its IT portfolio well. IAITAM is merely making the case for a comprehensive top-level inventory/asset management program. But The Government Accountability Office (GAO) just recently acknowledged something else we already knew: that the front end is broken. In February, GAO placed IT acquisition on its “high-risk list” alongside other major Federal programs that need fixing. This isn’t new and the reformers have been at work. At the end of last year, Congress finally passed the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) as part of the 2015 NDAA, essentially reforming the Federal CIO position to take on program and budget authority over agency IT portfolios. This is no small move and experts on the government and commercial sides have responded to the reform as a positive step. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has not wasted time implementing the new law by working with CIOs; it’s also taken the lead on spearheading other efforts to modernize outmoded IT procurement functions. Three months ago, Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) Administrator Anne Rung was pointing the way forward through category management, workforce improvement, and vendor relations. Earlier this month, Rung checked in again, saying in a speech that she’s pleased with the progress on those fronts, noting that “we’re doing our deepest dive on IT.” Category management development continues apace, and OMB expects to bring on new hires to manage the IT category, she said. One new software application expected to deploy in coming weeks is Acquisition360, a feedback tool allowing agencies to identify weaknesses in their own acquisition processes through user reviews; Jason Miller over at Federal News Radio calls it the Yelp for government acquisition. Agile development remains a fixture in revamped IT acquisition approaches, and Rung pointed out that the U.S. Digital Service and the General Services Administration (GSA) are developing trial programs to implement the methods governmentwide. She’s also planning to engage with the Federal acquisition workforce in new ways: through a series of podcasts on the TechFAR Handbook and Digital Services Playbook, and a series of discussions with personnel on existing practices. Reflecting Rung’s “deep dive” sentiment that officials are investing the time to get the IT portions of reform right, the Federal Acquisition Institute is still working on its FAC-C Core-Plus Specialized Certifications, originally due out by the end of last year. FAI is expected to lay out specialized certification tracks for level II and level III contracting professionals performing...

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New FAC-P/PM Curriculum Kicks Off

Posted by on Feb 24, 2015 in Acquisition, Project Management | 1 comment

New FAC-P/PM Curriculum Kicks Off

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) 2013 memo outlined the major revisions to the Federal Acquisition Certification for Program and Project Managers (FAC-P/PM) Program, which became effective on March 31, 2014. OFPP’s move to update the program – particularly to incorporate issues surrounding the frequently troubled Federal IT project – shows the government’s dedication to strive for innovation and improvement. Training the Federal workforce should always be a priority, and the moves to update Federal Acquisition Certifications, along with the recently enacted FITARA, mean that we could begin to see some strong improvements to Federal acquisition. So What Does This Mean for You? If you had a certification before the March date, you are grandfathered into the new program at your current level of certification, as long as your continuous learning requirements are up-to-date. However, if you start working on a higher-level certification, you will need to meet the new requirements.  Anyone working on a new certification will also have to comply with the new requirements. Key Changes from Old to New: Applicability: All acquisition P/PMs must be certified at their appropriate level as determined by their agency, not just at the senior-level for major acquisitions. Waivers: Waivers of requirements, either in part or in whole, by the Chief Acquisition Officer (CAO) are no longer allowed. However, the CAO may grant extensions of current certification levels. Competencies: Competencies and performance outcomes for each competency level have been better defined to describe the required knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for successful performance. They include: Requirements Development and Management Processes, Systems Engineering, Test and Evaluation, Life Cycle Logistics, Contracting; Business, Cost and Financial Management; and Leadership. Training Length Requirements: The fixed minimum hours of training have been replaced with a flexible range from approximately 80-120 hours for each of the three levels, depending upon agency requirements and the type of training to be received. This flexibility allows for the training to be better tailored, addressing each individual’s competency gaps. Senior Level Experience: Senior-level P/PMs are still required to have four total years of program and project management experience, but experience on Federal programs and/or projects has been reduced to a minimum of one year of within the last ten years. Experience has also been broadened to include experience as a contractor. Core-Plus Specialized Certification: General Core-Plus requirements have been added to the core FAC-P/PM certification along with specific requirements for an IT Core-Plus certification. The revised FAC-P/PM certification policy provides for a new Core-Plus specialty certification for those P/PMs involved in managing IT projects and programs.  Management Information System: The Federal Acquisition Institute Training Application System (FAITAS) is now the official system of records for the FAC-P/PM program. How Can We Help? Our revised FAC-P/PM curriculum is now FAI-verified and available for group onsite delivery – we’ll provide the training at your location for your group, team, or division. Keeping with OFPP’s modernization of the FAC-P/PM Program, our courses are all offered live or online, and we’ve developed pre-class assessments and eLearning modules to best prepare you for the training – making the most of your time away from the office. Management Concepts Mid Level FAC-P/PM courses also meet IT Core-Plus competencies. Teidi Tucker also contributed to this post. Teidi Tucker is a Product Manager and Senior Business Development professional...

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How Leaders Can Bridge the Gap Between Where They Are Now and Where They Want to Be – It’s All in the Mind

Posted by on Feb 11, 2015 in Leadership, Project Management, Workforce Management | 0 comments

In a previous post I presented a basic approach to goal setting that could be used to help leaders acquire new skills as they set goals to make the required behavior changes necessary to close the gap between where they currently are and where they want to be in their careers. The steps to closing the gap include several elements that should be considered when setting behavior-change goals. Goal setting for closing any skill gap is a process. The same process can be applied to any goal, whether professional, organizational, or personal. The basic steps are the same; however, the amount of time, rigor, and level of detail is dependent upon the gap to be closed and the reason for the gap. Writing down the goal and a set of action steps is easy. The challenge is getting down to the underlying motivation for the change and honestly thinking through the change elements. Throughout the change process not only do you need to know what you want to accomplish, but also clearly understand why you need to do it and all of the factors that influence how you do it. Dr. David C. McClelland, in his book Human Motivation addresses the importance of motives on goal setting. He discusses that throughout the behavior-change process everyone has thoughts, feelings, and expectations that they think about and influence the goal accomplishment success or failure. Let’s take a look at each of these elements along with a professional and organizational example. The Problem to be Solved – What is the gap you want to close? Professional – I can’t get promoted without a formal credential Organizational – Customer satisfaction surveys indicate that our project results are below acceptable standards The Goal – What do you need to do to solve the problem? Professional – Get a professional certification and qualify for a promotion within the next 12 months Organizational – Increase customer satisfaction results by 60% by the next internal metrics audit Once the problem and goal have been defined, then the “mind games” begin, during which time you think about all the factors to accomplish your goal. These thoughts are not just a one-time event to help you get to an action plan, they actually occur throughout the goal-setting process. Underlying Need – How important is the need and how deeply do you want to attain it? Professional – I want to advance my career, work on more challenging projects, and provide more financial stability for my family Organizational – It is important to our reputation and on-going success to deliver the highest quality deliverables and customer support to our stakeholders Positive Expectations – Successful leaders set realistic goals and are confident they can achieve them Professional – I have a broad range of knowledge and skills and a lot of experience so I know I can do this Organizational – With the support I’ve been promised from management and the talented team I have, I know we can reach the 60% Realistic Expectations – Because goals should also be challenging, successful leaders also know that everything will not go as planned. This makes them work harder and plan more to reduce the chances of failure. Professional – I know that with recent organization changes, promotion opportunities are limited Organizational –...

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How Leaders Can Bridge the Gap Between Where They Are Now and Where They Want to Be

Posted by on Jan 27, 2015 in Leadership, Project Management | 2 comments

How Leaders Can Bridge the Gap Between Where They Are Now and Where They Want to Be

All leaders and managers are motivated to improve their skillset for many reasons; however, they are generally motivated by the opportunity to accomplish challenging goals and objects (Achievement), influence and control others (Power), and being able to work with others (Affiliation).  Successful leaders and managers are never satisfied with the status quo, especially when it comes to their own skills and abilities. As a result, they take personal responsibility and strive to continually improve their technical, leadership, and business skills.  Research has shown that those who critically assess their current skills and set goals to acquire new ones acquire them faster and implement the skills more efficiently and effectively. What is the secret to more effectively closing the skill gap? Identifying what skill needs to change, determining why the change is needed, and using a simple – but effective – thought-behavior model to help facilitate the skill acquisition. It is a continuous cycle of setting goals, modifying behavior to accomplish those goals, and measuring the results. Goals are about change, and more often about behavior change. Change is simply moving from one state (the “As-Is” condition) to a desired state (the “To-Be” condition.) To help with the change, there are several things you can do. Critically asses your current skills – This may be obvious or it may require a great deal of introspection. You can’t fix what you can’t see. Determine your desired skill – Clearly being able to identify this will make it easier to set a goal and take action Assess the gap – Determining the gap between where you are and where you want to be will help you understand how much difficulty, time, or work there might be in closing that gap.  Identify the reason for the change – What is your primary reason or motive for making the change? Is it for a promotion, personal or professional satisfaction, or job security? This is likely to take a great deal of reflection. Commitment to make the change – Does making the change really matter to you? It depends on the reason for the change and the consequences of changing or not changing. The more the need for change is internally driven, the more likely you are to follow through with your goal. Set a change goal – Be specific as to what you want to change. Determine how you will know if the goal is achieved. Set a goal that is attainable, but also challenging – any goal that is too hard or too easy you’re less likely to pursue. Set a timeline for accomplishment to help provide some degree of urgency. Set realistic plan of action – This plan should consider not only specific steps to accomplish the goal, but also the following: Barriers to closing the gap – These barriers may be internal (your own personal short comings) or external (something out of your control that could impact your success) Sources of help to overcome barriers – Actively identify and seek assistance and advice from available resources to help you succeed. Leaders and managers desire to be successful in whatever they do, and understand that they have gaps with respect to their knowledge, skills, and abilities.  Setting logical goals to close those gaps may be challenging, may be externally driven and forced...

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Career Resolutions for You and Your Staff

Posted by on Jan 22, 2015 in Acquisition, Coaching & Mentoring, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Career Resolutions for You and Your Staff

Each January, we all make resolutions with varying degrees of sincerity and dedication. As we get further and further from New Year celebrations, life has a way of creeping in. Achieving lifestyle changes is not solely about exercise or dieting; it should also be about improving your professional competence and positioning yourself and/or your staff for future success. This year, why not try a different resolution? Are you an individual trying to manage your career? Resolve to focus on your career. Ask for the stretch assignment. Explore mentorship opportunities. Challenge yourself to hone current skills or learn new ones. Go for that promotion. Ask for training and professional development. Be ambitious! Get out of whatever rut you may find yourself and commit to creating and fostering a personal path to career success and an environment of learning and advancement. Perhaps you are more seasoned, and at a more advanced place in your career development. Why not investigate a certificate program; successful completion can demonstrate your knowledge and dedication.  Another possibility is getting a leadership coach or mentor.  If you’re lucky, your organization may have a formal mentorship program, but you can do it informally too.  Ask for over-the-shoulder coaching, stretch assignments, or simply discussing your career aspirations with a trusted co-workers can also make a huge difference. Are you a supervisor?  Maybe your resolution is to bolster the skillset of your direct reports.  I’m sure someone took an interest in your development—pay it forward. As the President’s FY15 Budget noted, steps are in place to “restore cuts to Federal employee training to help train, retain, and recruit a skilled and effective Federal workforce, targeting investments in employee training to common, but high-impact areas such as customer service or information technology.” This statement announces a hopeful and positive change, a return to the time-proven practice of investing in people.  Feds are again able to focus on seeking the learning and development that keeps them – and their staffs – efficient, productive, up-to-date, and effective. Career development for your personnel will enhance productivity and morale.  Smart investments in quality learning solutions will help deter the loss of high-performing Federal employees to the private sector. Identify the stepping stones that will take you – and your staff – to the next level. Recognize and reward your dedicated employees and groom them for future success in positions of greater responsibility. Don’t wait for your staff to ask for training. Identify the development opportunities that will lead them to successful performance. As a professional development and performance improvement company, clearly we value formal training. It is important to remember, however, that remaining professionally competitive doesn’t necessarily entail only classroom training. Career development is a broad mix of mentorship, coaching, challenging work assignments, support, industry association, and professional certifications that together enhance the skillsets of Federal employees. Abraham Lincoln once said “I will prepare and someday my chance will come.” Don’t leave your career or the development of your staff to chance.  Positive developments result from intentional steps toward a goal. I love to hear stories about a team finishing a challenging project or a student getting promoted.  We succeed when you succeed because we are dedicated to unleashing the potential of people, teams, and organizations.  Now, what is your resolution? Tom Dungan,...

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Common Risk Ailment: Risk Management Depression

Posted by on Jan 14, 2015 in Project Management | 0 comments

For many organizations, much of their risk-taking is embodied in the projects they perform. The medical metaphor can be helpful to explain recurrent issues, using a recognized medical condition to shed light on a difficulty that causes people to be ineffective in the way they manage risk. By drawing parallels between the medical condition and the risk management problem, I explore why it matters and how it can be addressed. Risk DepressionRisk management should address both good and bad risks, preferably in an integrated process. Despite this fact, many organizations ignore upside opportunity risk and focus exclusively on downside threat risks. This negative monomania is the underlying cause of risk depression. Left untreated, risk depression can result in the ultimate failure of projects and businesses. Fortunately, risk depression is fairly easy to treat. Investing time and effort in finding and capturing positive risks will pay off in many ways, maximizing the likelihood of achieving objectives and increasing motivation as more opportunities are turned into benefits. Watch the video below to learn...

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Common Risk Ailment: Risk Blindness

Posted by on Dec 23, 2014 in Project Management | 0 comments

For many businesses, much of their risk-taking is embodied in the projects they perform. The medical metaphor can be helpful to explain recurrent issues, using a recognized medical condition to shed light on a difficulty that causes people to be ineffective in the way they manage risk. By drawing parallels between the medical condition and the risk management problem, I explore why it matters and how it can be addressed. Risk Blindness“Risk blindness” is the condition of being unaware of the existence of risk. “Seeing is believing,” so when others mention risk, a risk-blind person or organization doesn’t understand what they are talking about. They believe that people who claim to see risk are delusional, shadow-boxing, and fighting imaginary foes. Risk blindness is a serious ailment that can have a major negative impact on organizations and projects. Recovering from risk blindness is usually a gradual process; it is common for the risk-blind to gain risk sight incrementally. Organizations or project teams that want to avoid surprises and learn to become responsive rather than reactive will recognize the need for treatment and support until they can see clearly for themselves. To learn more about “risk blindness” and other common risk ailements, check out my new book The Risk Doctor’s Cures for Common Risk...

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Communication Skills Lead to More Effective Project Teams

Posted by on Dec 9, 2014 in Project Management | 0 comments

Managing the technical aspects of an IT project can be very challenging on its own. When you consider the need to communicate effectively with stakeholders and project team members, successful IT project management becomes even more complex. Without effective and foundational communication skills, project management teams can experience significant challenges moving projects toward their desired state. The Project Management Institute in its report on effective communication says “whether it’s in person or via email, with a sponsor or a stakeholder, effective communication serves as the very bedrock of business. It can sway public opinion, give teams a sense of purpose, persuade executives to increase funding — and boost project success rates.” In most IT projects, there are many cross-functional teams with varied skill-sets and roles, complex program integration dynamics at play, and often competing priorities.  Project managers across the Federal government benefit when their teams harness the power of foundational communication skills. Project teams become super-charged and highly-effective project teams when they master and demonstrate communications skills such as influencing, briefing and presenting, and customer service. Here are three often overlooked, communications skills that can significantly improve program success: Influencing: Influence has to do with your impact on others; your ability to inspire, encourage and motivate others into action. In order to be an effective influencer you need to understand that the members of a project team are likely to have just one of two mindsets when it comes to IT project management – the IT mind and the business mind. They think and operate differently making communication, (such as briefing/presentations, and developing documentation) between the two very challenging. But when you understand that the IT mind just wants to get the job done and focus on the development process and that the business mind (the PM) is constantly considering the numerical values associated with the project, such as completion dates, success criteria, metrics etc., you will be able to effectively influence every aspect of the project toward completion. Briefing and Presenting: On any given day, project managers find themselves having to create briefs detailing progress or various details of their programs. The briefing can be the most powerful communications tool for IT project managers. Yet, all too often, instead of being informative and insightful, these briefings end up as death-by-PowerPoint sessions. The team has to stay involved and be able to communicate their progress in an effective and efficient manner. When presenting briefs, know the needs of your audience and match your content to their needs. Know your material thoroughly. Put what you have to say in a logical sequence. If you need to, practice and rehearse your speech at home or where you can be at ease and comfortable, in front of a mirror, your family, friends or colleagues. If you master these communications skills you will be able to develop and deliver an effective presentation. Customer Service: Another advanced skill is leveraging customer service-style communication that is not limited to a face-to-face conversation. We live in an age of technology where there are plenty of tools that are available to help you communicate in a customer-friendly manner. Understanding that as a project manager your role is to serve the entire team and the preferred methods of sending and receiving information can make or break your project if...

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Clear Communication and Federal IT Project Success

Posted by on Nov 25, 2014 in Project Management | 0 comments

One of the most common shortcomings in Federal projects is a failure to communicate effectively. Clearly communicating requirements, progress, and expectations is essential to avoiding rework, missed deadlines, and budget overruns. It’s usually skills like listening, interpersonal relationships, and emotional intelligence that make or break Federal IT projects.  To improve project outcomes, staff managing these projects should take professional skills training in addition to having on-the-job expertise. In my soon-to-be-released resource, The Project Management Answer Book, I answer some of the most common questions about using clear and effective communication to ensure successful project outcomes. Here’s an excerpt: Ask a PM what is the most important project management skill to have, and you will most likely hear that it’s the soft skills. These include not only speaking and writing but also listening skills, interpersonal skills, and general emotional intelligence. We all know PMs who are impressively technical (i.e., they have hard skills) but less effective than they could be, because they are held back by their soft skills. Without strong people skills, PMs are limited in effectiveness at gathering requirements, writing team communications, managing staff, and interacting successfully with their customers. Two common examples: (1) Missing a small cue or failing to read between the lines on an interview can result in hiring the wrong team member, and (2) misunderstanding part of a requirement—or failing to communicate it clearly—often leads to costly rework. LISTENING SKILLS AND EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE Q1. What is effective listening? A1. Effective listening is a general term for doing everything you can to reallyhear the other person in an effort to create the most positive communication outcome. Communication glitches are the root cause of many errors on projects, so putting extra effort into listening is well worth it. Q2. What is active listening, and how does it improve the communication process? A2. Active listening is proactively showing the other person that you hear and understand what they are saying. An important part of this is nonverbal communication—conscious and unconscious behaviors such as nodding, making eye contact, and smiling and exhibiting other facial expressions. All of these indicate whether you are paying attention and understanding what the other person is saying. Active listening greatly reduces the risk of miscommunication errors, because the listener’s responses prove that he hears the speaker. Active listening also provides an additional psychological benefit that further helps the communication process. People like to know that the other person is listening, because it makes them feel acknowledged and valued. They are more eager to work with and cooperate with stakeholders who do this well. Excerpted with permission from The Project Management Answer Book, Second Edition by Jeff Furman, PMP. ©2015 Management Concepts Inc. All rights...

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Does Anyone Look at Those End-of-Course Evaluations Anyway?

Posted by on Nov 12, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 2 comments

When you complete an evaluation, do you ever wonder if anyone actually looks at your responses? Do companies take your feedback seriously and make changes based on what you have to say? If they are asking for your feedback, they should review it and take action when warranted. Anyone who has taken one of Management Concepts training courses knows there will be an end-of-course evaluation to complete. Why? It’s good practice to collect students’ feedback on courses they’ve just taken. We collect feedback about the learning experience including the quality and usefulness of the course materials, the instructor’s facilitation skills, and the extent to which the facilities were an appropriate learning environment. In addition to getting feedback on various aspects of their experience, the end-of-course evaluation serves another purpose. We can collect information such as: How confident students are that they can apply what they learned back on the job The degree to which the training will improve their job performance The degree to which the training was a worthwhile investment in their career development In case you’ve wondered if anyone at Management Concepts actually looks at your completed evaluations, the answer is yes. Actually, lots of people at Management Concepts read the evaluations and it drives much of the work we do to create professional development programs. Of course we love hearing about positive student experiences, but we also need to hear about the negative ones. How else can we improve? We use both the quantitative and qualitative feedback you provide to make informed decisions about possible improvements. Here is a sampling of how different stakeholder groups within our organization use your feedback to improve your learning experience: Instructional Designers who create the courses and are always looking for ways to improve the experience Instructors/Facilitators who look for ways to improve their delivery and teaching approach Resourcing Staff who schedule the instructors/facilitators and want to ensure the best delivery of each course Logistics Staff who coordinate the course delivery and  want to ensure the course materials are complete and where they need to be when they are needed Learning Technologists who produce online courses and materials and are looking for ways to improve the online learning experience Facilities Staff who want to ensure a clean and inviting environment Customer Service Staff who help students with registering for courses and want to ensure a positive experience Administrators who review the data to ensure we are in compliance with Continuing Education requirements Executives who oversee all these areas and use the information in short- and long-term planning and want to ensure we meet needs and exceed expectations All of these groups work together to ensure your learning experience is valuable and enjoyable. Your responses help us know when to update courses, what new courses are needed, which instructors are most effective, which technologies add the most value, and what types of learning environments are most effective. So, next time you are asked to complete an end-of-course evaluation, make sure you do. We want to hear from...

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Using Positive Politics to Move Business Analysis Forward

Posted by on Nov 10, 2014 in Project Management | 0 comments

Effective business analysts must be adept in a number of competencies and skills to accomplish their goals. In my new book, Breakthrough Business Analysis: Implementing and Sustaining a Value-Based Practice, I examine one soft skill in particular that can make or break a successful business process implementation: using positive politics and influencing skills.  Here’s an excerpt: Building a new business process such as business analysis is a challenging endeavor. First, you must gain executive sponsorship and organizational alignment. Do you have the power and influence skills to take a comprehensive view that is aligned with your organizational environment and decision-making practices? Make no mistake: Organizational politics will influence your BA practice in multiple ways. Politics is really the collection of an organization’s internal structures that deal with power, influence, and decision-making. Politics is often thought of in negative terms, but positive politics can lead to positive power and influence. Things happen when politics works. Decisions are made. Projects move forward. Deals are cut. Goals are met. Things get done. Your power is directly related to how well you negotiate the politics of your organization. Your ability to act as a positive politician will have beneficial results for your team, for your organization, and ultimately for you. People want to follow natural leaders. You as BA practice manager/lead need to be seen as a leader. As a positive politician, use your influence rather than authority or manipulation to achieve goals. Ensure that you are operating from a positive position—a solid basis from which to influence. This will include: Status. Your role as BA practice manager/lead needs to be positioned high enough in the organization to command respect. Trust. Your colleagues, whether on a peer level or above or below you on the organization chart, must trust you. Trust is earned slowly through positive interactions. Integrity. Never sacrifice your integrity. Never. Consistency. Maintain a “steady as she goes” posture. Carefully craft your communications so that they tell a story and are consistently positive and strategically oriented. Knowledge. Become a quick study. Know what you are talking about, and know when to dive into the details and when to stay at the executive level. Know your audience and what type of communication is appropriate to them. Excerpted with permission from Breakthrough Business Analysis: Implementing and Sustaining a Value-Based Practice by Kathleen B. Hass. © 2015 Management Concepts Inc. All rights reserved....

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GSA’s 18F Consulting to Aid in Government Adoption of Agile Project Management

Posted by on Nov 5, 2014 in Project Management | 0 comments

In the current Federal environment, there is a growing need to replace existing systems with newer, more robust systems. Anyone familiar with Federal agency processes can certainly appreciate that this is no easy feat; there are implicit challenges when creating new systems. But, the application of Agile project management methodologies can make the process smoother and more manageable. As the need for better systems and processes has increased, Federal agencies need help implementing these projects using Agile project management. 18F, the digital delivery team at the General Services Administration, will soon launch their solution to this problem: 18F Consulting. 18F Consulting will function as an Agile development and acquisitions planning group, which will essentially act as an Agile coach to agencies across the government. If you’re not already familiar with its story, 18F is a consulting service that GSA launched earlier this year. 18F was born when GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini and Federal CTO Todd Park were thinking about how to evolve the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. They recognized a need to agile management and software development to the government, while also creating of an innovation culture in the government through a more permanent program. 18F Consulting will help agencies to simplify the replacement of systems into smaller component deliverables that can be developed and executed based on Agile principles. As of now, this service is being tested at the Labor Department and two other agencies. The new Agile approach requires a conversation early on with the stakeholders who approve the budget, and is built around the idea of creating a contract and then expecting change. Those contracts must allow for the room to be flexible and nimble, and allow for real agile work to occur. 18F will also soon release a dashboard with status information on its projects and other information on GitHub, a collaboration, code review, and code management tool for open source and private projects. This dashboard will allow taxpayers to receive real-time updates on current IT projects, and the success of those projects based on GSA metrics and criteria for success, which will create a high level of visibility and accountability. With the 18F Consulting leading the way, more and more agencies will expect an Agile project management approach as the update systems and undertake major IT projects. Federal project and program managers will need to be skilled in Agile project management and how to effectively use the methodology in the Federal...

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Leadership Skills Critical to Federal IT Project and Acquisition Success

Posted by on Oct 22, 2014 in Project Management | 0 comments

We all see Federal agencies focusing more on the importance of cultivating strong leadership skills, including team building, problem solving, and effective communication, particularly for Feds in IT. Take the 27th annual GCN Awards Gala; it showcased Fed IT ingenuity, teamwork, honored 20 standout projects for their achievements and impact across government. Among the awards was the ground-breaking effort by the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the CIA, Doug Wolfe. Wolfe’s outstanding leadership enabled the CIA to set up cloud services for the intelligence community, bringing about a new phase in collaboration and information sharing across the often siloed agency.   With an ever-changing set of demands in government, it’s no wonder that leadership skills such as innovation, collaboration, and information sharing were key to the success of these award-winning Federal IT projects. Agencies need leaders who can champion innovative technologies and tools to streamline their operations. The ability to set a strategic direction at the program and agency level is a highly-sought critical skill. As both the President and senior government officials have identified this year, procurement of IT within the government needs an overhaul. As such, building effective and strong leadership skills in IT acquisition and project management will be a particularly critical aspect of reform.  A multitude of Federal agencies are putting more energy and resources behind training the acquisition workforce. A professional acquisition corps with both leadership skills and subject matter expertise can improve the success of IT projects. According to a recent survey conducted by Federal News Radio, a majority of the chief acquisition officers and other senior level acquisition managers believe that hiring and retaining the right people with the right skills is driving their current agenda. Educating the Federal workforce on basic fundamentals, fostering an environment where the leadership mentality is rewarded, and creating a workplace where individuals are allowed and expected to make tough decisions is integral to success. What Federal agencies seek now are the innovative IT leaders of tomorrow; those who can adapt within the complex Federal IT...

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The Value of Project Management Skills and Roles in Federal IT Projects

Posted by on Oct 7, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Despite the technical improvements made in many Federal IT programs, the Federal IT workforce often still lacks the foundational project management skills necessary for project and program success. Time and again, we see large-scale projects fail. However, with the right project management training, skills, and tools, IT projects can yield effective results. Leadership, communication, understanding of contracts, and the balance of schedule and cost are necessary for project participants to move beyond their assigned tasks and work to solve project-level challenges and achieve overall project success. Skills That Are Fundamental to Success First and foremost, to increase the odds of success, Federal IT staff need a set of foundational project management skills that extend beyond each individual’s own technical proficiencies, including: Project Management: The ability to manage complex projects, lead project teams, develop strategic plans and identify, validate, and manage the business and system requirements of a project. Leadership: Being able to effectively motivate oneself and others to achieve optimal results to move the organization beyond the status quo and achieve goals. Communications: Thinking independently in strategic, systemic, conceptual, creative, and critical ways to offer innovative solutions and make more effective decisions. Financial Management: Understanding how to work more effectively across functional areas and improve accountability, transparency, and performance. Acquisition and Contracting: Learning relevant and practical content on government-wide acquisition and contracting regulations and best practices to improve project performance. These skills are not intrinsic to the technical competencies that Federal IT employees possess. Thus, additional training is often needed. A Case for Project Management Training A willingness to understand and work toward the strategic (not just operational) mission is important to achieving a project’s initiatives. This can be nurtured through comprehensive and effective training. In 2011, the Federal Government CIO Council surveyed the Federal IT workforce with over 12,000 employee respondents. A summary of that survey shows that current top skills of Federal IT employees don’t always align with the individual and organizational training topics needed to succeed. According to the survey, current skills included desktop applications, systems support and helpdesk, network operating systems, and information management. In contrast, network security, contracting/procurement, administrations management, and leadership were among the training needs that were lacking. The data showed that insufficient training in communications, analysis, and procurement (all part of a foundational IT project management curriculum) is detrimental to an IT project. It is the collective skillset of the project team that can ultimately determine the project’s success. Bringing It All Together: The Role of the Executive SponsorAnother significant key to success is the involvement of an executive sponsor, yet they are not always present on every government program. As Jordan Sims argued in a recent Federal Times article, programs fare better when there is an active and engaged executive sponsor who supports project and program managers in aligning objectives to the organization’s overall strategy. According to PMI, there are five critical actions of an executive sponsor: Remove roadblocks. Help the team understand the alignment of the project or program to the organization’s strategy. Champion the project or program. Add resources when appropriate. Act quickly to resolve issues. These actions ultimately result in the creation of an environment where project and program managers are empowered to manage and lead effectively and dynamically. One example of the power of an executive...

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The Human Side of Project Management

Posted by on Oct 1, 2014 in Project Management | 0 comments

My new book, Maximizing Project Success Through Human Performance, focuses on what has been missing from most major project management methodologies – how to lead actual humans in successful projects.  Most experienced project managers know by now that project success or failure hinges on more than just schedules, budgets, and quality control; it’s almost always about people. One of the most challenging people situations every project manager faces is dealing with a difficult person you just don’t like — and would even rather avoid. Here’s an excerpt that provides a strategy for managing such a situation: Building a Strategy For AvertersMost of us have, at one point or another, met people who instantly rub us the wrong way. An averter is any person whom you instinctively avoid—in extreme cases, that you avoid at all costs. This psychological reaction is based on your subjective perception of the individual. Unfortunately, we can’t wish those folks away, and we can’t write them off. Chances are we will need them at some point. To work with an averter, we need to change our perceptions of that individual. This may not sound logical, since the other person plainly is the problem (or so we think!). But by changing your mindset, you will become less irritated by the person. Here’s an example. I attended a two-week Train the Trainer of Behavioral Analysis at the Institute of Analytic Interviewing. On the second day of the course, there was a woman in the class that I just didn’t like—let’s call her Jackie. I didn’t know why I didn’t like Jackie, but that night I decided to use one of my tools to help bring to the surface what was happening unconsciously. On a blank sheet of paper, I wrote two questions side by side. Then, I started to write, free-form, what I didn’t like about Jackie. Then, I did the opposite and focused on what did I like about Jackie. What I DON’T like about this person What I DO like about this person Came across as condescending and patronizing. Seems disinterested in being part of the group. Based on the face she makes, it looks like she holds back what she really wants to say. Appears friendly. Is concise when making a point. Stands up for others. After creating this list, I started to realize that there was something going on underneath Jackie’s abrasive exterior. Every time I interacted with Jackie I made a conscious effort to focus on her good qualities. As we started to get to know each other better, she became more comfortable with me to the point where she decided to share some of her personal experiences. Getting to know her background helped explain why she had built walls around herself. In the end, my mindset shift enabled me to work with Jackie better and turn around what was sure to be a difficult relationship. If I hadn’t written down and focused on Jackie’s positives, I might never have moved beyond my initial conclusion that she had control issues and a superiority complex. We have a natural tendency to dismiss people based on our impressions. Unfortunately, many of us don’t bother to explore what’s driving a person to act a certain way or find out why we don’t like them. This exercise, albeit...

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Nextgov Prime 2014 Recap: What Will Federal Project Management Look Like in 2020?

Posted by on Sep 23, 2014 in Project Management | 0 comments

Panel: Advancing Procurement at the Pace of Technological ChangeHost:Steve Benjamin, Management ConceptsPanelists: Jaymie Durnan, DoD; David McClure, GSA; Joanne Woytek, NASA Along with several of my Management Concepts colleagues, I recently participated in Nextgov Prime 2014, a two-day event designed, implemented, and attended by Federal leaders and Nextgov’s Fed tech-focused staff. This year’s theme was Gov_2020: Embracing the Art of the Possible. Through breakout sessions, keynote addresses, and panels, participants sought to discuss and answer critical questions relevant to current and future leaders, including: What does government look like in 2020? How can technology reshape the way government does business? How will the ways in which you accomplish your mission change? Management Concepts hosted two particularly relevant panels to those who follow Federal project management and procurement, titled Advancing Procurement at the Pace of Technological Change: Why Government Will (or Won’t) Fix Procurement and Advancing Procurement at the Pace of Technological Change: How the Government Will Buy Future Technologies. With a focus on various impact areas such as organizing teams, working smarter, and managing the risks of electronic privacy, a lot of ground was covered in these sessions, but there were a few key concepts that became recurring themes in the discussion. Agile: While Agile as a buzzword and the “concept du jour” has passed its peak “hype cycle,” Agile practices (iterative and incremental delivery, close involvement of the customer during the development process, working in Sprints, etc.) remain highly relevant to successful Federal program management. Big Data: The same can be said for “big data,” a phrase at which many scoff. But there is no doubt that the need for better, more effective tools and up-skilling of personnel is necessary in order to get value out of data. This is a trend that will continue to grow exponentially. (Oh, and by the way, if you think your personal data is secure, think again. Be proactive: Change your password.) Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR): If you’re waiting for changes to the FAR before moving ahead with iterative development, be prepared to wait for a long time. These changes won’t be coming anytime soon. Using an Agile development process to acquire products and develop services is actually quite doable under the FAR. The key is to get creative, and expect and handle pushback from stakeholders who have “never done it this way before.” Change is hard, but worth it. IT Projects and Cybersecurity: A discussion surrounding IT project implementation is inextricably linked to the topic of cybersecurity — and that’s a good thing. Considering the cyber issues at the onset of a project will prove to be less expensive and easier to navigate than adding it later in the process, or dealing with inadequate protection and picking up the pieces after the fallout. At Nextgov Prime2014, it was evident that continued focus and discussion surrounding these issues will yield the best practices and tools needed for successful Federal project management in the future. What can we do today to ensure that we will succeed...

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How to Make Training “Stick”

Posted by on Sep 10, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

As summer is ending and kids are going back to school, I was thinking about ways to get the most out of learning. While there are many reasons for attending a training class, most of us take training to meet a certification requirement, or because we need to improve/expand our skills. Just like we tell our kids to do in school, we know that during training, it’s important to take good notes, interact positively with our instructor and classmates, and pay attention to the lessons that are covered. Doing these things will get you through the course just fine. But, to make sure you get the most out of your learning opportunity, there are three easy things you can do before, during, and after training to make sure it “sticks.” Before – Take time to prepare. In addition to having your supervisor approve your training request, you should also spend a few minutes talking to your supervisor about why you need to attend the training. Specifically, review the course objectives with your supervisor and make plans for how you will apply the training once back on the job. If you have an Individual Development Plan (IDP), then the training you are planning to take should be linked directly to a topic or skill on your IDP.If there are specific questions you or supervisor have about the topic or skill, or areas you are struggling with, make a list to share with the instructor. Good instructors will start the class by asking you what you hope to get out of the training. Then, they’ll know which areas to emphasize and which areas will have most meaning for the students. Your instructor and fellow classmates have a wealth of knowledge and varied experiences, and most instructors welcome the opportunity for questions and debate during class! During – Create an action plan. We all know you either “use it or lose it.” Some training courses end with having students develop an action plan. The purpose of this, of course, is to document ways in which you will apply what you learned on the job. This is an important step in helping training “stick.”Mastering the skills you learned in training will take time and practice. Be sure to complete the action plan with things you want to remember and/or apply back on the job. Set goals for yourself and identify a strategy for achieving those goals. Even if you aren’t working on a current project that relates to the training, find a way to get involved with one. Maybe you can take on a small assignment or join a project team at work. Alternatively, maybe there’s a way to practice what you’ve learned in your personal life – plan a party to practice your project management skills, volunteer at your kids’ school, or get involved in a professional or community group to practice your leadership skills. After – Reinforce what you learned. Once you have completed your action plan and left the training facility, it can be easy to get caught up in other priorities, deadlines, and fire drills at work. But, this is the time to put what you learned into action. Here are a few easy tips: Keep your action plan in a place that you can see everyday Create job...

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IT Project Management: Critical to the Success of Your Projects

Posted by on Aug 27, 2014 in Project Management | 0 comments

In October 2013, Computerworld published an article that stated the “success rate for large, multi-million dollar commercial and government IT projects is very low.” The article quoted data from the Standish Group showing that only 6.4 percent of large IT projects from 2003–2012 were successful. Why is that the case? Managing IT projects has many challenges. A significant, contributing factor is that information is an invisible commodity. For example, when you contrast IT with construction of a new high-rise building, every component in construction can be seen and touched—every piling, girder, air handler, panel, door, and window. Generally, a common language and terminology is used throughout the construction. This is not the case with IT projects. On the other hand, in IT projects, until we see the results in prototype or final deliverable status, we must manage a set of invisible actions to produce invisible procedures which handle invisible information for the benefit of the frequently-invisible end-user. And perhaps more with IT than any other project management type, we must depend on individuals who make up the team, many of whom are using different programming languages and codes, to apply their skills toward the end result before we can see the results of their work. So what can be done? The IT workforce is now more technically competent than ever before and it is now easier to build complex, useful, and engaging applications. Yet, despite the great advances in technology and IT governance, the Federal IT workforce are often lacking in project management skills such as leadership, communication, understanding of contracts, and the balance of schedule and cost. Only when these skills and competencies are mastered can Federal IT project participants ensure project success. Luckily, the governance and management of IT projects within the Federal sector have also greatly improved. Over the last 25 years, project management of IT has evolved into a valuable discipline and generally accepted principles of project management have emerged. Additionally, with the establishment of new roles and the formalization of requirements for certification, responsibilities and workforce training standards are now clear and well defined. Download Management Concepts new whitepaper, Managing the Invisible: How Can We Improve the Odds of Successful IT Projects?, to learn more about how to improve the odds of running a successful IT...

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Project Managers, Do You Have the Symptoms of Risk Myopia?

Posted by on Aug 26, 2014 in Project Management | 0 comments

“Risk myopia” occurs when individuals or groups are short-sighted about risk, unable to take in the full risk picture, which leads them to focus exclusively on short-term risks or those within a limited perspective. DIAGNOSIS/SYMPTOMS The risk landscape is broad, covering a wide range of uncertainties that could affect our ability to achieve our objectives. It stretches into the far distant future, over the horizon and beyond our sight. We need to understand and manage any and every uncertainty that matters, including those that originate far away. Yet organizations and their project teams tend to focus largely on those risks that are closest to them, as a result of two subconscious influences: proximity (closeness in time or space) and propinquity (closeness to our personal interests). Where this natural close-up focus becomes limiting — excluding visibility of risks that are further off and preventing us from paying proper attention to them — we are likely to be suffering from risk myopia. A number of symptoms indicate short-sightedness in risk vision. Concentration on risk detail at expense of big picture Risk-myopic project teams and organizations tend to focus on the detail of individual risks and fail to see the bigger picture. This perspective is often reflected in the content of their risk registers, where specific risks are described in minute detail, covering every aspect, exploring a range of potential causes, considering many characteristics, and listing every possible impact on the project. While this detailed close-up focus may indeed prove useful to support the management of each particular risk, the danger is that so much time and effort are spent looking at the risks that have been identified that no attention is directed more widely to take in the bigger picture and recognize risks that are not included in the risk register. Emphasis on short-term tactical risks rather than long-term strategic risks Another characteristic of risk myopia is excessive concentration on risks that are likely to occur in the near future that would have an impact on tactical execution. Again, these risks are surely important, and it is perhaps right to emphasize them above other risks because their proximity in time might call for urgency in response planning; certainly, their ability to influence and inform short-term tactics needs to be taken seriously. But such risks must not be emphasized to the point where other important risks are excluded. In addition to short-term risks, we need to look for and record risks that are further off in time. First, faraway risks are getting closer with every passing day, and some are accelerating toward us while we fail to take appropriate action; second, it may be more effective to act early, before such risks get too close, rather than wait for them to enter our short-term field of vision. Focus on limited risk types Another result of risk myopia that is similar to the short-term perspective is a focus on only a limited number of risk types. It is most common for us to consider risks in areas with which we are most familiar. For example, engineers tend to see lots of technical risks but are less aware of commercial or external risks. Procurement specialists see contractual risks clearly but might be blind to risks arising from internal sources within the organization. We tend...

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Workforce Planning Is Key to a High-Performing Future Agency

Posted by on Aug 22, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

The Federal Government’s most valued resource is its people. At a time when the Government faces what the GAO describes as a “period of profound transition,” management of human resources within the Government has become a key driver of not only achieving mission today but also of positioning agencies to be ready to achieve missions in the future. Despite advances in human capital management in the Federal Government, strategic human capital management has been designated by the GAO as government-wide high-risk area since 2001. Last year the GAO added “Human resources specialist” to its list of “Mission Critical Occupations.”  Despite this, however, human capital management often begins after the organization-wide strategic planning takes place, which prevents using human capital information to inform the overall strategic plan. Moreover, it inhibits the organization’s most powerful tool in optimizing the workforce — and in optimizing the organization: workforce planning. Why is workforce planning HR’s most powerful tool? The GAO has identified two benefits of effective workforce planning: Aligning an organization’s human capital program with its current and emerging mission and programmatic goals; and Developing long-term strategies for acquiring, developing, and retaining staff to achieve programmatic goals. Workforce planning sets the direction and goals for the entire human capital lifecycle. From recruiting to employee development, workforce planning is the unifying keystone. Workforce planning is the bridge between the current state and the desired future state. It is nearly impossible to radically change your current workforce regardless of the radical changes in the environment. It is possible, however, to have a radically different workforce in the future without disrupting the efficacy of the current workforce. The critical element is understanding what the future need will be and aligning the need with what the workforce will be able to do at each point in time through workforce planning. A frequent frustration of workforce planning efforts is that organizational leaders often have little insight into what changes will need to take place for the workforce to meet their strategic goals. It’s very common to see the pace of change overestimated and the level of effort underestimated. The root cause for this problem is that HR is often brought to the table after the decision has been made rather than being part of the decision itself. GAO has also identified five key principles that strategic workforce planning should address irrespective of what is being done, which you can reference here. The GAO does emphasize that top management, employees, and other stakeholders should be involved in development and implementation of the workforce plan. The GAO does not call out, however, the importance of HR having a seat at the table when the organization sets its overall vision and goals instead of just setting the strategic direction of the workforce after the organizational strategy has already been determined. When involved in overall agency-wide strategic planning, HR can help line leaders to understand the amount of time and level of investment required for goals to be achieved. From gauging how long it will take to have a workforce with a new skill to understanding how long it takes to stand up a fully effective new function, HR can help the organization to set goals that are achievable within budget and within the necessary timeline. It’s wonderful to have the line...

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Feedback: Pay it Forward

Posted by on Aug 15, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

You’ve heard of the expression “pay it forward,” where instead of repaying a favor when a person helps you out, you pay the favor forward by helping someone else when they need it. Well, I couldn’t help but think of this idea as I was recently looking over survey data gathered by a team of my Management Concepts colleagues. Each year we work with many individuals who are either working towards or have recently moved into supervisory roles in their organization, and we were curious to see how prepared they felt to take on their new responsibilities. We asked them a variety of questions about how they: Understand their current supervisory abilities, including their natural leadership skills, personal strengths, and comfort with stepping up to new challenges Understand crucial supervisory skills, such as performance management and career development Can get the best work out of others Make good things happen — by being aware of their surroundings and situations, and taking steps to elicit the best outcome Are prepared to lead others when the organizational landscape is constantly changing Not surprisingly, after surveying more than 500 emerging leaders, some interesting observations jumped out of the results. Keeping it RealI was glad to see that the majority of those who took our supervisor readiness assessment are approaching their supervisory role with a sense of openness and a healthy dose of optimism. They are energized by the ability to help others, and ready to embrace the diversity of those they lead, knowing their teams are likely multi-generational and have varying viewpoints. They are eager to be flexible when challenges arise and willing to recognize when they need to develop new leadership skills to be a better supervisor. More importantly, in my opinion, I am encouraged by their overwhelming interest in asking others to share their observations and experiences and their willingness to take responsibility for mistakes — choosing rather to view them as opportunities for growth. Pay it ForwardYou must approach a supervisory role with a sense of optimism because the reality is being a supervisor is both rewarding and challenging. The good days feel great and put wind behind your sails, but it’s how you choose to navigate difficult situations that is crucial to your success and the success of those you supervise. I bring this up because our survey also showed that the vast majority of new supervisors were, let’s say, hesitant when it comes to bringing up negative or counterproductive behaviors, addressing sensitive topics like poor performance, or giving feedback in general. Understandable responses? No doubt. The good news is you can learn strategies and techniques that make those less-than-comfortable feedback conversations very positive experiences. And that’s where pay it forward comes into play. When supervisors take feedback seriously and provide it consistently and constructively, it is the greatest thing you can do to help those you supervise to perform to the best of their ability.  And as an added bonus, it positions them for future supervisory roles. The beautiful thing is that when employees receive the right support from a supervisor, they often are motivated and engaged to pay it forward by becoming supervisors that understand the value of feedback. Over time, that can go a long way towards building a feedback culture, which is priceless.  We’d love...

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Does It Make Any Difference?

Posted by on Aug 14, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

From time to time it is important to take stock of why we invest our energy in the things that occupy us.   Birthdays, job changes, and retirements are points where we as individuals commonly reflect and ask “does what I do make any difference?” In early August my colleague, Cleve Pillifant, retired from Management Concepts.  He joins the cadre of senior “‘tweens” who work on occasion a few days or weeks here and there, ‘tween work habits compacted over a career and a complete leisure retirement.   Cleve proudly and irreverently (as is his style) titles himself on his LinkedIn consulting LLC as “President and Grand Poobah.” I’ve known Cleve for less than a year, but we have common root in military careers, his in the Marine Corps, mine in the Army.  At the Management Concepts farewell luncheon, hosted on the outside terrace of our Tysons Corner office building, standing on a stepstool above the group of his friends and co-workers, Cleve made public his reflections on “does it make any difference?”  Typical of a colonel at a change-of-command, he diminished his own importance in favor of the Management Concepts team. He wanted to give us a final challenge and motivation.  He asked, “In the grand scheme of life, what’s the value that our company gives?”   He paused, giving time for us to consider our own individual efforts to develop and deliver quality training for our many customers.  I reflected that it’s easy to narrowly focus on “the metrics” like enrollment stats or student surveys.   To take satisfaction in a course revised with the latest law and policy changes.  To count the number of successful course deliveries and client “attaboys” and call that success.  Are these the right measures of the value we give? Cleve then answered:  The training we provide is important because it changes peoples’ lives for the better.  His point was that training statistics, contracts, and performance metrics are useful to measure progress along the journey, true.  But the significance of our training efforts is only achieved one person at a time: when our adult student gets that promotion, when he discovers an entire new field of work to pursue, when she decides to commit herself to mastery of her career field.  These are points of realization which elevate the trajectory of a person’s career, and we, the Management Concepts team, can take pride that our efforts have this positive impact. The genuine reason for our team of professionals who agree to the collective banner of “Management Concepts – Unleashing the Potential of Individuals, Teams, and Organizations” is the achievement of each person who betters their life by the knowledge we convey. Then, the old colonel didn’t say this, but I knew he was thinking it: “… that’s your mission, and don’t ever forget it.  Carry on!” Ooorah, Cleve.  And...

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Is Trustworthiness a Professional Competency?

Posted by on Aug 8, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 2 comments

Trust as Essential for Engagement According to the 2010 Deloitte Ethics & Workplace Survey, 48% of employees cite loss of trust in the organization as a driving factor in the decision to look for a new job. In a recent Federal News Radio survey, 90% of respondents answered “yes” to the question, “Does the government need to rebuild trust with its employees?” and almost 68% of survey respondents believe lack of trust is causing employees to leave government service. “Trust is a symptom of whether or not employee engagement exists. It’s not possible, I don’t believe, to have employee engagement without trust,” said Bob Tobias, director of public sector executive education at American University. With increased employee engagement, Tobias noted, comes increased organizational performance. Given the importance of maintaining trustworthiness among its employees, where should an organization start? Deloitte’s study pointed to executives. All factors considered, an organization’s leaders are the single most powerful influencing factor on whether employees trust an organization. Transparent Communication from Leaders What do employees look for in leaders? Executives and employees alike agree —transparent communication by leadership is one of the most effective ways to build and maintain trust at work. 92% of executives ranked this among their top three ways to build trust, and nearly one third of employees identified it as the most important thing an executive can do to promote trust in the company. A recent look into employee morale at General Motors is compelling evidence that straightforward communication contributes to employee trust. Marking the largest increase in employee morale ever observed by the third-party firm who conducted the survey, trust in organizational leadership at General Motors in 2014 is the highest observed in the history of the company — even amid a global company crisis. What improved trust at GM? In a word: candor. Plenty of face time and open conversation about the tough issues has boosted morale dramatically. GM executive Mark Reuss recently commented at an industry form, “Mary [Barra] and I…tell them what’s going on, where we’re at, where we’re going to be in a month, where we’re going to be in a week. We’re being really transparent.” In NASA’s history, observers around the time of the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia cited lack of trust as a key factor that shaped employees’ reluctance to speak up when they first suspected something could go wrong. NASA has since re-established trust in the organization and in 2013 earned the top ranking in Best Places to Work in the Federal Government, boasting top employee engagement numbers. How did NASA do it? NASA charged its leaders with developing and maintaining a culture of trust, including offering two different courses on trust as part of their leadership development. Trustworthiness as an Organizational Priority Trustworthiness is not just about having employees feel good about the organization or their work. When a leader’s trustworthiness instills trust in the organization and has a lasting impact on employee engagement and retention, trustworthiness stands clearly as a professional competency. More importantly for your organization, you can train leaders to see where promoting trust is critical. The adage “If you can’t count it, it doesn’t count” is relevant here. How does your organization use honesty or trustworthiness-related survey data to make positive changes to your organization? In...

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Levels, levels everywhere and not an ounce of clarity anywhere!

Posted by on Aug 4, 2014 in Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

About once or twice a year, I find myself sitting in a meeting with clients and colleagues, and I suddenly realize that confusion has ensued without people realizing it. I specifically remember one meeting where, despite that fact that we were all training and learning experts in our own right — we began to talk past each other. The discussion was on “levels.”  A few of us had confused looks on our faces. The discussion continued as each person tried to explain and re-explain the points they were trying to make. After several painful minutes, I realized that the confusion was due to a communication problem. One person was talking about Blooms Levels, but instead of saying Blooms Level she simply said Level. Another person heard Level and assumed that she meant Certification Level. Someone else heard Evaluation Level. And confusion ensued. Now, that I’ve learned the lesson of Level Confusion, I know to keep an eye out for it. I can more quickly recognize when it happens. I even try to head it off by using the specific term that I mean. Sometimes, I ask someone to clarify what they meant when they use Level. What are all these Levels? Let’s take a quick look at what the most common Levels are in the training and learning field. Of course, many other Levels exist. Blooms Levels refer to levels within Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning objectives. Typically, when people refer to it, they are talking about different objectives that a training course could have. The levels begin with Knowledge and then build on each other: Knowledge Comprehension Application Analysis Synthesis Evaluation For example, there are many ways to train employees to communicate better. The training could teach them to memorize different theories of communication or facts about effective communication (Knowledge). After teaching them basic knowledge, they could be taught to compare and contrast different communication theories (Comprehension). Next, the training could ask employees to solve a problem by applying one of the communication techniques in a role play (Application). It could have them identify different ways of effectively communicating in a new situation (Analysis) or require them to compile different elements of communication theories to come up with alternative ways of approaching a conversation (Synthesis). Finally, they could observe other students in a role play and judge their effectiveness at using communication techniques (Evaluation). Many agencies and fields have Certification Levels, which indicate that an individual can competently perform a job. A certification is typically attained by passing a certification exam (such as a Project Management Professional certification) or taking and passing a series of classes (such as the Federal Acquisition Certification for Contracting, or FAC-C). In some cases, experience and education requirements also must be met. Different certification levels represent increasing degrees of competence within the field or area. For example, both FAC-C and the newly refreshed FAC-C® has three levels—Levels I, II, and III—each of which requires progressively more years of experience doing contracting work as well as more training. Evaluation Levels refer to levels in a training evaluation model, such as the Kirkpatrick® Model or the Phillips Model. There are many different ways to determine whether a training event was effective. The Levels describe different ways to evaluate training and include: Level 1 is the students’...

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Windshield or Bug? — How to Thrive During Change

Posted by on Aug 1, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

As both Mary Chapin Carpenter and Dire Straits have pointed out, “Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.” This isn’t exactly the case with change in organizations because there are inevitably fewer people leading the change than there are people impacted by a change they don’t control. Change management practitioners would emphasize that every individual has influence over whether change is accepted in their organization. From change champions to passive accepters to active resistors, everyone can affect change. In many cases, however, you may neither want to bolster nor derail a change. You just want to find a way to navigate through it with as much benefit and as little disruption as possible. The question is how to do that. When a change is happening in your organization, here are a few tips on how not only to survive, but also to thrive: Un-Divide Your Attention: Thoroughly read all the communications about the change. Attend the all-hands meeting without your smartphone. View the webinars – and not while multi-tasking. If you’re relying on the water cooler conversations for information about what is happening, misinformation is a given. Actively listen to what your leaders have to say. Yes, this takes time away from your day-to-day responsibilities, but it’s worth it. Question Authority: Do not hesitate to ask questions of your supervisor and senior management about the change. Use your agency discussion boards and other communications forums to get answers. Of course, word your questions wisely. If that’s not possible, seek a safe forum in which to ask the question. If there isn’t a way to submit anonymous questions, reach out to HR to develop one. Just Me, Myself, and I: As much as we want to be “all business” at work, our emotions do play a role. Spend some time reflecting on both your practical and emotional reactions. Will the change results in less interaction with a favorite colleague? More interaction with your office’s Andy Bernard (or Mimi for Drew Carey fans, Copy Guy from SNL), and you just can’t take that? Will the change result in more or less interesting work for you? More or less power? Figure out how your feel about the change and WHY you feel that way. Know the lens through which you, as an individual, view the change. Think Globally, Act Locally: Communications from leaders often focus on the benefits at the agency level. It is critical you can view the change through that lens, too. If you’ve participated in the change communications and asked questions, you should understand the global situation. Where your efforts are most critical, however, is at the local level. Boots on the ground implications of changes are sometimes missed by senior leaders in change planning. Think through all the implications of the change for your role and team. What are the indirect consequences? Are there any potential issues that need to be addressed? Surfacing them – and addressing them – early prevents later problems for both you and your leadership. Expect the Unexpected: No change program goes according to plan. If you enter the change expecting to have to be flexible, you’re less likely to be annoyed when the unexpected happens. Have contingences in place if, for example, a software program is delayed. If you’re scheduling vacation around...

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Start With Goals: Optimizing Talent in the Federal Workforce

Posted by on Jul 31, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

With constantly changing technology to keep up with, demands for efficiency and a shortage of millenials entering their ranks, Federal leaders are under more pressure than ever to recruit and retain new talent, and get more from existing employees. The need to optimize talent in the workforce is evident. How do you begin to assess the critical skills gaps in your workforce, and align professional development and training to agency missions and goals? And once you have a vision of what your future workforce should look like, how can you make it happen?  My colleagues and I recommend a strategic approach in our upcoming book from Management Concepts Press, Optimizing Talent in the Federal Workforce. Here’s an excerpt: The first step is to analyze the agency’s strategic and performance goals and determine where training could enhance the achievement of those goals. A gap analysis will identify competency discrepancies that hamper achievement of the future desired state. Some key questions to ask are: To reach each goal, what competencies must the current or future workforce members possess? What benchmarks can be used to create innovative approaches to reaching this goal? Are there competency gaps that must be addressed to meet this goal? Could training help reduce other HR problems, such as high staff turnover? (OPM, 2000) The next step is to develop alternative strategies to close the identified gaps using both training and non-training solutions. If the conclusion of the analysis is that training solutions are necessary, then a cost-benefit analysis will be required for justification of a training program. Key questions to ask are as follows: Could training address the competency gaps? Are non-training strategies needed to support the training intervention? What types of training should be provided (e.g., classroom, distance learning, electronic performance support, on-the-job training)? Do the anticipated benefits from training outweigh the projected costs? (OPM, 2000a) Excerpted with permission from Optimizing Talent in the Federal Workforce by William J. Rothwell, Ph.D., SPHR, CPLP Fellow; Aileen G. Zaballero, M.S.,CPLP; Jong Gyu Park, MBA. © 2014 by Management Concepts Press. All rights reserved....

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Having an “HMU” Instead of an Attack

Posted by on Jul 25, 2014 in Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

A senior leader at a Federal agency I recently worked with was revered throughout the organization, known for his wisdom, excellent communication skills and approachability. When something went bad or wrong with anyone, he would sit down with the person and have an “HMU” conversation. Before explaining what an HMU is, it is important to remember how most conversations go in many organizations when something goes wrong. The conversation often goes badly, evokes negative emotions, defensiveness, hurt feelings, future avoidance and other damage. (This is why teaching people how to give feedback that works is a standard feature management and leadership development programs.) But an HMU conversation is different. It stands for “Help Me Understand.” First, it’s a conversation, not a diatribe or one-way monologue. Second, it leads with questions. Asking to help someone help you understand is a question itself. HMU starts with no real agenda or pre-conceived notions. It starts with a desire to understand. Since the “how” of the “what” always matters greatly in these things, it should be noted that the demeanor of the leader who uses this approach is calm, open and reasonable. The HMU gives the employee the responsibility of walking through his or her reasoning, and it goes from there. When there is information that was not known to the leader that changes the picture, he thanks the employee and everyone gets back to work. And when there was a lapse in logic or good thinking on the part of the employee, the leader helps the employee see that. Employees know an HMU could lead to constructive criticism, but it’s different than an attack. It helps them to think through their actions, surface their reasoning and actually learn something. The next time something happens that doesn’t make sense to you, start with “Help me understand . . .” If giving effective feedback and other leadership and management competencies are holding your team back, consider implementing a leadership development...

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Instructional Games in Government and Industry

Posted by on Jul 23, 2014 in Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

A growing trend in today’s business learning environments has been moving toward simultaneously teaching and experiencing important ideas through verbal, tactile, and surrogate methods.   In other words, we don’t just describe, display, and observe — we simulate.   Game-based business simulations provide a means for students to perform tasks, demonstrate skills, and also exhibit attitudes in order to create or experience effective approaches in dealing with real or potential situations. The concept and practice of simulations are not new; they’ve been part of human behavior for centuries.  Child’s play, drama, and scientific experimentation all facilitate knowledge acquisition and personal experience in ways that encompass formal, informal, and various combinations of learning.  However, in this technological world, the word simulation most likely conjures images of computer-, tablet-, smartphone- and other types of digital hardware and software-based approaches. Business learning and simulation games take several forms including in-person role play, computer simulations, and team-centered scenarios while connecting multiple players that are geographically near and far.    During business simulations, whether in-person or computer-based, the participants typically assume a specific persona and exhibit behavior within a business setting; are given tasks to perform or decisions to make; and receive feedback on the quality of their individual or team performance.   Through the development of realistic business scenarios, the participant is provided with a problem or situation requiring various physical, mental, emotional, kinesthetic, and combination responses.   In both in-person and via computer, the scenario events will branch based on the dynamic interactions of the participants, frequently yielding a multitude of solutions or outcomes. Meaningful simulations, especially in business and industry still require human interaction, the kind that cannot be fully satisfied through surrogate, two-dimensional, or even three-dimensional representations or natural language processing.  Computers, for the most part, have rebranded the definition of simulation.   There are still actions and tasks that computers cannot perform.   The benefits and uses of people-centric, interpersonal, and table-top simulations that have been widely used by the military and other tactical decision makers in government and industry is not dependent upon the graphics representation, but rather, human collaboration. There are two basic types of business simulations:  content and process. It is important to note that the line between process and content is often blurred because each simulation contains elements of both.  However, in most cases the type of simulation used skews the primary learning either towards learning the process or learning the specific content. For the most part, content simulations are hosted on computers to explore what actions are to be taken.  For example, if an individual makes a decision and implements that decision by pressing a button, what will happen? On the other hand, process simulations examine the how and why of actions taken. In other words, the focus of the simulation considers the outcome as it pertains to the level of agreement among the interpersonal processes and motives used, the how and why regarding a particular decision. Process simulations usually precede content simulations and are more interpersonal by nature. The reason is that human beings are a why-driven species. We like to know why we are doing something before we actually engage in the task and do it. Knowing the why helps us make sense of our actions, no matter how small or large they might...

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Affordable Care Act’s Butterfly Effect

Posted by on Jul 18, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

In conversation, a friend often mentions the “Law of Unintended Consequences,” which refers to chain-event related outcomes that may not have been foreseen when an initiating action occurred. It is an extension of Chaos theory’s “Butterfly Effect” that suggests unforeseen linkages such as, “When a butterfly in California flaps its wings, weeks later, a typhoon hits Asia.” From a management perspective, this is “Systems Thinking,” the art and science of making reliable inferences about behavior by developing an increasingly deep understanding of underlying structure, as described by Barry Richmond in 1987 and perfected by Peter Senge beginning in the 1990s. Systems thinking is using the butterfly’s flap to predict and prepare for the typhoon. I bring this up because the recently enacted Affordable Care Act (ACA) could be the “butterfly’s wing” that eventually causes a “typhoon” of workforce mobility. Before the ACA, employees typically obtained health insurance by holding a full-time job with an employer who negotiated a health insurance plan and subsidized it as a benefit of employment. Many employees stayed with their organizations out of fear of loss of access to health insurance or due to continuity of care issues. This was especially true in the Government sector, where good healthcare coverage is a key benefit. Prior to the ACA, a break in insurance coverage could cause an individual to be denied new coverage or face very high premiums based on preexisting medical conditions. Leaving a Government job for no or lessor insurance was, simply put, a bad bet. Now that ACA is experiencing greater acceptance as the law of the land and people are signing up for coverage through state or Federal exchanges, this potentially impacts the relationships between employers and employees. It may motivate Feds to move into the private sector or retire early with confidence that they will be able to obtain health coverage comparable to what they have now. How has your organization prepared for this change? Have you considered the possible indirect consequences of the ACA on your organization? More healthcare options may lead to higher turnover: If you had staff who didn’t want to change organizations under the previous health insurance environment, are they now feeling like they can make a move? Do you have a retention strategy for critical individuals? Is your recruitment capability ready to find people to replace them? Or will you have to recruit less experienced people and grow your own talent? Do you have  a robust enough succession plan to deal with these risks? Higher turnover may lead to loss of institutional knowledge: Are you at risk as employees’ knowledge base walks out the door? Are your knowledge management practices defined and documented? Should you implement a shadowing or mentoring program to help with knowledge transfer? Are your employees skilled at collaboration and knowledge sharing or is this a skill they will need to develop? Do you need a knowledge management tool such as software? Vacancies and the resultant loss of institutional knowledge may lead to suboptimal mission achievement: Is your organization ready to become a learning organization that embraces employee mobility while still driving high performance and achieving mission results? Organizations can capitalize on a more mobile workforce resulting from ACA by taking a systems approach to workforce planning, including succession planning, recruiting strategies, and...

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Be Prepared for IT Leaders Retiring: Start Training Your High Potential Staff Now

Posted by on Jul 17, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

The aging demographics of the Federal workforce has been apparent for years, and the latest set of data (March 2014) released by OPM show no improvement in the outlook.  In the short term, the government has the benefit of the long years of service and experience of a seasoned workforce. Almost half of the IT workforce is now age 50 and above. Most of these workers are retirement eligible at age 55 or 56, so within a few years, as older workers retire and leave Federal service, so leaves that experience. Funding in the Federal budget for training has been in short supply, and training needs will only increase as demand grows to replace the lost skills of the retirees. These younger workers who were born into the digital age also expect a much richer and dynamic learning experience. Training will have to be technically stimulating, professionally advancing, and personally entertaining.  Management Concepts is rapidly expanding its extensive courseware into e-Learning offerings, which provide the scale, economy, and rich learning experiences to coincide with this change in Federal IT workforce demographics.  Look at this as a part of the larger, varied curriculum designed specifically for Federal IT...

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I’ll take Cognitive Analytics for $1000, Alex

Posted by on Jul 16, 2014 in Analytics, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

One of my fondest memories from my childhood is my family’s nightly ritual of gathering around the TV to watch Jeopardy! with Alex Trebek. I’m still a big fan of the show and when, in 2011, IBM”s Watson took on two Jeopardy champions I was captivated. Having worked on some early efforts to use Natural Language Parsing (NLP) and Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA), it was great to see how the technologies had advanced to allow querying of large sets of unstructured data using plain language queries. Watson is just one, impressive, example of the growing field of cognitive computing and cognitive analytics.  Cognitive analytics refers to process of bringing together machine learning, natural language processing, and artificial intelligence to analyze large quantities on unstructured data in ways similar to those used by the human brain. According to Deloitte’s Tech Trends 2014, “cognitive analytics relies on technology systems to generate hypotheses, drawing from a wide variety of potentially relevant information and connections,” and the emerging technology will be a growth area for many organizations in 2015. In honor my favorite game show, I thought I’d provide a Jeopardy style list of ways Federal managers may, in the not too distant future, be able to use cognitive analytics to improve organization performance. Answer: Natural language search agents. Question: What tools can government agencies use to improve customer service in a resource constrained environment? Apple’s Siri is arguably the most familiar version of an artificial intelligence-based natural language query engine, but corporations have been introducing more rudimentary versions of automated agents to support customer service for nearly a decade. With enhanced language understanding, the introduction of machine learning that can improve the recommendations coming from search agents, and more access to information storage and processing power, opportunities are increasing to automate customer service functions. Cognitive analytic techniques will enable systems to interpret and connect disparate pieces of information to provide better answers and more resources in response to customer inquiries. Automating elements of customer service processes (for both internal and external customers) helps support the agencies drive to maintain service levels with decreased resources. The key will be implementing the type of technology users are becoming accustomed to (e.g. Siri), while still allowing for easy access to customer service agents before users become frustrated with the technology experience. Answer: Social media monitoring and sentiment analysis. Question: How can a federal manager use cognitive analytics to understand trends in employee engagement and brand management? In an increasingly connected world it is important for organizations to maintain awareness of how they are perceived on social media. Using analytic tools, agencies can monitor, aggregate and analyze trends in messaging on internal and external social media networks to understand how employees and the public view the organization. And emerging technologies for sentiment analysis offer a glimpse into the positive or negative views being communicated about the organization. Answer: Better data aggregation, improved used of unstructured data, and faster data processing. Question: How can cognitive analytics enable data driven decision making at my organization. A recent survey by MarkLogic and GovLoop (here) suggests that many government agencies are struggling to realize the benefits of big data and advanced analytics for their organization. The merging of advanced technologies in the field of cognitive analytics will offer agencies a...

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ICYMI: We’ve Got Training for the IT Professional!

Posted by on Jul 9, 2014 in Project Management | 0 comments

Have you heard that we’ve launched a curriculum for Federal IT Professionals? If you work on an IT project, you’re responsible for the ultimate and overall success of the project, not just your specific responsibilities. In fact, everyone involved must know the ins and outs of IT project management to ensure overall project success. While your technical training is essential, basic IT project management is just as crucial – it makes you a well-rounded expert.  Further, a basic understanding of leadership, communications, contracting, and financial management is vital to becoming a well-rounded and practiced IT project manager. Our Fed-savvy instructors walk IT professionals – at all phases of their career – through essential project management proficiencies.  With our training, students build the necessary skills to deliver project success. Are you an IT professional? What training are you looking for – and how can Management Concepts help...

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Don’t Forget the Sammies This 4th of July!

Posted by on Jul 3, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

I’m not referring to the “sammies” you may be planning for a July 4th picnic celebration, but you can get back to perusing tasty recipes for your holiday menu in just a minute. I’ll be brief. I’m talking about what are referred to as the “Oscars” of government service awards: The Service to America Medals awarded each year by the DC-based Partnership for Public Service. The Sammies recognize “outstanding Federal employees who are making high-impact contributions to the health, safety and welfare of countless Americans and others around the world.” Eight Federal leaders are awarded for their efforts across a handful of categories, including: Science and Environment Homeland Security and Law Enforcement National Security and International Affairs Citizen Services Management Excellence The 2014 Sammie nominations were released back in early May, and the results are announced at the annual Service to America Medals Gala in September. The Sammies are particularly important to note this year because all too often lately the lead story on the evening news is another “failure,” “mistake,” or “cover up” by a Federal organization run by a high profile government leader. The fact is that Federal organizations are no more or less immune to scandal or poor management decisions than private sector companies. We need (and we clearly have some) exceptional individuals that are dedicated to bringing the same drive and innovation to the organizations that exist to keep us safe and healthy as those that exist to grow our investments or develop the next life-altering tech gadget. From saving $4 billion in purchasing new rockets to using cutting-edge technology to detect crime to improving the way Government respond to natural disasters, this year’s nominees have shown innovation, agility, and hard-work are essential to outstanding public service. So, on the eve of this Independence Day, let’s celebrate those Federal leaders who are choosing to use their talents to serve our country with the same American spirit that helped us on that pivotal day in 1776. And, to those Federal leaders out there, we say thank...

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Rock Your Next Federal Job Interview

Posted by on Jun 27, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Rock Your Next Federal Job Interview

You’ve completed the self-assessment, submitted your resume via USAjobs.gov, and have been selected for an interview. Now what?  Interviewing can be quite nerve-wracking in general, but can be even more so for a Federal job, which is quite different from interviewing with a private firm. Successful planning and preparing in advance will be the key to success… and hopefully an offer for employment. Below are some tips on preparing for a Federal job interview. Before the interview… Prepare Using the Job Announcement: You applied and tailored your resume and assessment for a specific job announcement that lists the qualifications, skills and experience that the organization deems necessary to be successful in that role.  Prepare in advance specific examples that demonstrate your experience and accomplishments that align with those items mentioned in the job announcement. You want to be able to confidently talk through several of these examples to effectively illustrate why you are the ideal candidate for the job. If you’ve tailored your resume for the job, you can reference the section of your resume where it’s discussed. This gives the interviewer a visual as well as an auditory reference to help them remember your qualifications. Know the Organization: Do research on the organization. Each agency has a specific mission and it’s important to know what that is. Furthermore, agencies have a human capital plan that often explains skills the agency is most seeking.  Click here, to search for missions and human capital plans by agency.  Setting up Google news alerts is another easy way for you to stay on top of current events for a particular organization. For many government employees, it’s not about the money they make, but being a part of an organization that is working hard to do something specific for the public. Prepare thoughtful questions to ask and tailor it to the organization and role you’re interviewing for. This will show the hiring official that you take this interview and job opportunity seriously.  In addition, if you know who will be interviewing you, check their profile on LinkedIn. The Interview… Arrive Early: You never know what traffic will be like or what obstacles you may face while trying to get to an interview. If you have time prior to your interview, do a “dry run” so you know exactly where the building is, where to park, what metro stop to get off at, etc.  Another important thing to keep in mind is that many government agencies have strict security requirements, which may take some additional time when arriving and checking in at the building. Always be sure to bring a government ID with your photo such as a driver’s license or passport. You may also want to leave non-essential items, likely to set off metal detectors, such as a pocketful of change, at home. Many women feel more comfortable bringing in a portfolio with their ID and leaving their purse locked securely in the car. Feeling rushed right before an interview will only add to your stress. Ask the person setting up the meeting if there is anything extra you should know about traveling to their building. First Impressions: Hiring officials often make a judgment within 15 seconds of you walking through the door, making appearance a critical, although often subconscious, aspect of an...

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4 Generation Workforce: Instructional Challenges for Human Resources & Management Leaders

Posted by on Jun 25, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

“They’ve been called Generation Y. They’ve been called Echo Boomers. They may go by different names, but there’s no debate about their effect on business. They are the fastest growing segment of your employee population. They’ve been trained to use their heads more than their hands to solve problems.  It will take a new set of leadership skills to understand their perspective and motivate them to succeed.”  –  Donald D. Shandler, Ph.D., Assistant Vice President, Graduate and Adult Education, Marymount University, and author of Motivating the Millennial Knowledge Worker. Historically, this is the first time that there are four different generations concurrently in the workforce. The anchor years for these generations are: silents (b.1925-1942), boomers (b. 1943-1960), generation X (b. 1961-1981) and millennials (b.1982-2003). America’s new four generation workforce brings different values, needs, preferences, behaviors and experiences to the workplace. It’s critical for today’s senior leadership, line managers, and training professionals to realize that their multigenerational staff may require different learning styles and preferences. More specifically, there are critical instructional design considerations that must be addressed when designing and developing programs for the four generations that now work and learn together. For those professionals charged with the responsibility of engaging, training, and educating a high- performing multigenerational workforce they must plan and accommodate for the commonalities and differences that each population exhibits. In particular, it’s essential to focus on the learning preferences of the three largest cohorts presently in the workforce. Boomers have a preference for classroom-based and career-related programs; Generation X express enthusiasm for online programs and learning for both fun and enrichment; and, Millennials, as digital natives, have an intense interest in technology-enabled learning with little tolerance for boredom. To be an effective manager of these generational differences: Recognize the unique learning preferences of the four generational cohorts now driving America’s economy, and in particular the millennials. Identify inclusive learning strategies to design multigenerational learning experiences. Appreciate the importance of the millennial knowledge worker as a seminal force and centerpiece of a rapidly changing workforce. Incorporate technology-mediated learning methods to meet generational learning needs. Staff directly serving the training and professional development needs of the generations should: Expand their instructional design strategies to include generational learning preferences. Encourage the application of generational learning strategies to enhance an existing or proposed learning experience. Stay current on the growing body of generational research impacting workplace learning and performance. Reconcile the balance of classroom-based and technology-enabled learning. Stuart H. Weinstein, Ph.D is Practice Leader – Instructional Systems at Management Concepts.   Additionally, he was a contributing author to Motivating the Millennial Knowledge Worker (Axzo Press – Crisp Fifty-Minute Books, Paperback, 257 pages, December 2009).   In addition to his role at Management Concepts, Dr. Weinstein teaches Principles of Training and Development and Corporate Distance Training in the Instructional Systems Development graduate program at the University of Maryland Baltimore...

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Pop Quiz: How Do You Evaluate Training?

Posted by on Jun 24, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Recently, I’ve encountered several instances where agencies want to make sure they get what they pay for when training their employees. One method that I’ve observed is giving students a test at the beginning and end of a class. At first glance, this makes sense: Let’s make sure the employees are learning something when we spend our scarce training dollars. To understand the limitations of the before and after test, let’s look at Laura, a GS-9 analyst with ambitions to move up to deputy program manager and eventually to program manager. Laura signs up for a three-day class on effective briefing and presentation skills. The morning of the class, she feels nervous, wondering “Will I have to give a speech in front of the whole class?” Walking into the classroom on Monday morning, the instructor hands her a test. Laura finds a seat and looks over the test, which asks how she should analyze the audience when preparing a speech and to identify “bridge words.” She’s presented with four short lists of words to choose the right answer from; the words start to jumble together as she reads them. Memories of standardized tests in high school start to run through her head. Laura does her best to answer the questions and hands her test in. Other students filter in, starting their tests. While waiting, Laura strikes up a conversation with Sam. The instructor asks them to be quiet so that the other students can focus on their tests. Glancing at her iPhone®, Laura realizes that it is almost 10 a.m. A whole hour has gone by as they wait for everyone to finish the test! Finally, the instructor begins the class. Laura learns many tips and ideas for giving a great briefing. She even learns that “bridge words” are transition words, such as however, in addition, and for instance, that help the audience know that you are moving on to a new thought. On the afternoon of the last day, each student prepares a short talk. Laura feels confident and eager to try her new skills. Each student takes turns giving their talk. Laura receives a standing ovation for her talk. At the end of the class, the instructor hands out another test. Instead of leaving with a sense of exhilaration that she nailed her talk, she leaves a bit anxious that she didn’t remember all of the key characteristics of effective presentations. Laura wishes she could ask the instructor a few more questions, but there is no time; the class is done and students filter out of the room. This scenario highlights several drawbacks of pre- and post-tests, which are: They take away valuable instruction time They test students on material that they have not yet been taught They often measure test taking skills more than knowledge Further, pre- and post-tests are not good measures of a student’s skill or behavior. Laura could get a perfect score on her post-test, yet still not be able to give an effective presentation. But, wait! Isn’t it possible that, for whatever reason, Laura did NOT learn what a “bridge word” was? Don’t we need to know if the instructor did a poor job teaching? Or that the materials didn’t clearly explain certain concepts? Or that Laura just daydreamed during the class?...

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Now What? When Federal IT Leaders Leave

Posted by on Jun 17, 2014 in Project Management | 0 comments

Any workforce – including the government – is dynamic and will continue to change.  But what do we do when strong IT leaders step down? Late last month both DoD CIO Teri Takai and head of GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies Dave McClure announced their resignations – both are innovative and strong IT supporters.  Takai and McClure have noted interest to move to the private sector, so the question remains, what are Feds left to do with their massive IT projects when the leaders leave for (often) greener pastures? It opens the door for new leaders to step in, continue successful policies, and build new ones to further the mission of government.  Agile leaders with excellent training in their backgrounds will push innovation and modernization, best serving their teams, government, and citizens. To equip these IT leaders with the training they need – we need to think outside the box. A valuable IT project manager should comprehensively understand IT, yes, but a basic understanding of leadership, communications, contracting, and financial management is also crucial to becoming a well-rounded and accomplished IT project manager. There’s a long standing assumption that IT-focused Feds leave for the private sector because it’s more innovative and financially rewarding. Yes, things tend to move a bit slowly in government when compared to the private sector, particularly in IT.  In fact, FCW recently ran a story, Avoiding the Senior Executive Service, that describes the current hesitancy of possible SES candidates to accept those positions is in part due to the “low pay and a flawed performance-based awards system.” With this SES reluctance and IT leaders like Takai and McClure heading to private industry, the Federal workforce loses valuable knowledge and innovation. But after compiling lessons learned from projects like Healthcare.gov, it’s time to take a step back, analyze, and reprioritize by arming our Federal IT leaders with the latest and best training, ensuring their skills will guide the projects they lead to success.  The President’s FY15 budget specifically calls for reinstating a strong and consistent training program for Federal employees. Last year was rough for Feds and contractors alike, but we’re now able to invest in training and seek ways to improve – to make Federal IT projects better. Are you a Federal IT professional looking to move up and take the reins?  Check out our courses and let us know if we can help you reach that next...

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Stop Feeling Overwhelmed! Three Questions You Should Ask When Weighing Leadership Development Options

Posted by on Jun 4, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

The most successful leaders know that you can never stop learning and should continually invest in your professional development. That’s easier said than done these days because there are more options than ever for leadership development and professional services like leadership coaching. While the leadership development landscape was once dominated by commercial providers (ahem, Management Concepts), both public and private universities are furiously entering the leadership development market. The good news is you have a lot of high-quality choices and the providers are working hard to earn your business. The bad news is you have a lot of high-quality choices and the providers are working hard to earn your business. So, how’s an individual or a leader in search of options for his or her employees to decide the best route to take? Step 1: Stop stressing. Step 2: Ask yourself three simple yet critical questions: Considering where you are today, what do you or your team need to rev up your performance? How much say do you want in designing your learning experiences? What is/are your preferred learning style(s)?   Determine your needs Yes, this is a big question and it might take some time and effort to peel back the onion, but determining what specific skills you or those you lead need to perform more effectively is the central question to answer. Seek feedback from a variety of sources, including the intended participants, and gather ideas from colleagues and learning development professionals. We all have trouble seeing our blind spots and you need to understand the full picture to make informed decisions. Don’t worry if the picture is still somewhat unclear after a bit of thinking, too. This might be one indication that you should consider a tool like a 360-degree assessment to determine where to focus your energy. Once you’ve zeroed in on the skills you need to target, do your due diligence and find the providers with explicit expertise in those areas. Be sure to cast a wide net and consider both commercial providers—small and large—as well as either local or well-known universities. As I mentioned, many people are looking for your business! Each type of provider has its merits, and you’ll need to determine who is the best match not only in terms of expertise, but also who will be able to engender trust and encourage you or others to fully engage in the process. Structured programs vs. flexible options With so many options out there, another way to help narrow down the possibilities is to decide how much say you want to have in designing your learning experience.  Some providers specialize in providing a small number of prescribed certificate and/or degree programs, whereas others take a more consultative approach and work with you to design and develop programs around your specific aims. Both approaches are equally likely to succeed in the right circumstances, but the program aims must be in line with your needs. Depending on the list of skills you need to target, it may be easy to match up your needs with a highly structured program or it may leave you feeling like only a portion of the focus is relevant to you. Your budget also comes into play at this point. For those of you Federal leaders out there whose travel...

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Assuring Successful Adoption of Business Innovations

Posted by on May 27, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 2 comments

It’s common practice for the government and commercial entities to periodically modify their organization’s reporting structure, business processes, and day-to-day procedures to adapt to the changing needs of the agency or company.  And … it’s human nature to be resistant or hesitant to the accepting the changes, or confused by the new ideas that result from those actions.   Senior leadership tends to introduce the “new ways of doing things” through policies, memos, all-hands meetings, and the all too frequent “word of mouth.”  Although these work to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the “message” or the level of effort in planning the changes, there are some fundamental tips that relate to basic human behavior which work with most people regardless of their nationality, language, culture, education, or location.   I would like to share five easy-to-remember building blocks that have been proven to lead to successful adoption of new ideas and innovations. The foundation for these building blocks were derived from an analysis of over 1,100 sociological studies by Everett M. Rogers and Floyd Shoemaker in their ground breaking book, Communication of Innovations, 1972. The authors define innovations as “an idea, product, or practice as being perceived as new by an individual.” The key here is that when individuals, not the organizations, adopt new ways of thinking or acting, the resulting changes are more readily accepted.  To verify that this definition is true, Rogers and Shoemaker explored the characteristics of innovators, the rate of adoption of ideas by a diverse population of people, and the decision-making processes in 103 different sociological settings. They also compared what they found with similar conclusions in more than 1,500 publications dealing with the communication of innovations. Examples of the new ideas they studied ranged from introducing farm tractors in Turkey, to family planning techniques among Hindu housewives, to modern math among Pennsylvania teachers and ultimately the introduction of new medicines worldwide. You may have heard of the terms “innovators,” “early adopters” and “late adopters”, which are commonly used in the press and trade journals. Those terms and concepts are from these authors.   Types of Innovation Adopters (Adapted from Rogers and Shoemaker, Innovation Curve in Communication of Innovations, 1972)  The Five Building Blocks for Successful Innovations There are the five building blocks that you may want to include in your planning for new “innovations.” Relative Advantage:   “The degree to which an individual perceives that a new idea or product is better than the one it supersedes.” The relative advantage of an innovation is positively related to its rate of adoption. Compatibility:  “The degree to which an idea or innovation is consistent with existing values, past experiences and the needs of the person considering the adoption of the innovation.” The compatibility of an innovation is positively related to its rate of adoption. Complexity:   “The degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to use or understand.  The ease with which an individual can acquire capabilities in the use of the innovation is measurable on a simplicity — complexity continuum.”  The complexity of an innovation is negatively related to its rate of adoption. Trialability:  “The degree to which an innovation may be experimented or “tried out” on a limited basis; without committing the individual to a permanent adoption.”  The trialability of an innovation is...

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Employee Performance: Do You See the Big Picture?

Posted by on May 27, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Linda, a supervisor of an eight-person analysis team, went home every night for a week frustrated that her team wasn’t getting the job done. She shared her frustrations with her husband over dinners, “Maybe this team just doesn’t have what it takes. Charles and Kelly don’t seem to understand some of the analyses we do. And, Jose and Pat just seem apathetic most of the time.” Linda’s husband asks, “Wait, didn’t you invest a lot in training those four last year? Remember how many dinners I ate alone because you were doing their work while they took classes?” Linda sighs, “Yeah, I thought things would get a lot easier when they improved their analytics skills. I even made sure they knew how strongly I felt about investing in them and their careers.” Linda faces an issue that many supervisors face each day. They often ask: What influences employee performance? How can I improve their performance? More factors impact performance than many of us realize. Some of these factors include: Skills Ability Attitudes Personality Background and experiences Motivation Organizational culture Work context Linda might want to consider all of these factors as she tries to figure out why they are performing lower than her expectations. Here are a few hypothetical scenarios that relate to each factor: Skills: Despite having sent the four team members to training, the analysis software that is used on the job is different from the one used in training. Additional training in the analysis software that the team uses may be needed. Ability: Some of the team members don’t have the attention to detail that analysis work requires. They may perform better in a different role. Attitudes: Jose and Pat are apathetic because they feel they are still regarded as junior team members even though they have advanced analytical skills. Personality: Charles and Kelly are reluctant to ask questions about their work assignments in a team meeting because they are introverted. Background and experiences: Charles has a background in financial analysis, which is quite different than technical analysis that Linda’s team does. Some of the concepts are the same, yet the work is different enough that Charles has a hard time using his background in his current role. Kelly comes from a family of technical analysts who take pride in one-upping each other, so she feels self-conscious about asking questions and prefers to figure things out on her own. Motivation: Pat was turned down for a promotion last year and doesn’t feel that his performance is being fairly rewarded. Jose feels that any extra effort he puts out is rewarded with more work. Organizational Culture and Work Context: Linda’s predecessor answered questions from the team with, “Don’t we pay you to know the answer to that?” Over time, the team stopped asking questions; the team’s norm soon became one of figuring things out on their own instead of working together to address challenges. Linda’s choice of solution depends, of course, on which of the above factors are operating. A likely next step is for her to gather additional information, perhaps by meeting with each team member. Linda, like most supervisors, will probably feel nervous or unsure how to approach this meeting or how to phrase her questions. The important first step for Linda is to recognize...

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7 Tips to Avoid Project Misalignment

Posted by on May 20, 2014 in Project Management | 0 comments

One of the most difficult project management issues to diagnose is project misalignment, which occurs when the goals of one working group do not match those of another or when an organization pursues an endeavor that is inconsistent with its core competencies. For that reason, sometimes a misaligned IT project is like having a billion-dollar back sprain. Too often, complex IT projects are compromised due to a lack of proper integration of the project team members and organization leadership. During a session at the 2014 Federal Office Systems Exposition (FOSE) Conference, which wrapped May 15th, NASA Chief Knowledge Officer Ed Hoffman stated that, “The task of integrating people and organizations in a complex IT project is more difficult than integrating the technology itself.” Hoffman is not alone in wanting to shift the focus to better project management and sounder communication of objectives from agency leadership down to the project teams. The House Government Oversight and Reform Committee is currently working on an IT reform bill that includes creating an IT Collaboration Center within the Office of Management and Budget in order to provide for more stability and oversight for IT projects across the Federal government. All of these tactics and shifts in focus will go a long way toward enabling agencies to produce sounder project management practices, especially for large IT projects that require close attention and monitoring from leadership so that project teams can move quickly and be flexible. But it is important to note that all projects—great and small—can benefit from addressing misalignment issues in order to make sure project teams are working toward the goals their leadership teams have in mind. Here are seven tips to correct misalignment with your projects: Remember that alignment is a shared responsibility of all project team members and the management team. Align all projects with the organization’s strategic goals and objectives, and periodically evaluate each project (and project decision) to ensure appropriate alignment. Consistently—but appropriately—challenge project decisions, data, and processes. Do not just blindly accept and implement them. Ensure that all stakeholders understand the relationship and integration of all project components. This will help maintain proper alignment by ensuring that everyone is working toward common objectives. Establish and maintain a culture that emphasizes openness, honesty, and integrity. Implement mechanisms to improve communication and relationships among the various stakeholders. Create an atmosphere of cooperation, shared values, and mutual accountability at all organizational levels to ensure that all decisions and actions align with what is best for both the project and the enterprise. To learn more about how to align projects and programs with organizational and sponsor goals, check out our courses for experienced project and program...

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NASA Ups Its Project Planning and Requirements Game

Posted by on May 9, 2014 in Project Management | 0 comments

With a playground as big as the universe, there is no question that NASA has some of the most complex projects in the Federal workspace. And with complex projects comes increased risk, which is why NASA has been making greater strides each year in improving its project planning. In a new report, published April 15, 2014, the GAO details its annual assessment of NASA’s major projects. GAO has been conducting these assessments for the last five years in response to an explanatory statement of the House Committee on Appropriations accompanying the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act. Some of the findings from this year’s report include: Cost growth and schedule slippage for NASA projects remains low when compared with the past annual assessments NASA increased its rate of maturing technologies prior to the preliminary design review from 29% in 2010 to 63% in 2014 NASA has implemented a combination of GAO standards as well as defined its own metrics to enhance the organization’s ability to assess design stability for its projects These findings show that NASA has put an emphasis on doing good project management work up front in order to have a more successful project overall. This helps to avoid the poor planning sin defined in The 77 Deadly Sins of Project Management. With poor planning, it may not become apparent until the execution or delivery phase of the project that it has been poorly planned. Project managers must ensure that the scope of the work to be performed and the tasks required are clearly laid out. This upfront planning must be done before work begins in order to avoid costly delays and rework at critical stages later in the project life cycle. By adding multiple checkpoints and more ways to assess design maturity, NASA is strengthening their ability to catch design flaws earlier in the project to lower the risk of expensive rework and schedule outgrowth. While the report identifies areas and specific projects that still pose risk and require improvement, it is important to note GAO found NASA is making steady progress in key areas. GAO writes, “As NASA continues to undertake more complex projects, it will be important to maintain heightened attention to best practices to lessen the risk of technology development and continue positive cost and schedule performance.” In other words, with NASA’s increasing emphasis on better project planning, they are well on their way to stronger project management practices in accordance with carefully developed schedules and budgets. To learn more about how to avoid poor planning and poor requirements, check out the complete book The 77 Deadly Sins of Project Management from Management Concepts...

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Use the Active Voice for More Impactful Writing

Posted by on May 8, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

We often lessen the impact of our writing by using the passive voice. In The Government Manager’s Guide to Plain Language, I offer some very practical guidance and examples that illustrate how government managers can add directness and impact to their communications, both with their staff and with the public. Give it a try with something you’ve written recently. See the difference? PREFER THE ACTIVE VOICE In an active sentence, the person or agency performing an action is the subject of the sentence. In a passive sentence, the person or item acted upon is the subject of the sentence. Changing passive voice to active voice in your writing can add energy and cut wordiness. Consider the following two versions of the same basic message, which describes a supervisor’s actions: All issues and questions were discussed and explained very clearly by my supervisor. Following the completion of each task, I received a full feedback that gave me an opportunity to reflect upon and improve my performance. I was given support in addressing my personal objectives such as improvement of interviewing skills and building technical and client knowledge. My supervisor clearly explained all the issues and fully answered my questions. His comments after every task helped me to reflect upon and improve my performance. He constantly encouraged me to address my objectives, such as improving my interviewing skills and building my technical knowledge. The first version, in passive voice, is wordier, weaker, and less direct. The second version, in active voice, is briefer, clearer, and more conversational or natural. The active voice emphasizes who is doing something: “My supervisor clearly explained all the issues and fully answered my questions.” The actor (my supervisor) comes first in the sentence. The subject of the sentence does the action. The passive voice emphasizes who or what is being acted upon: “All issues and questions were discussed and explained very clearly by my supervisor.” Or, the doer may not be mentioned in the passive sentence: “All issues and questions were discussed and explained very clearly.” To communicate effectively, write most of your sentences in the active voice. To change passive sentences to active, follow these four steps:   1. Find or supply the actors. “An excellent job was done by Stacy.” Stacy is the actor. 2. Put the actor at the beginning of the sentence. “Stacy . . .” 3. Replace the passive verb with an active verb. “Stacy did . . .” 4. Make the subject of the passive sentence the direct object. “Stacy did an excellent job.” Of course, sometimes the passive voice is a better choice, such as when you need to point out an error or shortcoming in a diplomatic way. “A mistake was made in the last set of calculations” is more tactful than “You made a mistake in the last set of calculations.” Excerpted with permission from The Government Manager’s Guide to Plain Language by Judith Gillespie Myers, PhD., a book in series The Government Manager’s Essential Library.   © 2013 by Management Concepts, Inc. All rights reserved....

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Not Just Phoning It In: HR’s Role in Supporting Agency Telework

Posted by on May 7, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 3 comments

I attended the Federal Workplace Training and Expo recently. There were many great presentations, but my favorite by far was by Mika Cross from OPM on the topic of telework. I was not surprised to hear that 32% of teleworkers participate in telework three or more days a week. I was surprised, however, to learn that 12% of Federal workers have not been notified of their telework eligibility and 24% of Federal Agencies still do not have a telework policy in place to meet the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010. (You can learn more about the act and Federal use of telework at Telework.gov.) Perhaps even more surprising, 22% of Federal employees did not receive approval for telework even though their job would allow it. This is all in spite of measurable benefits ranging from energy savings to better Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results. Given the benefits of telework to the Federal agency and employees alike, HR teams have an imperative to implement telework to the extent possible in their agencies. This presents several complex challenges for HR: HR is becoming more virtual and individual contributors must learn how to work as HR professionals on virtual teams as managers adapt to managing virtual HR teams. HR professionals must become adept at supporting a virtual client base. HR must help their client base learn how to participate on and manage virtual teams. Rumor Has It According to OPM research, the number one barrier to telework in agencies is management resistance. HR’s change management capabilities are key to overcoming resistance, specifically in listening to their clients and separating myths about telework from the reality. One of the most common concerns HR hears from clients is that they will not be able to adequately supervise a teleworker. What I find most interesting about this concern is that so many employees only telework a few days a week and have little to no interaction with their managers when they are in the office, yet the manager still feels concern about managing the employee remotely. Ms. Cross suggested a method to address this is to start by having the manager telework a few days a week to help the manager both understand the benefits of telework and that he can manage without being in the same building. I’d also propose that HR offer to facilitate conversations between the manager and the employee about how to measure productivity with the intent that the conversations will continue without HR facilitation after the initial agreement. I have also heard about increased scrutiny of teleworking employees. For example, expecting an hour-by-hour account of the person’s time when working remotely, but not having the same expectation when the employee is in the office. There is also often a mismatch in expectations around communications. Some individuals prefer to use telework to be “heads down” on a project and expect not to be disturbed. If an employee’s manager, however, expects the teleworker to check in via email or telephone throughout the day and to be on instant messenger all day, their productivity might be severely limited. In my experience, mismatches in expectations – especially those around communication– lead to the greatest dysfunction among virtual teams. Tips for Making it Work So, how can HR help managers and individual contributors set and...

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Assess Before You Diagnose

Posted by on Apr 22, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

I opened my copy of Performance Improvement recently and was excited to read “An Ounce of Good Assessment is Worth A Pound of Analysis and A Ton of Cure” by Roger Kaufman. It is only natural for managers and executives to diagnose their organizations. They want quick answers. The sooner they can figure out what is causing a problem, the sooner they can focus on getting “real work” done. When I go to the doctor, I am the same way. I’ve already Googled my symptoms and think I know what’s wrong. I don’t want to spend time talking about the different possibilities. I want to focus on how I can cure my ailment. What I really want is a shot or pill that can fix me quickly! It’s frustrating when I leave the doctor’s office with nothing more than an order for a diagnostic test. But, I know that it’s the right approach to gather additional information to make a correct diagnosis. Organizations work the same way. Stepping back to gather information takes time. It takes resources. It requires clear thought. An assessment is simply a tool that helps you collect the information so that you can accurately diagnose what’s going on and then find the right solution. Does this mean that assessment has to be a costly, time-consuming endeavor? Of course not. Many ways exist to gather information—interviews, focus groups, online assessments, surveys, observations, and existing metrics. You might conduct a few interviews with key stakeholders.  You could invite five or six people to a focus group or spend a day observing employees on the job. You also might use an online assessment or survey, which are great ways to get information from many people in a relatively short amount of time. I learned from Dr. Kaufman’s article that investing the time to accurately diagnose the problem is not a new concept. In 1975, another leading scholar in the field of instructional design and performance improvement, Joe Harless, wrote a book called An Ounce of Analysis is Worth a Pound of Cure.  Today, people still want to rush to find a quick solution without spending time to analyze the problem. The next time you think you might be self-diagnosing a problem in your organization, stop to ask yourself a few questions: What are other possible explanations for what I am seeing? What evidence do I have that my explanation is the correct one? Am I relying on anecdotal evidence, such as a handful of personal observations or what others have told me? How can I collect information that will help me reach the right conclusion? If you think an assessment will help you better understand an organizational problem, seek assistance from an expert. Find someone who can advise you on how to collect the information you need for an accurate diagnosis. Performance improvement specialists—sometimes called human performance technologists, assessment specialists, instructional systems technologists, or industrial/organizational psychologists—will know the latest and most efficient way to proceed, often drawing on their experience and lessons learned while helping with other...

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Oregon Expands Monitoring of IT Projects to Increase Quality

Posted by on Apr 15, 2014 in Project Management | 0 comments

Sometimes the best thing project teams can do is to learn from past mistakes. And if the biggest mistake was not checking on project quality throughout the process, then the lesson learned should be to use a better project management oversight process! The state of Oregon is doing just that as they recover from the challenges of their Cover Oregon website, a project that is intended to serve as the state’s implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Oregon is now looking ahead at its current and planned IT projects with the lessons learned from Cover Oregon in mind. Eugene, Oregon paper The Register-Guard reports that the state has increased its list of monitored IT projects from 12 to 80. This is a response that clearly echoes Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s statement that, “It is critical that we learn from this project and adopt whatever changes are necessary to improve project management and safeguard public investments.” Numerous state reports have made it clear that during the Cover Oregon project, the disjointed leadership overseeing the project made it difficult for workers to report project issues and receive clear guidance as to how to address them. This is a byproduct of shoddy quality processes within the management of the project. This meant that as the project went on, no one working directly on the project was empowered to make decisions about it, including stopping the project or redirecting efforts when necessary to address challenges and budget questions or redefine scope. As examined in Management Concepts The 77 Deadly Sins of Project Management, to avoid shoddy quality, project plans and parameters may need to be reset to bring the project back on track. But someone needs to be empowered to monitor the project along the way to help workers make those calls and approve those decisions. Which is exactly what Oregon intends to do for its IT projects going forward. The process of closely monitoring these projects will help the state to better track the progress of the projects, identify problems early on, and tie funding to project milestones along the way. Furthermore, the state hopes to create a central point of accountability for IT projects, which will hopefully lead to better communication between project teams and leadership as well as increased sharing of information across projects. To learn more about how shoddy quality project management processes can impact projects, check out the complete book The 77 Deadly Sins of Project Management from Management Concepts...

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Bar Rescue – Turnaround Management

Posted by on Apr 9, 2014 in Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

I have recently discovered a TV reality show called Bar Rescue, which is now in its third season on Spike. The premise of the show is that the fantasy of being in the bar business attracts owners with little experience into this highly competitive world, where businesses fail early, and often. Because of the mismatch between fantasy and reality, many bars fail due to mismanagement and poor market strategy. Often, the owners’ intentions are good, but they simply make uninformed decisions or abdicate responsibility when the situation gets tough. They don’t understand how to stay in business once the novelty of their ownership wears off. Most of the establishments featured in the show are mere weeks away from bankruptcy – hence the need for an immediate turnaround. In the show, Bar Consultant Jon Taffer helps turn failing bars around. In the process, he provides a great primer on turnaround management. While his style may be a bit abrasive, he does what turnaround managers should do when they enter the “Change or Die” phase. Generally, he follows these basic steps: 1. Establish a Performance Baseline: Taffer and his team of consultants spend a few days getting to know the business, the owners, the employees, the marketplace, etc. He watches live interactions via closed circuit camera feeds, sends in “secret shoppers,” and researches demographics for the local market to see how the bar is positioned. Understanding the issues is a key to making sure the changes he proposes address these issues. 2. Confront Issues Head On: Next, Taffer confronts the owners with the mismanagement, performance, staffing, and market-positioning issues the bar faces. He makes the proprietors take ownership for the issues. This process is often contentious, because the owners’ failure to act when they see an issue (or their behavior causes an issue), and often overshadows other performance issues. Common themes include: Owners’ putting themselves before the needs of the business Inappropriate owner and employee behavior Employee theft Poor employee training Poor sanitation Inefficient traffic flow pattern Poor branding, etc. You may see some parallels in these issues to your situation, whether you are leading a team or are in a service execution role. In some episodes, personnel either quit or are fired when it is clear that the business will be managed more closely. Sometimes these firings come at the direction of Taffer, and against the will of the owner, who is too close to the situation to see the real issues. Taffer tries to defuse this tension by maintaining focus on managing the risk to the business. Remarkably, the conflict is rarely, if ever, personal, and I have been surprised to see some of the attitude turnarounds that take place. 3. Set a Level Starting Place: Once the smoke clears from this confrontation and the bar owner acknowledges and takes responsibility for the issues, Taffer sets some basic ground rules to make sure that everyone still involved is comfortable moving forward. This acknowledgment is a building block to implementing the kinds of changes necessary to ensure the bar can stay in business. 4. Train, Train, Train: After Taffer gets that agreement, he brings in his team of experts to help train staff and work on rebranding under the new image. Sometimes they focus on perfecting the timing skills which...

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Is ILT Dying?

Posted by on Apr 8, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Yes, ILT (instructor-led training) is dying, but we need not mourn its loss. Instead, we should realize we are standing on the brink of something exhilarating: the reincarnation of instructor-led training as virtual instructor-led training (VILT). The traditional brick-and-mortar ILT classroom has been smoldering for a while now. As federal travel budgets shrink and training dollars dry up (although the future of training is looking up), organizations are seeking alternatives to fill their training needs. Organizations are continually looking for a way their employees can be out of the office for less time. In response, virtual instructor-led classes, which are typically delivered by an instructor in a virtual environment, are swooping in to meet this need. Organizations that have previously only offered traditional ILT classroom experiences acknowledge the customer expectation that these same courses be available virtually. ILT Reborn VILT marks the rebirth of ILT. In this format, employees can take required training courses without leaving their worksite. Some parts of the training may be available asynchronously, meaning students can learn at their own pace, and when their schedule allows. The classic VILT experience is guided by a facilitator, who in many cases will be delivering instruction real-time, so students can ask questions and participate in peer discussions. Given that there has been an overall increase in the use of VILT, and it is likely not going away anytime soon, it is important to address some of the common questions that come up around this training modality. How can you possibly replicate the ILT experience virtually? The answer is you cannot — and should not — simply carry over the ILT experience into virtual training. Instead, you design VILT courses so that the material can come to life in a virtual space. VILT courses are not mindless page-turners; rather, they have the potential to be highly interactive, relevant training experiences with frequent instructor and peer interaction built into the course. Where does the instructor fit in this new format? In the VILT class, the instructor still stands at the helm of the learning experience, coaching students, telling stories, answering questions, and delivering lectures (recorded or live). In fact, the instructor may be even more tapped into how individual students are doing than if the class were offered only in a traditional face-to-face classroom. VILT has the potential to provide more engagement through discussion forums, chats, polls, and other “pulse checks” that help the instructor gauge each learner’s mastery of the content. How do you reach those students who prefer to learn in an ILT setting? The point of VILT classes is not to set students adrift, floating alone in the virtual sea. Instead, they are part of a community of learners who happen to interact in a virtual classroom. Students often have the opportunity to explore course content at their own pace, so they can take the time they need with the material. In addition, the virtual environment encourages support, as peers respond to questions and share knowledge with each other. In the VILT classroom, there may also be some hesitation on the part of non-digital natives. Those who have built their careers sitting in the physical classroom with an instructor leading from the podium may find it difficult to envision a productive virtual training experience. Given that the...

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GSA Uses the Cloud to Smash Barriers

Posted by on Apr 4, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

The term road block is synonymous with barrier for a reason. Perhaps that’s what inspired the General Services Administration (GSA) to look to the cloud to overcome communication barriers as they move toward a hoteling model for their office workspaces. As discussed in The 77 Deadly Sins of Project Management, if your project hits a barrier—anything that restrains or obstructs progress or access—that means there is something coming in between you and the success of your project. As project managers, it is our duty to remove barriers to keep the project moving. These days, for an organization like GSA, which is spread out with regional offices in 11 different cities across the country, a barrier to an enterprise-wide project like this could be as basic as communicating appropriately with all of the necessary stakeholders. And for that very reason, GSA has been working on migrating many of its core agency systems to the cloud. As part of this migration, GSA set up an enterprise social network for its employees, which they leveraged as part of their hoteling model project to capture ideas about streamlining their business processes. InformationWeek reports that this move has saved GSA approximately $5 million annually. By being inclusive and removing communications barriers from the onset of the project, GSA enabled its employees to collaborate on ideas for future phases of the project, generating continued stakeholder buy-in and leading the way toward overall project success. This hoteling model shift includes a major change in their organizational culture and it demonstrates an admirable level of awareness for them to build on the project’s progress and leverage the network as a line of communication about the project itself. GSA has also leveraged the same social network communications tool to aid in continued employee support for project improvements and ideas as well enabling GSA employees to track project costs and schedules with links to their internal planning and budget documents. To learn more about project barriers and tips to avoid and overcome them in your own projects, download the excerpt “Sin #4: Barriers” and check out the complete book The 77 Deadly Sins of Project Management from Management Concepts...

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Tips for Government Managers to Overcome Writer’s Block

Posted by on Apr 3, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Whether writing a business plan, memo, or report, one of the hardest tasks government managers face in writing is getting started. In my recent book, The Government Manager’s Guide to Plain Language, I offer some  tips to help you break through the writer’s block we all experience—and also to help you make an initial assessment of what you have written before passing it along for editing and review.   TIPS FOR WRITING DRAFTS To make the draft stage easier and more productive, consider the following steps: • Once you have a complete outline in hand, write your first draft quickly. • Schedule blocks of uninterrupted time for drafting. • Begin with the easiest section. • After you complete the first draft, walk away from it. • After you get some distance, take a few minutes to review your draft with fresh eyes. • Assess the following before going into the editing stage: – Did I explain my purpose clearly? – Did I consider the role, knowledge level, attitude, and other characteristics of the reader? – Does the overall organization of the draft make sense? – Did I provide closure? (For example, did you tell readers exactly what you want them to do?) After taking a cursory look at your first draft, you’re ready to go on to the editing stage. Excerpted with permission from The Government Manager’s Guide to Plain Language by Judith Gillespie Myers, PhD, a book in the new series The Government Manager’s Essential Library.  © 2013 by Management Concepts, Inc. All rights reserved....

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Contract Negotiation: The Ambiguous Authority Tactic

Posted by on Feb 20, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management, Uncategorized | 0 comments

In The Government Manager’s Guide to Contract Negotiation, author LeGette McIntyre offers federal negotiators a host of tactics they can use to get a solid, fair deal for their agency. One of these tactics is the “ambiguous authority” tactic—which we’ve all been subjected to when we’ve bought a car! How do you employ the tactic to get the best deal for the government? Share some experiences with your colleagues and we’ll all be better prepared for the next negotiation!   THE AMBIGUOUS AUTHORITY TACTIC You can use the ambiguous authority tactic when you are the chief negotiator but you don’t have ultimate authority to finalize the deal. You may have to go through an approval process before finalizing the negotiated agreement. You may have instructions to consult with a higher-up before you finalize the deal. These people or committees will be the ambiguous authorities you will defer to if you elect to use this tactic. The most common use of this tactic is in buying a car. You’ve slogged it out with the salesperson all day and finally think you have a deal. But then the salesperson wrinkles her brow, frowns, shakes his or her head slowly, and says those magic words, “I’ll have to talk to my sales manager.” Usually, there is no sales manager. The salesperson simply leaves you in the room to stew and sweat a little bit. You start second-guessing your last offer—and negotiating against yourself.   It’s good practice never to go into a negotiation with unlimited authority to close the deal, even if everyone has given you preapproval to do so. Always have someone you must go back to for approval. If you do have ultimate authority, never let negotiators for the other side know it. Once they find out you are the sole decision-maker, they know you are the only obstacle in the way of the terms and conditions they want. There is just one person to convince. The ambiguous authority tactic is usually employed just before the close of a negotiation. The other side thinks it has a deal, and all of a sudden there is someone else, or even a whole new cast of characters, to deal with. The last thing the other side wants is for this mysterious other person to blow a deal that is so close to being consummated. Negotiators may start to second-guess themselves and be tempted to soften their positions a bit to help you “sell” the deal to the other authority. They actually might start making additional concessions without demanding something in return. In effect, they start bidding against themselves. Always try to keep your ambiguous authority as vague as possible. This prevents the other side from immediately countering your tactic. If you hold out your boss as your ambiguous authority, the other side may simply ask you to bring that person into the negotiation. It’s harder for them to put a face on something vague like “the review committee,” “my finance folks,” or “my customers.” The best way to counter the ambiguous authority tactic is to head it off at the pass. Simply refuse to negotiate with anyone who doesn’t have ultimate authority to bind the company. Remember, you control the process—including setting and running the agenda. When you send the other side...

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What Can You Learn About Mentoring From the Game of Tennis?

Posted by on Feb 12, 2014 in Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Here’s a mentoring tip, borrowed from the world of tennis. In tennis, the mantra is that if you want to get better, you should play against people a little better than you. (Not a lot better, because you get smoked 6-0 and that’s just demotivating.) The reason playing against people a little better than you is so important is that in doing so you start to notice moves you would not have made. The other person is playing a different, better game. It has been said that all the best moves are stolen.At work, I recommend identifying people who seem to have a better game. In whatever domain, they perform better. It may be that they: Are more organized Are good at managing conflict Know how to gain cooperation and buy-in Create great presentations Connect with customers in creative ways Whatever it is that you notice, and value, I recommend you take these people out and buy them a cup of the gourmet coffee. Maybe even lunch. In this setting, you can ask them how they do what they do, and then sit back and listen. Here’s the potential magic in this conversation: As your new friend unpacks his or her reasoning – a way of thinking about the topic – you will probably hear something new, something you hadn’t thought about. This creates new opportunities and possibilities. For example, you might hear from someone skilled at conflict management that the first thing he or she does in a conflict is to listen and ask clarifying questions. This is contrary to how most people engage, which is more commonly to raise defense shields and counter-attack. And so the drama begins. You’re really after superior “source code,” lines of instruction that create better “applications” that you can run. The reason for the O.S. metaphor is that the ways of thinking about performance and behavior are often beneath the surface and perhaps not immediately obvious – until you...

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Go Ahead, Make My Year

Posted by on Jan 10, 2014 in Financial Management, Leadership, Project Management | 1 comment

There is a small, weekly column in the Washington Post titled Animal Watch that chronicles the various adventures of animals of all kinds – dogs, cats, raccoons, eagles and more. The Animal Control Department is often called. This column is very cleverly written and headlined. It always brings a chuckle in my household. And with the New Year underway, I decided to do something about it. What does this have to do with leadership and why should you care about this? In working with leaders, managers and supervisors, we always emphasize the importance of giving positive feedback, recognition and praise when due. The opposite means the only feedback employees get is negative. This does not create a good climate, and is something people may want to bear in mind in continuing to read the Partnership for Public Service’s Best Places to Work data. On the other hand, giving positive feedback has been shown to increase levels of dopamine and serotonin, the feel-good chemicals in our bloodstreams. We’ve all experienced this, and we certainly appreciate it when it happens to us. We ride a little taller in the saddle, and perhaps may feel, deep down, that yes, at times, we are, in fact, The Man or Woman. But, back to Animal Watch. Here are some examples of recent headlines: Raccoon can’t make a clean getaway – this was about one found in a laundry room One big dam rodent – about a 50-pound beaver Severe headache for hawk – about a hawk that flew into a screened porch Bird gets sooty – about one found in a (cold) fireplace Stray Shih Tzu is not up to restaurant dress code at Ballston mall – about a dog that wandered into a Noodles restaurant I have sometimes read these to my wife and daughter, and in the new year thought, it’s time to do something about all this, and so I called up one of the reporters who compiles these. I told her I found the writing clever and humorous, and that I really appreciated the touch she brought to the column. What followed made this small effort so worthwhile. You could hear her happiness over the telephone, and then she said, and I quote, “You just made my year.” Go ahead, make an employee’s (or anyone’s)...

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Make Peace with Change and Focus on Building Resilience

Posted by on Jan 3, 2014 in Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Management Concepts recently identified 5 Essential NEW Leadership Habits for Federal Leaders. The second item on that list is “Make peace with change and focus on building resilience.” It was not so very long ago that many people in organizations sought to minimize risk, preserve the status quo and even get by until retirement. That strategy worked, in a sense, so long as the going was good. Today, it is a very different story. Beset with change, disruption, technological and social transformation, and rising demands for results, practically all organizations are scrambling to stay relevant, valuable and in front of the latest wave breaking on their shores. Given the fundamentally changing terrain on which organizations now operate, a new personal ethos around change, adaptation, innovation and risk is arising. That ethos is uncomfortable, sometimes destabilizing, fraught with danger, and requires a lot more energy. But, it is here to stay. So what are leaders supposed to do? One way of understanding the new requirements for leaders to adapt and shift long-standing and  comfortable habits is to observe the tone of today’s “success literature” – all the books, articles and businesses that seek to help people succeed. The messages in this genre have shifted from something like a “get rich quick – the world is your oyster with unlimited possibilities” theme to today’s message, which runs more along the lines of “Failure is inevitable when you’re trying to do anything big. Learn from it and keep going.” How many times have we heard about the number of Edison’s failed attempts before inventing the light bulb? Federal leaders face two big problems when encountering the new normal … We will address both, and what you can do about them. The bonus is that in addressing these problems, there is the potential to build leadership capacity in your organization, and strengthen relationships with your team … Problem: Gradual Problems that Build-Up Over TimeThe first problem runs along the lines of “I made my bones coming up the way I did.” This translates as a leader having a sense of how things work, what works, and therefore what should be. As human beings, it is so comfortable to rely on what we have learned through experience. I sometimes say, “Oh, protect us from the things we learn.” The long-term perils of such thinking are fairly obvious. In systems thinking, it’s called “the boiled frog” syndrome. If you put a frog in hot water, it will hop out immediately. But if you put a frog in room temperature water and very slowly increase the heat – well, it’s going to be frog legs for dinner. Unfortunately, you are the boiled frog in this situation if you are failing to gather opinions from staff down the org chart. Especially, staff who could alert you to the gradual changes you may not be aware of. There is a large body of work now around how organizations are slow or even unable to detect changes that are “low and slow” versus immediate, shock-type events. So they keep on keeping on in what is sometimes called fighting last year’s war. Solution: Leverage the knowledge of your team to detect gradual change earlyIt is hard to hear, but the fact is potentially the most important and valuable information can...

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Healthcare.gov and the Impact on P/PM in 2014

Posted by on Jan 2, 2014 in Acquisition, Project Management | 0 comments

I know I’ve mentioned this throughout this blog, but we all know that Healthcare.gov has been the hot Federal IT topic in 2013.  This legendary flawed rollout will have ramifications on federal acquisition reform for 2014 and years to come. Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president of public sector at the Information Technology Industry Council said yesterday: “HealthCare.gov is critical because it has ignited a discussion on IT acquisition in Washington not seen since the 1980s. There is an alignment of political will on the issue and a healthy understanding of the larger systematic failure in acquisition.” Not only did President Obama himself call for IT procurement reform, but FCW also reported this week that though the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) didn’t quite make it to completion, Chairman Issa (R-Calif.) is likely to reintroduce in 2014. Finally, just before the holidays, my blog announced The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) release of updated guidance (new since 2007) on the Federal Acquisition Certification for Program and Project Managers (FAC-P/PM) requirements. The times they are a-changin.  With extremely interested focus on the IT acquisition process as we move into 2014, both Feds and contractors alike will need to be updated on procedures – and aware that the country is watching. How will this impact how you do business?  Do you think we are able to learn from Healthcare.gov, and move on to more successful project implementations in the future?  Or destined for more hiccups in large-scale IT...

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Play Dumb to Get What You Want: The Question Tactic in Negotiation

Posted by on Dec 27, 2013 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Negotiation skills aren’t just for entrepreneurs on Shark Tank. Federal managers can also benefit from mastering these valuable skills. In The Government Manager’s Guide to Contract Negotiation, LeGette McIntyre offers some very specific tactics that could help any fed facing a tough negotiation. Here’s a great example from the book that McIntyre calls “The Question Tactic.” Try this in your next meeting and let us know your results. THE QUESTION TACTIC In any negotiation, knowledge is power. You increase your power relative to the other side as you increase your knowledge about it. Use questions to probe for answers that will increase your information about the other side. Dig for more information about its position, interests, needs, hidden agendas, and so forth. In a negotiation, acting dumb is smart! When you ask questions, you tap into the tendency for people to want to help out folks they regard as less informed or less intelligent than they are. It makes them feel important. So ask questions that make the other side feel superior, such as, “I’m not sure I fully grasp all the intricacies in your proposal. Would you mind explaining them to me again?” Or, “I know the dollars you are proposing are backed up with sound facts, but for some reason I’m just not getting it. Can you explain to me how you came up with these figures?” Notice that you are asking for help in both these examples. Get in the habit of asking that all-important question, “Can you help me…?” That’s almost guaranteed to trigger the human need for the other side to feel smart and superior, and the negotiators will give you information they otherwise wouldn’t have. You also should use questions to test the credibility of the “facts” the other side is asserting. Get good at asking open-ended questions that start with “how,” what,” “what else,” “which,” and “why.” Some examples: “How did you come up with those figures?” They now have to defend their position with additional facts, and remember, any additional information shifts power. “What would you do if you were in my shoes and someone gave you that choice?” This has the added benefit of bringing them around to your side, even if it’s just a little bit. “What is really important to you?” Always follow up with “what else is important?” If they see you as caring for their position, they are likely to be more open sharing information with you. Then, ask them “which of these things is more important to you?” This gives you insight into their “must” and “give” positions. Test their credibility by asking “why do you think that position is fair?” That puts them on the defensive to justify their position. Notice that all these questions are open-ended and can’t be answered by a simple “yes” or “no” or with some finite fact. They require elaboration, which will give you more information. Closed-ended questions run the risk of eliciting a simple answer and nothing more. For example, if you ask, “Don’t you think your price is a little too high?” they may answer with a simple “no.” That doesn’t give you much information. If you ask “when will you be able to deliver?” they can answer with one date. Again, you aren’t gaining useful information....

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Don’t Forget Your Kids…or Necessary Training! OFPP Updates FAC-P/PM

Posted by on Dec 19, 2013 in Acquisition, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

You know what else will help avoid Healthcare.gov repeats in the future?  Better equipped Federal project and program managers. The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) has just released updated guidance (new since 2007) on the Federal Acquisition Certification for Program and Project Managers (FAC-P/PM) requirements. As Jason Miller, at FederalNewsRadio.com reported, “Under new requirements from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, agency Chief Acquisition Officers (CAOs) no longer have the option to waive all or part of the program and project certification prerequisites.” OFPP Administrator Joe Jordan, who delivered the memo, noted: “While program and project managers are important for all Federal programs, OMB’s Office of E-government and Information Technology has highlighted, through its policies, the importance of strong program and project managers in managing IT programs. The FAC-P/PM builds upon this good work and adds core-plus specialized certifications, the first one being in the area of IT.” Further, Jordan included commentary pushing the importance of leadership skills in our project and program managers: “The FAC-P/PM is only one component of strengthening the program and project managers function. Equally important is selecting the right individuals with appropriate experience and leadership skills who will effectively collaborate and communicate with other members of the acquisition team and other stakeholders within the organization.” Adding fuel to the fire, FCW reported yesterday on a new report from the IBM Center for the Business of Government, detailing recommendations for the Defense Department to improve the way it buys goods and services. 2014 will be all about changing the way in which government sources, buys, and implements large projects.  Stronger leadership and FAC-P/PM skills will be vital – start looking now for necessary certification updates, refreshers, and required training. Management Concepts has a full curriculum on FAC-P/PM, as well full course offerings in Federal acquisition management. OFPP noted these new FAC-P/PM requirements become effective March...

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How Communication Will Save Your Job, the Holidays…and Avoid Squirrels, the FBI, and Cousin Eddie

Posted by on Dec 12, 2013 in Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

On Monday I blogged about the pitfalls to written communications – especially within the Federal-Contractor relationship.  Now we’re looking at a similar topic – the top pitfalls in face-to-face communications.  Whether it’s your upcoming family-filled holidays, or a meeting at work, you’d be surprised how the rise of the smartphone has decreased our basic ability to communicate with one another. I was at dinner last night and the family next to me – all five of them – were lost in their devices.  No one was talking, just five heads down, lost in their smartphones. Clark Griswold planned the best holiday ever, but he didn’t communicate to his family the details, ask for help, or effectively collaborate with anyone involved…and it ended up a kind of a mess.  (Just ask his neighbor). With in-person conversations, we all need a refresher on effective and appropriate communication skills, and pitfalls to avoid.  An email won’t always be the most appropriate vehicle for discussion, so let’s look at the following from Jeff Furman, PMP: Be Open – don’t blindly push your own ideas and disregard all other’s input Be an Active Listener Ensure – and confirm – you and all involved clearly understand one another Read the body language and nonverbal facial clues from others Use your concrete communication tools, like the communications management plan In person meeting are not synonymous with a teleconference or VTC – make sure you schedule the appropriate meeting for the appropriate discussion No lying to avoid confrontation with others Do not misrepresent the facts or spin in one direction to support your own agenda Prepare for all meetings – get invitations out with sufficient time, setting up best meeting type for the discussion, providing materials in advance, etc. Pay attention once you’re at the meeting – that includes turning your smartphone OFF. Whether you’re setting up tomorrow’s project meeting, or planning for your in-laws arrival – let’s reengage our face-to-face communication skills.  Put your phone down, shut down your email, and let’s just discuss the item at hand…like where Rusty is to help with the lights.   How has in-person communication saved time for your work life?  What kinds of meetings are best suited for a face-to-face dialogue?  Share your thoughts and best...

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Federal Contract Source Selection…Let’s Work Together

Posted by on Dec 11, 2013 in Acquisition, Project Management | 0 comments

When involved in Federal acquisition source selection, Charles Solloway, Jr., author of The Government Manager’s Guide to Source Selection, highlights the need for stakeholder consensus as imperative to contractual success. Solloway believes the need for stakeholders to collaborate is not just a business cliché, but rather a vital step in the procurement process.  Any stakeholder can be a showstopper in the effort to reach a timely consensus on how to proceed with an acquisition. Reaching a consensus is no easy matter. Here are his methods behind the madness: Method One: “Throwing Papers Over the Wall” The first method – and unfortunately still used in an acquisition strategy enlists the Project Management Officer to independently develop a strategy and pass those strategy papers back and forth for agreement or comments from a variety of other stakeholders. This can be a time-consuming and confusing process, where revised papers repeatedly are thrown back and forth over various functional area walls until the concerns of the various stakeholders are satisfied—or until stakeholders either compromise or ultimately, surrender their positions. Our Consensus? No go – way too much time and effort on the Project Management Officer; and you’ll be in for the long haul!  Method Two: Collaborative Strategy Meetings A better strategy? Hold several acquisition strategy meetings where all stakeholders are present. Many agencies require such meetings, especially for major procurements. The Project Management Officer, together with the contracting officer, proposes a strategy and gains input from all stakeholders, who then get to voice their concerns and listen to the concerns of others. These meetings include consideration of any planning input previously provided in planning meetings with interested contractors. Our Consensus? These strategy groups are more often able to reach a mutual decision. Agencies have a concrete mechanism for obtaining a final strategy decision from execs within the agency. Choose whichever method works best for your situation and make sure you’re able to keep your acquisition strategy on-course. Which method would you choose?  Which has worked in your agency; and what has not?  Excerpted with permission from of The Government Manager’s Guide to Source Selection by Charles D. Solloway, Jr., CPCM, a book in the new series The Government Manager’s Essential Library. © 2013 by Management Concepts, Inc. All rights...

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The Workplace Wisdom of Christopher Robin

Posted by on Dec 9, 2013 in Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were finally getting around to cleaning out the coat closet when we stumbled on our kids’ baby books. As we leafed through the pages of memories, I ran across a snapshot of my son carrying a Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal.  I was reminded of how central Winnie, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger and the rest of the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood were for several years of our lives.  Thinking back on that time, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes when Christopher Robin said to Pooh, “Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” The coincidence of turning up this memory, while at the same time reading Clive Thompson’s recent book, Smarter than You Think (perhaps Thompson is a Milne devotee), jump started an interesting chain of thought.  In his book, Thompson sets out to counter the “alarmists” who insist that the prevalence of technology is negatively impacting society’s intellectual capacity and abilities.  Building his argument from extensive anecdotal evidence, Thompson makes the case that technology is enabling us to outsource cognitive processes that can be limited and inefficient, to grow the tacit knowledge that is embedded in our social networks, and to benefit from increased multiplicity by connecting us more readily with others who share our niches of interest and expertise.  While Thompson lacks strong empirical evidence to support his premises, the points he raises about technology’s impact on learning should prompt training and learning professionals to examine how their training programs have changed (or should change) in response to the growing use of technology. The emergency of the “common core” and a focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in the primary education system has opened up a wide ranging discussion on how we educate children. But that conversation has yet to really translate into the world of corporate and, especially, Federal Government training. So, here are a few tips that will help you build a training program that considers how technology is changing the way we think about intelligence and training. Take advantage of technology’s capabilities  We’ve all been through training courses where we’re forced to memorize chapter and verse of one particular policy or another. Now that most people have smartphones with more computing power than early computers (TRS-80, anyone?), there’s rarely a need for rote memorization. Instead of focusing on storage and retrieval of information, teach smart search strategies and “library” skills so learners can more readily navigate the vast amount of online information and efficiently locate the salient information they need to execute their job responsibilities. Focus on networking and relationship building skills Training events offer a great opportunity for participants to make new connections. Building connections in the workplace has numerous benefits ranging from increased engagement and reduced turnover to improvements in collaboration and team performance. As the workforce becomes increasingly diverse and distributed, building relationships with coworkers and developing professional networks that can augment individual expertise can be challenging.  Take advantage of the power of collocation during your training events and intentionally teach the skills and techniques for building productive work relationships. Minimize problem solving and maximize problem definition While the ability to solve problems is important...

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You’ve Got the “Write” Stuff – Top 10 Pitfalls of Effective Fed-Contractor Communication

Posted by on Dec 9, 2013 in Acquisition, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

OK, So the New Kids on the Block song may be a bit out of date.  (I wouldn’t necessarily still call them “new”).  But having the right stuff in collaborative work environments is still vitally important – specifically with the Fed-Contractor relationship, as it relates to these large-scale (and high profile) projects and programs. But what do I mean by the “write” stuff?  Well, in an era of practically only written communication, if you think about it, (email, text, etc.) everyone – regardless of career – should be effective written communicators. The Federal government is no exception, particularly given these large-scale projects that encompass hundreds of Federal employees and various contractors, all trying to work together to successfully complete projects on time and on budget – there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. In one of our project management books by Jeff Furman, PMP, he outlines some of the issues in written communications we should be all on the lookout for, including: Make sure your subject line aligns with the email content.  Specifically?  Don’t feel the need to keep replying off an ancient email with new discussions Be concise – emails are not epic novels.  Get to the point early and clearly Replying and replying all are two very different emails  – reply to all on the email chain only when it is needed People can tell if you mass email them (i.e. you get an email with the sender BCC’ed), it is worth your time to make your communication personalized to the person you’re asking something from Clearly in your email, line out the necessary action items and who is to take what.  By taking the time to outline this, you will save time in the long run with unnecessary follow ups you could have avoided Spellcheck has been around for ages – please use it.  Sending a note with spelling or grammatical errors make you look unprofessional If you are attaching or linking to something, take an extra second to ensure they work properly.  Recipients can get frustrated if you send these out and they are not working correctly ALL CAPS EMAILS MAKE YOU SEEM ANGRY EVEN IF YOU DO NOT MEAN IT THAT WAY If you forward an email – do so with more than an “FYI.”  Take time to write to that recipient why you are forwarding, and what you expect of them from this email Finally – written communication isn’t always the best.  Learn what kinds of issues, discussions, and topics may be better (and faster) handled by a quick in-person conversation So does your agency have the “write” stuff?  Or, more importantly, do you?  What’s been your most entertaining work-related email discussion to date? Share your thoughts on the pitfalls above – do you agree?  What’s been your experience?  And – keep an eye out.  My next installment will address face-to-face communication...

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99 Problems But a Communications Plan Ain’t One

Posted by on Dec 5, 2013 in Acquisition, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

As we near the end of 2013 and (hopefully) the end of “Obamacare-gate,” Feds and contractors alike need to get a jump on improving the management and collaborative work of these large-scale IT projects we’re expecting more of in 2014 and the years to come.  A good place to start? Let’s communicate better. In a previous blog, I noted the New York Times wrote about communication issues between the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and its prime contractor, which failed at effectively communicating all requirements of the Heathcare.gov project lifecycle.  In the PM Answer Book, we note the importance of a communications management plan, which combats this problem. As the program or project lead, here are just a few key questions to ask yourself when thinking you DON’T need a communications management plan: Did one of your team members send information he or she shouldn’t have to a customer? Have two of your stakeholders ever come to a meeting with different versions of the (extremely important and vital to success) project plan or schedule? Did you ever find out (too late) that a customer felt they were receiving too infrequent project updates (Here’s looking at you, Healthcare.gov)? So, as the Washington Post’s Capital Business recently asked – are leaders born or built?  Writer Clawson argues leaders are teachable – I think so too.  In fact, our Leadership and Communication Skills for Project Managers course equips you with techniques to apply to your upcoming projects, such as: Defining and communicating project vision Holding yourself and others accountable Problem solving Decision making Conflict management and negotiation The use of influence and power Building partnerships The role of creativity and innovation in projects What kinds of communication skills have made you a successful leader?  How has a communications management plan helped you successfully complete your project?  Do you think good leaders are born or...

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Stop, Collaborate, and Listen – Fixing Federal Project Management

Posted by on Dec 2, 2013 in Acquisition, Leadership, Project Management | 1 comment

We’ve seen a lot in the news about the issues (and failures) of large-scale projects coming to successful completion – and specifically, IT projects are at the forefront of high-profile Federal programs.  Obama’s focus on open government to citizens will only require more major IT initiatives throughout agencies.  So, we need to be looking at how to avoid Healthcare.gov repeats.  Our recommendation?  Invest more in the beginning of the project lifecycle. In the Project Management Answer Book, we include the Top Ten Pitfalls to Avoid When Starting a Project: Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can (Currently) Chew – Ensure you’ve allocated the necessary time and resources to new projects Be Specific! – Don’t jump in without a clear project plan; have a clear and realistic budget and deadline Reinventing the Wheel – PMI is a world leader; use their standards My Way or the Highway – Your agency has templates, procedures, and legal guidelines; don’t go rogue History Repeats Itself – Look through lessons learned from your agency and others for best practices to safeguard success Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want – Discuss and ensure you fully understand your customer’s goals, needs, and specifications How Much? – Get on the same page with your contractors; who’s paying for what when? Did I Pass? – Go through – in detail – the metrics associated with the project with all stakeholders; specifically go over the quality, risk, and customer satisfaction needs That’s Mine! – Clarify the team structure and all roles early in the process; this allows the program manager to foster teamwork and positive morale Plan, Plan, Plan – Never start a project without a well-thought out and descriptive project planning document or workflow In essence, it’s about collaborating as a team first to ensure a successful end.  Use your management and leadership skills to develop a strong plan that your team can successfully complete – on time and on budget.  2014 will be all about IT project management reform; we can’t afford another Healthcare.gov, so all projects will be under even more scrutiny.  Don’t get caught in a (Vanilla) Ice storm – what’s your plan for project success?...

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Speak Up! Better Requirements Management at the Heart of Federal IT Project Success

Posted by on Nov 25, 2013 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

In a recent article, Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, highlights the ongoing issue of government clearly defining what it needs in IT projects, and ensuring the contractor understands exactly what is needed.  Otherwise known as?  A better discussion on requirements – to avoid the Healthcare.gov or SBInets of the future. Particularly difficult are coming to agreements on the large-scale IT project requirements.  Due to the government acquisition process, more often than not the technology itself moves faster than government implementation, causing add-ins and adjustments to requirements along the way.  So Feds and industry must work better together to ensure success. But as government cannot completely rely on contractors, Waldron goes on to say:  “Requirements development has been an Achilles’ heel for 20 years now.  The best, most effective way for the government to acquire high-level, best-value contractor performance in support of agency missions is through improved requirements development.” Top Pitfalls in Requirements Detailed in The Project Management Answer Book, government and its contractors should together remain aware of all requirements throughout a project lifecycle – from the first step through testing to eventual completion.  Some of the top pitfalls include: Not putting sufficient effort into securing the proper requirements from the customer – don’t assume you know what the customer wants; ASK Being too much of a yes-man – be realistic to avoid scope creep Failing to implement a strong change management system – all new or updated projects are in fact, a change.  Change management needs to be a focus throughout the project Not scheduling scope verifications with the customer and performing contractor – both in the initial stages, but also throughout the project; you must ensure everyone is on the same page The New York Times recently highlighted that very issue for Healthcare.gov, noting the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and its prime contractor failed at communicating effectively regarding securing all requirements along the project lifecycle.  This ultimately led to a well-publicized failure at launching (on-time) a successful, completed project that included ALL aspects of the initial requirements CMS provided.  Don’t get caught in a misunderstanding of the vital requirements your project needs for successful completion.  Whether you are a Fed running the project, or the contractor supporting, requirements management is a key skill set to enable you to finish on time, on budget, and without compromise.  Leaders in government have only highlighted that Healthcare.gov is merely one example of the need for better overall success in large IT projects as we move to 2014, and mutual misunderstanding of the requirements has been a major pitfall thus far.  It’s bound to get more intense as we continue this open government focus to citizens – don’t let your agency launch another troubled project; focus on requirements management to get the job done....

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An Agile Approach Will Help the Fed Acquisition Workforce Successfully Chart Their Course

Posted by on Nov 21, 2013 in Acquisition, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

In a recent news article, both Feds and industry weighed in on the importance of a strong Federal acquisition workforce to better equip for large-scale IT project success – but that their historical hesitancy to avoid change and risk pits them in a waterfall environment, rather than an agile approach, that has better secured project success.  Moving to agile will enable fewer Federal projects that are running aground. Is your agency ready for an agile approach?  Well the government thinks so.  GAO ran a report in July, 2012 recommending that the Federal CIO Council, along with OMB, move Federal IT projects to an agile environment, finding that it helps reduce the risk of overrun, over budget, or failed projects.  But you should first ask yourself the following: Does your organization have the right structure to support agile? Will your agency culture be an obstacle to agile adoption? Do you have commitment from stakeholders to transition to agile? Will you be able to secure – and keep – executive buy-in and support? Does your agency select the right projects to move to agile? To help answer these questions, we’ve built a quick, five minute Online Agile Assessment Tool to determine YOUR readiness to head away from waterfall. And if your agency is ready, we’re at the helm to show you the way.  Our new Agile Acquisition Course has been specifically designed to show you how to successfully implement an agile strategy – from start to...

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Build Successful Projects by Avoiding Initial Project Pitfalls – Don’t Get Caught in a PM Nightmare

Posted by on Nov 18, 2013 in Project Management | 0 comments

Starting a new project?  Plan early – and plan often – to avoid a troublesome, delayed, or failed project.  Here are just a few tips to get it right from the beginning: Use Previous Projects and Update Your Plan:  Feds need to take the time to learn from failed projects.  Recently, the New York Times discussed the crucial need for increased agile software development to address IT risks head-on and early.  Take this as a key lesson learned. Increased visibility and its necessary training in agile project management will be fundamental for Federal projects in 2014. Who’s the Boss?:  Successful projects clearly outline the team, stakeholders, etc. and who will handle what, when, and where.  Large-scale projects like Healthcare.gov have brought to attention when project teams aren’t communicating.  Federal projects see this more and more with the collaboration of Feds with contractors, so ensure all those involved know what’s expected, and keep leadership up to date on all vital details. Avoid Unclear Expectations from the Start:  A great example is the 2010 unfunded Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) – to shut down data centers.  However, the amount of data centers kept changing, from 432 in 1999 to more than 7,000 in 2013, per OMB.  Next, FDCCI rolled into PortfolioStat 2.0, focused on optimizing data centers – not just closing them down.  And most recently – The Federal Data Center Consolidation Act of 2013 – sets hard deadlines due to agency issues in actually meeting the initial FDCCI regulations.  So how can the project managers keep ahead of expectations when they continue to change? These are only three key steps in the developmental stages of building a project.  Click here to see our resource outlining these and more essential tips and tricks for Federal project and program...

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Not a Criticism of Healthcare.gov – a Solution

Posted by on Nov 12, 2013 in Project Management | 0 comments

Successful Federal IT procurement and project & program management execution are all over the news with Obamacare’s latest step.  Coming out of this, President Obama called for an overhaul on this entire issue; who else has seen news focused around – not only the term, but the actual title – Why Do Government Projects Fail? Yes, projects like Healthcare.gov (and Census.gov in 2012) had implementation issues. But what are we learning from these examples?  What are the Feds taking away for the next round of enormous IT projects?  As many have pointed out, yes – large IT projects are difficult, and the Federal versions are even harder given OMB requirements.  But there can be a light at the end of the tunnel.  U.S. Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel has spoken out on his 2014 priorities: Effectiveness – Improving the business of government to its citizens Efficiency – PortfolioStat 2.0 – eliminating IT overspending and reallocating smarter Economy – Equip citizens with Federal stats to create new businesses and embrace mobility People – Drastically improve Federal hiring, training, and retention processes Let’s focus on the People aspect.  Further in the interview, VanRoekel, along with Federal CTO Todd Park, mentions cultural issues, budget issues, and ultimately – the need for significant change.  So how will we move forward and avoid more kinks along the way?  With this Administration’s focus on making IT work for the government AND the people, and doing it in a cost-effective, maximizing results way; an obvious decision?  Better training for all – from the IT specialists to the project team to the full Program Manager. Local training is available to Feds to avoid travel spending – let’s reinvest in the Federal workforce to equip them to handle these large-scale IT projects – there’s surely more to...

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Learn How to Successfully Complete Your PMP® Exam Application

Posted by on May 2, 2013 in Project Management | 0 comments

Are you ready to earn your PMP® certification? The first step is to complete the PMP® Exam Application. This process can be cumbersome and overwhelming, but we have a solution for you to make it easy. All you need to do is download our FREE video podcast Completing Your PMP® Application: Learning from an Expert, presented by Dr. Jim West, PMP. Jim has helped thousands get their PMP® certification and will now show you how to complete your PMP® Application. Download our podcast...

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Find Out if Your Organization is Prepared for Agile

Posted by on Apr 29, 2013 in Acquisition, Project Management | 0 comments

More and more agencies are transitioning to Agile project management. Management Concepts would like to help you assess whether your organization is ready to adopt an Agile framework. We have a brief assessment that will take no more than 5 minutes to complete. After you complete the assessment we will provide your results, which will tell you how prepared your organization is for Agile. Take the assessment...

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PMBOK® Guide 5th Edition: What is different? What does it mean for you?

Posted by on Mar 28, 2013 in Project Management | 0 comments

In order to be successful, project managers must continually be working to meet project and stakeholder requirements and manage their projects in an often complex and uncertain environment. The recent changes to the PMBOK® Guide for the role of project managers, along with there impact to how project mangers plan and manage their projects are addressed in a FREE whitepaper than can be downloaded by clicking here! The more recent changes to the PMBOK® Guide reinforce that project managers need to give special attention to: Stakeholder management Requirements definition, collection, and management Planning for how project components are managed Developing and using the Project Management Plan as the basis for developing and managing all subsidiary plan Returning business value from the project The Project Management Institute (PMI®) released the PMBOK ® Guide 5th edition in December 2012. The changes were incorporated to place more emphasis on ensuring that the PMBOK® Guide is aligned, consistent, and in harmony with: ISO 21500 Other relevant PMI Standards PMI Lexicon PMI Role Delineation Study Knowledge Management DIKW (data, information, knowledge, wisdom) model Work Performance Data Information Reports The new changes will definitely have an impact on anyone preparing for the PMP® Exam or some other PMI credential, but they will have a significant impact on some project managers and how they manage their projects. Of specific importance to the project manger is the fact that there is an increasing trend toward ensuring and managing stakeholder engagement. As a result, stakeholder, product, project management, quality, and communication requirements need to be understood and managed. In addition, the growing complexity of projects and the project environment, project managers need to be able to use a variety of analytical tools and techniques in the planning and managing of their projects. In the PMBOK® Guide 5th edition, the Project Management Plan is clearly the focal point for project planning and management as well as an emphasis on developing a management plan for each knowledge area subsidiary plan. Some of the other key changes include: The “standard” (Chapter 3 from previous versions) has been moved to Appendix A1 1 new knowledge area has been developed and included Chapter 13 Stakeholder Management 5 new processes have been increasing the number from 42 to 47 4 New planning processes added 5.1 Plan Scope Management 6.1 Plan Schedule Management 7.1 Plan Cost Management 13.2 Plan Stakeholder Management 1 new controlling process 13.4 Control Stakeholder Engagement 2 Communications management processes have been re-sequenced and moved to the new Chapter 13 Stakeholder Management 13.1 Identify Stakeholders 13.3 Manage Stakeholder Engagement Several Process names have changed These, and other changes, along with there impact to how project mangers plan and manage their projects are addressed in a FREE whitepaper than can be downloaded by clicking...

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Top 10 Pitfalls to Avoid in the PMP® Certification Process and on the Exam

Posted by on Mar 25, 2013 in Project Management | 0 comments

Now is a great time to take the PMP® exam before it changes, and Management Concepts wants to make your exam preparation a success. Download our quick-guide to avoiding common missteps in the PMP® journey: Top Ten Pitfalls to Avoid in the PMP® Certification Process and on the Exam and get tips for applying for, preparing for, and passing the PMP® Certification Exam. The “Top Ten Pitfalls” includes Tips & Tricks such as: #3: Putting off the test too long and forgetting what you’ve learned – or worse, until a new version of the PMBOK® Guide has come out. You would need to learn everything that has changed from the old version to the new to answer some of the test questions. #6: Not preparing for the pacing of the test. It’s recommended that you keep a close watch on your timing as you drill on practice questions. Training for a brisk pace will help you on the exam. Download our...

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Risk Tolerance

Posted by on Mar 13, 2013 in Financial Management, Project Management | 0 comments

What can I say about risk that hasn’t already been said? Let’s look at one tiny aspect, risk tolerance. Risk tolerance is an organization’s or individual’s willingness to operate in an uncertain environment. Individual Risk Tolerance Each of us has risk tolerance we display every day. Some personal individual risk tolerance examples are: Do you leave the house early for an appointment just in case there is unexpected traffic? Do you watch the weather channel to determine when to rise, or what route to take? Do you drive the speed limit? Do you lay out your clothes for the next day to avoid color issues, and increase your speed to departure? What about as a Project Manager? In the Management Concepts Project Risk Management course you are asked to assess yourself against a traits checklist, by choosing the traits which agree with your style: Taking risks makes good sense only in the absence of acceptable alternatives I generally prefer stimulation over security I have confidence in my ability to recover from my mistakes, no matter how big I would commit to someone with unlimited potential, but limited experience to a key position over someone with limited potential, but more experience Anything worth doing is worth doing less than perfectly I believe opportunity generally knocks only once It is better to ask for permission than to beg for forgiveness Success in management is as much a matter of luck as ability Given a choice, I would choose a $3,000 annual raise over a $10,000 bonus that I have a one-in-three chance of winning The exercise is revealing in that it helps us to recognize our personal risk tolerance, and that others in the room can be different. There is no one right answer, as this is a personal trait, and tolerance is required. I live in a small town in the Rocky Mountains which has casinos. Many people come to town each day in order to take a chance at winning big money. Most of them don’t, but they are willing to take the risk. I am not a gambler and don’t enjoy the sport, but there are many people who do. Our risk tolerance is different and individual. Even the gamblers have different risk tolerances. Some will only play the penny or nickel machines while others play the dollar machines or sit at the card tables. There is risk aplenty for all tolerances! Organizational Risk Tolerance Organizations also have a risk tolerance. There are many questions to ask in order to discern the organizational risk tolerance: What’s the value of time to market for the product? Are there regulatory penalties in non-compliance? How much market share is at stake? What reputation issues exist? Can we afford to be right/wrong? Will the budget support this risk? What will the CEO (or any CXO) think? Often there are values and decisions which exceed our personal experiences at work in organizational risk tolerance. Review the history of an IBM, Google, Tylenol, or Odwalla to see how risk tolerance can differ across organizations. Project Risk Tolerance The intersection of your risk tolerance and organizational risk tolerance happens at the project. Since you may not be able to understand the risk tolerance of the entire organization, you must start with the sponsor. The sponsor...

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PMBOK® Guide 5th Edition: What is different? What does it mean for you?

Posted by on Feb 28, 2013 in Project Management | 0 comments

In order to be successful, project managers must continually be working to meet project and stakeholder requirements and manage their projects in an often complex and uncertain environment. The recent changes to the PMBOK® Guide for the role of project managers, along with there impact to how project mangers plan and manage their projects are addressed in a FREE whitepaper than can be downloaded by clicking here! The more recent changes to the PMBOK® Guide reinforce that project managers need to give special attention to: Stakeholder management Requirements definition, collection, and management Planning for how project components are managed Developing and using the Project Management Plan as the basis for developing and managing all subsidiary plan Returning business value from the project The Project Management Institute (PMI®) released the PMBOK ® Guide 5th edition in December 2012. The changes were incorporated to place more emphasis on ensuring that the PMBOK® Guide is aligned, consistent, and in harmony with: ISO 21500 Other relevant PMI Standards PMI Lexicon PMI Role Delineation Study Knowledge Management DIKW (data, information, knowledge, wisdom) model Work Performance Data Information Reports The new changes will definitely have an impact on anyone preparing for the PMP® Exam or some other PMI credential, but they will have a significant impact on some project managers and how they manage their projects. Of specific importance to the project manger is the fact that there is an increasing trend toward ensuring and managing stakeholder engagement. As a result, stakeholder, product, project management, quality, and communication requirements need to be understood and managed. In addition, the growing complexity of projects and the project environment, project managers need to be able to use a variety of analytical tools and techniques in the planning and managing of their projects. In the PMBOK® Guide 5th edition, the Project Management Plan is clearly the focal point for project planning and management as well as an emphasis on developing a management plan for each knowledge area subsidiary plan. Some of the other key changes include: The “standard” (Chapter 3 from previous versions) has been moved to Appendix A1 1 new knowledge area has been developed and included Chapter 13 Stakeholder Management 5 new processes have been increasing the number from 42 to 47 4 New planning processes added 5.1 Plan Scope Management 6.1 Plan Schedule Management 7.1 Plan Cost Management 13.2 Plan Stakeholder Management 1 new controlling process 13.4 Control Stakeholder Engagement 2 Communications management processes have been re-sequenced and moved to the new Chapter 13 Stakeholder Management 13.1 Identify Stakeholders 13.3 Manage Stakeholder Engagement Several Process names have changed These, and other changes, along with there impact to how project mangers plan and manage their projects are addressed in a FREE whitepaper than can be downloaded by clicking...

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Cost Estimating – Part 2

Posted by on Feb 8, 2013 in Project Management | 0 comments

This post is Part 2 on Cost Estimating. In case you missed it, here is Cost Estimating – Part 1. The seventh principle of Project Management is “Minimize total cost, not the price of resources”. We need to discuss the total cost if we are to adhere to this principle. Although there is wonderful guidance in the PMBOK® Guide, the best practices for the Federal environment comes from the GAO Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide. In this blog I will refer to this as “the Cost Estimating Guide”. When it comes to estimating, we want to answer the question, “Where did you get those numbers?” with defensible accuracy. The Cost Estimating Guide defines four process groups and twelve process steps necessary to attain accurate cost estimates. “Certain best practices should be followed if accurate and credible cost estimates are to be developed. These best practices represent an overall process of established, repeatable methods that result in high-quality cost estimates that are comprehensive and accurate and that can be easily and clearly traced, replicated, and updated.” Initiation & Research – Identify your audience, what you are estimating, and why you are estimating it. 1. Define the estimate’s purpose Determine the estimate’s purpose, required level of detail, and overall scope. Determine who will receive the estimate. As defined by the PMBOK® Guide, is this a Preliminary, Budgetary, or Definitive estimate? 2. Develop the estimating plan Determine the cost estimating team and develop its master schedule. Determine who will do the independent cost estimate. Outline the cost estimating approach and develop the estimate timeline. The estimating plan should be added to the Project Management Plan. Assessment – Cost assessment steps are iterative and can be accomplished in varying order or concurrently. 3. Define the program In a technical baseline description document, identify the program’s purpose and its system and performance characteristics and all system configurations. Any technology implications and program acquisition schedule and acquisition strategy and relationship to other existing systems, including predecessor or similar legacy systems. Support (manpower, training, etc.) and security needs and risk items should be included. System quantities for development, test, and production and deployment and maintenance plans should be documented. 4. Determine the estimating structure Define a work breakdown structure (WBS) and describe each element in a WBS dictionary. Choose the best estimating method for each WBS element and Identify potential cross-checks for likely cost and schedule drivers. Develop a cost estimating checklist. 5. Identify ground rules and assumptions Clearly define what the estimate includes and excludes. Identify global and program-specific assumptions, such as the estimate’s base year, including time-phasing and life cycle. Identify program schedule information by phase and program acquisition strategy and any schedule or budget constraints, inflation assumptions, and travel costs. Specify equipment the government is to furnish (GFE) as well as the use of existing facilities or new modification or development. Identify prime contractor and major subcontractors and determine technology refresh cycles, technology assumptions, and new technology to be developed. Define commonality with legacy systems and assumed heritage savings. Describe effects of new ways of doing business and include them in this section. 6. Obtain the data Create a data collection plan with emphasis on collecting current and relevant technical, programmatic, cost, and risk data and investigate and document possible data sources. Collect...

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Cost Estimating – Part 1

Posted by on Jan 23, 2013 in Project Management | 2 comments

The seventh principle of Project Management is “Minimize total cost, not the price of resources”. We need to discuss the total cost if we are to adhere to this principle. Although there is wonderful guidance in the PMBOK® Guide, the best practices for a Federal environment come from the GAO Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide. In this blog I will refer to this as “the Cost Estimating Guide”. When it comes to estimating, we want to answer the question, “Where did you get those numbers?” with defensible accuracy. The Cost Estimating Guide suggests that there are nine characteristics to any credible cost estimate. Let’s look at each individually. Clear identification of task – The estimator must be provided with the system description, ground rules and assumptions, and technical and performance characteristics. The estimate’s constraints and conditions must be clearly identified to ensure the preparation of a well-documented estimate. Broad participation in preparing estimates – All stakeholders should be involved in deciding mission need and requirements and in defining system parameters and other characteristics. Data should be independently verified for accuracy, completeness, and reliability. Availability of valid data – Numerous sources of suitable, relevant, and available data should be used. Relevant, historical data should be used from similar systems to project costs of new systems; these data should be directly related to the system’s performance characteristics. Standardized structure for the estimate – A standard work breakdown structure, as detailed as possible, should be used, refining it as the cost estimate matures and the system becomes more defined. The work breakdown structure ensures that no portions of the estimate are omitted and makes it easier to make comparisons to similar systems and programs. Provision for program uncertainties – Uncertainties should be identified and allowance developed to cover the cost effect. Known costs should be included and unknown costs should be allowed for. Recognition of inflation – The estimator should ensure that economic changes, such as inflation, are properly and realistically reflected in the life-cycle cost estimate. Recognition of excluded costs – All costs associated with a system should be included; any excluded costs should be disclosed and given a rationale. Independent review of estimates – Conducting an independent review of an estimate is crucial to establishing confidence in the estimate. The independent reviewer should verify, modify, and correct an estimate to ensure realism, completeness, and consistency. Revision of estimates for significant program changes – Estimates should be updated to reflect changes in a system’s design requirements. Large changes that affect costs can significantly influence program decisions. If we stop here and review the previous Principles, we discover that WBS is crucial to cost estimate accuracy. So is the process of scheduling which allows us to understand the task and it’s association with other work in the project. We see the communications plan come into play and the process of team selection and development. All of our planning efforts coalesce into the best cost estimates possible at this juncture in the project. We begin to consider risk and external factors which will affect the cost estimates over time. I hope you are beginning to see that the Principles are interactive, interdependent, and the order of practice is important. Now that we know the characteristics of credible cost estimates, what process should we...

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PMBOK® Guide 5th Edition: What is Different? What Does It Mean for You?

Posted by on Jan 8, 2013 in Project Management | 0 comments

PMI has released the PMBOK® Guide 5th Edition. You may be wondering what this means for you, whether you are preparing to take the exam, or if you are already a PMP using PMI processes as the basis for your project management methodology. Management Concepts has done a thorough assessment of the changes and is offering a complimentary webinar to discuss the new changes to the PMBOK® Guide 5th Edition on January 16th at 1pm EST. Register...

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Using Innovation as a Business Decision Tool

Posted by on Dec 13, 2012 in Project Management | 0 comments

In this rapidly changing environment, organizations continuously stress the need for innovation. Therefore, innovation needs to be viewed from a long-term perspective and must be a component in every organization’s strategic plan regardless of the organization’s size, level of maturity, industry, or business philosophy. From a business perspective it is helpful to consider several questions: How important is innovation within the organization? Is innovation a focused, strategic, and funded priority? How does the organization effectively integrate any process structures with spontaneity and creativity? What role does innovation play in understanding the big picture? What are the challenges of trying to innovate organizational and business processes, not products and services? Here are five ways to maximize the benefits of innovation as a decision-making tool: 1) Make innovation a component of your strategic planning process. A major error that many organizations commit is the failure to include innovation in their strategic plans, as well as failing to prioritize innovation efforts as part of the overall investment portfolio. 2) Allow time to identify good ideas. Good, innovative ideas are generally hard to find and easily overlooked. Organizations are inundated with ideas every day. Not all of them are good ideas, but they all must be considered. Organizations that have in place a structured idea generation and evaluation process, even a rudimentary one, have a better chance of identifying ideas that will aid in business growth.  Really good ideas are like pearls – many oysters must be opened and explored before something of value is discovered. Innovation generally requires careful harvesting (management) before it delivers a significant return. However, expecting results too fast might cause the organization to overlook good ideas or terminate the creative process before value-added results are delivered. 3) Focus on the organizations processes, not just it products. Too many organizations focus apply their creative energies to building bigger and better tools and products. Sometimes that best use of the organization’s creative reservoir is not on making a better product, but creating a better process for getting that product out the door and to the end-users. Innovation applied to business operations, as well as business outputs, can help move the organization toward accomplishing its strategic goals and objectives. 4) Encourage creativity and innovation and reward them. For sustained business growth, it is important that managers create a culture that fosters and rewards creativity and innovation. Eliminate the old stereotype that innovation is simply a Research and Development function. Ideas can come from anywhere. Don’t let old attitudes and bureaucracy become a barrier to creativity. 5) Balance the real with the ideal. It is important to clearly link innovation to the bottom-line. If the organization cannot turn innovative ideas into useable products and services that contribute to the profit margin, idea generation might be reduced or even stopped. In today’s business and economic environment, how an organization plans for and implements innovation as a business strategy can mean the difference between success and failure. Innovation needs to be part of an organization’s culture. It is not the sole responsibility of a specific functional group or the managers. Everyone in the organization plays a role in generating ideas and trying to bring those ideas to...

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Scheduling: Planning to Get Work Done – Part II

Posted by on Dec 3, 2012 in Project Management | 0 comments

WORK In part two of this scheduling blog, I want to concentrate on the “Develop Schedule” process and how the intersection of work and resources applies to schedule compression. As I stated previously, scheduling is linear and predictable, but the instance we add humans we may get non-linear behavior. Types of Work Work type is a predictor of how the duration is affected by people assignments. I believe there are three work types: Moving Bricks, Meeting, and Truck Driving. Moving Bricks type work is illustrated by my having a pile of bricks to move and it will take me all day to move the bricks. If you help me and you are an equally talented brick mover then it will take both of us half a day to move the bricks. Therefore, adding resources reduces the duration of brick moving type work. Meeting type work is like having a meeting or training a course. If the course is three days long whether there are 2 people or 20 people in the classroom, the course takes three days. Therefore, adding resources does not reduce the duration of meeting type work. Truck driving type work has a fixed duration and effort. For instance, if I need to drive a truck from Denver, CO to Kansas City, MO, Google Maps says it is 600 miles and takes about 10 hours. The effort (10 hours worth of driving) and the duration (10 hours worth of clock-time) are the same for me. Now let’s assume that you join me in the truck. Effort and duration remain the same, 10 hours, but I only have to drive 5 hours and you only have to drive 5 hours for us to make it to Kansas City with the same result as if I had traveled alone. Therefore, adding resources reduces the individual contribution of the resources for truck driving type work. Two people 50%-50%, three people 33%-33%-33%, four people 25%, five people won’t fit in the truck. Critical Path The critical path is that collection of tasks in the network diagram which represent the longest duration from start to finish. Another way to state it is any task which if delayed will delay the end date is a critical path task. Another way to say it is any task with a calculated float of zero is a critical path task. So the magic of critical path is that we can directly affect the project end date by manipulating critical path tasks if we know which ones they are. Scheduled Compression Schedule compression is the technique of shortening the project schedule duration (read end date) without reducing the project scope (same amount of work). The PMBOK® Guide tells us that we can employ three techniques to compress the schedule: crashing, fast tracking, and scope management. Typical approaches for crashing a schedule include reducing task durations and increasing the assignment of resources to the task. I call this throwing more resources at the problem. I either need more people or more of people (availability) to affect the task duration. Fast tracking is defined as changing the network logic to overlap phases that would normally be done in sequence or to perform scheduled activities in parallel. I call this changing the order of the work. If we can find...

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Scheduling: Planning to Get The Work Done – Part I

Posted by on Nov 28, 2012 in Project Management | 0 comments

RESOURCES The sixth Principle of Project Management is, “You can do a lot, if you work out your schedule.” Scheduling is defined in the PMBOK® Guide under Project Time Management and entails 6 processes: Define Activities, Sequence Activities, Estimate Activity Resources, Estimate Activity Duration, Develop Schedule, and Control Schedule. Scheduling is a wonderful science with many helpful tools available for project managers to get it right. The science and math which make up those effective tools give us very linear and predictable results. Hurray for science and math! In this blog, I want to concentrate on the Estimate Activity Resources process. I stated that scheduling is linear and predictable, but the instant we add humans we get non-linear behavior. The math and science do not always apply once we attach the human connection. Please don’t misinterpret, As a project manager, I need those humans. I can’t do it alone. Humans are good, reliable, sometimes experienced assets to the project. It’s just that we (I include myself as a human) don’t always adhere to the linear, mathematical model of the scheduling engine. Availability So we need Fred to accomplish a week long, 40-hour task. What are we assuming if we think that a 40-hour task is a week’s worth on calendar? We are assuming that Fred is dedicated only to the work on my project. How arrogant! Fred is probably assigned to several projects and is not fully dedicated to my project. When we assign humans to work, we must separate the effort (human energy required) from the duration (calendar consumed by the activity). Fred may need two weeks to complete the 40 hour task because he only has 4 hours a day to dedicate to my project. WARNING! Most scheduling engines will assume that every resource is 100% dedicated to the assigned task and humans don’t work that way. The scheduling engine will assume an overly optimistic schedule and we must correct its thinking, because humans require a bit of pessimism when work is the product. In order for a schedule to be realistic we must consider the effort and duration required to accomplish a task. By assigning the resource to the task using the reality of how work will be accomplished by the human, we get closer to schedule reality. And we’re assuming that Fred’s availability is desirable. Remember, resource availability is not a skill. Just because Fred is available to perform the work, doesn’t mean Fred is the most desirable resource for the work. The calendar also plays in the availability space. Did you consider holidays, vacations, and other time off sanctioned by the company? Schedule reality must consider the Paid Time Off opportunities. Capability Is Fred really good at this task or is he a junior resource for the work? Is there a mix of capabilities assigned to the task? Non-linear behavior will appear when there are multiple assignments with mixed capabilities. Fred may be the expert, but is not available. Two junior resources will probably not accomplish in 40-hours what one Fred could do. Also don’t forget the ramp up factor. Fred may be capable, but needs a learning curve to get better at the task. The schedule would need to reflect the ramp up time in order to be accurate. The opposite may be...

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Project Vision: The Ability to “See”

Posted by on Nov 14, 2012 in Project Management | 0 comments

The fifth Project Management Principle is “Where there is no vision, projects struggle.” As good project managers, we need for stakeholders to “see” the project. One of the most effective tools for seeing is the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). The PMBOK® Guide defines the WBS as: “A deliverable-oriented hierarchical decomposition of the work to be executed by the project team to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables. It organizes and defines the total scope of the project.” An often overlooked aspect of the WBS is that it is ALL the work required to accomplish the scope of the project. That means that a good WBS supports Scope Management, Change Management, Risk Management, Requirements Management, Cost Management, Human Resource Management, Integration, and Acquisitions. It is the basis for doing good project management and if not conducted correctly or given the proper weight it deserves, detracts heavily from project success. In my experience, the WBS has sometimes been relegated to a secondary process. For instance, you can use a scheduling tool to create the task list, logic, and schedule and a WBS can result from the scheduling exercise. WBS decomposition is automatically created as the schedule is created. Why build the WBS first when I can save time by combining it with building the schedule? There are several reasons to take building the WBS seriously. 1. The ability to “see” the work. I suggest that the activity of building the WBS should be conducted by at least the project team and hopefully include as many key stakeholders as possible and with the technologically advanced sticky note. Sticky notes on the wall allow for instantaneous change and are alterable at will as discussions progress. They also require all to participate and not just everyone looking at the diagram I produced. When the picture is finally created, we can all stand back and “see” the work required to accomplish the scope of the project. 2. The interaction of the participants. One of the great aspects of WBS building with sticky notes is that the team and stakeholders begin to coalesce around the project solution. They have to “rub shoulders” as part of the process and begin to know each other. Don’t overlook the support to communications and team building. Let me offer two suggestions to facilitate the process. First, it may be advantageous for the Project Manager (PM) to hire a facilitator to conduct the WBS building effort. This allows the PM to be a participant in the process and enjoy the camaraderie and team building. Second, you may wish to use the process called Affinity Diagramming, described in Michael Brassard’s book, Memory Jogger II. It will allow you to more quickly organize the thoughts of the participants into the WBS result. 3. Participant buy-in. Once the WBS is built, all participant can stand back and “see” either their part or their organizations part in the solution. It describes individual effort, organizational effort, cooperation, and acquisitions needed to accomplish the scope of the project. Individual team members and key stakeholders begin to get the vision. For Federal programs and projects there is additional guidance in MIL-STD 881C. It is a requirement for the DoD project manager, but it is also excellent guidance for any federal or private PM if adapted...

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What Really Motivates Project Stakeholders?

Posted by on Oct 18, 2012 in Project Management | 1 comment

Many people are familiar with the classic motivational theories such as Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Frederick Herzberg’s Hygiene Factors and Motivators, and Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y. The basic principle behind all motivational theories is that we are all driven by motives. These motives generate a set of thoughts that influence our behavior, which drives us to accomplish specific goals. This motive – thought – behavior process is fundamental to why and how we set goals and work to accomplish those goals. All stakeholders have motives and all of them will display those motives by how they approach project activities. Three Primary Motives Dr. David C. McClelland’s research and studies on motivation resulted in the development of a theory about the strengths of three social motives – the Need for Affiliation, the Need for Power, and the Need for Achievement. All three motives have their relevance to management, leadership, and organizational dynamics since all three contribute to an organization’s effectiveness and influence behavior. 1. Need for Affiliation Stakeholders with a high need for affiliation are moved to act because of their positive interest in and concern for others. These people are also concerned about being disliked, disapproved of, or rejected. They think about developing and maintaining relationships, being with others to enjoy their company, being separated from others, and generally view group working situations as social activities. Stakeholders motivated by affiliation are typically very social. They will frequently be seen socializing and talking with others. When given the choice, they will choose to be with others rather than alone. They also join many social groups, clubs, and on-line networking groups. They will generally put people before tasks and will often choose to work with friends over experts. Affiliation motivated people constantly seek approval, are empathetic and caring, and often make decisions and communicate based on what others might think and feel. 2. Need for Power Stakeholders with a high need for power are motivated by the ability to exercise control and influence. They think about taking strong and forceful action that affects others and will often give help, advice, or support (especially when it’s unsolicited). Power motivated people continually develop strategies to control people, get their opinion accepted, and shape situations. Power motivated stakeholders tend to be active in the organization’s politics by seeking positions of leadership and networking to meet personal and organizational goals. They have also been known to seek, withhold, or use information to control others and influence specific outcomes. A common characteristic of power motivated people is that they like to collect and display objects of prestige on their “I-love-me” walls. 3. Need for Achievement Stakeholders with a high Need for Achievement not only spend time thinking about achievement goals, but they think about how to attain goals, what obstacles or blocks might be encountered, where they can get help, and how they will feel if they succeed or fail. They have a strong desire for success and an equally strong fear of failure and are competitive and generally have an intense desire to outperform someone else, such as, performing better than their predecessors, contemporaries, or a competing organization. To them failure is never an option. They focus on meeting or surpassing a self-imposed standard of excellence and always want to do...

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Communications: The Subject We Know Everything About

Posted by on Oct 9, 2012 in Project Management | 0 comments

In preparation for this blog, I did a little research. I found thousands of websites to support my search and I picked one that looked interesting. There were 75 fresh articles on 18 categories of Communications. I find it fascinating that there is so much new and exciting information concerning the oldest of processes – human to human contact. I’m sure you’ve all seen the Mehrabian (Albert Mehrabian, 1939-) study which describes communications in the verbal/nonverbal dimension using the following formula: Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Visual Liking His findings were erroneously summarized as “93% of communications is non-verbal.” Mehrabian says, “Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.” If I were answering the question, “Where’s Sally?” I could send you an email which described the street address of her hometown, the room in the home to look in, and the character of her appearance and you could find her without ever hearing me or seeing me speak. The communications can be complete without the nonverbal component. If all communications depended on nonverbal for completeness, then instruction manuals, checklists, and textbooks would be totally ineffective. For communications in the realm of feelings and attitudes, “Total Liking” is a feature of the receiver and it’s called congruence. In this context, congruence is the alignment of words (Verbal Liking), voice tonality (Vocal Liking), and facial expressions/body language (Visual Liking) so that the receiver can believe (Like) the message. Mehrabian suggests that if there is incongruence, the receiver is more likely to believe the nonverbal (tonality and facial expressions/body language) than the verbal, the actual words used. Truly, when we are conveying messages of feelings or attitudes, we want the receiver to have congruence about the message. We actually pay highly for an entire profession who use the Mehrabian formula to absolutely lie to us: they are Actors. Watch a movie and you are transported to the feelings and attitudes of a character in a most believable fashion. As a matter of fact, if we are not in a state of congruence about the character message, we usually tout this as “bad acting.” I’d like to introduce you to another formula in communications which I think has great influence on the Project Manager. A very close friend of mine says this, “The more sensitive the message, the richer the medium.” Let’s take a moment to discuss medium or the method of transmission for the message. The richest possible human to human medium would be face-to-face, one-to-one. In this method, both the transmitter and the receiver can use the Total Liking formula to evaluate message congruence during a conversation or meeting. We can then move to one-to-many like a classroom or staff meeting where we are all in the same room; effective, but not as intimate. Then we can move to video conferencing, teleconferencing, and on to email and snail mail. Each successive medium begins to reduce the ability to see the transmitter (Visual Liking) and to hear (Vocal Liking) the transmitter, thus reducing the opportunity for receiver congruence about the message....

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“Resistance is Futile, You Will be Assimilated” – Carefully Contemplate the Collective

Posted by on Oct 2, 2012 in Project Management | 0 comments

When do we Project Managers start thinking about the collective? Maybe it is at the very beginning of a project when the idea is still fermenting in the mind of the sponsor. I discussed that in my previous post, Before Charter (B.C.) Project Management. The most obvious place to think integration is at the beginning of the planning phase. Here we have a cloudy, limited understanding of what success should look like and it’s time to create clarity. Planning answers several questions: Who needs to be informed? How will change be handled? What must you do? When will you do it? What will it cost? What could go wrong? Is everybody on board? The PMBOK® Guide depicts the intersection of Process Groups and Knowledge Areas and suggests the interactivity and interdependence of Project Management – the beginnings of the collective. Who needs to be informed? The Communications Plan comes to mind. Also, if we haven’t identified the WHO (stakeholders), then our communications may not be complete. The essence of communications is to identify WHO needs to know WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, HOW and WHY. Creating and maintaining the Communications Plan clarifies reporting, performance measurement, permissions, and identifies where influence may be necessary. It may be necessary to create both good news and bad news criteria. Although, I’m sure you’ll never need the bad news stuff. How will change be handled? The time to consider Change Management is at the beginning. Change will happen, even during the planning phase. We apply a negative connotation to change, but we shouldn’t. Change is neither good nor bad, it just is. The definition of scope creep is uncontrolled change. By definition, if you have an effective change management process, then scope creep can’t happen. Change Management permeates the planning (and execution) experience. What must you do? The Work Breakdown Structure equals all the work required to accomplish the scope of the project. Therefore, the WBS is what we must do. It is defined work. What a wonderful tool for grouping work into a comprehensive picture and you know what they say about pictures. My experience has been that we let scheduling tools do the WBS work for us and skip the step where we have the team apply “sticky notes” to the wall to identify work. The collective begs you to get the team involved at every available step, even creating the WBS using antique tools. When will you do it? Scheduling naturally follows the WBS. Now that we know WHAT needs to be done, HOW will we get it done? Scheduling is applying order to the groups of work. There is much science to scheduling and many tools out there to either help or frustrate our efforts. The collective insists that you involve the team at every opportunity. Have them help you build the schedule. What will it cost? Cost Estimating is a non-exact science which needs proper, continuous application in the beginning. Now that we know what the work is and how the work will accomplished, we need to get as close as possible to what it will cost. Can you see that cost estimating interacts with schedule, WBS, and the communication plan? Let’s not lose sight of the collective when we are concentrating on a specific task like cost estimating. What...

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Seven Key Success Factors to Consider for Strategic Growth (and Ultimately Project Success)

Posted by on Sep 24, 2012 in Project Management | 0 comments

There are seven critical elements that contribute to an organization’s project selection, management, and decision-making process. Every organization, both large and small, must assess itself against these elements. The closer these elements are to the organization’s set of core competencies and the organization’s strategic and operational objectives the greater the likelihood for success. Let’s take a closer look at each of these in more detail. 1. Customers Does the new opportunity target the existing customer base, an existing customer in a new area, or are you trying to reach a completely new set of customers? The closer you stay to your core, the more you know about the customers’ markets preferences and buying habits. It is also important to realize that not all customers are the same. You need to differentiate your customers and find the group that is the most profitable. For example, are you targeting an existing customer with a new product or service such as a local delicatessen that has decided to offer delivery service to nearby offices during lunch hours, or are you trying to get into the gourmet catering service? 2. Competitors Competition is probably the main reason why organizations decide to move into a new business or market area. Whether it is a move because your competitors are in that market and if you don’t move, you will be left behind, or there is little or no competition and you see an opportunity to fill the void. Who are the existing and potential competitors? Also consider that if there are very few competitors, it is important to thoroughly understand why. Is the reason simply that the move is revolutionary and your organization is the first to move in that direction? Or are there no customers because it is cost prohibitive or has too low of a profit potential? In addition, consider the actual product. When comparing what you have to offer to your competitors, it is also important to clearly understand what really differentiates your product or service from what is currently available. Will the project produce a “me-too” product – one that competitors have and without a similar product or service, you might be perceived by the marketplace as a lesser-provider – or will you gain a “leap-frog” advantage over your competitors by being something new and innovative? When there is no perceived meaningful difference between offerings, then price becomes the primary, which then makes what is being offered nothing more than a commodity. 3. Capabilities Can existing skills, talents, and technology be used to deliver the new project or will it require a totally new or next generation capability? The likelihood of success is significantly greater if the capability is already in place or can be acquired through other means such as strategic partnering. Some organizations try to expand beyond their corporate offerings and get into new business areas by acquiring a capability through a merger or acquisition, only to find themselves selling off the acquisition because it took them too far away from their core competencies. Capabilities are critical because they help to establish credibility and credibility leads to customer confidence. Remember the benefit is what you are offering the customer. Customers often withhold their final commitment until they feel confident that you can make good on your promise to deliver. 4....

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Is Your Organization Positioned for Success?

Posted by on Sep 17, 2012 in Project Management | 0 comments

What is the primary objective of any enterprise? It is to succeed and generate a benefit for its stakeholders. Organizational success is driven by its strategy. Strategy is executed through projects. Project success and failure is affected by several related factors directly tied to the organization’s strategic objectives, and how the organization positions itself with respect to its environment, both internally and externally. These factors impact an organization’s ability to successfully structure, launch, and execute projects that deliver stakeholder benefits. Success Begins with a Good Strategy A paraphrase of Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), “If you don’t know where you are going, then any road will get you there,” implies that there are multiple ways to accomplish an objective, equally effective. The problem is that if you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you have arrived? Strategic plans themselves do not make decisions nor do they predict the future. They do help provide direction and serve as a tool that senior management can use to evaluate the implications of their decisions. Structured properly, strategic planning helps management position the organization so that it can respond logically, purposefully, and quickly to environmental changes. Identify Opportunities For a strategic plan to be effective it must enable the organization to adapt to changes that occur during implementation. Organizational success involves understanding what can be controlled, and working to take advantage of opportunities provided by those elements that are outside of your control. Sun-Tzu in The Art of War (circa 500 BC) stated, “What is of the greatest importance in war is extraordinary speed: One cannot afford to neglect opportunity.” But, how does the organization recognize an opportunity, assess it, and position itself to take advantage of that opportunity? Being able to recognize and grasp an opportunity is what differentiates successful organizations from unsuccessful ones. Success does not just happen. There is an old saying, “Success happens when opportunity and preparedness meet.” Preparation comes from thoroughly understanding three primary elements: Understanding your internal and external environment. This focuses on the area within which your organization operates. Understanding your business environment is crucial to success. Does it help or hinder your ability to compete? Being aware of the obstacles to your success. How strong are your competitors within the marketplace and your industry? Unless what you have is significantly different or is for a specialized niche market, then customers have a choice. Become self-aware. Take a good look at yourself and your organization. How skilled are employees? What type of leadership is provided? How much experience is in the organization? How well you know the organization’s strengths and weaknesses impacts your ability to compete. Define the Organization’s Core Competencies In 2001, Chris Zook and James Allen wrote Profit from the Core, followed in 2004 by Zook’s sequel, Beyond the Core. Both books address the importance of considering several core business dimensions or competencies, when trying to strategically expand or grow the business. Every organization has a “core,” with an expanding and often complex set of growth opportunities or adjacencies. The further away from the core the opportunity lies, the greater the opportunity for diversity, but also the lower the probability of success. A critical challenge is being able to clearly define those core competencies....

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Stepping on PM TOE’s

Posted by on Aug 20, 2012 in Project Management | 0 comments

Management Concepts teaches that the second Project Management principle is “All projects must be defined”. There are three aspects to the principle: with whom will you be working (stakeholders), what will you be doing (charter), and how will you work together (team operating agreement). The stakeholder and charter aspects get plenty of press in Project Management, but what about the Team Operating Expectations (TOE’s)? A Team Operating Agreement is an effective tool to keep you from stepping on PM TOE’s. In the PMBOK® Guide, Chapter 9 – Project Human Resources Management, there is information on “Ground Rules” which states: “Ground rules establish clear expectations regarding acceptable behavior by project team members. Early commitment to clear guidelines decreases misunderstandings and increases productivity. The process of discussing ground rules allows team members to discover values that are important to one another. All project team members share responsibility for enforcing the rules once they are established.” My experience has taught me that creating a Team Operating Agreement (TOA) early in the life of the team is an essential success factor. I learned this lesson working on a very large, multinational project which had never been done before. The purpose of a TOA in to establish “rules of engagement” or how participants will play nice in the team environment. It is important to establish the rules before you need them. Once you need them and don’t have them, personal emotions may make it impossible to create them. Once they are collaboratively created, ALL agree to follow these rules. Below is an example of how I apply them in the classroom. You can adapt them to your specific project, team, deliverable, or environment. Class start/stop – Establish the beginning and end of each class day. Clear guidelines decreases misunderstandings and increases productivity. Lunch – Establish when and how long to break. Breaks – Establish when and how long. Interrupt respectfully – We don’t call people names and we respect their opinion while waiting for our turn to speak. This is my “no fist fighting” rule. Emotions can run high in stressed teams. We plan early to play nice. Take interruptions outside – Life and work will interrupt us. Take interruptions out of the classroom, deal with them, and then reconnect with the class. Don’t try to multitask in class. It causes you to be a disruption and annoys the other participants. Set devices to “stun” – Set all telephones, pages, etc., to silent so you do not disrupt the class. Deal with devices at breaks and “outside”, if necessary. Decisions by ________________ – Assist participants in defining a decision method for the class and (possibly) each team. This is also a quick review of decision methods. Don’t forget the instructor has executive override (sometimes called Benevolent Dictator [BD]) so that the course timing and material are delivered efficiently. Usually Consensus or Majority are selected with the BD caveat added. Always encourage – Find ways to be positive with your responses and your feedback to others. The “Team’s the thing” – The instructor is not your second grade teacher. You don’t need his/her permission to make adult decisions about your participation. If you must be absent for short periods of time, check out and in with your team. They are responsible for ensuring that you...

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Before Charter (B.C.) Project Management

Posted by on Aug 3, 2012 in Project Management | 0 comments

In classic project Initiation, we start with the Charter. But is there Before Charter (B.C.)? Project Managers know it happens, yet we may not be directly involved. I call this the Ideation Phase where I am charged with getting the idea out of the sponsors head and begin to turn it into some concrete documentation. How do we turn ideas into reality and should every idea actually live? The answer to the second question (should every idea actually live?) is a resounding NO, but how we answer the first question (how do we turn ideas into reality?) will obviate the second. Recent work with a Government Department opened my eyes to an interesting process they call Concept Definition. Concept Definition The purpose of Concept Definition is to evaluate projects and to reach consensus from appropriate senior leadership to proceed into the next phase of the project or stop. Several deliverables are required: a Strategic Statement of Need, an initial cost estimate, and an initial business case. It all starts with the sponsor and their idea. Hopefully, a good project manager is assigned to conduct the Concept Definition, but don’t forget that a project doesn’t actually exist yet, just an idea. Strategic Statement of Need Working with the sponsor, we would define the new capability and identify any current capability gaps. We would look at Processes and Systems, Safety, Environment, Personnel, and Benefits. Sometimes the answer is not something new, it’s just improving existing capabilities. In order to make that decision, we conduct a needs assessment for each of the capabilities and capability gaps and tie it back to the strategic plan of the organization. Often we find that other parts of the Department have a similar issue and we can capitalize on the internal (or external) synergies. Capability gaps and human performance deficiencies are prioritized as part of the assessment. This needs assessment clarifies whether something new is required or not. We identify the need for non-real property/real property, and non-material/recommended material solutions for further development. The capability gaps and needs assessment support the Benefit-Cost analysis. All of this information is captured in the Strategic Statement of Need as evidence to support the decision of the “appropriate senior leadership”. Cost Estimate Remember, this is very early in the process so any cost estimate is preliminary, but necessary. Within the Federal world, we may be submitting an initial OMB Exhibit-300 document. Since this is directly tied to the Department budget and the Congressional Budget Cycle, it is extremely important to analyze future funding to the most detailed level possible, understanding that budgets and additional cost estimates will refine the figures. We are trying to predict costs with not much information to justify the project and to begin to define boundaries for the future acquisitions. Business Case A preliminary business case is also prepared during the Concept Definition phase. This documentation is carried forward into the next phase of the project if it is authorized by the appropriate senior leadership. Probably, you are working with a very small team at this point: you and the sponsor. There isn’t a project yet, only an idea. No project budget has been established so most of this work may be overhead. There isn’t even a Project Manager assigned because there is no project to...

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Portfolio Management as a Strategic Tool in Achieving a Digital Government

Posted by on Jul 17, 2012 in Project Management | 0 comments

In December 2010, CIO.gov published an document titled, 25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal Information Technology Management. The article stated that, agency CIOs and the Federal CIO Council spend a majority of their efforts on policymak­ing and maintaining the IT infrastructure. It also stated that as the government moves forward with the IT reforms, the CIO focus must shift toward portfolio management, the implementation of  Investment Review Boards, and a move away from low-value activities.  In addition, CIOs will be responsible for managing the portfolio IT projects within their agencies. This portfolio management role will include continuously identifying unmet needs to be addressed by new projects, terminating or turning around poorly performing projects, and retiring IT investments which no longer meet the needs of the organization. The Implementation Plan also stated that agencies will turnaround or terminate at least one-third of poorly performing projects in their portfolio June 2012. The Federal CIO Council will play a similar portfolio management role, but at a cross-agency level, and will include periodic reviews which will enable CIOs to share best practices and common sources of failure to improve success rates over time. In May 2012, the Whitehouse issued a report titled, Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People. The report outlines the Whitehouse’s Digital Government Strategy, which sets out to accomplish three primary things: Enable the increasingly mobile workforce to access high-quality digital government information and services anywhere, anytime, on any device by creating a system architecture that facilitates interoperability and openness, modernizes content publication, and delivers better, device-agnostic digital services at a lower cost. Ensure that as the government adjusts to this new digital world, by seizing the opportunity to procure and manage devices, applications, and data in smart, secure and affordable ways by breaking free from the inefficient, costly, and fragmented practices, building a sound governance structure for digital services, and implementing mobile technology capabilities correctly from the beginning. Unlock the power of government data to spur innovation by enabling the public, entrepreneurs, and government programs to better lever­age federal data for applications and services by ensuring that data is open and machine-readable by default. While the above documents are typical of those released during the past several years, they have highlighted many goals, objectives, and benefits to be derived from e-government initiatives including: Improved services to citizens and businesses Improved productivity and efficiency within government agencies Clear priorities within federal and economic sectors Improved communication and increased public participation in governmental activities The move toward  a more digital friendly government, at both the federal and local levels, find agencies facing ever-increasing internal and external challenges regarding scarcity of resources, narrowing windows of technology obsolescence, and constantly changing environments. In addition new projects are continually being added, changed, and removed in response to political pressure and on-going demands from constituents and industry. This demand for better and faster access to information and technology, necessitates the implementation of projects that  require data, skills, funding, and other resources that frequently exceed an agency’s ability to provide. This mandates that project priorities be continuously reviewed, evaluated, managed, and changed. In other words, effective project and portfolio management. An effective e-government/digital strategy includes establishing a portfolio management process that aligns government and agency objectives, builds agency consensus, clarifies...

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Can You be Agile in Your Acquisitions?

Posted by on Jul 12, 2012 in Project Management | 1 comment

This is one of the most common issues facing organization choosing to switch to Agile. Can you acquire goods and services in an Agile fashion? Can you contract with vendors to deliver in an Agile fashion? A decade ago, if you asked that question of a Scrum Master, the answer was no. One of the most notable Scrum books from that time stated that acquisitions could not be performed in an agile fashion, especially in the federal government. Well, for those of you that have done this, you realize it is possible. In 2009, the DoD presented an iterative acquisition model that was instrumental in changing how the federal government approached acquisition. They were not pursuing an iterative model to align with the Agile community, they had their own reasons. There were too many risks and too many project failures due to the typical federal acquisition process. Some of the risks they mitigated through their proposed approach were: Rapidly changing technology: Previously a “buy” decision during the budgeting process may have been performed years in advance of the use of a technology that was obsolete by the time it was needed for the project Changing requirements: As with any project, requirements change during the project lifecycle due to changes in the organization, regulatory changes, or just as new information becomes available Flexibility and Responsiveness: The military needs to be responsive in its solutions based upon the nature of the needs of the organization. The ability to deliver more frequently is important to maintaining its position as a military leader. Their approach to acquisition is identical to what we consider when performing iterative software development. Here is their approach; note how similar it is to the typical Agile Software Development practices: Early and continual involvement of the user Multiple, rapidly executed increments/releases of capability Well defined objectives but not over defined requirements for the initial increment Evolving requirements for subsequent increments/releases Mature technologies (often with short half-life that require periodic refresh) Early, successive prototyping to support an evolutionary approach Early operational release of capability from within an increment Modular, open-systems approach—designed for ease of updates Available full funding of initial increment(s); solid funding stream for next Overlapping upgrade increment(s) Making schedule the priority for releasing available capability and not requiring (or expecting) a “yes” vote from every functional organization prior to decision milestones Making sure that users are trained and prepared to receive the new capability The DoD’s adherence to The Agile Manifesto is clear. By following these practices which were originally developed to reduce risk on software development projects, the risk in acquisition projects can also be reduced. For further information, see the full Department of Defense report at http://www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/reports/ADA498375.pdf Management Concepts Inc. covers this topic throughout its Agile Project Management for the Federal Environment course. It also addresses other acquisition topics such as what types of contracts are common with vendors in an Agile environment and how to include vendors on your Agile project team. About the author Dan Tousignant, PMP, PMI-ACP is a project manager on Agile projects. He provides Agile Coaching and Training for Management Concepts, Inc. and is one of their instructors delivering the Agile Project Management for the Federal Environment...

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Project Portfolio Management – It’s Not Rocket Science

Posted by on Jul 10, 2012 in Project Management | 0 comments

David Cleland, an internationally recognized expert in project management wrote,  ”An enterprise that is successful, has a stream of projects flowing through it at all times… Senior managers must create a culture that encourages people to bring forth innovative products and process ideas and an environment that ensures rigorous assessment to determine their likely strategic fit in the enterprise’s future.” Today’s competitive business environment creates on-going challenges for companies and their management teams as they face internal and external competition for scarce resources, narrowing opportunity windows , and constantly changing customer demands.  Adding to this challenge is the fact that projects are continually being added, changed, and removed in response to a dynamic global environment and changing market conditions.  The continual addition of “needed” projects typically requires resources that exceed an organization’s capacity, mandating that project priorities be constantly evaluated and changed. In addition, the rate of change in technology, the demand to reduce lead time and  shorter time to market, increasing customer demands and the rising international competition requires better project selection and prioritization decisions in order to maximize investment benefits and minimize risks. Portfolio Management Processes Project portfolio management is a “structured” process that helps organizations select, prioritize, and manage projects based on their relative importance and contribution to the organization’s overall business and technical strategies. Portfolio management is nothing more than logically and confidently answering the following questions: What is possible – Do we have the capacity? What is needed – Does it make good business sense? What projects (opportunities) should be pursued? What projects should be started? What project should be continued? What projects should be accelerated or modified? What projects should be terminated? Project portfolio management is more than allocating resources among multiple projects. If the organization is allocating resources to the wrong projects, who cares how robust the resource allocation process is? Effective portfolio management has two areas of focus – 1. A strategic component that emphasizes strategic direction and long term objectives that guides project selection, and 2. Prioritization and a tactical or operational component that emphasizes resource optimization and project management activities. Toward these ends, project portfolio management includes three major processes: Project Selection and Prioritization, Portfolio Management and Control, and Portfolio Evaluation. Project Selection and Prioritization emphasizes creating and using well-defined criteria to make decisions about which projects to fund and determine project priorities based on their overall contribution to strategic goals and objectives. In any environment, there can only be one priority-one project. The CEO’s pet project, someone’s political clout, or an unsupported “return-on-investment” might be common methods for selecting and prioritizing projects. Without a solid objective approach to getting projects into the pipeline and making logical prioritization an organization cannot be competitive. Part of the selection and prioritization process is ensuring that an environment exists in which decision-makers are willing to make the hard decisions. After all, not all projects can nor should be funded, because not all projects add value. The key is created an environment of trust and honesty that encourages value-based decisions. Portfolio Management and Control is concerned with how the projects in the pipeline (active, pending, and on hold) will be consistently monitored and controlled to ensure that the projects within the portfolio are meeting stated goals and performance criteria. Based on project performance...

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PM Rigor – How Much is Enough?

Posted by on Jun 29, 2012 in Project Management | 0 comments

The first principle of the Project Management Principles course is “Project Management is Scalable” which should lead us to answer the question, “How much Project Management is enough?” The level of project management rigor and the number of project deliverables increases with project size, level of risk, complexity of the solution, and often the cost of the project. A thorough review of the prevailing documentation on the subject will reveal charts, graphs, and opinions on how to scale these project variables. Generally, BIG equals more rigor. Big risk, big cost, big complexity, you get the picture. I’d like to introduce two more variables for your rigor consideration: Project Manager Maturity and Organizational Maturity. Project Manager Maturity is the measure of the experience of the assigned project manager. We all remember our first PM assignment: difficult meetings, estranged team members, questioning stakeholders, sweaty palms. We followed the prescribed process very closely so as to create that defensible documentation and support our memory. As time and experience progress, we can reduce some of the rigor because we have greater confidence in ourselves and our past successes support our future performance. Your whole Project Management Plan isn’t written on a cocktail napkin, but “How Much is Enough” is easier to define and maintain with experience. Organizational Maturity is the level of understanding and support the organization has in Project Management. I once heard a manager say, “Hurry up and deliver that widget and do a little of that project management while you’re at it.” Not all organizations have Project Management Maturity. Ask yourself if the organization provides and supports tools for project management. Do they listen to project managers when requesting project management tools and processes? Are software and hardware project management needs included in budget discussions? Is Project Management certification expected and honored? Is Project Management recognized and encouraged as a profession? Do project managers regularly receive promotions? Do you have Project/Program Management Offices in the organization? The maturity question is the opposite of the BIG variables. More (BIG) risk equals more rigor. For maturity, the more mature the project manager or organization, less rigor is usually required. When determining how much is enough, include the maturity questions in the equation. You may be surprised by the...

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Are you ready for Agile?

Posted by on Jun 22, 2012 in Project Management | 0 comments

Has your Agency or organization started moving to Agile? Do you hear the word Scrum, and wonder where the Rugby game is at? Well, you may be part of the growing trend in IT organizations throughout the Federal Government. A number of federal agencies have already adopted Agile or are about to move to Agile project management: The U.S. Air Force Academy’s Institute for Information Technology Applications uses an Agile process to develop the Warfighter’s Edge (WEdge) The Automate GI Bill Benefit Initiative is one of 16 VA Transformational Initiatives designated by the Secretary and executed in an Agile Approach The Department of Labor has developed the interagency Customer Service Modernization Program (CSMP) and will be “utilizing a modular development process. Frequent, continuous, and close collaboration between the project team and participating agencies will encourage ongoing process improvements and performance evaluation.”  (Sounds Agile to me) NASA’s enterprise operations moved exclusively to Agile development after officials compared error-tracking logs of traditional projects to early efforts using Agile development. “We’re believers,” said Gene Sullivan, NASA’s associate chief information officer for enterprise portfolio management. Al Tarasiuk, the chief information officer for the CIA, stated that his agency “has also moved completely to Agile project management methodologies” The Census Bureau is considering using Agile development as it creates software for the 2020 Census I have presented Implementing Agile in the Federal Environment to over 20 different federal agencies or divisions in the last couple of months, and the experience and willingness to adopt Agile ranges the full gamut: One DOJ department who took my class is in their 18th Sprint (monthly development cycle) and going strong.  They have built a core Scrum team and are now leveraging key team members to help launch new Scrum teams. On the other extreme is an agency (not to be named) whose Deputy CIO took the class to evaluate Agile. After the first day hearing about the principles of agile and the benefits, she was ready to sign on the dotted line. By the end of the third day when we performed an activity to assess the organizational readiness using a Force Field analysis, she had reversed her position. Too many entrenched behaviors that would make it difficult to implement Agile. If you know anything about Agile, you know that it is a transformational approach to project management. Not only are you changing how you deliver software, you are changing every aspect of your organizational structure as it relates to projects, and you are expecting very different behavior from the individuals on your projects. The federal environment has some unique challenges, but many of the challenges are universal to large organizations. The two most common challenges I have faced when talking to agencies or large organizations are creating truly empowered, self-organizing teams, and embracing the Art of Possible. In future blogs, I will expand to those two challenges and provide recommendations on now to prepare to move to Agile. About the author <h3><span style=”color: #333333;”><em><strong>Dan Tousignant, PMP, PMI-ACP is a project manager on Agile projects. He provides Agile Coaching and Training for Management Concepts, Inc. and is one of their instructors delivering the Agile Project Management for the Federal Environment course....

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So…What’s the Difference Between User Stories and Traditional Requirements?

Posted by on Jun 7, 2012 in Project Management | 0 comments

This question came from a webinar I recently co-hosted for Management Concepts. This is a simple question for Agilista’s but an an appropriate question for those of you who are new to Agile. At Management Concepts, I teach a course on Agile Project Management for the Federal Environment. For the purpose of the federal audience, I want to step back and define what a traditional set of requirements are. Typically, traditional requirements are text-based requirements such as a business requirement document or functional specifications. They typically describe in detail what the business is expecting the IT department or vendor to provide. There are other types of the requirements which are less text based such as Use Cases, Wireframes for screen designs, and workflow-type of requirements called UML. They are written at the beginning of the project, and they are at an exacting level of detail.  Many Agile teams remain using these types of requirements especially if they are slowly transitioning to Agile. User Stories take a very different, extremely simple, approach. In the most simplistic version, a User Story, which is an Agile business requirement, is captured on an index card. It is presented as a conversation between the user and the developer. On the front of the card is “As a <role>, I want <goal/desire> so that <benefit>“ or even more simply …. “As a <role>, I want <goal/desire>“ Stakeholders write user stories.  An important concept is that your project stakeholders write the user stories, not the developers.  User stories are simple enough that people can learn to write them in a few minutes, so it makes sense that the domain experts (the users) write them. Some examples of user stories are: As an administrator, I want to be able to reset passwords for any user As customer, I want to be given alternatives if what I am searching for is not found As a customer, I want to be alerted if someone changes a file I created As a user, I want to search for my customers by their first and last names. Remember non-functional requirements also. For example, as an end user, I want the application to work with IE, Firefox and Safari. Another type of user story is called an Epic. Epics are large user stories, typically ones which are too big to implement in a single iteration and therefore they need to be disaggregated into smaller user stories at some point. One of the key principles of Agile is maximizing the work “not done”. User stories are the embodiment of this principle. They tell the developer only what value the business user is looking for. By not going into excruciating detail and allowing the developer to determine a solution, there is less wasted development effort. A user story first goal is be complete enough for the development team to perform relative sizing, in other words, develop an estimate. If more detail is needed later, then the stakeholder needs to be available throughout the iteration or Sprint for further discussion. User Story development can be as simple as what I’ve described if the organization is aligned for Scrum. I have included a link to a user story card template if you are interested in seeing one or using it for your team. Good luck, and...

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Is There a Role for a Project Manager on Agile Projects?

Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Project Management | 0 comments

Are you a Project Manager in an Agency or Organization moving to Agile?  Is there a role for you? The typical Agile answer to most yes or no questions is “it depends.” (but my answer is a resounding, YES!) Whether you work for the Federal Government or for private industry, you are probably wondering or even struggling with what your role will be as your organization moves to an Agile or Scrum environment. The Scrum purists are ardently against the idea of a project manager. They are in favor of a Scrum Master without any “command and control” bad habits, and yet the huge number of project managers applying for the PMI-ACPsm certification would have you believe that project managers are actively involved in Agile. I should note, that I am not a Scrum purist.  My experience with Scrum is from the early days. I was hired in the Spring of 2000 as a project manager over a Scrum project. One of the founding fathers of the Agile Manifesto had just implemented Scrum at a large organization that was trying to rapidly deploy their web presence.  I was a relatively new PMP, and I was asked to manage a software development team that had already begun using a Scrum methodology. Yes, its true, a project manager using Scrum – oh the horror of it all! I can only tell you based on my personal experience since then, I have never had trouble finding work as a project manager on Agile Projects. The only caveat, and this is where I completely align with the Agile community, is project managers should not be telling people what to do, they should be facilitating. As a project manager on Agile projects I have been successful in the role of Scrum Master and Product Owner. Both of those roles require similar competencies as the project manager role in a non-Agile environment. I never give up my title of project manager, because I believe my training and experience as a project manager are what makes me effective in either of these roles. As a consultant, I have always understood the need to modify my role for a particular client or project and Agile projects are no different. Agilistas love the term, “Adapt or Die”, I think this holds true for project managers as well.  Our industry is constantly changing, and we have to be flexible and change with it, but we don’t have to give up being a project manager, we just have to know which of our many hats that we need to wear when working on an Agile project. About the author Dan Tousignant, PMP, PMI-ACP is a project manager on Agile projects. He provides Agile Coaching and Training for Management Concepts, Inc. and is one of their instructors delivering the Agile Project Management for the Federal Environment...

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