Project Management Professional (PMP)® Training on your mobile device:
A large number of projects these days rely on virtual teams. This means that we project managers must master how we communicate in a virtual setting in order to properly lead our teams. But how do you build trust as a leader if nobody can actually see you?
This interview with Sara Gallagher was recorded at the awe-inspiring Project Management Institute (PMI)® Global Conference 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. It is based on her presentation "You Can Trust Me: Communicating When Nobody Can See Your Face" and explores tools and techniques project leaders can apply to improve communication and convey trust even in digital and virtual settings. Here is what Sara wrote about her presentation:
Trust is essential to effective communication across your team and your stakeholders - but how can you communicate trust when no one can see your face? This engaging session will examine how the four cores of trust are impacted in a digital, global communication environment. Participants will be given the opportunity to immediately apply what they've learned to improve communication across their teams.
Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.
Female Voice: In this episode of the Project Management Podcast, we learned to apply specific tools and techniques to improve communication and convey trust even in digital and virtual settings.
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to The Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com. I am Cornelius Fichtner. We are coming to you live from the inspiring 2017 PMI Global Conference in Chicago.
Cornelius Fichtner: And with me right now is Sara Gallagher. Good morning!
Sara Gallagher: Hello, good morning!
Cornelius Fichtner: How are you today?
Sara Gallagher: I’m doing great! This has been a fantastic conference!
Cornelius Fichtner: You are smiling from ear to ear. You have already presented and they invited you back!
Sara Gallagher: They do!
Cornelius Fichtner: You’re going to have to give an encore presentation.
Sara Gallagher: Yes, I’ll be speaking again at 1 o’clock today.
Cornelius Fichtner: Yeah! So you must be ecstatic.
Sara Gallagher: Well sort of. It’s funny right after you present, you’re like: "Ah, finally I can relax.” And then you get the call that you are doing it again. And it all starts again and all the prep work and everything. But it’ll be fun. I’m really excited.
Cornelius Fichtner: How do you like the energy at this conference?
Sara Gallagher: Energy has been amazing! So I’ll tell you, this has been a different conference for me in that I came alone and I don’t always do that. But I haven’t felt alone. Everywhere I’ve walked, everywhere I’ve gone, people have smiled, introduced themselves, taken me to dinner. So I found friends everywhere and in every industry, every state and many different countries. It’s been amazing.
Cornelius Fichtner: So to the people at home who are kind of on the edge: “Should I go to a conference? Should I not go to a conference?” What is your recommendation?
Sara Gallagher: Oh absolutely do it. Absolutely do it. My first conference was 2015 and I went in both feet in. I came and I also spoke at two presentations. So it’s a first-time conference experience and a first time speaking-at-a-conference experience, and it was fabulous! I get so many great little nuggets of inspiration and ideas I can take back with me, and a great network I come back with. So definitely do it.
Cornelius Fichtner: Your presentation is titled: “You can trust me. Communication when no one can see your face.” Which is something that we are doing right now!
Sara Gallagher: It is true! It’s true!
Cornelius Fichtner: Nobody can see our faces.
Sara Gallagher: Yes.
Cornelius Fichtner: What’s the story behind this particular presentation? What got you interested in this?
Sara Gallagher: Well I think some of the best topics come from personal struggle. In my line of work, I work with high-stakes projects. So these are projects that have a lot of potential business reward but if they’re executed poorly can cause pretty disastrous disruption. In that line of work, I vastly prefer to do it face to face because often there’s a lot of political agendas, complex stakeholder issues and so fewer misunderstandings occur when you can just look someone in the face and really have conversations.
And so, I struggle with this for a long time and I kind of made it my mission for a couple of years to just experiment, read, research and get better at it. So, I don’t have all the answers. I certainly don’t have a silver bullet solution but my goal with this talk was to just present some of those ah-ha moments that I’ve had, those insights and get people rolling towards a better to work online.
Cornelius Fichtner: What tools do you use to connect to people online where this has grown out of and you learn from?
Sara Gallagher: So I’ve done a couple of things. I do a lot of video conferencing and I’m a big believer in that. I think it has limitations still that people need to acknowledge. It is not the same as face to face. We’ll talk about why in a moment. But I do a lot of that both with a fully blown technology solution where you walk into a conference room and there are cameras everywhere and that type of thing. But also just Skype on my laptop which most people now have access to Skype for business or something similar. So in my mind there’s really no excuse, right, not to let people see your face when possible.
Cornelius Fichtner: Well sometimes in the morning, 7:30 no, no, no.
Sara Gallagher: Oh well that’s true. That’s true. I know.
Cornelius Fichtner: I always say, I have a face for radio.
Sara Gallagher: So I have been on video conferences with Germany, which is a 7-hour time difference and I’m full hair and makeup at like 5 in the morning at the office ready to do this. So I know all about that.
And then of course you know telephone, instant messaging, email, all of those things that people use, I’ve done that as well.
Cornelius Fichtner: Let’s take a step back and think about more the not the digital communication but the personal communication. Once you meet somebody if you’re in a meeting room together with them, what are some of the clues that we look for to determine if someone is trustworthy that we talk to?
Sara Gallagher: Well you know it’s really interesting and we have an excellent keynote yesterday that talked about this very issue. The fact of the matter is what we do look for and what we should be looking for are usually separate things.
What we do look for is body language. What are they telling us with their eyes? Where are they looking, and what are they paying attention to? And the keynote, we learned that’s not always the best clue as to what they are actually thinking. But what’s really interesting about in-person communication is you think about people you work with physically in an office, right?
All week long you have all of these micro-interactions with them. You pass them on the way to the bathroom. You tell them a joke. You tell them a story, pass along an idea that you had. And you have accumulated all of this data about this person and what motivates them and what drives them. So when you get into a conference room and you have to argue about something or you have to push your way towards a solution, all of a sudden that person is a human. They are not just a voice or an obstacle on the other end of the phone or on the other end of an email. So in a virtual environment, our goal has to be to replicate the humanity that we have with in person interactions.
Cornelius Fichtner: I had an experience once where we have an offshore team and they were just words on the other side of an email chain and one day we managed to finally be able to get them on a video conference. And just that 30‑minute conversation changed everything.
Sara Gallagher: It did?
Cornelius Fichtner: It brought us closer together. We knew them. We saw them. They were actually human beings over there, right? And they took the time. It was late for them in the evening to come and meet with us and that just personal interaction that we had there, that helped.
Sara Gallagher: It absolutely does and that’s one of the first ah-ha moments that I had is number one: The more that can you meet face to face in the beginning of a project, the better. If you can afford it, do it. But as you go along, have those touch points where they can see your face or at least hear your voice, relying more on phone than email. But help them experience that warmth.
And another thing that I’ve done is you can actually get in their physical space by simply using the postal system. So I had a stakeholder in a different state who was just notoriously difficult. I mean every interaction with this guy was just horrendous. And finally, I reached across on a video chat and I asked him to stay after a meeting and I said: “Jeff, I get the sense that you are really stressed about this project. Can you walk me through some of the things you’re thinking about with this?” I swear to God this is what he says to me: “Alright, I’ll come clean. I hate project managers.” I was like: “Okay!”
Cornelius Fichtner: One way to kill a conversation!
Sara Gallagher: Exactly! But actually it opened a conversation because I could see his face and I could see he was kind of half-joking. But we were able to have really honest conversations about his experiences in the past, what I was going to do to be different. I followed that conversation up. I learned that he was a big Reese’s Pieces fan. So I hear you’re a Gummy Bear fan.
Cornelius Fichtner: Yeah!
Sara Gallagher: Yeah, yeah! So he was a Reese’s Pieces guy. So I mailed him a bag of Reese’s Pieces and a neck pillow with a note that said: “Use this every time I’m a pain in your neck.” And just that act that warmth of him getting something from me in the mail that sat on his desk that he could tap into when he was frustrated was great. And so that’s one the techniques that I’ve kind of found along the way as well.
Cornelius Fichtner: And for our international listeners, Reese’s Pieces is a chocolate, right?
Sara Gallagher: It’s a peanut butter chocolate. Think about M and M’s that little chocolate round, yeah! It’s like that.
Cornelius Fichtner: And isn’t it in ET the movie? Isn’t that what Eliot uses to lure ET out of the shed there?
Sara Gallagher: Yeah, it is. If you have a peanut allergy, I would not recommend them, but yeah!
Cornelius Fichtner: Ah yes, okay! One of your slides in the presentation that caught my eyes, I go: “Oh, what is this, uncertainty tax?” What is the uncertainty tax?
Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only. Please subscribe to our Premium Podcast to receive a PDF transcript.
For your Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam get PMP Training on your phone from The PM PrepCast:
Advanced product quality planning (or APQP) is a framework of procedures and techniques used to develop products in industry, particularly the automotive industry.
This interview about APQP with Marygracesoleil Ericson (LinkedIn Profile) was recorded one day before the excellent Project Management Institute (PMI)® Global Conference 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.
Marygracesoleil was an attendee of the congress (not a speaker) who contacted me and suggested that we do an interview on a topic relevant to her industry. She is the PMO manager of a car audio equipment manufacturer, leading a team of program managers who build designs and coponents for the audio divisions in the automotive industry. If you have a premium sound system in your car then you might be using their speakers.
For more information about APQP please visit the APQP Wikipedia Page.
Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.
Cornelius Fichtner: In this episode of the Project Management Podcast™ we look at APQP which stands for Advanced Product Quality Planning. A framework of procedures and techniques used to develop product particularly in the automotive industry.
Hello and welcome to the Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com . We are coming to you live and one day before the excellent 2017 PMI Global Conference in Chicago. I am Cornelius Fichtner and with me right now is Marygracesoleil Ericson. Hello, Marygrace.
Marygracesoleil Ericson: Hi, how are you?
Cornelius: I’m doing very well, thank you. And thank you so much for stopping by a day before the conference.
Marygracesoleil: That’s right.
Cornelius: And doing this interview.
Marygracesoleil: I’m very excited.
Cornelius: So, you are the director of Program Management for a car audio manufacturing.
Marygracesoleil: That’s right.
Cornelius: That’s as much as we can say.
Marygracesoleil: Yeah. I lead a team of program managers that builds designs and builds component on the audio division for the automotive industry.
Cornelius: So, anybody listening to this podcast right now, driving somewhere on the freeway, listening it through their car speakers, there is a chance that it comes from your company.
Marygracesoleil: That’s right. Only the good speakers.
Cornelius: [laughs] Right. We wanted to talk today about APQP—the Advanced Product Quality Planning. Ooh, that’s a mouthful. What is it?
Marygracesoleil: APQP is basically the disciplined approach to develop PM launching new products. So, it’s the process that we follow from cradle to grave. How do we build components from when we receive the scope from the customer, how we design it, what deliverables we have up until we launch it into mass production. So that’s what we follow.
Cornelius: And when you say the process that we follow, who is “we”?
Marygracesoleil: All automotive industries follow this. All components that deliver to the automotive OEMs need to follow the APQP process.
Cornelius: OK. So, we’re talking Ford, Chrysler, Toyota—whatever car you’re driving.
Cornelius: If you are somebody who delivers components for those cars, that’s the process you follow.
Marygracesoleil: Right. And in some of the Fareast customers—they might not call it the APQP but the deliverables are the same.
Cornelius: OK. And my understanding is that APQP came into being because there are so many suppliers who not only supply to one car manufacturer but to multiple car manufacturers and they did not want to have to follow through your four different set of processes and so the car manufacturers actually got together and said, “OK, we may be competitors but we better come up with something to help our suppliers here”.
Marygracesoleil: Right. It’s more standardized.
Cornelius: OK. The process that we have and that we can hopefully place on the website has a number of steps in it. It begins with a planning cycle then a product design and development stage, a process design and development stage. After that we have the product and process validation from where it goes into production. This all looks very much plan-driven, a lot of thinking is done upfront before anything happens. Is that the case? Is that what the idea is?
Marygracesoleil: Yes, we have to plan how we design, validate and manufacture the components that get delivered to the customer. And this is what we use as the APQP. So, for my program managers, we make sure that 1). we understand the scope of what the customer wants to produce and then we make sure that we plan, we design to the requirements of each of the customers. So, each of the OEMs have different requirements in terms of how they want it to function, what type of temperature does it need to not fail—to still function and also what type of manufacturing they want or capacity they want to produce our component. So, yes, there is a lot of planning involved.
Cornelius: Remember we’re only talking about the car audio here. We’re talking about the stereo, the amplifiers, the speakers and you are delivering to that but then there are other suppliers who have similar specifications and follow the same process but they deliver the tires or whatever their particular specialty may be.
Cornelius: In your business, when I look at this cycle here, I can’t really tell how long it takes but at the end, production begins and the planning is on the far left—how long does it take from the initial planning to the production?
Marygracesoleil: In a perfect world, this sometimes could take up until three years.
Marygracesoleil: So that’s in a perfect world. We can build head units, or speakers and amplifiers for about three years but that’s in a perfect world. In reality, the timing is shorter. There’s a few reasons for that. One is, maybe the customer is not ready to give the award of business. It could potentially be because the technology changes and they want to catch up on that technology so the scope of the component changes or it could be packaging issues. Maybe they want to prioritize on one technology but they can’t package it in the car so they’re still working on it and so that makes a delay also for when we have the final scope of the components we need to deliver.
Cornelius: But if it takes normally three years, and suddenly they’re squeezing it into—what—two years, one year, shorter even?
Marygracesoleil: Yes. So, there are projects that I’ve worked on where it takes two years. There actually is one particular project that was actually condensed from a three-year project to a seven months project.
Marygracesoleil: Yes. [laughs] you know, there’s a lot of things to be done and we only have seven months and tooling alone is sixteen weeks and I’m sure that some of your listeners understand that. So, we have to plan and work with even our suppliers to make it happen.
Cornelius: Does this basically mean that you have to get started with all the other processes even though you don’t have the award of business yet? Basically, you say, “You know what, we’re probably going to get this but we can’t wait any longer. If we want to, we have to start now”.
Marygracesoleil: Right. There are core designs so whether or not some of the key elements are not finalized, there’s always that core design that we can start with but again there’s a risk of changing that core design, right? Or did we use the correct IC to have enough memory for what they’re asking for—something like that. So, that changes. But again, the core designs are already there, there are some validation that we do during the engineering design phase, which is earlier on to the development but again it doesn’t change the fact that we are pushing our sub-suppliers as well to make sure that we can deliver on time—on target for our customers.
Cornelius: Interesting because one thing that I read here is on the history of APQP, it says that this has an emphasis on upfront planning.
Cornelius: Meaning—there’s a lot of planning that happens upfront yet I hear you talk about changes and things that—and when I then look again at the various steps, planning kind of stops at some point. Physically, that arrow for planning stops and says, “After this, there’s no more planning”. At least here in the drawing but that’s obviously not the case.
Marygracesoleil: Right. So, we can only plan so much, I guess. [laughs]
Marygracesoleil: …for the scope of the project but we also need to move forward. Right. We need to move forward so that we can direct or lead our suppliers into making sure that they can build their tools so that we can deliver an actual part to the customer. So, yes, the planning in a perfect world is in the beginning but there is also a lot of recovery plan—is what we call it—where we’ve planned one thing, there’s some changes, it could be driven by the customer, it could be also driven by us as well and then we have our recovery plan. How do we make sure that the end-goal, which is the part that we deliver to the customer, they still receive at the time when they’re expecting it?
Cornelius: OK. Interesting side note here: Each of these phases has inputs and outputs—so very PMBOK Guide-like—and one thing that I was wondering here at the end of the plan and define phase, it says one of the outputs, design goals, the quality goals, special characteristics, timing—who signs off on these at this point?
Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only. Please subscribe to our Premium Podcast to receive a PDF transcript.
For your Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam get PMP Training on your phone from The PM PrepCast:
Here are some buzzwords for you:
Multi-generational teams. Generational shifts. Inter- and intra-generational communication. Multi-generational workplace. Millennials vs baby boomers. I think you get the idea... right? We’re here today to talk about how old I am... :-) Just kidding... we’re here to talk about generational sensitivity and diversity and how to make the best of it in project management.
And in order to explore this generational topic we turn to our "soft side expert" Margaret Meloni (www.margaretmeloni.com). She has been an IT and project manager for some time and has had the pleasure to work with people from many generations. And I’m not saying she’s old either...
Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.
Transcript coming soon!
Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only. Please subscribe to our Premium Podcast to receive a PDF transcript.
This episode is reserved for subscribers of the Premium Podcast. Learn how to subscribe to the Premium Podcast to access this interview and transcript...
Those of you who have, will or are preparing for your PMP exam, inevitably come across the term “Interpersonal Skills”. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, (PMBOK® Guide) mentions them, your prep books talk about them, and you find me talking about them in my PMP exam prep training lessons as well.
Leadership, team building, motivation, negotiation or trust building are some of the terms you’ll find. But there is another dimension to these soft skills that we project managers need. And that is “Emotional Intelligence”.
Margaret Meloni (www.margaretmeloni.com) has been coaching and training on the “softer side” of project management for a long time and so I’m very happy to welcome her as our expert today.
Cornelius Fichtner: In this episode of the Project Management Podcast, we get emotional and discover how the soft skill of emotional intelligence helps us be better at the hard skills.
Hello and welcome to The Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com. This is Episode 401 and I am Cornelius Fichtner. Thank you for listening in.
Those of you who have, will or are preparing for your Project Management Professional (PMP®) Exam inevitably come across the term interpersonal skills. The PMBOK® Guide mentions them. Your prep books talk about them and you find me talking about them in my PMP® Exam Prep training lessons as well.
Leadership, team building, motivation, negotiation or trust building are some of the terms that you’ll find. But there is another dimension to the soft skills that we project managers need and that is emotional intelligence.
Margaret Meloni has been coaching and training on the softer side of project management for a long time. And so, I’m very happy to welcome her as our expert today.
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello, Margaret!
Margaret Meloni: Hi! Good to be here! Thank you! Hi, everybody.
Cornelius Fichtner: Good morning, good morning! So to begin, let’s once again do a definition here. Let’s define emotional intelligence. What does emotional intelligence mean to you?
Margaret Meloni: The ability to monitor your emotions or the emotions of others and use this to guide your actions. A shorter way perhaps for me to say this is to recognize and regulate emotions in ourselves and others.
Cornelius Fichtner: Where does it come from? Who first brought up the term, wrote about it?
Margaret Meloni: Well I’ve traced this back to about 1964 and it probably even goes back beyond that. But to somebody named Michael Beldoch who did a paper on it. I’m just going to quickly go through some of the parties involved. Then in 1989, there was somebody named Stanly Greenspan who created a model to help describe what emotional intelligence was. This was picked up and used by Peter Salovey and John Mayer, not the singer.
And then we get to Daniel Goldman. If you use your favorite search engine and look up emotional intelligence, you’ll probably see a lot more about Daniel Goldman than any of these other parties. Although some of them are still actively involved in this field but you are going to see Daniel Goldman as he is very smart and he named one of his first book: EQ Emotional Intelligence. For those of us in the business world, he might be a little bit more of our go-to resource because he writes articles for Harvard Business Review and Forbes and others on a regular basis.
Cornelius Fichtner: And what is the correct abbreviation please? Is the correct abbreviation, EI or is it EQ or does it even matter?
Margaret Meloni: Well, I might get in trouble here with someone. That’s the risk I take when I say these things. I say tomato, to-mah-to.
Cornelius Fichtner: Right!
Margaret Meloni: But I will tell you is that I did run across one researcher who did use them differently and when he did, he used EI to discuss what we are born with, a potential that we are born with and he used EQ to talk about later our actual practical application of these skills. That being said, 99.9% of the time, I say EQ.
Cornelius Fichtner: Okay so whether you say EQ or EI, you mean emotional intelligence. I prefer EQ myself but that’s just because that’s the one I have grown up with.
Margaret Meloni: Exactly, exactly.
Cornelius Fichtner: Why is emotional intelligence important to us project managers?
Margaret Meloni: It is a significant differentiator in our success and I’m going to just bounce some statistics off of you and I borrowed these statistics from a man named Travis Bradberry who also does some work in this area. Basically, there is some finding that 58% of our success ties to our ability to be emotionally intelligent and that’s pretty high.
In addition, if you look at people who are talk performers, who are considered to be successful that 90% of them rate high in EQ or higher than their colleagues. And this one, I’m going to bring this one up. I’m not sure that I am completely bought into this but I want to bring it up because I find it to be very interesting that there is an indicator that goes so far as to say that for each point that we increase our EQ, we might be paid $1300 more in our salary.
Now, I didn’t go peel back the layers of that research so I don’t know if we could really make a case for that. But I think these statistics together what they are illustrating is that there is a theme and that we are going to experience more success when we are able to control our emotions and recognize what’s going on with others so that we can behave accordingly.
Cornelius Fichtner: Okay. Those are impressive numbers. But I have some other numbers for you here and those are numbers that are of interest to the project manager and the project sponsor. And that those are earned value numbers. That’s the budget. That’s the date on which I have to deliver. Those are key performance indicators. It’s the scope. Do I really need emotional intelligence to be more successful on that?
Margaret Meloni: This is the ultimate soft skills versus hard skills conversation I think or question. So if I’m just really high with my EQ, can I just forget about my earned value? No! Because there’s an expectation that I may be able to use my emotional intelligence to guide the team, to hit the goals that we have agreed upon. And so if I’m just like really fun to be around and I get along well with people but my team isn’t performing, that is going to come back to haunt me most likely.
Conversely, if I’m all about the numbers and I am a misery to work with in many fields, that is also going to come back to haunt me. So I think EQ is like the ultimate integration of our soft skills and our technical skills.
You know, so for example let’s say you are my sponsor and I do need to come into a status meeting and give you an update and tell you that we missed something in estimating and we’re going to be over budget. If I happen to know if I’ve done my work and I’ve had a chance to get to know you, and I happen to understand that budget is a hot button for you, I hope that I’m going to drop on my emotional intelligence to find the best way to present this information to you. I need to tell you, I need to tell you the truth it’s not okay for me to hide this but perhaps I can do it in a different way rather than blurting out to you: “You know, Cornelius, we’re absolutely wrong and we are $50,000 off and that’s just how it is.”
Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! With all of that out of the way, we now want to turn our attention to the PMBOK® Guide. It has a long list of knowledge areas that it covers and what we want to do is go through them. Maybe we’ll touch upon all of them. Maybe we’ll skip one or two here or there and you have prepared an example for us on how we project managers use emotional intelligence in these knowledge areas. We’ve already heard one from cost.
So let’s not start with project integration management, that definitely we want to do last because we first want to learn about all the others and then integrate it. So let’s turn our attention to scope, project scope management. How do we use emotional intelligence in scope management?
Margaret Meloni: Well and you know in scope management, when it’s that time when we are preparing the scope and we’re trying to get the definition clear and people are beginning to get antsy: “When are you going to get this nailed down? Common! Hurry up!” And people are feeling pressured to agree to the scope and move on. Maybe it doesn’t happen to all of you but I’ve certainly seen that plenty of times. And you see a stakeholder who appears to be unhappy but doesn’t want to stand up to the momentum and wants to go along and sign it. But you can see that they are unhappy and they are signing off grudgingly, what do you do? Do you just say: “Ah well, they signed it. So too bad about them!” Or do you follow up with them to find out: “You seemed unhappy with the scope. I just want to come back to you and no matter what if there’s an issues, let’s work through it now because it’s going to haunt us later.” So you see that’s a way of sensing in the scope process that you think you really have it nailed but you really don’t because somebody is really not happy.
Cornelius Fichtner: What about project time management?
Margaret Meloni: You know you are still my sponsor because I’m not going to let you get away from me. But now that important constraint is time. It’s the deadline and I can see a forecast that we’re going to be over by 4 days. I can see that my time is working overtime, my team excuse me, is already working overtime. They are dog-tired, if you’ll pardon the expression, and I don’t know how I can get more out of them and yet I know that the business need is really needed this and we can’t be late.
I’m not going really need to drop on my emotional intelligence to work with all of you to help come up with a solution. It’s likely the solution may still involve asking the team to give more. It may involve asking you to maybe to concede to two days late. I may need to ask you: “Can we bring in some temp labor and increase the budgets?” But in order to help with the team, and I may have to remind everyone that a team who is really pushed in overtired is likely to have some quality issues and some illness issues. And so, I really going to need to pull on what I’m feeling by the way at that time, which is I’m freaking out and pull on all of that so we can all sit down and come up with a solution.
Cornelius Fichtner: Earlier on, you’ve already given us an example for cost management. Do you have a second example for us?
Margaret Meloni: Well let’s say, so you as my sponsor, let’s say you are super helpful and one of the ways in which you are so helpful is you give us some estimates, more in the middle of estimating. You used to work in a certain area and you used to purchase a certain kind of material. And so you say: “You know I want to help you out and you don’t need to go research these estimates because I know this is how much these materials cost.”
And my subject matter expert looks at your estimates and it came down immediately to the supplier that we used for those materials and prove that your estimates are wrong because that’s not in any way awkward because you are the sponsor and you’re trying to help us and you used to work in this area, and you’re wrong and my subject matter expert can prove that you’re wrong. And I don’t want to move forward with your estimates because I’m going to be off in the budget and sooner or later, I’m going to have to say ‘why’ and so you can see where I might have to draw on my emotional intelligence to: “How do I do this? Do I just not use your estimates and hope you don’t notice? Do I sit down with you privately? Do I bring he subject matter expert into it or does that going to embarrass you or do I just bring you a print out to say, look what has happened, or we’re obligated to use this specific vendor and that’s how much these materials cost at this vendor?” I got to pick the best way to handle this.
Cornelius Fichtner: How do we use emotional intelligence in the area of quality management?
Margaret Meloni: Let’s say that I am at a CMMI level IV or V where we use auditors and we have an auditor assigned to me as a project manager and the QA Auditor, I worked some place we call them QA Reviewers. Their job is to review how I’m running the project, to make sure that I’m following the processes that we say we’re going to use to run a project and my QA Auditor or reviewer finds a problem in my project management plan.
My project management plan has already been signed. My sponsor and stakeholders are happy and we moved on. But in the eyes of the QA Auditor, this is not okay. And the conflict is that their job is to make sure that I’m doing things and following the process and I want to try to follow the process and I didn’t make a mistake on purpose. But now we’ve moved on and I don’t see the value in following back and spending time and updating a plan that everybody seems to be fine with and they are using.
Now this auditor and I and perhaps others, we need to sit down and discuss what is really the best thing for the project without it being about missing: “That silly, we’ve moved on. Get over it.” Without the auditor saying: “This is how it is. You must stick to it.” So we’re going to have to find a way to be able to sit down and talk about this.
Cornelius Fichtner: Then we have human resources management and this is probably the area where everybody can see: “Oh yeah, emotional intelligence, human resources. They probably go hand in hand.” How do we as project managers though apply emotional intelligence here? What example do you have for us?
Becoming better at project management and by extension also becoming a better project manager does not necessarily mean learning about and then also implementing the latest tools, techniques or methodologies. Instead, it can simply mean that you start paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally. That’s mindfulness.
Mindfulness as a business practice and leadership tool has seen a significant increase in press coverage lately. It originally started out as a means for improving yourself and your interactions with others but you will find that many leadership articles in the large business journals will make reference to it.
And so we are very glad to welcome Margaret Meloni (www.margaretmeloni.com) to look at Mindfulness for Project Managers with us today. We will give you a definition, discuss the benefits, but most importantly we go through a number of familiar project management situations to see how mindfulness will help us improve and become better leaders.
Cornelius Fichtner: In this episode of the Project Management Podcast™, we look at how mindfulness will not only help you to be more in the moment but deliver better projects as a result.
Hello and welcome to the Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com . This is Episode #400 and I am Cornelius Fichtner. Thank you for joining us. If you listen to the podcast regularly, then you will probably already have noticed that this didn’t sound like it used to and you would be right. We have decided to make a few minor adjustments here and there in the show’s structure. But of course, we are going to continue to bring you expert guests and quality interviews. The topic today is Mindfulness and our guest is Margaret Meloni. Becoming better at Project Management and by extension also becoming a better project manager does not necessarily mean learning about it and also implementing the latest tools, techniques or methodologies. Instead, it can simply mean that you start paying attention in a particular way on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally. That’s mindfulness. Mindfulness as a business practice has seen a significant increase in press coverage lately. It originally started out as a means for improving yourself and your interactions with others but you will find that many leadership articles in the large business journals will make reference to it. And so, we are very glad to welcome Margaret Meloni to look at Mindfulness for project managers with us today. We will give you a definition, discuss the benefits but most importantly we will go through a number of familiar Project Management situations to see how Mindfulness will help us improve.
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello Margaret and welcome to the 400th podcast episode.
Margaret Meloni: Wow! Cornelius, thank you!
Cornelius Fichtner: Mindfulness. What exactly is mindfulness? How do you define it?
Margaret: Simply, and yet it’s not simple. It’s pure awareness. When you first become aware of something, there’s this moment of pure awareness. Before you start hanging all your thoughts and stuff on it, before you start conceptualizing it and framing it. For example, when an idea pops in your head and it feels like it came from nowhere, the moment before you start putting all kinds of mental parameters around it, that’s mindfulness. When out of nowhere you realize why you [audio glitch] the budget presentation, that’s a form of mindfulness. It’s present-time awareness, it’s non-judgmental observation, it’s non-egoistic. So, if you’re aware of something and not putting in the context about how it’s about you and your world and this is an odd one for those of us who are project managers, it’s actually goal-less. It’s actually goal-less but it can actually help us meet our goals and we’ll talk about that later. It’s awareness of change and all of the above is essentially with some form of meditation or practice of quieting the mind. See, it’s simple but not simple.
Cornelius: What can our Project Management Podcast™ listeners expect to learn from this discussion here today?
Margaret: Well, a better understanding of what mindfulness is –why mindfulness can make you a better project manager, why mindfulness is more than just a buzz word, how to practice mindfulness on your own and also with your team.
Cornelius: And what are some of the specific benefits of being more mindful?
Margaret: Mindfulness actually reminds us of what we’re supposed to be doing. When we have these moments of pure awareness, they help to re-focus us. For example, if you became aware that the communication you just sent did not have any intended result, your next thought is about focusing on what to do about it. So it helps with focus and concentration. It’s not concentration, by the way, but it leads to concentration so that a flash of where to place your attention which then helps you develop your concentration skills. Flashes of pure awareness drive creativity and problem solving. It helps you self-regulate and we’ve had conversations in the past about emotional intelligence or self-control or self-regulation as a key part of emotional intelligence. It reduces stress and anxiety. It reduces bias, because remember we said it’s non-judgmental observation so when you can foster this non-judgmental observation, this attitude carries into your everyday thoughts and interactions. And when you have more non-judgmental moments and less bias, you have stronger professional and personal relationships. So while we’re discussing soft skills, [audio glitch] fit to the bottom line. When you have it in place, you’re healthier, form stronger teams and have reduced anxiety, you have a competitive advantage.
Cornelius: In preparation of this interview, I went ahead and I purchased a magazine –it’s called the Mindfulness Magazine. What I noticed is the fact that the articles in the magazine, they’re all aimed at you and me as individuals, helping us with mindfulness in our private life. But then I saw that all the advertising in the magazine was for Mindfulness Training aimed at businesses. So, bring us in as consultants, we’ll help you become more mindful in your business. How big is mindfulness in corporations for business use?
Margaret: It’s big and growing. A lot of corporations are eager to find the next tool or technique to help them advance. I’ll say that’s the buzz word aspect of all these. Remember there was a time when authenticity was the buzz word? Authenticity is important but sometimes it’s over-used. Accountability was an over-used buzz word. It’s important to be accountable but –there’s some aspect of mindfulness where it’s becoming this popular buzz word, the next big thing BUT there’s a value here that we want to hang on to. I just want to give you some backgrounds here. In 2015, Harvard Business Review in one of their articles said this: Mindfulness should no longer be considered a “nice-to-have” for executives. It’s a “must-have”, a way to keep our brains healthy to support self-regulative, affective decision-making capabilities and to protect ourselves from toxic stress.
When Harvard Business Review says something is a “nice-to-have”, that’s certainly a call—a call to arms –if I would say that mindfulness is peaceful but that’s the saying that came to mind and to come to this year, 2017 in Inc., mindfulness-based businesses are listed as one of the best industries for starting a business. So you can expect more, and that’s get to some of the meat here. Right now, it’s estimated to be a $1.1B industry in the United States.
Cornelius: Wow! I’m going to start the Mindfulness podcast pretty soon if you continue to market it to me like this. [laughs]
Margaret: Yup. And also, there’s a lot of good there and then like anything else where something becomes popular and everyone charges over to it, we want to be mindful in our selections of our sources to help us with these, right? —which we’ll talk a little bit more about that later.
Cornelius: Yeah. So, let’s start bringing this all together for project managers. We, project managers, we often lead projects that innovate our business. Maybe we have to define new processes for our organization or develop new products. Is there a link between mindfulness and the innovation-type work that we do?
Margaret: Absolutely! Now mindfulness helps to quiet the mind. It helps us when we say—we talk how mindfulness leads to focus and concentration. What we mean is because it reduces all that chatter that’s going on, the “Oh my gosh I have to go to the grocery store”, “Oh, by the way, did I close that door and should I close the windows before I go out?” and “Oh, this person needs me to send this budget report”. All of that. Mindfulness helps to quiet that chatter and when our chatter is quiet or—let’s say it another way, when we have silenced the cognitive control network, we are more capable of divergent thinking and why do we care about divergent thinking? So those of you who have studied problem solving—team problem solving or even individual problem solving but I’m thinking of the team problem solving model, we want to lead our team members through divergent thinking. That’s the—pardon the cliché—thinking outside of the box, coming up with all kinds of great creative ideas and so that type of thinking again it requires that silencing of the cognitive control network—that constant chatter that goes on in our minds, and also that voice that judges ideas, so that unfortunately sometimes in a brainstorming or divergent thinking session, somebody will think of something and then they’ll stop themselves, they’ll judge themselves and they won’t let the idea come out. And we want those ideas to come out so we want to silence that chatter so that we can allow those brainstorming ideas to come out.
Cornelius: Mindfulness is a soft skill but managing the budget, schedule, scope and risks on our projects, they’re more leaning towards the hardest side of the things that we have to do. Can we use mindfulness in those areas and how do we do that?
Margaret: Sure. You know, again, mindfulness is not concentration but it leads to concentration. When I can spend some time daily just quieting my mind and allowing myself to have some of these flashes of pure awareness, later I am able to have more concentration and letting me know where I should place my attention. So a question for you and everyone listening: “Have you ever messed up a schedule or budget because you’re so overwhelmed by everything else?”
Margaret: OK, well, you’re perfect. But—I have.
Margaret: You can’t see me because we’re in a podcast but I’m over here raising my hands. I have. Have you ever made a mistake due to stress?
Margaret: Have you ever had to work with a team to come up with a creative response to a risk?
Cornelius: Almost daily.
Margaret: And remember mindfulness helps us to be able to have more of that creative thinking. Have you ever realized that your presentation about the facts of a project was falling flat—that you’re losing your audience and your support?
Cornelius: [laughs] Yeah, yeah.
Margaret: I mean, maybe not you, but certainly—oh my gosh—when I was new, some of my beginning presentations, so many people I should call and apologize to.
Margaret: As you have more mindful moments, and as your cognition improves, your ability to handle distractions improves and distractions take away from our ability to do a good job with the schedule and the budgets and the risks because if I’m a distracted thinker, then no matter what the task at hand is, I can’t do as good a job. So when we can handle distraction, we can be good at the hard skills.
Cornelius: Yeah, I agree, yes. Sometimes you’re just in the zone and you just hear and everything seems to click and then you’re just moving forward so much better. Is the zone part of mindfulness?
For your Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam get PMP Training on your phone from The PM PrepCast:
The one thing I really like about project management is how unpredictable my days can sometimes be. I come to the office in the morning with a clear plan of what we are going to do today, and then something happens.
Maybe something breaks, a critical resource is unexpectedly not available today, or -- even more normal -- the customer wants a change and he wants it now. I love this challenge, because as a project manager I now have to re-evaluate the situation and change my plans accordingly. That is situational project management.
However, there's more to situational project management than just responding with a knee-jerk reaction. These times demand situational awareness, skill and finesse from us project managers.
And so I’m very happy to welcome Oliver Lehmann (www.oliverlehmann.com -- www.linkedin.com/in/oliverlehmann/) who literally wrote the book on this topic. The book is called Situational Project Management the dynamics of success and failure.
Most of this interview is on technical aspects, but a little over 15 minutes are on leadership topics. That is why you can claim 0.50 'technical' and 0.25 'leadership' PDUs.
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode #399. This is The Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com and I am Cornelius Fichtner.
The one thing I really like about project management is how unpredictable my days can sometimes be. I come to the office in the morning with a clear plan of what we are going to do today and then something happens. Maybe something breaks, critical resources, unexpectedly not available today, or even more normal, the custom of once a change and of course he wants it today. I love this challenge because as a project manager, I now have to reevaluate the situation and change my plans accordingly. That is situational project management.
If you are a project manager who wants to become PMP or PMI-ACP Certified then the easiest way to do so is with our sister Podcast --- The PM PrepCast or The Agile PrepCast and study for the exam by watching the in-depth exam prep video training from www.pm-prepcast.com.
However, there is more to situational project management than just responding with a knee jerk reaction. These times demand situational awareness skill and finesse from us project managers.
So I’m very happy to welcome Oliver Lehmann who literally wrote the book on this topic. The book is called “Situational Project Management – The Dynamics of Success and Failure”.
And now, please get situated. Enjoy the interview!
Female Voice: The Project Management Podcast's feature interview: Today with Oliver Lehmann, Project Management Trainer, Speaker, Coach and Author.
Cornelius Fichtner: Hallo, Oliver! [Ich heiße sie willkommen]
Oliver Lehmann: Hallo, Cornelius! [Schön dich zu sehen].
Cornelius Fichtner: So to begin, let’s define what we are going to be discussing in this interview. What is your definition of situational awareness?
Oliver Lehmann: Situational awareness builds on a very simple observation, the same tools, the same practices, the same behaviors, the same approaches that are successful. And when project situation may fail in another one. So we rely on simple best practices. They may sometimes match the situation and be the right thing to do and sometimes they lead into disaster. So we should always ask ourselves: Am I doing the right thing for the right situation, the right moment, the right environment, context in which we are, and so on…
Cornelius Fichtner: And then what do we mean by situational project management?
Oliver Lehmann: Situational project management begins with the same observation. The same thing that can lead to success. One project in a specific situation in a project may fail in another one but we want to a bit more than that. We want to understand what are the practices. What are the specific tools maybe? What are approaches that match a given situation?
If we understand the situation, we can select the right practices to manage this situation and my book tries to give some help in that. It has still some open questions there because I think we haven’t fully understood how situational project management in old situations works, but I think I can give help for many situations already based on some research together with group of experts based on my experience with over 20 years in project management training and before that over 12 years in practicing project management.
Cornelius Fichtner: And let me guess, if I’m not planning my project and I’m just improvising from moment to moment, that has nothing to do with situational project management, right?
Oliver Lehmann: It may have to do with that sometimes because you have situations where planning is impossible. Too much planning may be detrimental for your project because sometimes the way is made by walking. There are project situations where you cannot do a lot of planning. You just have to do the projects step by step and with each step, you make a new decision where to go to. You develop something and you invest development. You have some results and then you make new decisions based on these results and so on.
There are project situations where this is the right approach like driving in the fog with a car for instance. It’s a very similar situation. But then you have situations where you can look far into the future of your project like on the road where you can see a long distance ahead of you and you can do a lot of long-term plans and they can just come together. Sometimes it has to do with situational project management.
Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! So that’s situational awareness and situational project management. Are there any other related terms that we should be aware of before we get started?
Oliver Lehmann: Yeah! There is one term that I found very helpful here and I call it navigating between two monsters. I think project management in many dimensions is a process where we have something extreme on the right and something extreme on the left.
When you look into the future just the topic we just had, can I do a long term predictions or do I need to go for more Agile methods which work with the short-term decisions and sprints and these things. Navigating between two monsters means we start somewhere in the middle and from time to time we have to move more to the left, maybe to the Agile side. Another times more to the predictor side. So we should be able to adjust our behavior to that.
There are many other questions like: Do we need to make a strong stance in a given situation or is it better to be more soft and more acceptable what other people want from us? Do we need to be heroes and single fighters or are we more collaborative or more integrated in a group? And there are many other questions like navigating between two monsters means, rarely the good way to go is rarely the extreme way. We have to find a way somewhere in the middle between these extremes and sometimes more turn to one side or to the other side but balancing things out, that’s a big part in project management. And that’s something project managers should be able to do.
Cornelius Fichtner: Okay and you’ve pretty much also answered my next question because I was going to ask you: Can you give me a few more examples of situations where we need awareness and situational project manager like I gave in the introduction. Do you have anything more for us? When do we really need it?
Oliver Lehmann: We need it all the time, first of all! I think project managements are situational. Most of us do this somehow. They are not doing this methodologically. They do it by inspiration and by emotions and by feelings and by experience and all those things, by instinct maybe, all the things that drive project managers and they know they have to adjust to given situations. But I have a very specific example just here in Germany, we had 2 major station projects, main station projects here in the last couple of years. One of those two was a great, great success. This was the Berlin Main Station.
And there was a second one some years later running into a deep trouble, deep crisis, which was the Stuttgart Main Station. And the interesting thing is, it was run by the same organization, the Deutsche Bahn German Railway. It was run by using the same approaches, the same method. It is the same deliverable more or less that it brings out. It even was the same project manager, a guy from Egypt. One project, he was extremely successful and then the other one, he ran the project into crisis. At one point in time, he had to leave the project, had to give up his position there. Another interesting question is what is different between those two projects which make one project successful and the other one a failure with the same approaches, with the same tools, the same methods and so on. So that is my favorite example.
To give you the answer for those two projects: The Berlin Main Station was a Greenfield project. It was the old death strip between East and West Berlin where they had a lot open space and just could build a station there without having to take too much care of stakeholders, of people living around.
Stuttgart was in the middle of a city. People living around, people afraid of their houses. This was where it started because they had to drill ton loads under occupied neighborhoods. In difficult geological areas and people are afraid of their houses on top. They wanted to talk with the project manager and he was not prepared to talk with them about their fears and the problem is always when you have a lot of stakeholders and you just ignore them, they will come back and they will bring their friends with them and they will bring loyals with them and this is exactly what happened there.
So the question is first of all: How can we understand the situational requirements on project managers which may be very different even if it seemingly all looks the same. And the other thing we need to understand is how do we need to adjust our approaches and our behaviors and the Stuttgart project and the crisis project, intensive stakeholder management would have been extremely important. It was not that important in Berlin.
Cornelius Fichtner: My next question is going into exactly the opposite side from situational awareness and situational project management. Do you have an example for us when we cannot be situational, where things are black and white and you just have to go one way or the other even as a very experienced project manager, situational project management does not apply in this situation?
Oliver Lehmann: There is one moment I think when you have to be very strict, very strong when we have no gray shade or something like that and that’s when it is about your professional integrity when it comes to questions of bribery of corruption, of discrimination of people based on gender, on skin color, religion or whatever it is. I think we have to be unsituational. I don’t know if such a word exist.
Cornelius Fichtner: No, sure, it does exist here.
Oliver Lehmann: We have to be very clear and very strict and very straight in these situations.
Cornelius Fichtner: Okay! The companies that I worked for, they always had a clearly defined project management methodology and that methodology told me what to do and when to do it. What considerations do we project managers have to make before we deviate from the prescribed methodology?
Oliver Lehmann: First of all, I was a trainer for this kind of methodologies for many years. Before I started as a PMP trainer with PMP preparation as a main business, I helped companies as an external trainer to teach their new methodologies to their teams. I know these methodologies quite well. I know their strengths and I know their weaknesses.
There is one thing project managers have to take care of. These methodologies, if they are good methodologies, they provide a lot of support and a lot of help and make lives to some degree easier. But sometimes, they don’t really put the needs of the project.
I remember one case, there was a methodology in an organization which was developed for a project of a certain size, a typical size that they had in this organization and a project manager approached me and asked me: “Oliver, I can’t use this methodology that you trained to us. I cannot use it in a given project. Can you just come over and have a look at that?” And they picked me a day just to have a look at their project and it took me not even 5 minutes to agree with him because this project was far too big for the methodology. It was not scalable enough for such a project. And I told him: “Make a note, put it in your project documentation why you have to deviate from this methodology. You can say that you talked with me and that I agreed to you. At this very moment, you have a good explanation for that.”
Two days later, I got a very angry phone call from the PMO Manager of this organization: “How can you do that? We hired you. We pay you that you will help people use it or that you make people use the methodology but you cannot tell people to deviate from that.” We then had 10 minutes discussion on the details and the PMO had to agree: “Yeah, it’s okay. It’s right.” So you have to have a good explanation if you deviate from a methodology. But if you have that, as a project manager, your business and your profession is not to follow methodologies. It’s to deliver successful projects without destroying the organization.
Cornelius Fichtner: What about if we work in a controlled environment. For example, in healthcare business or in a bank or insurance where we have to follow externally-imposed regulations.
Oliver Lehmann: A, I don’t believe that outside of laboratories, there is such a thing as a controlled environment. Controlled environment is a glass tube. It’s in Chemistry or somewhere else.
The other thing is of course, you have to meet requirements and if you have legal requirements, if you have requirements from government agencies. Maybe also internal organizational requirements to meet then you have to meet them, that’s very simple.
If you have a deadline, you have to meet the deadline. If you have to have funding available then you at least have to try to do the project with the funding available and if you have to meet leader requirements, you cannot have a project against the law.
Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! You already mentioned best practices earlier on. Best practices many times, they are common sense recommendations that have helped many others before us to be successful in the past. When do we accept and when do we reject best practices for our project?
For your Project Management Professional (PMP)® Exam Training
Every project that you and I have ever and will ever manage depends on people’s skills.
The sponsor relies on you as the project manager to successfully lead the team, you rely on the team to have what it takes to create all the deliverables at the required quality, and the end user -- the recipient of what you and the team deliver -- must have the skills to use the product you finally give them.
But what if the skills don’t match up to the tasks at hand? What if a team member is lacking a skill? What if the technology is so new and different that your users will have a hard time with it? The answer is of course coaching, mentoring and training.
And there is no one better than Susanne Madsen (www.susannemadsen.com -- www.linkedin.com/in/susanne-madsen-1134312) who coaches and mentors project managers into project leaders to come on the program and help us understand these three similar yet different activities.
This interview is 42:34 minutes long. This means that you can "legally" only claim 0.50 PDUs for listening to it, because in order to claim 0.75 PDUs the interview must be 45 minutes long. However... if you first listen to the interview and then also read the following article from Susanne about coaching and project management, then you can go ahead and claim 0.75 PDUs!Click to read the article
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode # 398. This is the Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com and I am Cornelius Fichtner. Every project that you and I have ever and will ever manage depends on people’s skills. The sponsor relies on you as the project manager to successfully lead the team. You rely on the team to have all it takes to create all the deliverables at the required quality and the end-user, the recipient of what you and the team will deliver, well, they must have the skills to use that product that you’re finally going to give to them. If you are a project manager who wants to become PMP or PMI ACP-certified, then the easiest way to do so is with our sister podcast, the www.PMPrepCast.com or the www.AgilePrepCast.com and study for the exam by watching the in-depth Exam Prep video training from www.PMPrepCast.com, But what if the skills don’t match up to the task at hand? What if a team member is lacking a skill? What if the technology is so new and different that your end-users will have a hard time with it? The answer is of course Coaching, Mentoring and Training and there is no one better than Susanne Madsen who coaches and mentors project managers into project leaders to come on the program and help us understand these three similar yet different activities. And so, let us get going with our training on Coaching, Mentoring and Training. Enjoy the interview.
Female Voice: Project Management Podcast™ Feature Interview. Today with Susanne Madsen, Project Leadership coach, author and speaker.
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello, Susanne, good afternoon.
Susanne Madsen: Hello, Cornelius, good morning.
Cornelius: Yes, we have just determined we really seem to be living in an alternate universe while it’s 9 degrees Centigrade here in California, it’s like 13 degrees in London. I’m moving. It’s warmer where you are.
Susanne: Yes. It’s really good because this doesn’t happen that often for us. [laughs]
Cornelius: Yeah. To begin, let’s review each of the terms—a quick definition as it relates to projects. So, what is coaching?
Susanne: Coaching—there are many different ways of describing it but I think for the listeners, it’s useful to think of it as a technique that we can use outside the project or inside the project to facilitate learning and reflection through questions. That sentence is really important –facilitate learning and reflection through questions. So, it means that we do that—we answer those questions in a way that empowers a team member to find his or her analysis. Again, that’s very, very important because coaching is not about giving advice and it doesn’t involve the coach telling people what to do or how to do it. That’s a big misconception. When we coach someone, we really assume that they have the answers to the problems themselves. We as coaches just really need to empower them and help them to find those answers so I think that really in a nutshell is what it is.
Cornelius: And then what is mentoring?
Susanne: Mentoring is again a technique which allows the team member to learn from a master so someone who has more experience than themselves. In mentoring, we receive guidance and support and advice from a senior expert. And notice here the difference—the word advice comes in—so in mentoring, we do give advice because it’s from someone who’s been there, had done it and who can assist team members and junior project managers and show them how to do it. So, it’s more hands-on than coaching.
Cornelius: And of course then also how does training differ from both of these?
Susanne: Yes, of course there are overlaps between all of these terms and there is quite a lot of overlap between mentoring and coaching but I think training is a little bit different again because training really is more based on a standard curriculum. So, I would say that training is a technique that allows a team member to acquire knowledge, skills and theory from more of a standard curriculum where coaching and mentoring is more tailored so that means a training is more skills-based—it’s more like we transfer skills. It’s more theoretical and less tailored to the individual than coaching and mentoring is.
Cornelius: Yeah. It’s pretty much what we’re doing with this interview here, right?
Susanne: Which one of them?
Cornelius: This one right now. The training.
Susanne: Yes. So, we are giving knowledge but we’re not telling people how to implement it longer-term, that’s right.
Cornelius: OK. And where do motivational techniques fit in to all of these?
Susanne: Yeah, I was thinking about that because it’s a little bit of a parallel track really but it is related, I would say, as a parallel track because you can use mentoring, coaching and training, as a way to motivate someone. In that sense, all of these coaching, mentoring and training could be used as a motivational technique. For instance, if we allow a team member to train in PMP –that could be very, very motivating if that’s what they really want to do or it could be demotivating for instance if you ask people on your team to go to a sales training course. They’ll go “Well, why do I want that?” So, in that sense, it definitely has the power to motivate but there are also another angle because there are lots of motivation techniques that sit outside of training, mentoring and coaching. For instance, we might say, “What is a motivational technique in the first place?” I’d say that is when we use a technique that helps a person to unlock their passion and enthusiasm for that job. So, when we do something that allows people to increase their enthusiasm—that’s really motivating. Other techniques than coaching, mentoring and training could be praising someone. When you praise someone for a job well done, it means that they feel good about their job and they feel that they’re needed for the job or if I give someone an exciting new task to do that really develops them and stretches them and place their strengths, again those actions will help the person to deepen the passion and enthusiasm for the work. In summary, motivation techniques can be training, coaching and mentoring in itself or it can be additional techniques as long as they help us to increase a person’s passion and enthusiasm for their job.
Cornelius: Excellent, Thank you. So, what we want to do now is we want to look at coaching, mentoring and training in more detail especially how it relates to Project Management and to do that, I have prepared a series of questions for you for each of these—it’s actually the same set of questions, we’re going to run through them for coaching, mentoring and training. Here we go with coaching. So, what are the three things that a project manager must know about coaching?
Susanne: Firstly, I would say that coaching is not about giving advice and I think that’s a big misconception. Mentoring is more about that but not coaching. It is really about asking questions and helping a person to find their own answers. Because that’s much more empowering. Secondly, coaching can be formal, or it can be informal. I’m a qualified coach and that means that I oftentimes coach people in a very formal way. We set an hour aside, where I help someone with a particular aspect of their job and on a project, we can do the same thing. We can coach formally, set an hour aside, go into a meeting room with someone on your team and help them –for a situation for instance where they would like to get better interfacing with a client. That’s very formal. Or we can coach informally which means that we coach on the fly. As we’re having conversations with team members, instead of giving advice, we ask insight for questions and get them to think for themselves. For instance, if someone comes up to you and asked you, “How do you want me to do this? How do you think I should do that?” It is so easy for us just to tell them what to do but instead we turn it around and we say “Well, you know, what would you like to achieve?” or “What might happen if you do so and so?” You know, we ask questions instead of just giving advice. And number 3—I’ll really say that to call ourselves a coach and to say that we’re coaching, I would really say that we need some kind of a qualification. We can’t qualify—I don’t know of any qualifications in mentoring but there are qualifications in training because there is a method. There is a coaching method and I’d actually encourage the listeners here to why not go and get a coaching qualification. It doesn’t have to be six months, you have actually also short courses on it. If we engage in such learning about being a coach, we are likely to develop our listening skills and our poor building skills which either way are great assets when we are project managers.
Cornelius: When is it appropriate to use coaching on our projects?
Susanne: Well, it is very appropriate to use when we are in front of a person on a team who is very capable of finding the answers for him or herself but we just need to help them uncover it. So, for instance, in situations where the team member is quite skilled, they have the knowledge but maybe the need to strengthen the level of motivation. Maybe they’re not so driven at the moment or they need to find clarity in a certain situation so it’s not about the skill, it’s not about the knowledge. It’s about clarity. Or if you want to help someone to step up and strengthen their leadership skills—interpersonal skills, because these are situations where it’s not just about knowledge. It’s more about how we look at it and as a coach you can help someone to gain insight into those situations so they’re that great situations for coaching.
Cornelius: Do you have an example for us regarding when and how to best use coaching in a project setting?
Susanne: Let’s take an example—let’s say a technically competent team member who knows their stuff really well, they know the technicalities and they come up to you and they are preparing for a meeting with a client and this person’s asking you, “How should I do this presentation? How should I do this client presentation?” And it’ll be so easy for us to just go and say, “You know what, I would do XYZ, why don’t you do that?” But instead in this example, in a coaching mode, we would go, OK. What would you like to achieve with the presentation? Who’s the audience? What would you like them to do as a result of having listened to your presentation? How much interaction do you think is important to have with your audience? And so, we guide them through asking a number of questions here, we guide them to find the answers because this is not about actually having the technical understanding. It’s really about making them think about what they’re trying to achieve with the presentation.
Cornelius: And when should we not use coaching on a project?
Susanne: So, we should be cautious about using coaching when we are in front of a more junior person, someone who’s new in a role who doesn’t really have the knowledge. So, you’ve got someone who is new, and just imagine it would be very frustrating for them if you go up and ask them, “What are you trying to achieve? How do you think the client would react to this?” They don’t know because they’re new so it would be inappropriate to ask them too many questions.
Cornelius: And what’s the No.1 mistake that we project managers make when it comes to coaching?
Susanne: I think that the No.1 mistake is to be trying to solve a problem. We all love to be problem solvers because it makes us feel good, it makes us feel wanted and needed but solving the problem and giving someone the answer just isn’t always the right thing to do because it doesn’t make people think for themselves, it is less empowering and if I may, I would add a second mistake –and the second mistake is that we just don’t listen enough. We think that we’re coaching someone, we think we’re there trying to help someone else out but what’s happening is we’re listening to our own internal dialogue. Listening is super important for coaching.
Cornelius: How have you personally used coaching in a project setting?
Susanne: Because Cornelius I’m a qualified coach, I’ve actually used coaching quite formally—also informally but I think it’s worthwhile mentioning here how we can use formal coaching. So, I have set on my projects, I’ve set time aside for coaching sessions with different types of people on my projects and in these situations, there had been people who knew that they were getting coached by me and they wanted it. So, for instance I’ve been coaching some very high potential people who really wanted to progress and who are ready to learn and we met and we set aside between one and one and a half hours every 3-4 weeks. We’d book a meeting room and I would coach her through where she wanted to go on the project and in her role, etc. but I’ve also coached formally underperformers –actually people who have been put on an improvement plan by Human Resources. This was a question of someone who had a track record of underperformance and the same way we were scheduling regular meetings and I was helping this person, guiding this person through, what their strengths were, how we could really grow them in the project context.
Cornelius: What motivational techniques go alongside with coaching?
Susanne: We’ve mentioned a couple here. The first one I would mention is goal-setting. When we coach someone it’s very important that we look at the goals. What is it that we’re trying to achieve or what’s the problem we’re trying to solve—we need to understand what we’re moving towards. That’s actually very motivating. It’s a motivation technique to understand where we’re going and it’s positive for someone that’s motivated to work something new. We all have that intrinsic need to grow and to develop. So that is definitely appropriate and in many corporate environments, we also have personal development plans, if not the more frequently we do them once a year, what are we going to do next year to develop this person. Goal setting is also a part of that. We do a gap analysis. Where are you today? Where do you want to go? An action plan for moving a person forward—that is very closely linked with coaching. What I would also highlight is that allowing someone to work autonomously is also a motivational technique that kind of goes alongside coaching because it’s very empowering and motivating for a person. If they are able to work without too much supervision, that of course, again assumes that they are relatively capable and skilled at what they’re doing which is what we assume when we’re coaching someone in the first place. Helping someone to work autonomously, helping break down their work so that they can get on with it without too much supervision and work autonomously is definitely an important motivation technique.
Cornelius: Excellent! That’s it for coaching, we’re now going to do exactly the same thing for mentoring. So, my first question for you—what are the three things that a project manager must know about mentoring?
Susanne: When we move on to mentoring and I’ve just been going on about how important it is not to get too much advice in coaching but in mentoring, I’d say the first item is: as a mentor, we do give advice and we do give advice based on our own experiences and that also means that we need to choose our mentors very well because they’re basically looking in their own experience—everything they’ve learned over their career and that talking to you on that basis. Secondly, I’d say that we need to know and understand that a mentor is often someone more senior from within the same organization. It could be from another team or could be from within the same team—that doesn’t really matter but it is someone who has been there done that and who has more experience and who’s happy to share that. Thirdly, this is something that maybe we haven’t thought about but being a mentor can be very, very motivating because it’s a great way to help a person to actually step up and take on more responsibility because when we mentor someone else, we almost go in and help to take responsibility for someone else’s development. We’re not fully responsible if the person we’re mentoring is responsible but we’re still having that kind of a –we’re guiding someone else and that means that we step up and we think about—how am I coming across as a role model so it can be very, very motivating for the person who is a mentor.
Cornelius: When is it appropriate to use mentoring on a project?
Susanne: I would say that if we have a team member who would like to learn about some insider secrets from someone in a similar job role, then it can be great to pair that person up with a mentor from the same team or from another team who can get them those insider secrets. Or, if someone on the team would like to get inspired by someone more senior—maybe they’re getting a bit stuck in their role but they like it but they need some new inspiration—it could be great to pair them up with a mentor from a different part of the business so that they can see a different point of view, learn from someone more experienced. Yeah, that can be very, very motivating and I’m also thinking oftentimes on projects, we do Lessons Learned at the end of a project but those Lessons Learned sometimes end up in a report and they’re not really disseminated and no one really looks at them. If we have a lot of mentors across the organization, it can be a great way to actually share our knowledge and break down silos in a different way so there are all situations that are great in which we can use mentoring with great advantage.
Cornelius: Do you have an example for us regarding when and how to best use mentoring on a project?
There is no doubt in my mind that you have heard the term lessons learned before.
It is mentioned extensively throughout A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, (PMBOK® Guide), I teach it as part of my PMP training lessons and my favorite search engine gives me over 51,000 results for the search term “lessons learned in project management”. In fact, as an experienced project manager you have probably participated or even chaired one or two lessons learned meetings yourself on your own projects.
But let’s consider the bigger picture around lessons learned. What process do we follow? What management techniques are there for lessons learned? Are all documented lessons learned equally valuable?
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode # 397. This is the Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com and I am Cornelius Fichtner. There is no doubt in my mind that you have heard the term “Lessons Learned” before. It is mentioned extensively throughout the PMBOK Guide. I teach it as part of my PMP Training Lessons and my favorite search engine gives me over 51,000 results for the search term, “Lessons Learned in Project Management”. In fact, as an experienced project manager, you have probably participated or even chaired one or two lessons learned meeting yourself on your own projects. If you are preparing for your PMP Exam, then the best way to calm the butterflies in your stomach is to take a Practice Exam. Our PMP Exam Simulator offers you nine such exams. To see how it works and take a free test drive, please go to www.freeexamsimulator.com . But let’s consider the bigger picture around lessons learned here. What processes do we follow? What management techniques are there for lessons learned? And are all documented lessons learned equally valuable? These questions need answers and so I’m happy to welcome Elizabeth Harrin who has the answers for us. And now, please pay attention. We’ll be doing a Lessons Learned at the end. Enjoy the interview.
Female Voice: Project Management Podcast™ Feature Interview. Today with Elizabeth Harrin, author, blogger and speaker.
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Harrin: Hello, Cornelius. I’ll certainly do my best.
Cornelius: [laughs] Oh well, let’s find out because we’re going to be defining our topic first. From your perspective, what are lessons learned?
Elizabeth: They are the bits of organizational knowledge that we pick up as we go through our projects and you’ll typically find them split into things that went well—so all the things that we patted ourselves on the back about— “Yes, we did a great job on that!”—and then the things that didn’t go so well where we have issues and things. The main thing I would say when we’re defining “lessons learned” is that we need to make the distinction between “lessons captured” and “lessons learned” because often on projects and I know we’re going to talk more about the process of capturing output at the end of the project and later on in our discussion today, we often write things down and capture them without actually learning or doing anything with them. So, I suppose the key point for me as we’re starting this discussion is to think we really need to make sure that whatever comes out of our –whatever organizational knowledge we learn as we go, we actually do something with it and it becomes learned.
Cornelius: And what do we mean by “management techniques” for lessons learned?
Elizabeth: Management techniques are just effective ways of working and lessons learned are very important for our projects because they let us do things better. Management techniques help us get facts and results which is delivering better outcomes and learning and improving on how we run our projects in our companies. So, there are things like how we can capture, record, analyze and use lessons learned for continuous improvement. Generally, the management techniques that we can use fall into three categories: things that relate to people, so staffing, training and that kind of stuff; techniques that relate to processes so that might be the templates or the agenda that you use for your lessons learned sessions and then tools and technology which might be how you then store and recover those lessons learned once you’ve done—finished capturing them.
Cornelius: And before we do anything else right now, you’ve already put a big elephant into the room here. So, let’s look at that elephant. How do we avoid that our captured, documented, lessons learned are simply filed away and never looked at again so they become documented lessons but they don’t become lessons learned? What do we need to do to actually learn something?
Elizabeth: I think the organizational co-chair has a huge part to play here because you need to create a culture of continuous improvement where people want to seek help. What was learned from other initiatives so they don’t make the same mistakes? And if you need to talk to –if you don’t think that exists in your organization and you’re talking to people about it, it’s a good idea to frame it in a way of making sure you want to learn lessons because it may seem faster and cheaper. But you’re not reinventing the wheel every time and you’re not making the same mistakes but somebody made our project two years ago but to answer your question, I think we struggled because it’s hard, and if we don’t have enough time and at the end of the project, you’re normally rushing to wrap up the last few things and then move straight into the next thing. So, it’s partly to do with facts and partly to do with just not enough general call for understanding of the cost of reinventing the wheel because it’s quite hard to manage and measure the impact on productivity. It’s quite hard to sell the benefits, if you like, of putting the effort in to getting a good strong culture of lessons learned because it’s quite hard to quantify what the benefit is. I think it all just boils down to a lack of understanding of those benefits. Am I allowed to say that it’s because of the fact that people are lazy?
Elizabeth: [laughs] Maybe we should say they are under a lot of pressure to move on to the next thing and it’s not the most glamorous or exciting area of Project Management, is it?
Cornelius: Yeah. I have to admit in many of my projects, when the end came, lessons learned was just not something that was on anyone’s mind. What was on their mind was: “Ahh, there’s a new project over there. Bye!”
Elizabeth: “I’ve waited for this for months and months I just wanted to give up now. I’m done.”
Cornelius: There you go. Yeah. We, project managers, we’re always fond of processes, procedures, is there a particular lessons learned process to be followed?
Elizabeth: Yes, I think there is. A generally accepted process for projects is that you will collect the lessons, then you’ll apply some kind of prioritization or validation to them and then store them somewhere while making them available to other teams. And then the final step in the process is that you re-use them so that’s where the learning part comes in.
Cornelius: Or, if we talk reality, the final step is you forget about them.
Elizabeth: Yes, you’re following the drill. But if you don’t use them, then what’s the point of gathering them? The idea there is that they should feed into continuous improvement. And while doing some of the bigger improvements it might be a lot of effort and might put people off. There’s normally one or two small things that come out of a project that you can easily change for the next project to make it better.
Cornelius: We also have to talk about the difference in how lessons learned are managed and approached on a traditional, multiple-based project versus the Agile world and how they do their lessons learned which they call retrospective meeting. Can you tell us what is the difference here at a high level?
Elizabeth: Agile teams tend to be a lot more focused on continuous review and improvement and they review performance more regularly. They also do different types of reviews. An Agile team retrospective will focus on the team’s working practices to have it work together, celebrating things that they’ve achieved together, bettering the relationships in the team. A more traditional multiple approach in my experience, focuses more on tasks and deliverables and not how the team perform together. And that’s an area for multiple lessons learned that we should cover but is often forgotten. Agile also has released sprint retrospectives where the lessons learned focused on the product or the service that was looked at and built and not released, and you’ve also got a project retrospective where you look at a whole project and not if probably the one most similar to the traditional word for a lessons learned meeting.
Cornelius: So, the big difference I can see immediately is, in Agile, the retrospective meetings happen a lot more often.
Cornelius: Your sprints are two to four weeks long and at the end of the sprint, you have your retrospective meeting, you take what you’ve learned and you apply it immediately on the next sprint. So, there is really continuous and on-going learning.
Elizabeth: I think so, definitely. And the co-chair for retrospective is so embedded in Agile. It’s embedded far more efficiently than it is in a multiple context, it might be. So, I think multiple teams might have to work harder to get value out of the meeting. It’s also a risk that lessons learned meetings in a multiple environment on the risk of just turning into a meeting with a lot of finger-pointing and blame. I don’t think that would happen as often in an Agile team. Perhaps because they are much more used to giving feedback and they’re much more used to working on retrospectives more regularly.
Cornelius: Is one approach better than the other?
Elizabeth: I suppose the right answer for that is: No, both have their merits, but my personal view would be, I prefer the idea of continuous review on a large project that stretches over more than six months. I mean, how can you remember what happens in project initiation if it is not for until a long time that you then sit down and try and review it? And I think that’s the advantage of the Agile approach for me, it’s easy enough to replicate on a multiple project team because you can schedule mini lessons learned reviews whenever you want—at the end of major stages or even once a month as part of your normal project team meeting. I suppose it’s about finding a right balance, isn’t it really?
Cornelius: Yeah. I remember an IT project that I was leading some years back and at the end of the project, we had a lessons learned meeting and one of the lessons that we’ve had was the product owner on the other side of the fence, we should have handled her completely differently. We should have approached her completely differently and done work with her completely differently. We figured that out at the end of the project. So, if we had continuously thought about these things and tried to learn from our mistakes in the past, how wonderful this could have been if after two to three months versus fifteen months, we would have realized we have to work with her differently.
Cornelius: So, yeah that is a completely different approach there. Let’s move on and review some types of lessons learned meetings and the high-level concepts behind them. We’ve done some research prior to this interview and we found a few and we’re going to review them here, so generally speaking we talked about that the overall lessons learned meetings—that’s just the general term. We’ve already reviewed that, we’ve talked about it but now let’s take a more closer look at them. We’ve also talked about the Agile retrospective so those were the first two names that we found, Lessons Learned meetings and Agile retrospectives but then we also came up with after-action reviews. What are those, Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: That’s the term that’s come from the US military. But it means the same thing. It’s a way of taking a course of action and establishing what went well, what didn’t go well and what you’re going to do differently next time. I think whether you call it—because some of the other names that you might hear is described as post-project evaluation meeting, post-mortem, post-implementation review, they all broadly do the same thing which is exactly that—look at what works, what didn’t work and try to put in place an action plan and to capture those lessons learned so no one makes the same mistakes in the future. I think the vocabulary is really important though—which one you’d decide to use on your projects. For me a post-mortem conjures up the idea that it’s the end, something went wrong, you’re actually having problems with your project. It’s dead. [laughs] An off-direction review will go instant when it comes from a military background. It also sounds as if after the action, you missed the opportunity to put something right so I would caution the listeners to choose a phrase that is very positive and that has positive continuous improvement connotations.
Cornelius: Right. So, depending on what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, the term “post-mortem” maybe right to you?
Are you using an adaptive life cycle to manage your projects? You know, something that falls under the general umbrella of Agile like Scrum, XP, Kanban or DSDM?
And if your answer to this question is yes, then think about when exactly you started using these approaches, because that date says a lot about you and your organization. If you started 20 or more years ago then you can consider yourself to be an innovator, but if you started just recently you are a laggard. (And just in case you are wondering, I would put myself in the middle with what is called the "early majority".)
But no matter when you started your journey into Agile it might be interesting to know how many of us out there are actually using Agile on our projects. And according to Joseph Flahiff (www.whitewaterprojects.com -- www.linkedin.com/in/josephflahiff) there are more than you would think.
How many more? He doesn’t have an exact number, but then again nobody knows how many waterfall-based projects there are either. However, studies done on this subject and a number of other indicators lead him to believe that Agile is now the new normal. The number of Agile projects is massive, which is just one more reason to also get started with your PMI-ACP Exam Prep
This interview is 28:59 minutes long. This means that you can "legally" only claim 0.25 PDUs for listening to it, because in order to claim 0.50 PDUs the interview must be 30 minutes long. However... if you first listen to the interview and then also read the article on which it is based, then you can go ahead and claim 0.50 PDUs!Click to read the article
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode #396. This is the Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com and I’m Cornelius Fichtner. Are you using an adaptive life cycle to manage your projects? You know, something that falls under the general umbrella of Agile like Scrum, XP, Kanban or DSDM and if your answer to this question is yes, then think about when exactly you started using these approaches because that date says a lot about you and your organization. If you started 20 or more years ago, then you can consider yourself to be an innovator, but if you started just recently, you are a laggard and just in case you’re wondering, I would put myself somewhere in the middle with the early majority. If you are a project manager who wants to become PMI ACP certified, then the easiest way to do so is with our sister podcast, the Agile PrepCast and get your certification training for the exam by watching the in-depth Exam Prep Video Training from www.AgilePrepCast.com . But no matter when you started your journey into Agile, it might be interesting to know how many of us out there are actually using Agile on their projects and according to Joseph Flahiff, there are more than you would think. How many more? He doesn’t have an exact number but then again nobody really knows how many Waterfall-based projects there are either. However, studies done on this subject and the number of other indicators lead him to believe that Agile is now the new normal. The number of Agile projects is massive. Enjoy the interview.
Female Voice: Project Management Podcast™ Feature Interview.
Cornelius Fichtner: Today with Joseph Flahiff, Project Management Author, Consultant and Organizational Alchemist
Cornelius: Hello, Joseph and welcome back to the podcast.
Joseph Flahiff: Hey Cornelius. Thank you and it’s great to be here again. I love [talked over]
Cornelius: Wonderful. We’re happy to have you.
Joseph: Thank you.
Cornelius: So why were you interested in writing an article about how well Agile is implemented around the world?
Joseph: You know I was thinking about it. I was actually looking forward at what’s coming next. Agile’s been around for about thirty years depending on where you measure it from twenty to thirty years. People would not think of it as being that old but it really is and I was thinking about what’s next? The world’s changed a lot since then. The people that were innovating those things are now not innovating those things. That’s a sweeping judgment and I don’t mean to make it sound that way but there’s not a ton of innovation happening on the Agile front—at least not as it was in the original time frame and so my thinking was: “Hmm, who are the innovators today and what are they innovating?” so that’s what’s going on in my mind and it led me to think about where Agile is in its adoption and is anybody doing innovation yet or—those kinds of things.
Cornelius: What is the 10,000-foot summary of your findings?
Joseph: From about 10,000 feet you could see that it’s pretty clear that at least 50% of IT organizations out there have adopted some form or semblance of Agile practices or are being Agile. They self-proclaim that.
Cornelius: Alright, and just for our metric users, 10,000 feet is about 3,048 meters. [chuckles]. Why is this finding important for our listeners for our Project Management Podcast™ listeners?
Joseph: Well it’s important because 50% is half of the people out there in the world. That means that a lot of folks are already using Agile practices and just about anywhere. You know—flip a coin—if you take a new job, 50-50 chance that those people at the new place have adopted some form of Agile or are going to soon.
Cornelius: Yeah. Strange coincidence—this morning—and I’m not making this one up, I received an email from a friend/colleague of mine from Orange County who said that he is actually having trouble finding a Project Management job because he does not yet have Agile training. There seems to be adoption in progress here. But before we move any further, let’s talk a little bit about the word “adoption” and particularly adoption levels and what all of this means and please tell us what is the diffusion innovation curve that you mentioned in your article?
Joseph: Yeah, the diffusion of innovations curve—that was developed by Everett Rogers back in 1962 and he was doing a study interested in how new innovations get distributed or diffused into society. He did research into about 508 different studies and he took their data and pulled it apart. These studies were in anthropology, in sociology, education and industrial and medical sociology. All of these studies he compiled together and out of that, he drew his conclusions, right? And he created this, essentially a bell curve, so he found that the distribution was essentially a bell curve and it followed a pretty predictable pattern. There were these early people who actually created the innovation. So, they are the people that went out and tried something new and failed that and tried again and failed and suddenly created something new. This would be—in the Agile context—would be the people who founded the Agile movement. At that time, it was really the late 80’s early 90’s, they were actually calling it lightweight development practices when they actually had a name for it. So, those are the innovators, then the next group of –that’s about 2.5% of the entire population anytime you’re talking about an innovation. 2.5%. So, then there’s this next group of people that are the early adaptors. They are the folks that have a Tesla or are looking at getting solar panels for their roof. They’re the people who had the first iPhone, those people who are willing to put up with some stress and some failures because they like the new shiny thing, the new fancy thing. They like to be out in front. That’s about 13.5% of the population. The next group is the early majority group—they are about 34% of the population. That’s when you start seeing mass adoptions of something. If we started seeing everyone’s driving a Tesla or right now you see everybody’s got an iPhone or something like an iPhone, right? The early majority is when you start seeing that about half the time, people have those things because at that point you’re at 50%. The next group of people, the next 34% is the late majority—those are the folks that are a little bit behind that curve but still adopting. As mass adoption starts to happen, they’re “on-board”. That’s 34% and the last little group are the laggards and they’re the people who will adopt something kicking and screaming, right?
Cornelius: Right. That’s my brother who finally got a smartphone last year.
Joseph: Yes. Yes. [laughs] There you go. That’s the laggards. They’re a small percentage of the population. They believe life was better before sliced bread.
Cornelius: So, where is Agile in this model? Where is Agile adoption here?
Joseph: Yeah, it’s an interesting question because it’s hard to just put a pinpoint on it and say, “This is exactly where it is”—because nobody has pure data. There was a recent study by HP and in their study, they showed that about 16% of the population said they’re using pure Agile and then another 24% said they’re using some hybrid form of Agile so that’s 40% of the population so if you just look at that and people who are saying they’re doing something Agile is 40%. In that same study, another 51% said they were leaning toward Agile. So, if you take all of that together, that’s 91%. That leaves you 9% leftover who are—there’s 2% that’s pure waterfall and 17% that are leaning more toward Waterfall.
Cornelius: Yeah OK, so this study has just one data point that we’ve got, right? In your article, you list a few more so let’s take a look at those. You grouped them under nice headings. Let’s take a look at these headings. The first heading is “Agile Adoption curve, underdogs no more”. What do you mean by that?
Joseph: For most of the past 30 years, the Agile community has kind of fought an underdog fight. They have been—we have been—I’ve been one of us—have taken the approach that we have something really good and we want to share it with you. Please listen to us. We know that most of the people use a sequential or Waterfall model but there’s this other thing that we could do and it’s better. It can get you more speed and greater predictability and adaptability as your deploying things like software, right? It’s been an underdog fight. We’ve been the one that no one expected really to win. I remember back in the day—back in the early 90’s—early 2000’s going to Global Congress and things like that or people would still say, “Oh, Agile’s a fad, it’s not going to stick around. It’s just a fluke” and then after a while it got, “Well, you know what? Maybe it’s sticking around”. Well, now we’re seeing that it’s starting to be the tidal wave. It’s being the majority, not the minority.
Cornelius: So, from that perspective, when should a company think about adopting Agile?
This is another episode where I’m asking: Are you currently studying or thinking about studying for your PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® Exam? Wonderful. That’s what we are going to be talking about.
In this interview you are going to meet Yazmine Darcy (https://www.linkedin.com/in/yazminedarcy). Yazmine is not only one of my students and coworkers, she is also the project manager in charge of developing the sample exam questions that we use in our PMI-ACP Simulator. And so, if you not only want to know how to prepare for your own PMI-ACP Exam but also want to hear about all the work that goes into creating one of the training tools you could be using, then you have come to the right place.
As you know, the rules of all Project Management Institute (PMI)® exams are such that we are not allowed to discuss specific questions from the exam. But we can discuss her overall experience, general thoughts on the process and her recommendations to you. So you can look forward to an experience and tip filled interview on how to prepare for and pass your PMI-ACP Exam.
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode #395. This is the Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com and I’m Cornelius Fichtner. This is another episode where I’m asking: “Are you currently studying or thinking about studying for your PMI ACP Exam?” Wonderful! Because that’s what we are going to be talking about. This is the third and final interview in which we learn from one of my work colleagues, how they passed their PMI ACP Exam. And of course, that brings me to this: If you are a project manager who wants to become PMI ACP certified, then the easiest way to do so is with our sister podcast, the Agile PrepCast and get your certification training for the exam by watching the in-depth Exam Prep Video Training from www.AgilePrepCast.com . In this interview, we are going to meet Yazmine Darcy. Yazmine is not only one of my students and co-workers, she is also the project manager in charge of developing the sample exam questions that we use in our PMI ACP Exam Simulator. So, if you not only want to know how to prepare for your PMI ACP Exam but also want to hear about all the work that goes into actually creating one of the training tools that you could be using, then you have come to the right place. As you know, the rules of all PMI Exams are such that we are not allowed to discuss specific questions from the exam but we can discuss Yazmine’s overall experience, general thoughts on the process and her recommendations to you so you can look forward to an experience and tip-filled interview on how to prepare for and pass your PMI ACP Exam. And now does a podcast interview qualify as an information radiator? Enjoy the interview.
Female Voice: Project Management Podcast™ Feature Interview. Today with Yazmine Darcy, Senior Project Manager for OSP International.
Cornelius: Hello, Yazmine and thank you very much for stopping by.
Yazmine: Hello Cornelius. Thanks for having me over.
Cornelius: Sure. Well, first of all, congratulations on passing the PMI ACP Exam.
Yazmine: Thank you [laughs] I am glad that it worked out.
Cornelius: [laughs] When exactly did you pass?
Yazmine: I passed in November. I recall it was a holiday weekend, so I studied and prepared on a Friday and I went in and took my exam bright and early on a Monday.
Cornelius: OK. The PMI ACP is not your first exam, right? You’ve already taken the PMP before that.
Yazmine: That’s right I took my PMP a few years back.
Cornelius: Right. And then you also have an MBA on top of that.
Yazmine: That is true. [laughs]
Cornelius: [laughs] OK. What we also have to do at this point is we have to insert a disclaimer because you and I are colleagues. We both work for OSP International. We are a training company and we do offer PMP Exam Training and PMI ACP Training and I believe you used both our Agile PrepCast and our Exam Simulator, right?
Yazmine: That is true.
Cornelius: That is true and you are also in charge of making sure that our Agile sample questions in the simulator get updated to the latest exam specification. We’ll get to that later on but just to get this disclaimer out at the very beginning. So, my first question is always very similar. Now that you have passed the exam what is your No.1 recommendation to the listeners who are currently preparing for the exam?
Yazmine: I think my No. 1 recommendation is for people to understand what their goal is when taking this exam. For myself, I wanted not only to pass but also to have good understanding of all the material. So, in retrospect, unlike many other students who may not have read through most of the books. I opted to try to at least read through, not thoroughly, skimmed through in some cases, but for purposes of the work that we do and in order to prepare for the exam, I thought it important to go through and spend the time and read those 12 references. Probably not what everybody wants to do but in my case, I did.
Cornelius: OK, let me just jump into this one here because currently, the PMI ACP Exam has a recommended reading list of about 12 books or so. We can see at the horizon that this is going to change—that PMI is working on the Agile Practitioner’s Guide and very likely at some point in the future, the Agile Practitioner’s Guide is going to be the thing to read as you’re preparing for this exam. So, let me ask you this: Even though the exam is currently based and the one you took based on those 12 books—you read those 12 books—is the way you studied still going to be applicable in say, five years, ten years down the road when someone’s listening to this interview?
Yazmine: I think with the advent of the Ag Book, that’s probably less likely to be the case. I think that 12 references will always be useful but it is a very specialized knowledge, very deep knowledge that is useful for a practitioner to have and own these references and that’s what they are—they’re references. If you needed to learn more deeply about a particular topic, it’s nice to have it on hand, you can read about the specifics of Scrum or Kanban, but likely for preparation for the exam, the Ag Book ten years from now will be very well-used and developed. So that will be sufficient to use to prepare for the exam.
Cornelius: Right. So just like people studied the PMBOK Guide today as they are preparing for the PMP Exam, in the future, they may be studying the—well, we call it sort of Ag Book jokingly—the Agile Body of Knowledge. I think the working title is the Agile Practitioner’s Guide. Whatever it will be called in the future more focus on this but the other study materials that you used I believe you read—correct me if I’m wrong—you did read an Exam Prep Book. You did go to our Agile PrepCast and you did use the questions in our Exam Simulator, right? That would still be something that you’d recommend?
Yazmine: Yes, definitely. I probably watched through the Agile PrepCast twice over the course of two years and more thoroughly in preparation for the exam and in particular, I found the lessons on the Agile Manifesto and Values and Principles and Different Methodologies quite useful. But I also used another Exam Prep Book, again, good understanding of all the seven domains at a high level and where I was like, “Oh I don’t understand more of this than I have the 12 references that I could refer to” and all that was very useful in preparing for the exam.
Cornelius: I’m very glad that you said that because when I did the interview with Stas Podoxin and people who already have listened to this one and Stas said that because he took a course at the University of British Columbia, that course really overlapped about 80% so he did not find the Agile PrepCast all too helpful in addition to this but you’re saying that there was value in you watching and listening to the Agile PrepCast. Is that right?
Yazmine: Yes and I found that, again, when you can listen to it, that’s one mode and I think that’s what I did maybe a couple of years prior to actually taking the exam then it’s useful because there’s so many topics. You can use it and you don’t have to navigate from the very beginning all the way to the very end but you can select based on your own knowledge. I already know about this topic. I think there’s no need to listen to this for myself. I think that I’m adequately prepared. But no, when I wanted to refresh—a total refresh on Scrum ceremonies and make sure that I understand the specifics in great detail, that I didn’t forget something or I misunderstood something, then I can sit down and set aside half hour whatever I needed to complete that lesson and listen to that lesson more attentively. So that’s how I used it. I didn’t probably use it in the start here and listen to every lesson a little bit a day, I didn’t use it in that straightforward fashion. I tried to use it as I needed it in a very Agile fashion, I would say.
Cornelius: Right, yeah. The intent is actually to do—start here and go all the way through—the more important lesson at the beginning, some of the less important ones are at the end but you are an unusual student from that perspective because we worked together, you had access to this for years. But let’s talk about the Exam Prep Book that you used. What book did you use and what did you enjoy most about it?
Yazmine: Yeah. I used Mike Griffiths book.
Cornelius: What a surprise. It seems like that’s the answer that I get from everybody these days.
Yazmine: I think again because it is organized by the domains and for example in the first few pages they have a table and it’s divided by tools and techniques and knowledge and skills. So, at the high level, he has lists of different topics, so it helps guide you through the different topics. He gets through the topics in a relatively small amount of number of pages compared to the 12 references. So you know you have covered the breadth that you need to cover for purposes of preparing for one’s exam. And it’s easy reading—it’s not very difficult –on the lighter side, compared to other references.
Cornelius: You have the MBA, then you took the PMP and then you decided to go for the PMI ACP. Why did you select the PMI ACP over, I don’t know, maybe a CSM or other Agile certifications?
Yazmine: That’s a good question. In part, it is related to the work that we do and definitely taking the exam helps in preparing others to prepare for the exam but in general, I just think that the way that we worked has evolved quite a bit especially since the time that I took my MBA. I have been on many traditional projects in the past and the idea that things changed and to embrace that—what a concept. In fact, you try to fix everything so that you can predict it and you probably spend so much effort trying to make sure that you’ve planned everything upfront but you end up having to change things in between. So, I think that the need for an Agile approach—this is how the world operates now. Things move very quickly. I didn’t explore the CSM—oh I do have a CSM, sorry! [laughs]
Cornelius: [laughs] There’s so many letters after you and you keep forgetting.
Yazmine: Sorry. We use it almost every day, you almost forget that you have it and it’s not like you go around and sign your name and put all the letters behind it. I think you gain knowledge as you go and it just becomes sort of part of your repertoire, so to speak. And yes, I do have my Scrum certification and we do use Scrum on our own projects. So, yes.
Cornelius: Yeah. This is maybe an interesting history for the listeners. When we originally developed our PMP Exam Prep Course, that was done fully in a traditional Waterfall-based project management approach. Then we started with the Agile PrepCast—helping people prepare for the ACP and also the simulator and again that was based on traditional best practices. We were only starting out on Agile back then. Later on, when PMI changed the ACP Exam, we had already started out on the Agile path and we did the updates using Agile practices and right now, pretty much as we are recording this interview, we are in the process of updating our PMP Training, the Waterfall-based certification and we’re actually using Agile practices to update a training course that is focused on traditional Waterfall-based. So, things are certainly evolving and changing over the years.
Yazmine: It’s a bit ironic, I guess, if you think of it that way. [laughs]
Cornelius: Yeah [laughs]
Yazmine: Even as we approach something, the material and the content itself might be based on something very traditional. The way in which we operate is Agile because things changed within our team. Maybe the methodology itself is more stable and certainly from PMBOK 5 to 6 there are changes and its similar ideas, it’s ever evolving but in our team definitely, things happen and we need to be able to adjust ourselves to the changes.
Cornelius: Alright, back to you and your PMI ACP experience. You mentioned that you have a lot of experience on traditional Waterfall-based project. How then did you determine that you were in fact eligible to take the PMI ACP Exam with all the Agile experience you needed?
This episode is reserved for subscribers of the Premium Podcast. Learn how to subscribe to the Premium Podcast to access this interview and transcript...
For your Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam use PMP exam prep on your phone with The PM PrepCast:
One thing that every project manager notices over the course of her or his career is this: We begin with managing relatively simple projects. Here we learn about the theory of project management, its good practices and how to apply them. And as we get better we are assigned to bigger and more important projects.
But in recent years you may have begun to notice that even though your projects may not have become any bigger their complexity has never the less steadily been increasing. In other words, if you took a project you managed 5 years ago and repeated it today in exactly the same way then the one thing that would definitely change is the complexity caused by an increase in interdependencies.
And that’s where Jordan Kyriakidis (https://www.linkedin.com/in/jordankyriakidis/) and I are starting this interview. We are exploring why complexity is increasing, whether it is actually real or just a perceived problem, and what you can do about it.
This interview is 29 minutes long. This means that you can "legally" only claim 0.25 PDUs for listening to it, because in order to claim 0.50 PDUs the interview must be 30 minutes long. However... if you first listen to the interview and then also read Jordan's related white paper, then you can go ahead and claim 0.50 PMP PDUs!Click to download the white paper
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to this Premium Episode #394. I’m Cornelius Fichtner. As always, Premium means that this interview is reserved for you, our Premium subscribers. Thank you very much for your financial support of the Project Management Podcast™ One thing that every project manager notices over the course of her or his career is this: We begin with managing relatively simple projects. Here we learn about the theory of Project Management, its best practices and how to apply them and as we get better we are assigned to bigger and more important projects. But in recent years, you may have begun to notice that even though your projects may not have become any bigger, their complexity has nevertheless steadily been increasing. In other words, if you took a project that you managed five years ago and repeated it today in exactly the same way then the one thing that would definitely change is the complexity caused by an increase in interdependencies and that’s where Jordan Kyriakidis and I are starting this interview. We are exploring why complexity is increasing, whether it is actually real or just perceived and what you can do about it. Enjoy the interview.
Female Voice: Project Management Podcast Feature Interview. Today with Jordan Kyriakidis, CEO and co-founder of QRA Corporation.
Cornelius: Hello, Jordan. Welcome back to the Project Management Podcast™
Jordan: Thank you. Thank you for having me back. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Cornelius: In our first interview we talked about Natural Language Processing, the word complexity came up a couple of times so we decided to follow it up with an interview on the increasing project complexity and how it’s impacting us project managers. How do you define complexity yourself in the context of Project Management?
Jordan: Well, that’s like a four-month long course (laughs). Can I go just on complexity?
Cornelius: OK. We have thirty minutes (laughs).
Jordan: I’ll give a closed notes version. There’s many measures of complexity. Some simple measures which I think are not very good is the budget, the length of the project, whether you’ve done it before and I’ve heard some companies say: “If we’ve done a project before then it’s easy, if we’ve never done it before then it’s hard”. I think a kind of measure that I use and I may be betraying my own background here is a good measure of complexity is not how long and what break down structure is or anything simple like that. It is really the interdependencies of all the different components of the project and if everything depends on many other things, then it is an example of a very complex project. I can give you maybe more visual image that maybe helpful. If you think of say—let’s say for example—of all the tasks you need to do just look at the word breakdown structure and you draw that as like a graph. You have a little circle that represents each task you want to complete and then you draw a line between tasks that are related or interdependent as we have all these circles with the lines connected to them, does that make sense so far?
Cornelius: It does.
Jordan: Now if you look at that and what you’ll see for a very complex project, you’ll see a lot of closed loops, a lot of circles and a lot of ways you can start at one note and traverse around and come back to where you started from and the more of those you have, the more complex your project is. You can imagine a simple project that is very long—say your project takes—ok, you say this project can take like eight years to complete but you can do everything in a very clear, linear fashion that the next task cannot begin until the previous one finishes and there’s one straight—like a one-dimensional path to completion. That—and it could be a very expensive project, it could be a very –but that is a very simple project, the structure of it is very clear. A complicated network diagram this is called, will not look like they will have like loops and hoop backs and they’ll just look like they’re very, very complicated.
Cornelius: So, is this interdependency the main reason why project complexity is increasing or is this something else?
Jordan: Yes, there’s interdependency or an interaction between different components and that is one of the primary reasons why projects fail or go far over budget or the time just gets blown out of the water. It’s because of this—because then what happens –you may have heard this refrain that it’s possible to make no mistakes and still fail. What that means is that if you have a lot of interaction between various components of a project, what happens is that you can have something go wrong and the error is not associated with any one particular task. The error is associated with how this task depend on each other and it’s the interaction where you have these problems arising.
Cornelius: How can our listeners recognize this increasing complexity. You gave us the visual of draw out the WBS and start creating almost like a neural network to see what connects to what. Is that the only way? Are there any other ways?
Jordan: I think that is a very good way to do it. I told you right away whether you have something complex or not. Another thing you can recognize complexity is if you’re doing—say in the planning phase and you start realizing that there’s actually many different ways you can like plan out this project into a safe schedule—let’s talk about scheduling, for example. You realize that there’s many ways you can schedule a project and you can’t really say one is better than the other, they are just different ways of doing it. That’s one little clue you can have that you are dealing with something that’s very complex. When you have to make choices, project managers are always making choices and your choices are between things that is not very clear—which one is better overall than another choice, right? It depends—one choice maybe better for certain things, not better in other things and so that is almost definition of a difficult choice. That would be another sign that you’re dealing with an increasing complexity in your project. Yet another one is if you start doing a sensitivity analysis and you find that small changes can have a big impact. Especially a big impact on something that seems very unrelated to what you changed. I see like there shouldn’t be any connection there but somehow there is. So, these are all the things that are signs that you’re dealing with a complex project and my feeling is that the project manager listening now who have experienced all of these with increased frequency as we move into the future in the recent task.
Cornelius: We’re all living in a more and more interconnected world—does this mean then that complexity is increasing on all projects or can you think of any areas where no, it’s not really increasing?
Jordan: I would say it’s not increasing on all projects but generally speaking, the larger project is—these days the more complex it is particularly there are some kind of –I would say—some projects that are almost always becoming more and more complex. And that is if your project involves a lot of technology, if it involves a lot of software and if it involves especially software or hardware integrated together into one unit. These are areas where I would say, are ripe with complexity.
Cornelius: Is the increasing complexity actually a problem? Is this not simply a challenge that we, project managers have to rise up to and meet?
Jordan: Well, it is certainly the latter—it certainly is a challenge a project managers absolutely have to rise up and meet. There’s no question of that. Whether it’s a problem or not I guess that maybe a bit a symmetric question. I think that it’s a problem in the sense that it makes the job of managing the project more difficult. However, it is not a problem in the sense that complexity is bad and we should not have it. And so, if you look at, for example—maybe I can argue by example and if you look at cars. Cars now are far more complex than they were say, a generation ago. There’s far more computer processing going on in there but generally speaking, this is a good thing. Cars are actually much safer now. Cars are more reliable now. Cars in almost any measure are much better and some of them are really getting less expensive too even though they’re becoming more complex. In that sense complexity is a very good thing but the poor project manager who has to manage the new technology in these cars for them there’s new challenges involved with it.
Cornelius: I read an article of yours about this complexity and one topic you talked about was the status quo. A two-part question here: maybe you can tell us a little bit about what you mean by the status quo of handling project complexity and also give us an example from a project that you experienced where the rise in project complexity meant that the status quo was no longer an option.
Jordan: Well, you can see the status quo varies from industry to industry and the status quo for example if we pick aerospace, the status quo for handling project complexity is you have all these –you generally have a review. You start off with a systems requirement review, you go on to preliminary design reviews, design reviews and then you go into actual implementation. Various industries have variations of the theme. You have these milestones that you have to meet and they are requirements and designs before you go to the actual implementation. The status quo, typically if we take, say, let’s dive in the middle of processing and doing a design review, if it is for big project this will involve people getting together in a big room and they’ll spend three or four days, all getting in the room and you’ll have project managers, you’ll have budget people, you’ll have engineers in there and they’ll put up—they’ll present the requirements and they’ll present the designs and they’ll discuss how these designs actually meet the requirements. They’ll go back and forth and discuss various scenarios and they’ll move on that way and at the end of the meeting, they’ll have a list of things that are things that need to be addressed, some action items that before the project can move on, all these open loops have to be resolved and then they can move on. When I say status quo, that’s what I have in the back of my mind. I’m not sure if that’s been your experience as well for typically how this is done? [talked ove]
Cornelius: Yeah. Pretty much.
Jordan: So the reason why I think the status quo is no longer an option is because –when will that work well? That works well if you have very highly qualified people in the room who are doing it for a while or experienced, they know what they’re doing and they’re working on a project that they have seen before, they know how it works out, they have made mistakes in the past, they know not to make mistakes again and if you have that situation they’ll say the status quo actually works pretty well. However when you have this complexity at a level not seen before, when every phase depends on every other phase, and every task within a phase depends on many other tasks within that phase and you’re dealing with new technology that has not been introduced before and you’re dealing with software infused throughout the whole system that you haven’t had before. Now people are less certain of where the risk lies and where the danger lies especially if the danger really lies in not just one error happened but a series of anomalies can happen in a certain order and then that’ll cause problems. It’s very difficult to actually rule out for humans and so in these cases you really cannot capture all the errors that are inherent in a document and what you find is that you have the design reviews and what will happen is there is going to be dangers lurking—dragons lurking in your project that you don’t even know about and so you don’t have any mitigation plans for them until you start building something and you’re deep into the implementation and you start seeing that things are not working the way it ought to be working and you wonder why. Why? Because you didn’t uncover it way back in the design stage. I think that was rather a long-winded answer to your question.
Cornelius: No, it gets the picture across quite well. So, how do you propose then that project managers handle or even thrive amidst this increase of complexity?
Are you currently studying or thinking about studying for your PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® Exam? Wonderful. That’s what we are going to be talking about.
In this interview you are going to meet Stas Podoxin (https://www.linkedin.com/in/staspodoxin). Stas is not only one of my students but also one of my coworkers. And one of the interesting differences in how he prepared for the PMI-ACP exam is the fact that he took an Agile course at a university that helped him get a better understanding of the Agile mindset. And so by the time he got around to using our own online training course he was already quite far ahead on the curve.
As you know, the rules of all Project Management Institute (PMI)® exams are such that we are not allowed to discuss specific questions from the exam. But we can discuss Stas's overall experience, how he did his PMI-ACP Exam Prep, his general thoughts on the process and his recommendations to you. So you can look forward to an experience and tip filled interview on how to prepare for and pass your PMI-ACP Exam.
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode #393. This is the Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com and I’m Cornelius Fichtner. Thank you very much for joining us today. Are you currently studying or maybe thinking about studying for your PMI Agile Certified Practitioner Exam? That’s the PMI ACP Exam—well, wonderful because that’s what we are going to be talking about, which brings me to this little announcement. If you are a Project Manager who wants to become PMI ACP certified, then the easiest way to do so is with our sister podcast, The Agile PrepCast and get your certification training for the exam by watching the in-depth Exam Prep video training from www.AgilePrepCast.com. In this interview, you are going to meet Stas Podoxin. Stas is not only one of my students but also one of my co-workers and one of the interesting differences in how he prepared for his PMI ACP Exam is the fact that he took an Agile course at a university that helped him get a better understanding of the Agile mindset. And so, by the time he got around to using actually our own training course, he was already quite ahead of the curve. As you know, the rules of all PMI exams are such that we are not allowed to discuss specific questions from the exam but we can discuss his overall experience, general thoughts on the process and his recommendations to you so you can look forward to an experience and tip-filled interview and how to prepare for and pass your PMI ACP Exam. And now, let’s timebox this for 45 minutes. Enjoy the interview.
Female Voice: Project Management Podcast Feature Interview. Today with Stas Podoxin, senior Project Manager for OSP International.
Cornelius: Hello, Stas. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Stas Podoxin: Hello Cornelius, thank you for having me.
Cornelius: Absolutely! And of course, congratulations to you on passing your PMI ACP Exam.
Stas: Thank you very much.
Cornelius: Yeah. When exactly did you pass? How long ago was that from today?
Stas: From today it was about – just over half a year ago in October.
Cornelius: OK. At this point I think it is also important that you and I mentioned that we are colleagues. We work for the same company. We both work for OSP International and we are a training company—we train people to prepare for their PMP CAPM and also the PMI ACP Exam and as part of this, you have used both our training products, right? You’ve used The Agile PrepCast and our ACP Exam Simulator, right?
Stas: Yes, that’s right.
Cornelius: OK. Good. We just want to make absolutely clear that we put this disclaimer upfront here so that everybody is aware of our situation. My usual question when we start one of these Lessons Learned Interviews, what’s your most important lessons learned here for our listeners?
Stas: I think when you prepare for your PMI ACP Exam, you need to take it seriously because sometimes I heard when I started to prepare for the PMI ACP Exam, it’s easier than PMP and then you can pass it quite quickly without too much effort but at least for me, it was not true and it was a really serious preparation. You should dedicate your time, you should make your family ready for this because you are going to be missing for a couple of months so take it seriously and probably the most important thing, don’t try to memorize anything. Just try to get into what’s called an Agile mindset when you’re preparing especially when you take your exam so that you will select the correct answer.
Cornelius: Let me also ask you this: When you took the PMP and then the PMI ACP, how much time was there between those two exams?
Stas: I think it was about a year and a half.
Cornelius: Yeah, I think you did it relatively quickly following each other. Why did you choose to become PMI ACP certified on top of the PMP?
Stas: Well, the PMP was sort of very important for me to set up my professional career and to formalize the knowledge and the experience that I had. PMI ACP on the other hand, because most of my professional career I was in the IT industry and we extensively used Agile but we never called it Agile. Looking back, I see that we have been using Agile process, and tools and techniques but we never called it --oh we are using Agile here and we’re using traditional Project Management methods here. I just wanted, first of all, to organize my knowledge in a methodical way and the IT industry is also a very competitive industry so I wanted to have a competitive advantage.
Cornelius: Talking about competitive advantage, did you look at any other certifications in terms of Agile or did you just say, “I’m PMP, I’m going to go for the ACP” or did you look at any other organizations that offer Agile certifications?
Stas: No, actually I just went right away to the PMI.
Cornelius: OK. What you have said here is actually my experience as well. In my previous job, we did use Agile practices—shorter durations, a lot of customer involvement, all that was there but we never called that Agile, it’s just something that we did and I have to admit that ten years ago I was unaware at the time of Agile principles and all that so it never occurred to me that we were doing Agile at all. What value do you see in having the certification now?
Stas: The value for me and I believe for my colleagues is that now when we’re all certified, we can use the same terminology while managing our projects, we can approach our planning and execution of our projects more intelligently and this provides a value for us and the organization so that we perform better.
Cornelius: Let me get back to something that you said early on. You said you have to take this seriously, this exam. It’s not just something that you can do on the side. You also mentioned a duration of about two months. So, you took the PMP Exam and you said it took you about one and a half years later, the ACP exam, when did you start to look at this and then seriously began to study?
Stas: It’s an interesting point because like I said, I felt for some reason I was under the impression that PMI ACP Certification is much easier and you can just apply and take your exam and pass very quickly. When I actually started to fill my application in the PMI website, I realized that it has a lot of requirements like the PMP. You need to have your experience, you need to have your contact hours, you actually have to be prepared properly in terms of the application together with old information from your managers, stakeholders who can prove your experience and at that time I was also working full-time job on a previous employer and we had pretty much of a workload so, I didn’t realize that I had to dedicate my time and I should have done more research on what this PMI ACP certification is about. This is why I believe that in the beginning, I didn’t start to prepare for this exam—a hundred percent dedication.
Cornelius: So in terms of duration, how long did you study?
Stas: From the moment I realized that I need to be prepared properly, it took me about three months.
Cornelius: Three months. And how much did you study every day?
Stas: I would say, on the average, between one to two hours maybe. Of course, more on the weekends less in the weekdays.
Cornelius: You mentioned the applications—let’s talk about that a little bit. Many people often say for the PMP Exam, the application is a little mini project in itself because they want to know so much. Was it the same for you for the ACP Exam then?
Stas: Yeah. I would say both applications and most processes for PMP and PMI ACP are pretty similar. The only difference is just that your project description and the terminology that you are using for the PMI ACP should be in Agile terms rather than in traditional terms but the rest is pretty much the same.
Cornelius: Were you eligible to take the exam right away or was there anything that was missing? You mentioned the experience, you mentioned the contact hours…
Stas: Yeah, I was – I had everything that I needed for the eligibility but again I just started it too early and I didn’t collect all the information that I needed so it took me –the interesting thing is that my first application expired. I didn’t have enough time to complete it and then after 90 days, from the moment I applied…
Cornelius: Oh, really?
Cornelius: Let’s talk about this a little bit. So, PMI gives you 90 days. If you start today with any PMI application, you have 90 days to complete it and submit it and you passed that deadline. So, did PMI basically delete your application and you had to start from fresh and put everything in again?
Cornelius: Oh, wow! [laughs] That’s harsh.
Stas: Yeah and I was a little bit afraid. I thought, “Oh they rejected my application so I cannot apply again”. But then I realized it’s just its duration.
Cornelius: OK. That’s very interesting and once you’ve submitted your second application, how long did it take for PMI to process it, go through it and then give you the green light?
Stas: That was pretty quick, I think. In less than a week they sent me approval and eligibility for the exam.
Cornelius: And you did not have to go through an audit like our colleague Jonathan had, right?
Stas: Yeah. Fortunately, I didn’t have to.
Cornelius: Alright. Once you got the approval from PMI, did you go ahead and schedule your exam right away or how long did you wait for that?
Stas: Yeah. I scheduled it right away because the second time when I started to fill my application I was already in the full gust over the preparations so I scheduled it right away.
Cornelius: Ok. Well, let’s talk about right then. Since you were in full study mode then how did you study for the exam exactly? What study tools did you use? What books did you read? Did you read any of the recommended books that PMI has?
For your Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam use PMP exam prep on your phone with The PM PrepCast:
My goal of having these show notes on the website is to give a quick and concise introduction of the podcast topic and to tell you what you can expect to learn from it. Sometimes I am right on point and sometimes I’m a little more vague.
And tomorrow, when you are back at the office working on your project requirements your goal will be to correctly and succinctly describe the requirements for that project your company is going to launch. The big difference here is that your descriptions have to be 100% on point. You cannot afford to be vague, because requirements that can be misinterpreted is a sure-fire way to doom your project. So what can you do to improve your requirements?
The problem of poorly written, ambiguous, and inconsistent requirements is something that Jordan Kyriakidis (https://www.linkedin.com/in/jordankyriakidis/) has thought about a lot. And his answer to this problem is not only a list of “21 Top Tips for Writing an Exceptionally Clear Requirements Document” (https://qracorp.com/write-clear-requirements-document/) but also to use computing power. Yes, there is actually a software that will scan your requirements document and tell you what's wrong with it.
But we’re not going to talk about the software much, because that would be pretty boring here on an audio podcast. Instead, Jordan and I look at the root causes of poorly written requirements and then we introduce you to the most important 6 out his 21 tips. In that way you can start using your brain power to write better requirements.
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode #392. This is the Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com and I’m Cornelius Fichtner. My goal here during the first ninety seconds of every podcast episode is to give you a quick and concise introduction of the podcast topic and to tell you what you can expect to learn from it. Sometimes I am right on point and sometimes I’m a little bit more vague. And tomorrow when you are back at the office working on your project requirements, your goal will be to correctly and succinctly describe the requirements for that project your company is going to launch. The big difference here is that your descriptions have to be 100% on point. You cannot afford to be vague because requirements that can be misinterpreted, well they are a sure fire way to doom your project. So what can you do to improve your project requirements? Are you PMP certified and want to earn 37 PDUs quickly and for less than $6 per hour? That’s no problem with the Agile PrepCast. It not only prepares you for your PMI-ACP Exam but also qualifies for a ton of PMP PDUs. Log on at www.AgilePrepCast.com/pdu for the details.
The problem of poorly written, ambiguous and inconsistent requirements is something that Jordan Kyriakidis has thought about a lot and his answer to this problem is not only a list of the 21 top tips for writing an exceptionally clear requirements document but also to use computing power. Yes there is actually a software that would scan your requirements document and tell you what’s wrong with it but we’re not going to talk about the software all that much because that would be pretty boring here on an audio-only podcast. Instead, Jordan and I looked at the root causes of poorly written requirements and then we introduced you to the most important six out of his 21 tips. That way, you can then start using your brain power to write better requirements. And now, following this very badly written introduction, please enjoy the interview.
Female Voice: Project Management Podcast Feature Interview. Today with Jordan Kyriakidis, CEO and co-founder of QRA Corporation.
Cornelius: Hello, Jordan and welcome to the Project Management Podcast™
Jordan: Hello, Cornelius. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you.
Cornelius: So we want to talk about natural language processing today but before we get into this, what is it? What is natural language processing—NLP?
Jordan: Well, it’s a very good description. You can take a very literal description. It’s any kind of processing you do with natural language and processing is the same—maybe we can work by analogy and look at financial processing. You go to a bank machine, you type in some information, you give us some data and you give us some instructions and that data is processed whether you’re paying a bill or taking money out or buying stocks. There’s lots of financial processing and of course there’s many different kinds of processing as well. Natural Language Processing is doing the thing with natural language. So is having a machine, a computer, usually but a machine in general that is fed natural language and to some extent, understands what the language is and it processes it according to instructions, either innate instructions, like what the computer is programmed to do or instructions that you also give it yourself. That would be the 10,000th foot level we can go as deep as you want.
Cornelius: [laughs] Let me just first ask one follow-up question here.
Cornelius: There are thousands of listeners listening to this interview right now. Is the fact that they are listening to us talking Natural Language Processing?
Jordan: Sure, in a sense your brain is listening to natural language and it is processing it, right? Now they’re saying that “Boy, that Jordan really does know what he’s talking about” or “He’s a really sharp fellow”, right?
Cornelius: OK. OK. Let’s stick with our listeners here because it sounds like an off-topic for the Project Management Podcast™. What can they expect to learn from our conversation about NLP that is going to be valuable and important for the projects that they manage?
Jordan: Well, for one thing that I am sure your listeners already realize is that many projects are described by natural language. We have all these processes and data and algorithms but really a lot is done just by the written word. As projects start becoming more complex, it’s important to realize as early as possible when your projects have some ambiguities or you start inserting the seeds of future problems and you ought to deal with it as quickly as possible and as early in the development cycle as possible. That usually means that you do it with natural text—that’s usually one of the early stages of a project and so it’s important to really understand any risks associated with the written documentation you have for the project.
Cornelius: One area that you have specifically identified as being able to benefit from Natural Language Processing is the requirements analysis and the requirements documentation. Why specifically this area?
Jordan: We chose this area because we started looking at big complicated projects and we started asking the question of why are these projects always so out of budget and so past their schedule of completion dates. It’s very common for that to happen. And we guess some kind of general statements of all complex projects in general that people have looked at it and it turns out that about 80%--slightly over this study by Carnegie Mellon University that over 80% of all areas in a project come in the early phases and that’s either the requirements phase or the design phase. If you look at the requirements, it’s about 60-70% come actually in the requirements phase. And so if that’s where you inject the errors into the system, it seemed reasonable for us to look at the tool that can actually uncover these at the point of introduction into your system—and that is the requirements phase.
Cornelius: You have written an article, it’s titled “Twenty One Top Tips for Writing an Exceptionally Clear Requirements Document” and we now want to go through some of these—not all 21—we’d be here tomorrow still and learn how a Natural Language Process thing works here and we’re starting out with No. 6 in your article. Making sure that each requirement is testable. How do we approach this from Natural Language Processing perspectives?
Jordan: So, typically, if you’re going to write a requirement, first let me back up a little bit and talk a bit about why each requirement should be testable. It should be fairly self-evident if you’re building a –it would have to be building a machine or building a system, whatever projects you’re doing, you have to know if you are done and so the requirement has to be testable because if it’s not testable, how will successful implementation of the requirement be verified? How can you say that, “Yes, we’ve tested this requirement, or we verified that it actually works”. In Natural Language Processing, the way we look at that would be to look at how specific the requirement is and there are typically a set of words that when they’re present in the requirement, is a signal that someone has taken the easy way out and has not really thought of what they mean.
Cornelius: Example of such a word?
Jordan: Sure. A typical word is “efficiently”. This thing should happen efficiently. So what does that actually mean, efficiently? Usually you want to be able to quantify it whenever possible because after all, something could be efficient to one person but horribly inefficient to another person. That’s an example of the kinds of Natural Language requirements can catch.
Cornelius: OK. Tip #7 that you have, Writing functional requirements to be implementation-neutral. How do you approach this one?
Jordan: It’s important for a requirement in particular, a functional requirement to be implementation-neutral because a requirements document is not a design document. A requirements document should be outcome-specific so what I mean by implementation-neutral, what I mean is that, a functional requirement, it really should not restrict the design engineer to any particular implementation. It should be free of the design details. You want this system to work—not work in a particular way—but it should accomplish a particular task. In other words, you should state what the system must do and not how it must do it.
Cornelius: And so from a Natural Language Processing perspective, we would look at this and make sure that we’re only talking about the what and not the how then. Is that correct?
Are you by any chance thinking of getting your certification as a PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)®? Great. Because that certification is our topic.
Today you are going to meet Jonathan Hebert (https://www.linkedin.com/in/jonathan-hebert-pmp-csm-pmi-acp-0712471) who not only passed his PMI-ACP® Exam, but he also got audited in the process. So he has a story to tell!
As you know, the rules of all Project Management Institute (PMI)® exams are such that we are not allowed to discuss specific questions from the exam. But we can discuss Jonathan's overall experience, how he got his PMI-ACP Exam Prep, his general thoughts on the process and his recommendations to you. So you can look forward to an experience and tip filled interview on how to prepare for and pass your PMI-ACP Exam.
Are you by any chance thinking of getting your certification as a PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)®? Great! Because today, that certification is our topic—which brings me to this: If you are a Project Manager who wants to become PMI-ACP® certified, then the easiest way to do so is with our sister podcast, the Agile PrepCast™ and get your certification training for the exam by watching the in-depth exam prep video training from www.AgilePrepCast.com.
Today you are going to meet Jonathan Hebert, who not only passed his PMI‑ACP® Exam but he also got audited in the process so he has quite a story to tell. As you know, the rules of all PMI exams are such that we are not allowed to discuss specific questions from the exam but we can discuss Jonathan’s overall experience, general thoughts on the process and his recommendations to you. So you can look forward to an experience and tip-filled interview on how to prepare for and pass your PMI-ACP® Exam. And now, remember, in Agile, we don’t call these lessons learned, it’s a retrospective. Enjoy the interview.
Female Voice: Project Management Podcast™ Feature Interview. Today with Jonathan Hebert, Senior Project Manager for OSP International and a very good friend of mine.
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello Jonathan. Thank you very much for joining us today.
Jonathan Hebert: Hello Cornelius, thanks for interviewing me.
Cornelius Fichtner: Hey, first of all, congratulations on passing the PMI-ACP® Exam.
Jonathan Hebert: Thank you very much.
Cornelius Fichtner: When exactly did you pass? It was just a little while ago, right?
Jonathan Hebert: It was. It was on March 13th of this year.
Cornelius Fichtner: Excellent. Excellent. Before we move on, at this point we have to include a disclaimer and that disclaimer is all about the fact that both you and I, we work for OSP International and among other things, our company offers PMI‑ACP® Exam training and also a simulator and you’ve used both in your exam preparation and will probably mention these two products during the interview as well. We just wanted to make everybody aware of this situation that we are actually colleagues here. So first things first, if you have to do this again, what would you do differently?
Jonathan Hebert: I would set aside more time for preparation and I would probably time it or not so much was going on in my life. I was renovating our kitchen, I had plenty of work to do, there were many things that were in play and looking back, I probably could have scheduled things more beneficial for me. [laughs]
Cornelius Fichtner: And when you said you would schedule more time, you mean longer duration or instead of an hour a day, two hours a day, how do you mean?
Jonathan Hebert: Instead of how I did it, I would actually choose a different time when I have less competing things going on in my life that didn’t allow me to focus as much as I feel is necessary to prepare and pass in the exam.
Cornelius Fichtner: OK. The exam that you took is the current exam. Over the years exams change, right now PMI has the exam based on a recommended reading list of about 12 books and we expect this will change sometime in the future and they will move over to an Agile practice guide. However, do you feel that the way you studied is still valid? Even if those listening to this interview in the future, they maybe using different books and maybe even that PMI Agile Practice Guide, a completely different exam content outline, is it still valid in the future, what you’ve done?
Jonathan Hebert: I think it is. There are 12 references as you said and I read every one of them back to front. No, that’s ridiculous [laughs]. That’s 4000 pages of text that is over-preparing at the very least. What I did was I was able to find the PMP® Exam prep books that summarized well all 12 books and excerpted the topics from those books that are most important in the exam. So I do feel like the way that I prepared is very applicable in the future and I believe as you do, that there will be some sort of a reference that is very similar to the PMBOK® Guide for PMP for Agile because to read 12 books to cover that amount of material is a little bit much to ask.
Cornelius Fichtner: Why exactly did you choose to become PMI-ACP® certified? What was your driver other than me constantly saying, “Hey Jonathan, you’re going to get certified.” [laughs]
Jonathan Hebert: There were those reasons. Two reasons: because I needed to get certified in order to fully understand Agile Project Management, practices, as well as be qualified to author questions and review content and that’s from the job perspective but I personally believe and I think most people that do become Agile certified and do study the methodologies, they believe that this is the best approach for knowledge-based work, work that’s complex, it’s fast-moving, it’s volatile, and the kind of work that really dominates our age now which is the information age. I think Agile offers superior Project Management approaches to do that type of work.
Cornelius Fichtner: Of course because our work here at the company is Agile-focused for the Agile training, the Agile Simulator that was a clear reason why you did this but you’re also CSM certified, right?
Jonathan Hebert: I am CSM certified.
Cornelius Fichtner: Yeah, Certified Scrum Master, yup!
Jonathan Hebert: I suggest that for others as well. It does focusing on one of the methodologies, Scrum—and it’s probably one of the more popular methodologies that is used in Agile.
Cornelius Fichtner: Did you look at any of the other certifications that are out there—the IPMA offers something, universities…
Jonathan Hebert: I didn’t. Actually I pretty much knew that I needed to become Agile PMI-ACP® certified and that was my primary goal, I didn’t look at the other certifications.
Cornelius Fichtner: OK. How long did it take you from start to finish? So start being me going for the first time, “Hey Jonathan, you need the certification until you’ve actually passed”.
Jonathan Hebert: It took eight months which is relatively short compared to my PMP journey.
Cornelius Fichtner: OK. How long was the PMP journey then in comparison?
Jonathan Hebert: That was a couple of years actually from knowing I wanted to do it and committing to do it to actually putting the time off aside and accomplishing that goal.
Cornelius Fichtner: In other words, your PMI-ACP was a lot more Agile than the PMP?
Jonathan Hebert: It was definitely more Agile and in the spirit of Agile, I took a look and there was a retrospective and I improved my approach—one of the tenants of Agile Project Management.
Cornelius Fichtner: You started out as a traditional Project Manager and this is also how you and I got to know each other because my wife happened to work at the same company that you worked at and we’re on the same project so we got to know each other back then. How—because you came from the traditional side, how did you then determine that you were actually eligible to take this Agile certification—coming from the traditional side and doing multiple projects?
Jonathan Hebert: Fortunately, OSP primarily uses Agile methodologies to manage their projects. Being a Project Manager at OSP, I was using Agile methodologies. I was using the practices, the tools, the techniques and therefore I was qualified based on those Agile projects that I participated in and that I ran in various roles.
Cornelius Fichtner: Yeah and that’s actually an important distinction here. This is the Agile certified practitioner, this is not a Project Management certification so you weren’t necessarily labeled as the Project Manager of the project you worked on for us, right?
Jonathan Hebert: That’s correct. I played I think three roles. Two primarily—Scrum master and Agile team member on Agile projects where someone else was a Scrum master or product owner and then I stepped in for a product owner occasionally when we didn’t have the product owner but I understood the product owner’s use and is –the acceptance and command of what the customer was looking for and so therefore I played two primary roles—Scrum master and Agile team member and product owner occasionally.
Cornelius Fichtner: What was the process like for your application for the ACP exam because I remember vividly when I applied for the PMP that was a project on its own and the same probably for you, if you compare this to the PMI-ACP® application.
Jonathan Hebert: It’s very similar. So you have to establish a certain period of time managing Agile projects when you put together your application, you are asked to provide details about each project, what role you played, what activities were taken part, what activities were important and necessary for you to complete your Agile projects and therefore you should be using terminology that is of Agile Project Management. I see them as very similar. Of course it’s easier to do it the second time. So if you’ve done it for the PMP, you sort of know what to expect and I have a little bit of help because I have a couple of colleagues that already applied and shared their applications with me so I have pretty much a template.
Cornelius Fichtner: Yeah and I’m actually going to interview both of those colleagues as well so the listeners can look forward to hearing Yasmin and Starz as well about what they have to say about this. Something absolutely fantastic for my perspective at least for this interview happened to you once you hit submit. You got audited.
Jonathan Hebert: Yes, I did. It’s funny. What is fantastic for someone else is not so fantastic for another person. So, like the PMP I thought I would say, I’ll ride through and the audits are a lottery and I didn’t think I’d win the lottery but I won the lottery.
Cornelius Fichtner: This time you did and it didn’t go as smoothly as we had hoped actually, right? So, I was the contact person that you have put down on your projects because they were done within our company and so you sent me the package, I did what I had to. I printed everything out, I read it, I verified that all the information was correct then I signed where PMI had me sign and I put all these documents into a sealed envelope and then I mailed that sealed envelope to you overnight so that you could then create a complete package and send that to PMI. What did you do on your side after you gave me the documents that I had to sign for you?
Jonathan Hebert: So what I had to do was take the documents myself and actually send them to PMI to be evaluated and to go through the audit process and the audit process took about five days. I was of course expecting that I would pass the audit. Everything that I had put forward was factual and I had a verification from my employer and I provided them all the information that they asked for but what I got back was that my audit information was incomplete and that they needed, in addition to what I provided, they needed again, they needed proof of my education. Part of being able to apply for the exam is that you have obtained a Bachelor’s Degree and a certain number of hours and if you haven’t it’s more hours similar to the PMP and they needed that additional information but it wasn’t made very clear I found out in one of their FAQs. So they asked me for some additional information which I provided but I did not also provide a copy of my degree or a copy of my transcripts initially and that held up the process.
Cornelius Fichtner: Alright. Did you have to submit that along with this? Is this normal that you have to send a copy of your degree or was it just in your case that they wanted to see this?
Jonathan Hebert: It is normal but isn’t as clear as it could be. In the information that they needed from me I provided all the information that was listed in that section out of the explanation for the audit but it was not obvious to me that I had to again show my degree and I had assumed I wouldn’t have to look in the FAQs to find that out and that they already have that proof since I was
Cornelius Fichtner: FTP-certified, right?
Jonathan Hebert: Yeah, exactly. So…
Cornelius Fichtner: It was the subject back then
Jonathan Hebert: Right. So this was a little bit of something that threw me off and then in getting in touch with PMI, there were a couple of hiccups where kind of one hand didn’t know what the other hand…
Cornelius Fichtner: On the PMI side?
This episode is reserved for subscribers of the Premium Podcast. Learn how to subscribe to the Premium Podcast to access this interview and transcript...
For your Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam use PMP training on your phone with The PM PrepCast:
Are you currently managing a multicultural project?
Well, no matter if you answered “yes” or “no” to this, today’s interview with Karin Brünnemann (https://www.linkedin.com/in/karinbrunnemann) is for you. We will look at what culture is, how cultural differences can lead to conflict, and how culture affects the various dimension of conflict on projects that we learned about when we last spoke to Karin. Most importantly, we will of course also discuss approaches for conflict resolution.
So… if you answered “Yes” to my questions “Are you currently managing a multicultural project?”, then you are going to learn a lot about culture, conflict and what to do about it.
And if you answered “No”, then you will learn that your answer was in fact wrong and that you should have answered “Yes” in the first place. You are in fact managing a multi-cultural project even if you don't think you are.
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to this Premium Episode #390. I’m Cornelius Fichtner. As always, Premium means that this is an interview that is reserved for you, our Premium subscribers so thank you for your financial support of the Project Management Podcast™.
Are you currently managing a multicultural project? Well, no matter, if you answer yes or no to this, today’s interview with Karin Brunneman is for you. We will look at what culture is, how cultural differences can lead to conflict and how culture affects the various dimensions of conflict on projects that we learned about when we last spoke to Karin.
Most importantly, we will, of course also discuss approaches for conflict resolution. So, if you answered yes to my question, “Are you currently managing a multicultural project?” then you are going to learn a lot about culture, conflict and what to do about it. And if you answered No, then you will learn that your answer was in fact wrong and that you should have answered ‘yes,’ you are managing a multicultural project.
And so, put on your national costume and enjoy the interview.
Female Voice: Project Management Podcast Feature Interview. Today with Karin Brunnemann, PMP, Intercultural expert.
Cornelius Fichtner: Hallo Karin. Willkommen zurück!
Karin Brunnemann: Dobrý večer, Cornelius, ako sa maš?
Cornelius Fichtner: OK, now you have surprised me [laughs] That was Slovakian?
Karin Brunnemann: It was Slovakian, yes
Cornelius Fichtner: OK. Wonderful and I think that’s very good beginning of this discussion because we want to talk about conflict in multicultural projects and to get us started with this, when I read your bio, I saw that you have lived in nine countries and you worked in 26 countries. What is your personal take away when it comes to culture and conflict?
Karin Brunnemann: Yes. Thank you, that has been my career, so far but I’m still adding to both lists. I’m not finished with moving and travelling yet.
First of all, of course projects are handled differently across different cultures. Living in Slovakia, I call Bratislava my hometown although I was not born here, I’m a member and founding member of Project Management Institute (PMI)® Slovakia Chapter and yes, there are differences in terms of working in projects here in Slovakia. I have been living and working in projects in Colombia, in Guatemala, in Scandinavian countries, in Spain, in Portugal, in Turkey, et cetera.
So definitely, project management as such and conflict management in projects is handled differently in different parts of the world. However, you asked me for my take on culture and one of my lessons learned from my worldwide travel that culture is so much more than just nationality and in project teams, this holds especially true because we work with different departments and sales people people are totally different than accountants, and again totally different than warehouse managers.
We’re also having a professional culture. But we’re also having organizational culture so the organizational, where I do the project, if this organization cooperates with suppliers, with customers, they’re working in different companies some of them are small, some of them are big, they might work with official organization or government and institutions who again have different organizational culture. There are industry sector cultures so automotive companies might work in general differently from an education company for example. So my take from my travels is, yes they’re all different but it’s not just nationality. It’s so much more. So a multicultural project management does not mean only multinational project management.
Cornelius Fichtner: How far do I have to travel before differences in culture begin to matter?
Karin Brunnemann: Oh I have to go upstairs to my neighbors.
Cornelius Fichtner: [laughs] So this close, huh?
Karin Brunnemann: Well actually I don’t think I have to go upstairs, I can stay on the same floor. [laughs]
Yes. It’s sometimes amazing how similar people are if you travel far away. For example, the organization I worked for. They have a large work force in Sri Lanka. People there, they work according to A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) standards so we have an immediate understanding. However, if I might work with another company in Slovakia, they might work according to a different standard and we have a different understanding. Since our overall topic is “Conflict”, such differences in understanding can of course lead to conflict. So, it’s not just managing project in China or India or South Africa, Uzbekistan, Honduras that leads to potential conflict in project, we have to really be very observant that other cultural aspects can actually, even at home cause cultural conflict.
Cornelius Fichtner: Since you are living in Slovakia right now and you’ve been all around the world, is Project Management done differently in Slovakia from a cultural perspective than elsewhere?
Karin Brunnemann: Yes, it is. It’s not so much about the standard. I mean, we have, as I said before, the PMI® Slovakia Chapter, all the members they work according to the PMBOK® Guide standard but the understanding, the interpretation of such standard can be different and we have to consider that it’s always people working with those standards. The standards have to be filled and yes there are quite big differences between Slovakia and the US and between other countries and regions all over the world as well.
Cornelius Fichtner: Alright, let’s bring it back to the central topic of our discussion. I think we’ve outlined the topic of culture quite well and our primary discussion really is conflict in multicultural projects. Let’s take a look at the culture and conflict in which aspects of conflict can I find cultural differences?
Karin Brunnemann: Basically in all aspects, you can find differences starting with the understanding of conflict. It can happen that I have a heated, animated discussion with a fellow team member in a project and that for me and for the other party is just a normal discussion but somebody from a different culture might already perceive this as a conflict. So we don’t all have the same understanding of what conflict is which is very basic thing than of course the emergence of conflict. Why does conflict come into being and there we have some additional risks of conflict is bringing up. If we’re working in a multicultural environment and these risks can for example be in communication. There can be misunderstandings, misinterpretations –we have to be careful that even if English is the project language, there are hundreds of different Englishes around the world. Australian English is different from Canadian English is different from US English is different from UK English. And now imagine you have a multinational project where 80% of your team members don’t even have English as their first language or the native language so there might be a lot of misunderstandings.
You can have different assumptions. It’s very, very difficult to know your wrong assumptions and if you want to be culturally competent, you need to learn how to elicit your own assumptions. I’ll give you a very easy example. When I go to restaurant and I order some food, I assume that it will be served on a plate and I get a knife and fork with it. I don’t tell the waiter to please bring me a steak and serve it on a plate and bring me a fork and a knife—this I assume this. Now, I travel to China and I go to a restaurant, I order food, I might be very surprised because I don’t get a plate, I get a bowl and I don’t get knife and fork, I get chopsticks instead. Only then when my assumptions don’t work anymore I realize that I have this assumption so it’s very difficult for us also. This is so deep inside us. We don’t think about it. We don’t think that we need to say that food has to come on a plate. Another thing is unclear intentions. We don’t know what people are aiming at and that can lead to us misinterpreting what people really want. We think they want something bad but they really want to help us. Then of course we have all different values. We have talked a bit about this in the last session of this podcast. Can women be Project Managers everywhere in the world? I think they cannot. Also lack of trust. The more different people are from us, the less we usually trust them. We’re always looking for things we have in common and if we can’t really find anything in common, we don’t really trust and all this can lead to or enhance conflict. Then of course the conflict itself, the process of the conflict, the course the conflict takes can be different in terms of how fast does it escalate, does it escalate at all? How easy it is to deescalate, etc. Last but not the least, the way we manage conflict can be very different starting from the question, “Who has the authority to manage the conflict?” Is it usual that the conflicting parties solve it themselves? Is it okay to tell the Project Manager to ask for help or is it not okay? So you see there is a lot of a cultural differences involved in conflict management in projects.
Cornelius Fichtner: In the first interview that you and I did, we learned a lot about the theory of hot-cold, constructive - destructive then also how to handle it to avoid compromise, collaborate —all of these –let’s maybe walk a little bit through these here. You already mentioned that culture influences, our understanding of conflict. What you consider to be a conflict, I don’t, it’s just a normal discussion. Is there any other way how culture influences the understanding of our conflict?