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Conrado Morlan

Conrado Morlan

This is a guest post by Conrado Morlan, the Smart PM.

Dear Smart PM…

I am a new hire at the project management office of a large corporation. I had been working in project management for several years as a freelancer. Although I consider myself to be a good networker, I found difficulties networking within the organization. What can I do to build long lasting relationships with the project stakeholders? – PM Lost in Corporate World.

Dear Lost in Corporate World…

Your networking skills as a freelancer should be transferable to the new permanent workplace. In your new position it is important for you to learn what your company does. Speak with the experts. For example, if you work for an accounting firm, talk with accountants. Knowledge about your company will also be helpful while networking within your personal network.

As a project manager it is important for you to have a solid network and build strong relationships with stakeholders. With the help of your manager and peers, identify the strategic functional areas and select a couple. Understand their role in the organization and select two or three people in each one. Focus on people at various levels of responsibility.

Networking within the organization doesn’t have to be a complex process. At a coffee break, go to different break rooms, bring your favorite mug, and introduce yourself. It is always a good idea to leave your desk and scout the building.

Company events may be a great opportunity for you to meet other employees. The environment is usually relaxed and fosters camaraderie. Since you are a new hire, this may be the best “ice-breaker” and would help you to be welcome by other employees and learn more about what the company does. Check for other available activities that will help you to expand your internal network.

Consider including administrative assistants in your internal network. They usually are the “gate-keepers” and having them on your side may be a good strategy to get access to project stakeholders when you need it most. Keep close contact with them and make sure you send birthday and greeting cards for special occasions.

Last but not least, it is never too early to think about your future. Take notice of your manager’s peers. If you are a high potential resource, your manager will already support you. Become visible in the eyes of your manager’s peers and build rapport with them, and identify those who may endorse you as they climb the organizational ladder.

Conrado Morlan, PMP, PgMP, has more than 15 years of experience managing programs and projects in the Americas, Europe and Asia leading multigenerational and multicultural project teams. Conrado was one of the first people to attain the PMI PgMP® credential in Latin America and the first one in Mexico. Conrado is a frequent guest speaker at Project Management congresses in America and Latin America, an avid volunteer with several PMI chapters, a contributor for PMI Community Post and INyES Latino and a blogger at http://thesmartpms.posterous.com.  For questions, comments, or feedback, please contact Conrado.


Good service, bad service

“Good morning, Elizabeth,” says the man at the coffee stand. “The usual?”

“Yes, please.” I fiddle with my purse to get the correct change. “Sorry, I don’t have enough money,” I say. “I’ll just go to the cash machine.”

I leave the counter and cross the street to the nearest cash point. When I get back, my large skinny latte with one sugar is standing on the counter. I hand the barista a note, and he gives me back a fistful of change. He stamps my loyalty card. Four more coffees before I get a free one.

The whole exchange is cheerful. It pleases me that he knows my name and my order. I don’t notice the crowds on the streets as I finish the journey to work. My coffee tastes better because it was made for me by someone who cares. My day starts well.

On the way home after work I stop off to buy some shoelaces in a sports shop. The packets of laces are hung up behind the counter.

“I’d like some brown boot laces please,” I ask the assistant.

He grunts, and points to a packet of rainbow-coloured laces.

“No, brown ones. Across a bit.”

He points to another packet – black shoelaces.

“No, the next ones across. The ones that say boot laces on the packet and are brown.”

Finally, he points to the right packet. “Yes, those ones.”

By the time he’s selected the right packet, rung up the product and told me the price, I’m incredibly frustrated. He should know his products, I think. He should listen to his customers. I think of all the other times I’ve received bad service, at the bank, from the gym, from the insurance agent. The tube is too crowded, and I’m cross all the way home.

When you are dealing with your project customers or stakeholders, are you the barista or the shop assistant?


From the archives

Can you believe I’ve been blogging for four and a half years?  Time has flown past and in that time I’ve met some amazing people and done some really interesting projects.  Here’s a look back at what we were talking about:

This time last year: Recovering troubled programmes.  The 5-step approach to recovering a programme and its constituent projects.

This time in 2008: Project sponsors.  An FAQ to use with newbie sponsors and tips for what a good sponsor looks like.

This time in 2007:  Helicopter project management.  Zooming in and then pulling back to see the big picture.

This time in 2006:  The sad state of Gypsy Moth IV.  The role of regular status reporting.

If you subscribe by RSS and got an email over the weekend with a ‘Hello World’ post, I’m sorry about that.  I had a problem with a corrupt database file that resulted in having to restore the blog from backup, and that post was automatically (and accidentally) generated during the restore.


Fixed date projects: more advice from the experts

Last week we saw that PRINCE2 doesn’t really have much advice to offer the project manager stuck with delivering to a fixed date.  I also gave you some advice from another expert, J LeRoy Ward at ESI.  Surely some other project management experts have tackled this problem?  I trawled my bookcase for what other people had written on the subject.

Stanley E. Portny, in Project Management for Dummies (don’t laugh, it’s actually pretty good), says that managing this way is ‘backing in’.  Backing in is when you start at the end of the project and work your way backwards calculating task estimates until you reach today.  So you automatically shorten task lengths when you realise you are out of time.  That’s why it is not a good idea.  He points out three major pitfalls of planning this way:

  • “You may miss activities, because your focus is more on meeting a time constraint than ensuring you identify all required work.
  • Your span time estimates are based on what you can allow activities to take, rather than what they’ll actually require.
  • The order in which you propose to perform activities may not be the most effective one.” (p. 92)

Linda Kretz Zaval and Terri Wagner also talk about the practicalities of managing to fixed dates in their book, Project Manager Street Smarts: A Real World Guide to PMP Skills, and I picked out the bit about making the plan fit in my book review last year, long before I knew that this month would focus on fixed dates.  They propose three strategies for reducing the project duration to give you a fighting chance of hitting those dates:

  • Crash the project by reducing the duration of activities located on the critical path, focusing on working out the cheapest tasks to reduce and concentrating on them.
  • Fast-track the project.  This is doing tasks in parallel instead of doing them in series.
  • Calculate the cost per day of crashing the project (which is called slope) – then maybe your stakeholders won’t be so keen on making you hurry along.

Meri Williams’ book, The Principles of Project Management, is another one I enjoyed.  And it talks about dealing with fixed date projects, which it calls set deadlines.  Backing in, fixed date, set deadlines, it’s all the same thing.

“First, work out how much trouble you’re in,” she writes.  “Break down the deliverables, gather the estimates, and decide how much contingency you’d have liked to have.  You work out that the realistic deadline for the Next Big Thing project is actually December 1st.  But now what?  How can you convince management that you need an extra six months in the project plan?

If you’re in a wonderful, supportive work environment, you may choose to tackle this issue head-on.  Go and explain that the deadline is unachievable, that you simply can’t make it.”

Williams predicts that either management will replace you with someone who says they can deliver to their ridiculous timescale.  Or management will offer you more cash and more people in a bid to get it all done on time.

“The most important point is to take the emotion out of the discussion. Get everyone to calm down and face reality, making it about what needs to be done, rather than the emotional reaction of a boss who’s being told she can’t have what she wants, and a team that’s being asked to achieve the impossible.”

And of course my book, Project Management in the Real World, includes a chapter on managing fixed date projects with more advice.  Hopefully you are no longer seriously at a loss now as to where to start with your fixed date project.  Enjoy – sometimes the challenge of hitting the date is part of the fun of project management.


Project management tips – from me!

Want to know the thing I found hardest when I first started managing projects?  Or what to read to stay informed?  Read the interview with me at Project Management Bistro for the answers!


Book review: The Principles of Project Management

“Delivering value is the only real reason to undertake a project.”

The Principles of Project Management is part of the Sitepoint stable so, as you would expect, web projects feature heavily.  However, it’s not about a web project management.  I read it on a slow train to the Kent countryside (and back) and Meri Williams writes fluently which makes it easy to absorb and not at all technical.  I actually found it more readable than Project Management for Dummies, and it is aimed at a similar audience – those beginning project management – which means that what little jargon she uses is very well explained.

The focus is very much on the real world, measured, application of project management tools and Williams uses examples to illustrate how things get done in project-land.  The beginning is particularly interesting as there is a chapter dedicated to ‘project discovery’: justifying why you are doing what you are doing.  I haven’t seen that approach in many texts but it’s very helpful, especially as Williams’ core audience is techie people who are moving into project management.  Asking the right questions up front will make it a lot easier to get the project moving in the right direction and be sure that you are working on the right thing, as she explains.  She also points out that this level of understanding can alleviate people issues on the project and explains what to do if you are given a project that isn’t thought through or wanted.  It takes until page 53 before any ‘real work’ (as she calls it) is done – and this is excellent as it is so important to get the foundations right.

The book isn’t going to teach you how to manage multi-million pound projects, but it’s not designed to.  It does have some useful, practical tips that you can apply today. I particularly like adding photos and phone numbers to the project organisation chart, which is a good idea for a dispersed or virtual team.  Although it doesn’t cover the non-project topics in much depth, Principles is wide-ranging in its coverage and also touches on Hersey and Blanchard’s situational leadership model, the RASCI collaboration matrix and Tuckman’s model of group development (forming, storming, norming, performing, adjouring).

Williams talks about SMAC objectives:

Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Consistent.

What does a consistent objective look like?  Consistent with what? I prefer SMART objectives:

Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Timebound.

There is also a chunk on moving to operations, which is essential for software projects, especially the small kind where the developers could well end up doing day-to-day support as well.  However, I disagree with the idea that all operational queries will be resolved by reading the Project Initiation Document, change log or other project documentation.  These will explain why a decision was taken but not what should be changed to meet the new operational need, or how best to use a particular function.  The missing piece is technical documentation: code specs etc which are part of a work package, not the project documentation.  Williams does talk about handover and training documents which could be the kind of thing required to resolve operational issues.  But if there is a query, it’s likely to be something you haven’t thought of during the project, so it could be missing from your documentation anyway.  It is definitely better to have something – and Williams advocates a full handover to support and detailed documentation – than nothing, but you can’t fix everyone’s problems before they happen.  And sometimes, people who have to manage and support the project in operations just have to get on with it.

Appendix A is a summary of the main pointers and it would be a good idea to photocopy them as a desk reference – or better still, print out the poster and pin that up in your workspace.

Appendix B has a list of resources including some planning tools.  A whole book could be written on planning tools and Williams only covers three, with not-very-detailed reviews.  It’s hard to write about software in this kind of book, especially as the market changes so frequently and things get updated or discontinued so often. The advice, though, is sound: do your research and choose one that meets your needs and that has the functionality to export for sharing.  She also lists other books, blogs and websites to help the newbie project manager.

This is a very practical, down-to-earth book that I enjoyed reading.  If you are fed up with being swamped by overly complex methodologies and people trying to make project management too complicated, then get this: proof that project management isn’t rocket science!


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