Project management thought leader Moira Alexander chats exclusively with The Fast Track about issues such as the difference between project management and change management, the unique requirements of remote project management, and the most effective use of software tools to complete project management and non-PM related tasks.
Moira Alexander is the founder and president of Lead-Her-Ship Group, as well as a project management and IT columnist for CIO Magazine whom I’ve often admired and cited. Her book Lead or Lag: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership was just released this month. Here, Moira sounded off on some of our burning questions related to the field of Project Management in late 2016.
What's new and different about the field of project management this year?
Project Management (PM) is a field driven by business strategy and it’s under increasing pressure to not only execute project specific requirements, but also provide evidence it can effectively link efforts back to higher-level company-wide, and even industry based goals. This makes it necessary for project, portfolio, and program leaders to take on the role of a true partner with company leadership in this regard.
There’s also a continued trend towards a higher degree of global visibility that’s creating an environment where transparency, accountability, and social responsibility are significant factors in measuring project, portfolio, and program success.
This year and well into the future, I believe successful delivery will mean project professionals will need to sharpen their technical knowledge, adopt hybrid methodologies with increasing frequency, and greatly expand on their softer skills to influence positive results.
What are some key differences between project management and change management?
Although project management and change management share a closely linked relationship, they are completely different disciplines with distinct roles and responsibilities. You could also think of change management as a subset of Project Management.
The role of project management: Project Management involves the actions and activities required in the actual implementation of a product or service.
Project management professionals manage all project specific activities from initiation to close, and ensure stakeholder goals are successfully accomplished. They facilitate project meetings, maintain communication with all stakeholders, and ensure projects remain within scope. Project managers should work with the company leadership to ensure there’s alignment with business strategies and help to mitigate risks. Ultimately, Project Manager focus is project specific activities that enable a company’s vision.
The role of change management: Change management monitors and manages only the impact of changes that result from organizational and project management activities. It involves the implementation of strategies to deal with change (sustainability aspects).
A change management professional guides, communicates, documents, and implements effective strategies to manage change. They help company leadership, employees, and other stakeholders through the transition as changes occur, and improve process adoption and buy-in to reduce anxiety and resistance. The primary focus should be the impact of change on people and processes.
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What are some of the unique requirements of remote project management?
Remote project management can inflict larger consequences on team members, stakeholders, and the project leaders and the project as a whole.
As a result, project management leaders who manage virtual teams are required to have a significantly higher degree of flexibility, adaptability, technological advancement, communication, and organization skills. When working with remote teams, they have to be able to accomplish the same things as other project managers but with less reliability or predictability.
Because there’s even more ambiguity, they require an advanced knowledge of security protocols when working more frequently with mobile technologies and sensitive client data. A remote Project Manager has to be able to motivate and meet everyone, and schedule and monitor everything from a distance, which puts them at an automatic disadvantage. Their organizational skills, conflict resolution abilities, and self-governance have to be top-notch at all times. In other words, they need to have all the necessary project management skills, but on steroids! This can be extremely challenging because there isn’t opportunity for regular face-to-face time, which reduces their ability to gauge human elements and social queues.
How about global project management?
If managing projects globally, additional factors can complicate a project manager's role and the success of the project. Cultural differences, language barriers, time zone differences, conflicting legal or regulatory hurdles, and even political unrest can throw an immense wrench in things. All of these things need to be factored in at early stages, so it’s important for companies to carefully select project managers who have the right temperament, tolerance, and global awareness to navigate these factors and other possible obstacles.
How should new project managers go about choosing a Project Management methodology?
It's important for new project managers to recognize that they don't need to recreate the wheel when it comes to choosing relevant methodologies. They can leverage the experience and knowledge of more seasoned project leaders, as well as existing information and resources that are out there.
That said, the first thing a new Project Manager should do is start closer to home by getting to know project requirements and how they tie in with the views, culture, and vision of the company. This will help lay the groundwork for how and why certain methodologies may work better than others. It's important to note that hybrid methodologies are being used more often to obtain the best results.
A new Project Manager should take the time upfront to think about what needs to be accomplished, and carefully weigh the pros and cons of different methodologies in relation to a specific project. Methodologies aren't a one-size-fits-all, even in the same industry or company. If project managers can clearly draw a direct line to exactly how and why their chosen methodology(s) will help them achieve intended goals, they are on the right track.
How should Project Managers use project management-specific software to do their jobs more effectively?
Many of the project management solutions today offer various modules to deal with communication and collaboration, productivity, customer relationship management, project scheduling, time tracking, procurement, billing, and other necessities. Some project management software will encompass all of these (or most) and others integrate fairly seamlessly with third-party vendor software to offer an end-to-end solution. These solutions do much of the heavy lifting process-based activities so that project leaders and their teams can focus their effort and time on higher-value activities.
Before evaluating the effectiveness of project management software, it's important for companies to conduct a needs assessment and prioritize the functionality required to make the project team more effective and increase the chances of being able to deliver projects within scope.
Every solution has its benefits and best use scenarios, so project leaders need to evaluate, test, and leverage the power of an end-to-end solution if they want to simplify jobs. The key is thinking about the Project Management knowledge areas and how a team can use specific tools to effectively navigate through each area from start to finish. Make sure to factor in current processes, team, and business strengths and weaknesses and stakeholder needs when choosing a solution.
What about tools that are not project management-specific?
There are many tools not specific to project management. Some have a close relationship to project management like requirements management tools, while others can be standalone or integrated tools like communication management and collaboration, productivity, or storage solutions. Many today integrate well with project management-specific software. There’s also accounting and financial reporting, sales, marketing, payroll processing, tax filing, web meeting, and mobile security tools that integrate well with project management software to increase productivity and reduce time and resource waste. Take the time to map existing and “to-be” processes before selecting solutions to ensure all process and deliverable needs are sufficiently met.