The Pragmatic PM(P)

Building on our last post “On Considering PMP Certified Project Managers” we thought it would be appropriate to share some depth and breadth around what it means to be a pragmatic project manager (PMP certified, or otherwise). This, in support of your efforts to engage highly effective Project Management resources on a contract/consulting or full-time basis, as well as ensuring overall success of your project teams.

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To support the above, I’d like to introduce our guest writer (Dawie Steenkamp, PhD, PMP) who has to be the most seasoned PM I’ve become acquainted with, other than when looking in the mirror…

Dawie comes to us with SIGNIFICANT academic training and real-world PM experience.

Over 35 years ago Dawie changed the direction of his career from Mechanical Engineering to IT, spending roughly 15 years performing various IT development and management roles before focusing on Project Management. During that time he completed a degree in computer science. Prior to his move to Project Management, he received the ‘Consultant of the year’ award for his outstanding performance as a senior technical consultant. During his third year performing as Project Manager, he again received the ‘Consultant of the year’ award, acknowledging his PM proficiency. At that stage he began a Project Management training program to add academic knowledge to the practical experience gained through his IT career. Over the next thirteen years he completed the following degrees:

  • Associate Degree – Web Project Management – (GPA = 4.0)
  • Bachelor Degree – IT Project management – Summa Cum Laude (GPA = 4.0)
  • Master Degree – IT Project Management and Leadership – (GPA = 4.0)
  • PhD – Project Management – with Distinction

During his PhD program he received the Dr. Harold Kerzner Grant, from the Project Management Institute (PMI) for his coursework to apply towards his Dissertation research. When completing his PhD degree, he became a Scholar Practitioner and continued his Project Management career.

In summary, Dawie has quite literally knocked it clean out of the park at each juncture! And, I’m pleased to introduce this caliber of person who has authored the series on The Pragmatic PM(P). In this series we will cover the following Project Management topics, emphasizing how each is approached and/or considered by the Pragmatic PM(P).

  1. Project Definitions
  2. Project Implementation within Organizations
  3. Project Teams
  4. Project Communications
  5. Project Motivation
  6. Relationships between Communication and Motivation
  7. Different Perceptions
  8. Knowledge Management
  9. Project Estimation and Budgeting
  10. System Development within Organizations
  11. Project Risk Management
  12. Methodologies
  13. Project Plan Summary

In closing, you’ll note that we have a lot to cover. Our goal is to present each topic in bite-sized form that can be easily digested while remaining incredibly useful.

All the best!

Craig Bailey

On Considering PMP Certified Project Managers

As you might imagine, we’ve screened dozens upon dozens of Project Management (PM) candidates to augment our team. Fortunately, our vetting process has resulted in identifying a number of highly qualified resources who are available to engage with our clients.

When sourcing PM’s there are many factors we are looking for in a candidate’s profile, including, but not limited to:

  • Ability to work well with and through other people
  • More than a decade of PM experience. PMP certification “can” be a plus (more on that shortly).
  • Excellent communication skills (written and oral)
  • Self-starter who is highly organized, efficient and has complete mastery of the common tools
  • As applicable, specific domain experience (e.g., medical device manufacturing, a specific software application, post acquisition whole-company integration, international, etc.)
  • Etc., etc.

As alluded to above, PMP Certification “can” carry some weight. However, I’ve learned to proceed with caution here…Why do I say this?

Well, quite simply, it is important to explore how the candidate leverages the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge). That is, do they merely have the head knowledge or do they actually have the scars of PM experience?

In addition, it is important to confirm that they do NOT levy the weight of the entire PMBOK on every single project, regardless of scope, cost, complexity, risk and duration? I’ve observed too many who do. And, that is entirely inappropriate!

For example, leveraging the entire PMBOK on some projects would be like using a pile driver to push a tack into a cork board. While the pile driver would be complete overkill in this scenario, a lesser application of similar principles would work just fine.

We look to confirm that the candidate has mastery of PM principles and tools (PMBOK or otherwise) and judiciously leverages the appropriate components, as necessary, to fit the unique profile of each project.

To be clear, if we had 2 candidates side-by-side, with all things being equal, and one is PMP certified, we’d go with the PMP certified candidate. However, we would NOT do this without first fully exploring their practical application of PM principles and tools to ensure prudent use of each. And, more importantly, to confirm that they have the deep scars of experience to prove it!

In closing, we have a number of PM candidates, some of whom are PMP certified, others who are not. Regardless, these folks can be parachuted into pretty much ANY business project situation and bring the team safely home / across the finish line!

Just ask our clients…

On Hiring & Listening To One’s Gut

Let’s face it. If we want a high performing team we must strive to hire the best possible people.

But, how does one do that?

While I’d never advertise myself as the ultimate expert on the subject, I have hired dozens upon dozens of people in my career. And, after doing so I can honestly say I’ve only made a couple of bad hiring decisions.

We all know the “scientific” steps:

  • Prepare a solid job description outlining the role and requirements (skills, education, experience, etc.)
  • Market the position (I often use LinkedIn with great success)
  • Identify a number of key people in the organization to interview candidates. These should be individuals with a vested interest in the new-hire’s success.
  • Screen and interview candidates based on the job description while considering the “fit” of each within the organization
  • Obtain and discuss feedback from the interviewers and ask for their vote (thumbs up, questions/concerns, thumbs down)
  • Check references on the finalist(s)
  • Perform a background check (if applicable)

Taking the above at the surface level might seem like a pretty reasonable approach to sourcing new members of a team. And, we all pretty much follow that script. So far so good…

Here is where I’ve gone wrong. And, upon sharing my experience with a few others they’ve acknowledged making the same unfortunate mistake.

It goes something like this…

After interviewing a candidate against the job description I was able to successfully “check-off” all the boxes (the requirements). However, my gut was telling me otherwise (i.e., something was wrong but I just couldn’t put my finger on it).

Upon discussing feedback from the team who interviewed the candidate the overwhelming vote was “thumbs up”, except for my one vote of dissent. Being a diplomatic manager, I shared my thoughts and ultimately agreed to go along with their consensus to add this person to our team.

Before a month had gone by it was crystal clear (to all involved) why my gut was against making the hire…

Fortunately, this scenario has ONLY happened a couple of times, many, many years ago.

Lesson learned…

Bottom-line: Listen to your gut.

You want your logical impression of the candidate to be in alignment with your gut feel.

If your gut is telling you something is off you are encouraged to fully vet that to your satisfaction or pass on the candidate. Not doing so will cost you precious time and money.

Take it from the scars of experience…

The good news is that after solidly learning that lesson (many years ago) we’ve built a high performing team of consultants at Customer Centricity. A team of people who never cease to amaze me in how well and consistently they serve our clients.

All the best!

Getting The Most From Your Consulting Dollars – Is The Meter Always Running?

I was recently speaking with one of my clients as we considered the remaining project timeline, compared to the period of performance for the current contract.

In a nutshell, when the initial contract was established it was anticipated that a Project Management resource would be needed on average 3 days per week through “at least” the end of the year.

Now that we are well into the project it is clear that it will be extended into the new year.

My client suggested something to the effect of: “We’re going to need to extend your contract as we get closer to the end of the year.

I had to remind her that just because I’m onsite does NOT mean the meter is running. And, the result is that while we anticipated a run rate of about 3 days per week (and budgeted accordingly) the necessary run rate has been a bit less. As such, we are running under budget and therefore the current contract / budget will carry us beyond the end of the year.

My client was obviously very pleased with this situation!

But how can this be (considering the engagement model of the typical contract / consulting firm)?

That is, when engaging many contract / consulting firms you will find that the meter is running every minute these resources are onsite. This, whether or not they are delivering “real” value.

Not so at Customer Centricity.

The reality is that, while the majority of time contract / consulting resources are fully delivering value, there will ALWAYS be some level of downtime at some point during a project’s lifecycle. This could result from:

  • Key team-members being unavailable (in a meeting, training or on vacation)
  • The project is at a pause awaiting phase-gate or other approval
  • Project team-members are “firing on all cylinders” and there simply isn’t an immediate need for the Project Manager to spend time chasing down updates
  • Myriad other scenarios

Instead of inventing busy work and billing our clients we use this downtime to turn off the meter and attend to other matters. All the while, maintaining an eagle’s eye on the project we are managing.

In closing, when you are discussing the level of engagement with a contract / consulting resource, ask them how they handle downtime, while they are onsite. That is, will the meter continue running, or will they hit the pause button when appropriate?

Another important point to consider when engaging contract / consulting resources.

Getting The Most From Your Consulting Dollars – Can You Try Before You Buy?

Engaging a contract / consulting resource is often the result of the need to fill a crucial void in an organization, until a highly qualified, permanent resource can be identified, hired and on-boarded.

As related to the above, how often have you observed the following scenario play out?

You’ve managed to engage a high performing contract / consulting resource who is doing a fantastic job making forward progress in the area of need. In parallel, you’ve searched high and low (for months) but cannot find the person you’d be comfortable bringing on full-time.

You then consider the fact that you already have someone performing very well in the role and s/he is a great fit within the organization. You decide to pursue the potential of hiring this contract / consulting resource away from their firm.

But wait, there are at least a couple of obstacles presented by typical consulting firms:

  • The contract you signed indicates that you are NOT allowed to hire their resources at all, or for a specific period of time after they complete their engagement with your firm.
  • The firm is willing to discuss your hiring of their resource but there is a fee (often a significant fee) for doing so.

It just doesn’t have to be this way.

At Customer Centricity, we (and to be fair “some” other non-typical consulting firms) strive to meet our clients at their level of need and do not present the above obstacles.

For example, there have been numerous occasions when our high performing resources have been asked, by our clients, if they’d consider coming on as a full-time employee.

Our response is simple. If the consultant is interested in becoming an employee of our client’s firm, it is their decision, not ours. If they (our client and consultant) can strike a mutually acceptable deal then we say “make it so.”

We like to keep things simple, which at the same time, makes everyone happy.

Our client is happy, in that they’ve been able to “try (a highly qualified resource to fill their need) before they buy.”

This dramatically reduces their risk in the hiring process as they have observed this person performing in their organization for months.

Our consultant is happy in that (if they accept the offer) they’ve found a rewarding opportunity that they simply could not refuse.

The result: our clients call on us time and time again because they acknowledge our main objective is to look out for their best interests and make their pressing problems go away.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what you are looking for, when engaging a consulting firm?

Getting The Most From Your Consulting Dollars – Need Only Part Time Help?

In this series on Getting The Most From Your Consulting Dollars we have covered a number of topics related to ensuring cost effectiveness while obtaining the particular skill set(s) needed for a temporary engagement.

Building on this, how often have you determined that you needed a seasoned consultant, but only on a part-time basis. That is, perhaps there is a high risk / high visibility initiative that only requires strong project management support to the tune of 2 to 3 days per week.

Where can you find such resources?

The reality: typical consulting firms will often only place resources on a full-time basis. And/or, they may be willing to place a resource on a part-time basis, but the fee structure is higher than it needs to be.

Why is this the case?

Remember, the “typical” consulting firms have overhead (often, significant overhead). They must pay for their posh offices in large cities around the country (or world), the time that their consulting resources are “on the bench”, multiple layers of management and finally, deliver value to their investors.

As a result, these firms MUST maximize billable hours for ALL their consulting resources.

The good news! There is an alternative.

At Customer Centricity, we (and to be fair, “some” other non-typical consulting firms) offer highly seasoned resources on a part-time as well as full-time basis, all for the very same, reasonable price.

How and why can we do this? Well, for a number of reasons:

  • ALL our resources are highly seasoned and able to shoulder (i.e., coordinate) part-time engagements with multiple clients at the same time.
  • Our resources are freelance in nature and therefore GREATLY enjoy the time off when only working on a part-time basis.
  • And, finally, we have virtually no (that is, ZERO) overhead to cover…
  • Bottom-line: We are under NO pressure to achieve a set number of billable hours in a given month.

The result: we are extremely flexible and support our clients at the level THEY need.

Yet another consideration, prior to engaging your next consulting resource.

Getting The Most From Your Consulting Dollars – Will They Fire Themselves?

In the prior post on Getting the Most From Your Consulting Dollars we began discussing the importance of ensuring that consulting / contract resources are only engaged by your organization on a temporary basis.

Especially, given the fact that when many consulting firms get in the door they simply do not want to leave (ever). And, the reality that employees are more often than not happy that these resources remain around to help out, even when they are more than capable of handling the work themselves…The result: unnecessary costs being absorbed by the business. And, third-party resources (which are ultimately temporary) developing key subject matter expertise that belongs within your organization for the longterm…

At Customer Centricity we are simply not geared that way. And, here is example number 2 demonstrating this fact.

We are often engaged on high profile projects once they have languished (missed deadline after deadline) and have run WAY over budget. This has resulted from ineffective project management by internal employees and/or external consulting firms.

The particular example to be covered is quite telling of the true nature of many (but not all) consulting organizations.

A few years ago we were asked to rescue a long overdue ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) implementation.

The company had been through several internal and external project managers before the CFO (one of our longstanding clients, at a few other firms) finally “had enough” and called on us.

Upon engaging it didn’t take long to realize that the project was being managed from a technical vs. business / process perspective.

Sure, components of “cool technology” had been pieced together to handle a key segment of the overall application. However, the entire aspect of process, necessary to properly manage the business application, was lacking.

We subsequently re-baselined the project with what we “thought” was a solid team (comprised of internal employees as well as consulting “experts” from 2 other firms).

As we commenced to execute against the revised plan it became clear that the earth was shifting beneath us. That is, the business was rapidly evolving which directly impacted the scope and requirements of the project.

This resulted in a few project “resets.”

Because of the above sequence of events, “project fatigue” set in. This was demonstrated by resignations of project team members / employees of the client’s firm. Departures of key resources with deep subject matter expertise on the business, processes and related applications.

What remained was a number of well-meaning employees and a team of consultants…

At this point we met with the CFO and CIO, and delivered a simple, yet strong, message. It went something like this…

Given the nature of the business (continuing to evolve faster than a project of this nature could ever keep pace with) and the fact that the project team is lacking the necessary depth and breadth of expertise “internally” (due to recent departures) you are better off killing this project than attempting to continue. The alternative is to pay us another $XXX,XXX over the next several months ONLY to end up in a place not much different than where we are today.

Said another way…We’ve seen this movie before. We didn’t like the ending last time. Let’s not watch it again…

Shortly thereafter, when the team gathered for our weekly status meeting, there was an ominous air about us. The CFO promptly kicked things off announcing the decision that the project was being put on hold – immediately. And, all costs resulting from external / project-related resources were to cease.

In summary, we turned off the spigot!!!

Appropriately so!
It was the classic money-pit: the never-ending project that had taken on a life of its own.

We stepped forward with the unpopular recommendation to shut it down and stop the bleeding once and for all. Of course, we also put ourselves out of a job in the process – but that was the right thing to do for the customer.

To be clear, the other firms engaged on the project were NOT pleased. They had expected to reap many more months of continued revenue from the client, even when the project was clearly destined for failure.

In closing, you want a consulting firm that is looking out for YOUR best interests. Not one whose primary goal is to keep the meter running – indefinitely. As such, when considering engaging consultants on your next project, ask them to clearly demonstrate how they’ve put their clients’ interests first (by firing themselves).