Reflection and Takeaways on Agility from the SMC-IT 2018 Space Mission Design conference

By Tom Friend – Agile Consultant / LtCol USAF (Ret)
CSP, ACP, AHF, FLEX, CSM, PSM, ATP

The 6th International Conference on Space Mission Challenges for Information Technology, held in Alcala de Henares, Spain, brought together scientists, engineers, and researchers from NASA, the European Space Agency, universities and industry.

Case studies on how agile methodologies have been applied to mission planning and how scrum has been used in spacecraft construction were discussed, as well as topics such as developing and delivering software, reliability and reuse of software, onboard processing, and communication.

Representing Scrum, Inc. as a keynote speaker, I opened the conference with “Scrum to the Stars” which looked back into aviation history and to the future of innovation in aerospace, and how Scrum methodologies have been, and will continue to be effective tools.

Iterative discovery has been at the core of aviation exploration since the dawn of flight. Whether it was the first aeronauts in balloons, or the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, explorers of flight used processes that built on incremental failures and successes. Aerospace design processes were modified as improvements to flight technology were discovered, and the knowledge base expanded. Empiricism and Incremental improvement evolved as a standard path to improvement.  This standard path emerges as patterns.  For example Interfaces in small satellites are deliberately over-designed to reduce need for disruptive renegotiation.  The pattern of S\simple pre-negotiated physical bus structure for data and power increase design versatility, and loose production coupling.  One of the most significant scructural patterns is that of standard adapters allows objects with incompatible interfaces to work together by wrapping its own interface around that of an already existing interface.  These are just some of the patterns that when combined defines the evolving path to improvement.

In essence, Scrum was there at the start of aerospace exploration. Over the years, as systems have increased in size and complexity, common sense has been lost, and projects hit overruns in both time and money spent. By utilizing an Agile framework, you can break down these complex systems into smaller pieces that can then be integrated into the whole design. The step-by-step, incremental approach can be an effective time and cost management tool.

Today the trend in space exploration is making small satellites. Frequently, these small satellites are part of a larger mission.  In doing this, risk is reduced by breaking a complex mission into parts and delivering it in smaller submission components. Think of it as component architecture with your software systems, same pattern. The end deliverable: small satellites that are tailored to a particular mission.

This approach complements Agile planning where focus is on delivering small increments of value and dedicated Scrum teams to build and deliver the satellites.   The success and low cost of small satellites with focused space missions is now mainstream with a standard type of microsatellite called, “CubeSat” that follows set size and weight requirements. This standard is a simple 6-page document keeping with the Agile tradition of minimum viable documentation.

CubeSats by necessity have evolved to leverage many Scrum in Hardware Patterns to speed development and reduce costs. This conformance to patterns has created a whole cottage industry of commercial off the shelf (COTS) suppliers.  They provide hardware and software systems and components that can be used together like LEGOs because they have standard power, size, bussing, and know stable interfaces that allow them to be configured quickly and with low expense.

One of my favorite ways to demonstrate how effective Scrum can be in a hardware setting is a class I give using the CubeSat format. This class is generally offered in a 6-hour format, and is very hands on. In this course, we build a 3D paper CubeSat with a specific mission. All the steps from mission design, roadmap, and components are broken down into a backlog and worked by a scrum team to deliver a fully functional model.  We then walk through the launch and operation of the CubeSat, discussing what each component is doing as it circles the table in the middle of the room that represents Earth.

This simple class exercise using scrum to build components and the visualization of talking through a mission shows how prototyping lets you see problems with design early and builds shared understanding on the team.  These are lessons that you can take back to your own teams to make them even better.


About the Author

Tom Friend is an accomplished Agile consultant, trainer, and coach with 23 years’ experience leading software development teams in various industries to include federal, banking, cable, telecommunications, and energy. He has 12 years of hands on Agile / XP / Scrum software development experience.  He is a distinguished graduate from Air War College and has a BS in Aeronautics.


A New Way to Recognize the Achievements of Project Managers

By Harold Kerzner, Ph.D.
Senior Executive Director for Project Management, IIL

Introduction:

The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang are well underway, with athletes from all over the world being awarded medals for their achievements. Military personnel, police departments, and other professional organizations also recognize the achievements of their labor force through medals and ribbons. So, why shouldn’t we do the same thing for project managers? This could be significantly more important to a worker or project manager than a simple handshake.

We begin our projects with the greatest of intentions. Some people view project management as a series of contests or challenges beginning with a well thought out plan that everyone agrees with. When projects do not necessarily go according to plan, we may end up with rigorous confrontations that can lead to skirmishes and even battles with stakeholders. Some battles on projects are so intense that we consider them as all-out wars.

Years ago, many aerospace and defense industry projects were managed using war rooms. There was a reason why we called them war rooms. These were rooms with one door and no windows. On the walls were scope, scheduling, and financial information as well as other key metrics. It was called a war room because this is where the battles between project teams, executives, stakeholders, clients, and contractors took place. The concept of project war rooms still exists today.

If we look at the literal definition of war, we can see the comparison to the project management environment. This appears in Exhibit 1.

Dictionary Definition of War Project Management Interpretation
An often prolonged conflict carried on between nations, states, or parties Disagreements between the project manager, client, contractors, stakeholders and governance groups, lasting possibly for the duration of the project
A concerted effort or campaign to combat or put an end to something considered injurious Each of the disagreements can be viewed as injurious as seen through the eyes of each involved party; interpretation of changes in the enterprise environmental factors is an example
An intentional and widespread armed conflict between political communities, and therefore is defined as a form of political violence or intervention Everyone has personal and/or political values which can be the source of the war; the personal values can become more important that the project’s values
An armed conflict or a state of armed hostility Weapons of war are more than words; they include schedules, budgets, specifications, requirements and other competing constraints as well as the organizational process assets
A condition of active antagonism or contention A war of words, a war of how to interpret the requirements or a contract price war

Exhibit 1 A Project Management Interpretation of War

Both victors and losers in war are often given ribbons and medals to commemorate their heroism in the face of adversity or simply to show their participation in a military campaign. This should be done for project managers and team members. The PM’s battles can exist on several fronts: battles with the client, the stakeholders, the project team, the governance group, and even with your own senior management. Each battle can be a different type of combat and they can all be taking place concurrently. This is one of the reasons why most PMs have good health insurance plans.

If each project is viewed as a military campaign or even a war, then what would life be like if we were to award ribbons and medals to project managers the same way we do it for military personnel? There are numerous challenges in project management and people should be recognized for overcoming these challenges. Of course, this will probably never happen, but it is still something worth considering.

The Competing Constraints Ribbon:

For more than 40 years we defined project success using the triple constraints of time, cost, and scope. But today, we have competing constraints which go well beyond just time, cost and scope. Other constraints, which are often not listed in the project’s requirements, but may be important include:

  • Using the client’s name as a reference after project completion
  • Probability of obtaining follow-on work
  • Financial success (i.e. profit maximization)
  • Achieving technical superiority (i.e. competitive advantage)
  • Aesthetic value and usability
  • Alignment with strategic planning objectives
  • Meeting regulatory agency relationships
  • Abiding by health and safety laws
  • Maintaining environmental protection standards
  • Enhancing the corporate reputation and image
  • Meeting the personal needs of the employees (opportunities for advancement)
  • Supporting and maintaining ethical conduct (Sarbanes-Oxley Law)
  • Hoping for a better assignment on the next project

Today, our projects are becoming more complex. We realize that meeting all of the constraints may be too challenging and even impossible on some projects. The solution may be to prioritize the constraints and hope that we can perform at a minimum within all of the high priority constraints. It is entirely possible that performance within all of the constraints may be more wishful thinking than reality.

For those project managers that perform within all of the competing constraints, they may receive the Competing Constraints Ribbon shown in Exhibit 2. Since the color green is often used to portray success, it is only fitting that the colors on the ribbon be various shades of green. The star in the ribbon can be a variety of colors signifying the number of projects that were successfully managed within all of the competing constraints.

Exhibit 2: Recognition for Meeting All of the Competing Constraints

The Pain and Suffering Endurance Ribbon:

When projects get out of control, whether it is the result of changes in the enterprise environmental factors or the personal whims of stakeholders, project managers end up taking the brunt of all of the pain. The pain can come from physical, verbal or emotional abuse. Some projects are completed without pain and suffering, but these are usually in the minority. Unfortunately, projects will get into trouble. When this happens, not all project managers know how to perform under this type of pressure or stress.

The criteria for this award is based upon:

  • Number of trips to the emergency room over the duration of the project
  • Number of bones broken or mutilated over the life of the project
  • Number of stitches received within a given time frame
  • Criteria does NOT include issues at home (although maybe it should)

Exhibit 3 shows the Pain and Suffering Endurance Ribbon. Since the color blue seems to be the most commonly used color in the medical profession, it is only fitting that the award be various shades of blue. The symbol in the medal is a common symbol used in the medical profession. The alternate choice for colors in this ribbon would be black and blue, and I am sure we all know why, and no further explanation is necessary.

Exhibit 3: The Pain and Suffering Endurance Ribbon

The Project Recovery Ribbon:

We know that projects have a tendency to get into trouble, yet not all project managers possess the necessary skills to recover a failing project. Sometimes people with special expertise are brought in to take over the possibly failing projects. These people may have the title of recovery project managers and wear armor and a bullet-proof vest.

Exhibit 4: The Project Recovery Ribbon

The ribbon for successfully recovering a failing project is shown in Exhibit 4.  The colors in the ribbon identify the direction in which the project must go, namely red (in trouble), yellow (there’s hope) and green (out of trouble). Recovery project managers may also be awarded the Pain and Suffering Endurance Ribbon.

The Global Project Manager Ribbon:

Some project managers become very good at managing internal projects and may receive numerous Competing Constraints Ribbons. Yet the same project managers may become failures at managing global projects because of their inability to deal with cultural differences, politics, power struggles, and rapidly changing enterprise environmental factors based upon who is in power in the host government at that time.

Exhibit 5: The Global Project Manager Ribbon

Exhibit 5 shows the ribbon awarded for successfully managing global projects. The seven colors in the ribbon represent the seven continents. People that are awarded the Global Project Manager Ribbon may also be awarded the Pain and Suffering Endurance Ribbon. It is unlikely that they will also receive the Competing Constraints Ribbon.

The Professional Responsibility Ribbon:

The project management environment offers numerous ways for project managers to get into trouble. Typical ways include:

  • Inappropriately giving or receiving gifts
  • Failing to report violations
  • Getting involved in bribes for giving or receiving contracts
  • Insider trading due to privileged information
  • Untruthful reporting of information

The Project Management Institute (PMI)® Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct should be adhered to and people that abide by the code should be identified and rewarded. Exhibit 6 shows a typical ribbon and/or medal for such people. People that fail to abide by the PMI® Code of Ethics Professional Conduct could end up with prison sentences and voluntary admission to the witness protection program.

Exhibit 6: The Professional Responsibility Ribbon

The Say “NO” Ribbon: 

Perhaps the most important and rarely used word in the project manager’s vocabulary is the word “NO.” No matter how well the project’s requirements are thought out and the fact that everyone initially agrees on the project’s requirements, changes seem to occur. While some changes are necessary, many changes are requested because of the personal whims of individuals, including senior managers and executives, and these requests may not be in the best interest of the project.

The ultimate purpose of a change control system is to prevent unnecessary changes from entering the project. Scope changes result in baseline changes with the ultimate effect of elongating the schedule and driving up the cost. Project managers must be prepared to say no. Project managers should be rewarded rather than punished when correctly saying no to the clients and stakeholders. The ribbon for this is shown in Exhibit 7 below.

Exhibit 7: The Say “NO” Ribbon

 The Innovation Ribbon: 

Innovation is generally regarded as a new way of doing something. The new way of doing something should be substantially different from the way it was done before rather than a small incremental change such as with continuous improvement activities. The ultimate goal of innovation is to create hopefully long-lasting additional value for the company, the users, and the deliverable itself.  Innovation can be viewed as the conversion of an idea into cash or a cash equivalent.

While the goal of successful innovation is to add value, the outcome can be negative or even destructive if it results in poor team morale, an unfavorable cultural change or a radical departure from existing ways of doing work. The failure of an innovation project can lead to demoralizing the organization and causing talented people to be risk-avoiders in the future rather than risk-takers.

Not all project managers are given the opportunity to manage projects that require true innovation. The criteria for the Innovation Ribbon in Exhibit 8 should be not only the creation of a unique product or service, but one that creates long-lasting value and possibly profits for the company.

Exhibit 8: The innovation Ribbon

The Profitability Ribbon: 

Not all project managers have the opportunity to manage projects designed to create immediate profits. Some project managers do not have profit and loss (P&L) responsibility and end up managing internal projects where the measurement of actual profits may be difficult and may not occur until well into the future.

But those project managers whose efforts directly contribute to the profitability of the firm should be recognized perhaps with the ribbon shown in Exhibit 9. There’s no apparent need to explain why the color green is used in the ribbon. However, there must be reasonable criteria established for what constitutes significant profitability. Also, the criteria should indicate that this is done without any sacrifice to quality.

Exhibit 9: Corporate Profitability Ribbon

The Power of Acknowledgment Ribbon: 

Today, we are asking project team members at the end of a project to evaluate the performance of the project manager and whether or not they would like to work for this project manager on future projects. If the project team members feel that they were personally challenged and motivated by the project manager to the point where they ended up performing to the best of their ability, they will most certainly want to work for this project manager again.

One of the secrets to effectively motivating the team, without incurring any detrimental results, is by using the power of acknowledgment. Exhibit 10 shows the Power of Acknowledgment Ribbon. Effective acknowledgment goes from your heart to the heart of the team members. Using the proper words when acknowledging the efforts of the team will unlock their hearts and motivate them to higher levels of performance. That’s why the heart appears in the medal and, of course, I assume we all understand why various shades of red are used as the colors.

Exhibit 10: The Power of Acknowledgment Ribbon

The Quality of Life Ribbon: 

Having the first nine ribbons and medals pinned to your chest may have no meaning unless you have a family to share the recognitions with. All too often, project managers become so in love with their job that they forget about their family and the community.

The Quality of Life Ribbon appears in Exhibit 11. The criteria for the award should be established by the spouses of the project managers based upon criteria that might include:

  • How much time does the PM spend at work as compared to the time spent with the family?
  • Does the PM remember the names of his or her children?
  • How much company work is done at home?
  • Does the PM attend and support community events?
  • If you have a dog at home, does the dog recognize the PM or bark as though the PM is a stranger in the house?
  • If applicable, how much time does the PM spend with the children?
  • How much travel is required in the PM’s job?

This award, in my opinion, should be presented at a public ceremony for all PMs to see. Maintaining a stream of successfully managed projects is a nice accomplishment as long as it is not done at the expense of your family.

Exhibit 11: The Quality of Life Ribbon

Conclusion:

There are numerous battles that project managers must participate in to be effective. These battles can occur at any time and last for the duration of the project. In this paper, I have identified just 10 possible battles and project managers should be somehow recognized for their ability to have won these battles. We all know that there are other battles that project managers must endure, and perhaps the list may be as many as 30 to 40 battles. But at least we see the need to recognize some of the critical accomplishments made by project managers.

About the Author

Harold Kerzner, Ph.D. is IIL’s Senior Executive Director for Project Management. He is a globally recognized expert on project management and strategic planning, and the author of many best-selling textbooks, most recently Project Management 2.0.


How to Understand Soft Skill Metrics in the Next Generation of Project Management


pm_2_0_3DMany years ago (i.e., before the Internet existed), I worked with a well-known colleague who was quite proficient at writing books. When I asked him where all of his ideas came from, he pointed to a small pad of paper and a pen in his shirt pocket. He stated that whenever any of his students asks a good question, he writes down the question immediately and later creates text material for his books around that question. Therefore, these questions often lead to individual brainstorming sessions for the creation of intellectual property.

I received a question from Sajjad Falahati, who is in the EMBA (Executive MBA) Program at the Alborz Institute of Higher Education in Qazvin, Iran:

I am an Iranian student currently working on my MA dissertation in which I am trying to customize and predict future phases of a flour mill construction project in Sarakhs SEZ, northeast of Iran.
The biggest question I have in mind is how to predict and translate behavioral nature of the Kerzner Project Management Maturity Model quantitatively.
Also, the project not being initiated yet challenges my work in that it leaves no chance for me to put my customized model into practice for now (and I believe the reason lies in the futuristic sort of approach that the Kerzner Project Management Maturity Model naturally takes).
I would be very grateful to hear your comments on this.

This is an excellent question and the timing could not have been better since I am in the early stages of preparing the next edition of my text on the Project Management Maturity Model (PMMM).

Maturity in project management is most frequently measured in terms of paperwork generated and hard skills related to the creation of forms, guidelines, templates and checklists. With hard skills (especially in regard to deliverables created with paperwork such as components of a methodology), there are several metrics and measurement techniques that can be used to show progress toward various levels of maturity. But in regard to soft skills or the behavioral side of project management, not many metrics existed in the past. However, today they are receiving some attention. There are some attempts to establish these behavioral metrics, but they are still in the infancy stages of development.

Some of these behavioral metrics under consideration include:

• Collaboration
• Commitment
• Culture
• Emotional maturity
• Employee morale
• Leadership effectiveness
• Motivation
• Quality of life
• Stress level
• Teamwork

Identifying these metrics is easy. However, the obstacle is the measurement technique—finding ways to perform the measurements over time will be challenging. Measurement techniques are now coming of age.

In the next version of the PMMM, I will be adding in material related to:

• The maturity process for establishing metrics and KPIs
• The maturity of project sponsorship and governance for levels of the PMMM
• Establishing criteria for measuring project business value along the PMMM path
• Transformational project management leadership

Mr. Falahati’s question is directly related to the last bullet above and indirectly related to the other three bullets. There have been numerous books written on the behavioral side of project management, specifically on effective project management leadership. Most of them seem to favor situational leadership where the leadership style that the project manager selects is based upon the size and nature of the project, the importance of the deliverables, the skill level of the project team members, the project manager’s previous experience working with these team members, and the risks associated with the project.

Historically, project managers perceived themselves as being paid to produce deliverables rather than managing people. Team leadership was important to some degree, as long as what was expected in the way of employee performance and behavior was consistent with the desires of the functional manager who conducted the employee’s performance review. In the past, project managers were expected to provide leadership in a manner that gave the employees a chance to improve their performance and skills, and allowed the employee to grow while working on project teams.

Today, project managers are being asked to function as managers of organizational change on selected projects. Organizational change requires that people change. This mandates that project managers possess a set of skills that may be different than what was appropriate for managing projects. This approach is now being called Transformational Project Management (TPM) Leadership.

There are specific situations where transformational leadership must be used and employees must be removed from their previous comfort zones. As an example, not all projects come to an end once the deliverables are created. Consider a multinational company that establishes an IT project to create a new high security, company-wide email system. Once the software is developed, the project is ready to “go live”.

Historically, the person acting as the project manager to develop the software moves on to another project at “go live,” and the responsibility for implementation goes to the functional managers or someone else. Today, companies are asking the project manager to remain on board the project and act as the change agent for full, corporate-wide implementation of the changeover to the new system. In these situations, the project manager must adopt a transformational leadership style.

Transformational project management is heavily focused upon the people side of the change and is a method for managing the resistance to change, whether the change is in processes, technology, acquisitions, targets or organizational restructuring. People need to understand the need for the change and buy into it. Imposing change upon people is an invitation for prolonged resistance, especially if people see their job threatened. Transformational projects can remove people from their comfort zones.

TPM, as it relates to the PMMM, is shown in the exhibit below.

Transformational project management & the PMMM

Although there are many elements of human behavior to be considered in a project management environment, I generally focus upon the factors that can influence project management leadership. In a simple context, leadership in project management is based upon one or more of the following:

• Leadership during the execution of a project where the project manager has no direct control or influence over the assigned project personnel
• Leadership during the execution of a project where the project manager has direct control or influence over all or some of the assigned project personnel
• Leadership during the “go live” stage of a project where the project manager may have direct control or influence over the workers for an extended period of time

Mr. Falahati’s question about the behavioral nature of the PMMM has forced me think about the necessity to include more behavioral information in the PMMM. Obviously, this is now becoming more important than I had anticipated. The growth of metric measurement techniques, especially for soft skill data, is now making this possible and I will certainly take this under consideration.

In February of this year, Wiley released a new book I wrote titled PM 2.0: Leveraging Tools, Distributed Collaboration, and Metrics for Project Success. I am conducting research for the next edition of this book, titled PM 3.0. One of the critical topics for PM 3.0 will be a better understanding of human behavior on projects and establishing behavioral metrics.

More research needs to be done on measurement techniques for use of soft skills metrics. Should Mr. Falahati continue on with his education and pursue a Ph.D., I would recommend this as his dissertation topic, and I eagerly wait to read his Ph.D. thesis.


Lessons Learned From My Most Important Project Management Best Practice

By Harold Kerzner, Ph.D
Senior Executive Director of Project Management, IIL 

Last year, I wrote a blog entitled My Most Important Best Practice. In the past several months, people have been asking me what I learned from this best practice. This is good news because it means that people are reading my blog.

I have modified this blog to include what I learned. As most often occurs in industry with continuous improvement activities is that the capturing of one best practice can lead to the discovery of other best practices.

During the almost five decades I have spent in the project management arena, I have collected many best practices that eventually end up in my textbooks. Most of these best practices revolve around continuous improvements to the project management methodology and result in updates to the policies, procedures, forms, guidelines and templates used for managing projects.

Actually, the wording “best practice” may be incorrect. It may be better to use the words “proven practice” because a best practice implies that it cannot be improved further. Proven practices, on the other hand, are subject to continuous updates.

There is one best practice that I have used over the years and have never been able to improve upon. I regard it as the “best” of the best practices, and it relates to how I run my life (related to project management, of course!). This best practice has not appeared in any of my books.

I spend a great amount of my time traveling and conducting seminars and workshops for the International Institute for Learning (IIL). We work with PMI chapters around the world and will send out brochures and e-mails about upcoming programs.

Once the announcements are made regarding the programs, I begin to receive e-mails from people I have never met, wanting to take me to dinner. I enjoy having dinner with the PMI chapter officers the night before the event because they tell me about the companies that will be attending and what their expectations are. This input is invaluable because it allows for some customization of the presentation.

Unfortunately it is other people, many who have no intention of attending the conference, who offer to take me to dinner for their own personal reasons. Regardless how many times I ask them the reason for the meeting, they prefer to say it’s personal and we can discuss it over dinner.

This is what usually happens:

5:30 p.m.: The individual picks me up at my hotel and drives me to a restaurant at least 30 minutes from my hotel. This means that I am now at their mercy for a ride back to my hotel and they have my undivided attention.

6:00 p.m.: We arrive at the restaurant, end up sitting in some remote location where nobody can hear us or perhaps even see us, and order dinner. My host tells the waiter that we are in no hurry and want a slow, leisurely dinner. This usually gets me nervous because I will be a captive longer than I expected.

6:10 – 7:30 p.m.: My host tells me about their life history from the age of 10 to their current age of usually 30-40 years old. This includes information about their family, their education, the number of courses they took, their grades in the courses, and what they learned. And as expected, a lot of it is totally unrelated to project management. This also includes facts about their employment history. If they have an unhappy home life, this portion of the meeting can run for another hour. When this happens, I am under the impression that my host has me confused with Dr. Phil. I pretend to listen attentively, my mind thinking about starting an IIL blog entitled Dr. Phil on project management. Recognizing that this new blog could drive me to serious drinking and drugs, reality soon returns and once again I am clueless as to why they are telling me this. The suspense in now killing me!!!  Why am I here?

7:30 – 9:00 p.m.: For the next 90 minutes, they tell me all of the facts about their current employer, especially everything that’s wrong with the company related to project management and everything they did (or at least tried to do) to correct the situation. Of course, they are very adamant that 99.99% of the problems are because of senior management. They try to make it appear that they are God’s gift to project management and yet their company does not appreciate their efforts.

During the discussion they continuously ask me, “Didn’t I make the right decisions?” or “Don’t you agree with me?” or “What would you have done if you were me?” At this point I am getting a little nervous for fear that I may not have a ride back to my hotel. I am also fearful of giving this individual my ideas for how I would handle the situation because I have no idea what they would do with the information, or whether or not it would be taken out of context. And, once again, I am still in suspense as to the purpose of this meeting.

9:00 – 9:30 p.m.: Now we get to the real issue. Since their company obviously does not appreciate their efforts, they want to leave their company and is there anything I can do to help them find employment elsewhere? I just spent 4 hours listening to someone who wants a project management position somewhere. Now I finally figure out that my host really does not believe that I am Dr. Phil or Jerry Springer, but instead thinks that I am an employment agency. And as you might expect, they now pull out a resume from their briefcase. 

You cannot imagine how many times this has happened to me. So, what’s the best practice for how to handle this situation?

  • When people ask to take me out to dinner, I ask them one question: Why do you want to take me out to dinner? This catches them by surprise and most people refuse to answer the question and try to change the direction of the conversation.
  • Relentlessly, I keep asking the same question until I get an answer.
  • If they have a valid reason, I will be glad to have dinner with them.
  • If they tell me it is a personal reason, then there’s no question in my mind that they are seeking employment and want my help. I then tell them that they can join me for breakfast in my hotel between 6:30 a.m. – 7:00 a.m. to discuss whatever they want. I make sure they understand that at 7:00 a.m. I am heading to my lecture and our breakfast meeting is over.

In 30 minutes over breakfast, all of the important information is discussed. Most of the time they decline to have breakfast with me and just send me a resume. This best practice has worked well for me for several decades. And for those of you that know me, give up the idea that any time soon I will have an afternoon TV talk show like Dr. Phil to discuss personal issues related or unrelated to project management.

Although this situation may appear humorous, it does bring up a very important point; why are some people unhappy with their current project management position and want to change jobs? To answer this question, we must ask another question; what do project managers expect from their employers such that they are happy with their position? My experience is as follows:

  • A Reasonable Salary: Most project managers that earn a reasonable salary and are happy with their job will not leave the company. Project management may very well have the lowest turnover rate of any profession. There appear to be items more important to project managers than money such as happiness on the job and quality of life. I have seen project managers refuse promotions to positions that may require that they surrender their project management duties.
  • Lifelong Educational Opportunities: Every project manager that I have ever met was proud to be called a project manager even though they were facing enormous challenges and often complained about the lack of support from their parent organization. Project managers want to perform better and better with each new assignment. Companies that are willing to support lifelong educational opportunities for their project managers have taken the first major step toward employee retention.
  • Visible Executive Support: The most common complaint I hear is that executives do not support project management. Visible executive support is needed and I stress the word “visible.” Quite often, people tell me that the executives do not understand project management and refuse to attend any type of training for executives. My experience is that most executives do in fact understand project management but do not exhibit this knowledge because they have personal agendas for their lack of support such as a fear that project managers may end up making decisions that are reserved for the executive levels or that project managers may become more powerful than the executives.

If executives want to retain competent project managers, then they must show support. There are several ways it can be done including the creation of a “wall of fame” to display project successes, congratulations that appear in the company newsletters, and reporting successes to the local media for publication.

  • Decision-Making Ability: Project managers understand that they may never have all of the authority they expect to make every decision. But they want sufficient authority to make those decisions that are commensurate with their responsibility.
  • A Pleasant Working Environment: This involves having a corporate culture where people are willing to work together freely and share information. Companies that create an internal competitive culture and refuse to share information because information is seen as a source of power end up destroying morale for project management and good people will leave the company.

Obviously there are other issues that could have been considered. But these five items are, in my experience, the most common reasons why people may wish to change companies.