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Digital Disruption Has Exposed a Need For Soft Skills

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The PMI (Project Management Institute) released their 2018 Pulse of the Profession report. The report gives good insight into the current state of global project management.

What I found most interesting was the effect of disruption on project management. We are in the midst of digital disruption affecting almost all industries. A good part of manual work has already been replaced by automation. AI, Big Data, Data Intelligence, and Healthcare reforms are a few of the disruptive trends already affecting businesses.

Dr. Michael Chui, a partner at McKinsey Global Institute, said that knowledge of these disruptions is crucial for project managers. It’s important to “understand the art of the possible and try to stay at least abreast, if not ahead, of what these technologies can do.”

Project management is no longer only about managing scope, schedule and budget. Project managers need much more than technical skills. They must be able to lead strategic initiatives that drive change in organizations.

Dealing with digital disruption, leadership skills and business acumen are critical skills. Organizations would be well advised to invest in training to help their project managers build upon these skills. In PMI’s survey, 51% of respondents reported that soft skills are much more important today than they were just 5 years ago.

It’s ironic, the more digital the world becomes, the more the need for basic human skills increases. Emotional and social intelligence are critical assets for project managers. I recognized this growing need for soft skills in project management, years ago. The need goes beyond project management. In information technology, there is a drought of emotional intelligence.

Project managers must deliver more value than the functional aspects of project management. As a program and project management consultant, I strive to build relationships and provide leadership. I want to go beyond scope, schedule and cost, and I expect the same out the project managers I work with.

If your business is in need of project managers who have the soft skills needed to respond to disruption, reach out to us at MacIsaac Consulting. We are here to be of service.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

Hands Down, This is The Best Skill To Have As a Project Manager

Best Skill To Have As a Project Manager

If you are considering a career in project management, listen up. There are a lot of different skills needed to be successful, ranging from people management to organization and planning. There is one skill though, that you need above all the rest.

The hands down best skill to have as a project manager is the ability to communicate.

Project managers can spend up to 90% of their time communicating. Webster defines communication as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior”.

The communication process requires both a sender and receiver. The sender transmits the message to the receiver. The receiver then decodes and acknowledges the message. The below image from PMI’s PMBOK is a good outline of the communication process.

Most project managers focus on the sending part of communication, overlooking receiving. This is understandable because project managers must send messages often. The receiving part of communication though, is as crucial.

Let’s look at the different aspects of communication for project managers. I have broken them down into speaking and writing (sending), and listening (receiving).

Speaking

You don’t have to be an amazing orator to speak as a project manager. You also don’t have to be an extrovert who enjoys being the life of the party. I’m an introvert who’s not always comfortable speaking in groups. This is an area which I’m sure I could improve, but my discomfort in speaking is not always a liability. When I’m not speaking, I’m listening, or at least trying to.

The four important areas of speaking in project management are the following:

  • Running meetings
  • One on one communication with team members or stakeholders
  • Proving updates to leadership
  • Giving presentations

I could write a full post about each one of the speaking topics, because they are all important. I enjoy one on one communication the most. Effective one on one communication requires emotional and social intelligence.

If you have trouble speaking, I recommend taking a Dale Carnegie course on speaking. Warren Buffet credits a Dale Carnegie course to helping him overcome his fear of speaking.

Writing

Good clear writing is crucial in project management. One could make the argument that writing is the most important skill of all. The project manager must write by sending emails, status updates, meeting minutes, action items, project plans, etc.

The challenge for the project manager is to communicate clear through their writing. This is no easy task giving the complexities of projects, and the amount of ambiguity that exists in corporate communication. Most companies have their own unique language. The language consists of acronyms and jargon, which makes clear writing more difficult.

Project managers can fall into the trap of using ambiguous corporate jargon in their writing. Part of this is because of fear and corporate politics. What if I write the wrong thing, sound stupid, or make an enemy? A good project manager will put those fears aside and take the time to write good clear English. You can write clear while also being smart about corporate politics.

As a program manager, part of the reason I blog and write LinkedIn posts often, aside from the fact that I enjoy it, is to work on improving my writing. I know I am not a great writer, so I must continue to work at it. Writing, like any other skill, requires continual practice.

Remember, it’s easy to write something confusing, but it takes time to write something clear. For a great resource on writing, I recommend William Zinsser’s classic book, “On Writing Well“.

Listening

Communication in project management is not only about talking or writing, it’s also about listening. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of listening.

To better understand the importance of listening, I’ll paint a picture. Imagine a sea-captain leading a heroic voyage across the Atlantic in the late 1700s (I’m on a revolutionary war kick now, stick with me). For the voyage to be successful, the captain doesn’t tell the crew what to do, all the time. Instead, the captain spends a good part of his time listening to the crew. The captain receives all the messages on problems, concerns, and suggestions from the crew. After receiving the messages, the captain can then take the appropriate actions.

The project manager is like that of a sea-captain. He or she needs to listen to the team members and stakeholders. If the project manager is not listening, the project will most likely go off course.

For a good resource on listening, I recommend Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“. In this great book, the 5th habit is “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood”. Covey explains how to use empathy, a part of emotional intelligence, to achieve the highest form of listening. Emphatic listening goes beyond active listening, to understand how someone feels.

Summary

I’ve only begun to scratch the surface on the importance of communication in project management. I haven’t touched on communication channels or nonverbal body language, which are also important.

If you are new or considering a career in project management, I hope this post has been helpful. The good news is that we can all continue to improve our communication skills.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

 

Wishing You And Your Family a Happy And Safe New Year!

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Dear friends,

Thank you for helping to make 2017 a great year!  As I reflect back  I am reminded by how much I have to be grateful for. At the top of my list of gratitude is a healthy family and good friends. I hope that this past year has treated you well also. Here’s to wishing you and your family a happy and safe new year and a prosperous 2018!

–  Mike MacIsaac

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the president and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

Bring IT a Holiday Gift This Season With Good Roadmap Planning

roadmap planing

It’s that time of the year again. Office Christmas party’s and holiday happy hours are in full effect. Most people are scrambling to get last-minute gifts and prepping for time off. Soon the offices will be empty and most of us will be enjoying time over the Holidays with family.

At this point,  most organizations should have a good idea what their IT roadmaps look like for 2018. Businesses usually rank projects based on need and return on investment. This process usually takes place in Q4 as teams prep to get funding for their roadmaps.

Non-IT management of the business typically handle the prioritization process. The idea is, let the business folks decide on what to do, then let the IT folks decide on how to do it.  There’s a lot of logic to this train of thought, and for some companies this works well, but I would tell companies to take caution when using this approach.

The idea that the business should focus on the IT roadmap, without IT involved, is prone for trouble. Yes, the business should be accountable for prioritizing work that provides the most value, but IT should be in the discussion.

When prioritizing an IT roadmap, there are other factors to consider other than financial benefits.  Looking only through the short-term lens of return on investment, you lose sight of the following questions:

  • Which projects are best aligned to the long-term IT strategy for the company?
  • How will the projects affect the IT teams? Are the team’s setup to be successful?
  • How will employees feel about the work? Will those who are doing the work find it engaging, or are you setting yourself up for a mass exodus?
  • How will quality be affected? Are you planning to take on too much work, which could jeopardize quality?
  • If your company is using or moving towards Agile delivery (which it should), how will that affect your roadmap?

Above are a few questions to consider, but you can see why IT leadership should be in the discussion when it comes to prioritizing work for the year.

Aside from IT being involved in the prioritization process, the business should also have a voice in technical solutions. Yes IT is ultimately accountable, but this doesn’t mean the business shouldn’t be in the discussion. When solving technical problems, it’s usually those who work in operations that have the best understanding of the issues. Their’ insights are invaluable.

The need for agile organizations demands that business and IT leadership come together. We can’t afford to have areas of our organizations working in silos. As we begin a new year, isn’t it time we find creative ways for our “business” and “IT” resources and leadership to come together?

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the president and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

A Fun Day in Minneapolis – Agile Day Twin Cities 2017

Agile Day Twin Cities

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Agile Day Twin Cities 2017 conference, sponsored by DevJam. The conference aims at helping Minneapolis Agile practitioners learn from each other.   Throughout the day there were breakout sessions which featured different speakers. The talks ranged from the people and business of Agile, to new ideas about improving Agile development.

As David Hussman, the founder of DevJam, kicked off the event, I was impressed by the theme and feel. David made it clear that the event was not about experts and teachers, but instead about learning from each other and challenging the status quo. David also emphasized a focus on product, rather than process. As the event got under way, I was struck by the impressive crowd of Minneapolis Agile practitioners. Minneapolis has become a tech hub and a melting pot for startups, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Throughout the day I attended many sessions. I heard from other Agile practitioners sharing their experiences. Minneapolis being the small town that it is, I ran into many friends and some former colleagues. One of the highlights was hearing Priya Senthilkumar and Ray Grimmer, former colleagues from my days at PearsonVUE. Priya and Ray talked about their journey implementing stable Agile delivery in a complex environment.

Another talk I enjoyed came from Daniel Walsh. Daniel talked about improving Agile development using the Cynefin framework. Cynefin (pronounced KUN-if-in), Welsh for habitat, was developed in the early 2000s and used as a sense making device. The Cynefin framework has four areas of decision-making: simple, complicated, complex, chaotic, and at the center is disorder. Below is a picture of the Cynefin quadrant with actions for how to respond to each situation.

My take away from the Cynefin framework, is that not all Agile concepts will work well in situations. We need to understand why and where our practices work, and get away from asking questions like, is Scrum better than Kanban? This is the wrong question to ask. We should be asking, what is the situation we are dealing with, and how should we respond to it? We need to get away from a single, recipe based approach for all situations. The way we work in Agile needs to be fluid and smart, and not dogmatic and one size fits all.

I could relate to the concept of the Cynefin framework. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of pushing the wrong Agile framework in past situations. I’ve worked with organizations where Scrum fit like a glove, and in other companies Scrum felt like trying to fit a square piece in a round hole. As the Agile movement continues to evolve, we need to be open to new approaches, ideas and methods.

In summary, my time at Agile Day Twin Cities 2017 was great because it challenged my way of thinking. Sometimes we get so caught up in our work and opinions that we forget to step back and look at things from a different perspective. The new ideas and concepts I heard at Agile Day Twin Cities were great. Perhaps what I enjoyed the most, was connecting with other fellow Agile practitioners.

Below are a few pictures I took during the conference.

Agile Day Twin Cities

David Hussman kicking off the day

Priya Senthilkumar and Ray Grimmer: Agile at Pearson VUE

Daniel Walsh: Improve Agile Development Using the Cynefin Framework

MC Legault: Agile is People & Business!

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant forMacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog

 

 

You Don’t Need A Great Idea To Start A Company

Most of us at some point think about starting a company. We fantasize about what that might look like, then fear usually kicks in and we go on with our lives. We have this misbelief that if only we had a brilliant idea, then we could start a company. We watch shows like Shark Tank and we get the impression that great companies only start by a great product idea and the backing of large investments.

In reality, most great companies do not start out with a large capital investment, or a great product idea.

In the book Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras summarized their results after studying the habits of visionary companies (companies that lasted). Collins and Porras compared the habits of similar companies that didn’t do as well over time, with the habits of visionary companies. One theme they found was that most of the visionary companies didn’t have a great idea in mind when they first started.

The notion that founders must have a “Great Product Idea” to start a successful company is a myth.

Collins and Porras actually found that waiting for a great idea may be a bad thing, because it prevents people from starting companies. A central theme of visionary companies was that they focused not on single product or idea. These companies believe the greatest creation was the company itself.

The following is a short excerpt from Bill Hewlett, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, one of the most successful information technology companies in the world:  “When I talk to business schools occasionally, the professor of management is devastated when I say that we didn’t have any plans when we started-we were just opportunistic. We did anything that would bring in a nickel. Here we were, with about $500 in capital, trying whatever someone thought we might be able to do”.

 

References

Hewlett-Packard Company Archives, “An interview with Bill Hewlett,” 1987

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant forMacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog

Managing Project Risk Should Be Top Priority

Managing project risk might be the most important responsibility in project management. Risk management is often overlooked. Usually people think about things like communication, organization, and interpersonal skills as key aspects of project management. While these are important, if I had to pick one critical skill for project management, I’d have to say managing project risk. Every project comes with risks and if you don’t plan for them, you’ll spend all your time putting out fires. To manage project risk, you must be proactive, not reactive. I’ve found that the best project managers are always looking out for risks and they have a natural sense for identifying them.

Managing Project Risk

Project risk is defined by PMI as, “an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on a project’s objectives.” Risks are the unknowns, and a good project manager is like a lookout person for a ship, scanning for risks. They are using their binoculars to see any trouble in the waters ahead.  Not only are they on the lookout for trouble, but they also are planning to deal with it.

At the beginning of a project, and all throughout the project, it’s the job of the project manager to identify and manage risks. This is done through analysis and talking to key stakeholders and team members on the project. The project manager needs to question everyone and ask for risks that others know about.

The project manager then needs to access the likelihood and risks to address. After determining what risks to address, the project manager needs to determine what action to take for the risks.  Part of the mitigation plan usually involves setting aside some contingency funds for risks.

Ask yourself and your project management team, are you doing a good job of managing project risk? Project managers should devote a good portion of their time to managing project risk.

 

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant forMacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog

 

We Are Your Trusted Agile Strategy Advisors

Agile Strategy

At MacIsaac Consulting, we build relationships based on trust, commitment, and results. Based on these core values, we provide the very best IT delivery services to our clients. Our goal is to help companies improve the quality of their software products.

We are big on Agile delivery, but it’s clear to us that many organizations still have an Agile delivery problem. The problem is that companies rush into Agile adoption too soon. In short, they lack strategy! The results are high Agile training/coaching fees and little results. For those organizations who have felt this pain, we hear you!

To address this problem, we help companies create an Agile strategy. We do this through the following three-step approach:

  1. Detailed assessment of your current state IT delivery capabilities (where you currently are).
  2. Strategic recommendations and goals for your Agile adoption (where you need to be).
  3. Partnership options to help you meet your goals (how we can help you get there).

Together we will create an Agile adoption strategy that’s tailored for your organization. Whether you are a large or small company, when it comes to Agile adoption, there is no one size fits all.

We are agnostic to any particular brand or framework of Agile. Our approach includes all aspects of how you delivery software. This includes both business and IT. Too many companies make the mistake of only focusing on their IT teams, but business and IT must work together as one.

We insist that business leadership understands the principles behind Agile delivery. This is so important to a successful Agile delivery transformation.

For more on our Agile advisory services, I encourage you to reach out to us. We are a small team of seasoned IT delivery and Agile experts. All our consultations are at no cost to you. Our ultimate goal is to set you on the right path.

We want to hear from you! We are here to be your trusted Agile strategy advisors.

For an intro to MacIsaac Consulting, see my short video below:

 

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant forMacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog

Have People Had Enough Of Agile?

Agile Delivery

Photo Credit Shutterstock

If you work in a business that has anything to do with technology, you are familiar with Agile. You know the Agile I’m talking about. The kind where teams sit together and deliver software in increments. Seems everywhere you turn these days you hear about Agile. Along with Agile’s popularity has come a title wave of services. These services include coaching, training and certifications.

Consultancies have jumped on the Agile bandwagon big time. The other day I noticed a local consulting firm completely re-branded themselves. They are now the Agile experts. I was like wait, what? Like a year ago, they didn’t even provide IT consulting. Anyway, you get the point, Agile is the flavor of the moment and it’s everywhere.

Along with the over promotion and saturation of Agile, there has also been a mass influx of Agile gurus. These gurus scour the internet to prove their Agile knowledge is second to none. Agile to them has become a religion. They are quick to scold anyone blasphemous enough to challenge their Agile expertise. If you follow any Agile groups on LinkedIn, you’ve seen the ridiculous feuds. For sure the gurus will comment on this post to teach me the error of my ways.  Dealing with these gurus online is bad, but if you’ve had to work with them, it’s even worse.

So, between the obnoxious gurus and the commodification, I must ask, have people had enough of Agile? Is Agile software delivery like the glam hair metal of the 80s, and we’re at the point of Nirvana and grunge breaking onto the scene?  Keep in mind that as I ask this question, I’m a pro Agile guy. For many years, I studied and worked in both the Agile and traditional SDLC worlds, and today Agile is my preference. Although I’m a pro Agile, I’m concerned about what Agile has become.

To back up a bit, I started my career back in 2000 as a manual software tester, long before Agile exploded onto the scene. For years, I tested software for various organizations. Around 2008, I got introduced to Agile when I worked as a QA analyst on Scrum team. After time, I started working as an IT Project Manager and an Agile Scrum Master.

I studied everything I could on project management and on Agile delivery. I got my PMP and in business school I studied systems thinking and the theory of constraints. I attended Agile training, got a CSM (Certified Scrum Master) certification, and read every book I could on Agile.

Today, I still consult as an IT project/program manager or Agile Scrum Master. Although my preference is Agile, I’ll perform whatever the client role requires. Usually this means being a traditional project manager, an Agile Scrum Master, or a hybrid of both.

I have a real appreciation for Agile delivery. I found that the Scrum Master role coincides with two of my other passions, leadership and emotional intelligence. I love how Agile delivery is not only about writing code, but also about relationships and working together as a team.

As much as I’m a fan of Agile, I still think there is value in traditional project management. There are disciplines and processes that are tried and true in project management. We need to be careful not to write them off. Not all organizations are ready for Agile adoption, and that’s okay. I know that may sound odd coming from someone who is pro Agile, but if we are honest, Agile adoption is not easy. It isn’t as simple as attending a training. There are some great training services available, but often they have little effect.

All this leads me back to question, have people had enough of Agile? Am I, and pro Agile people like myself, part of the problem? Have we lost sight of the Agile Manifesto and become too dogmatic in our views, turning others off?

Soon Agile will morph into something else. New delivery frameworks will emerge, and so will new gurus. Whatever happens, it’s important we open ourselves up to not having all the answers, and we remain teachable. The main goal is that we continue to improve how we develop software and work together. To me, the Agile movement is a part of something bigger than certifications and gurus. It’s about working together to build quality products that provide value. What say you?

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant forMacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

Here’s a simple way to vastly improve employee satisfaction

Employee Satisfaction

What do you think would give your employees more satisfaction? Better pay? Better office? A more prestigious position with more authority? For sure these things could improve their satisfaction, but would it last?

We are seeing more employees dissatisfied with their jobs. In Gallops latest state of the American Work force report, 51% of employees reported they are not engaged at work. These employees are looking for a new job or looking for openings. US workers are confident and ready to leave.

A big reason employees don’t feel satisfied is because they don’t feel appreciated. Gallop reported that only 3 in 10 employees strongly agree that in the last 7 days they have received recognition or praise for doing good work. According to the Gallup study, employees report that the most meaningful recognition comes from their manager.

I was reminded by my friend the other day just how important recognition is. She told me how she made major contributions to a technology project. She worked hard to ensure the project delivered on time. After the project was over, the managers handed out thank you cards to those who worked on the project. The problem? They somehow neglected to give my friend a thank you card. To say she was upset would be a major understatement.

It’s funny, some of the basic lessons we learn when we’re toddlers about human nature, we lose sight of as adults. When we were kids and we did something good, our parents and teachers gave us positive reinforcement. They would tell us how happy they were with what we did, and it made us feel great. Not only did it make us feel great, but it motivated us to continue to improve upon the positive behavior. The result was an emotional connection that fostered positive behavior and positive feelings.

Here’s my advice to managers, or anyone who wants to improve an employee’s satisfaction, its really simple. First, try to slow down. We are all so busy and distracted that we become overwhelmed and lose sight of what’s important. Start to work on your self-awareness and mindfulness.  Once you’re able to slow down and see the bigger picture around you, you will start to see the good work of others.

Once you realize an employee has done a good job, let them know personally how much you appreciate their efforts. Simple, right?

Yes, it may be true that not all people are motivated by intrinsic factors. Some people for example would be horrified if they were recognized in front of a crowd. Others may love the spotlight. When I refer to recognition, I’m talking about thanking someone in person for a job well done.  Email is good too, but there’s something about that in person recognition that really enriches employee satisfaction.

So, go ahead and start providing personal recognition to your employees who deserve it. We can’t afford to have our good employees dissatisfied and unmotivated. Remember, we all have an inner need to feel appreciated.

 

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

 

 

 

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