Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

Data Science | Entrepreneurship | ..and sometimes Photography

Tag: Project

Linus Torvalds on Managing Software Projects

CIO.com has an interview with Linus Torvalds that I’d just had to share…very interesting commentary from Linus on managing software projects.

In the article, Linus provides five ‘tips’ for managing projects…they are:

  • Find people you can trust.
  • Be trustworthy yourself.
  • Be honest—sometimes painfully honest.
  • You also have to let the others get their say in.
  • A combination of bluntness and honesty leads to the best code ending up in Linux.

Interesting thoughts…what I found refreshing is that Linus never talks about ‘process’…he talks about getting results…something I believe a great deal in myself.

If you click over and read the interview, you’ll see Linus talking about being painfully honest…even to the point of calling people ‘incompetent idiots’.  I’m not a fan of this approach…you can be honest and still be civil.  I expect that one reason Linus is able to get away with calling people incompetent idiots is because of his fame in the Linux world…but I’d suggest that his approach would fall under the ‘asshole boss’ syndrome

That being said, I’d like to create my own ‘tips’ for managing software projects that are closely aligned with Linus’.  They are:

  • Hire the right people. Look for people that are trustworthy, knowledgeable and driven.
  • Create an environment of trust
  • Value open, honest two-way communication
  • Be willing to admit when wrong
  • Deliver Results

Focus on the above five things with your team (whether its a project team or not) and you’ll find yourself closer to success.

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The Strategic Project Leader

I just finished reading The Strategic Project Leader: Mastering Service-Based Project Leadership by Jack Ferraro….not a bad book.

In section two of his book, Mr. Ferraro writes:

In project management, leadership is desperately needed; leadership that is adaptable, perceptive, timely, meaningful, authentic, and unselfish.

This one sentence sums up the core of The Strategic Project Leader’s message: Project leaders, not project processes, are the future for project management. As the first section carefully lays out, the codification and standardization of project management knowledge has created a commoditized service that can be bought and sold like any other product. However, project managers can resist the force of commoditization by adding personal value to their organizations through leadership.

Ferraro defines a new role for the project manager seeking to be the spearhead of change – the service-based project leader. As the book points out, this role of ‘Project Leader’ is an area of untapped potential in project management. This kind of leadership requires a project manager to provide service not only to a sponsor but to all the project’s stakeholders. By truly serving the needs of organizations and individuals, project leaders find themselves doing meaningful work, a factor that is linked to personal growth and great job satisfaction. Due to the highly personal and individual nature of leadership, it cannot be codified and standardized into a ‘methodology.’

The first section of the book is devoted to this idea of leadership in project management and provides guidance as to how to step up into a leadership role. However, Ferraro also introduces several critical topics not usually found in project management books. He discusses the importance of establishing trust-based relationships with clients, and putting the needs of the client first, ideas that are central to high-level project leadership.

The second section of the book provides more concrete information in the form of a ˜leadership competency framework” that is comprised of five ˜core competencies”. This competency framework is presented in the form of a pyramid:

  • Project & Program Management Knowledge, Skill & Experience
  • Subject Matter Expertise
  • Trust-based Relationships
  • Consultative Leadership
  • Courage

While knowledge of project management processes is necessary as the base of this pyramid, project leaders must move beyond this to become true consultative leaders.

The third section helps the reader create practical self-development plans – a step-by-step guide to improving leadership skills. The final section, written by Roberta Hill, provides a detailed overview of a variety of assessment methods.

Smoothly written and easy to read, The Strategic Project Leader is an indispensable guide to anyone looking to be a leader among project managers.

NOTE: This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

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Reinventing Project Management

I just finished reading “Reinventing Project Management” by Aaron J. Shenhar and Dov Dvir and I have to say that I really enjoyed this book.

The full title of the book is “Reinventing Project Management: The Diamond Approach to Successful Growth & Innovation” and, as the title suggests, it covers an approach that the authors call the “Diamond Approach” to determining risks and benefits of a project. The diamond is comprised of the following items:

  • Technology
  • Novelty
  • Pace
  • Complexity

I could spend some time discussing the diamond approach but wouldn’t do it justice and I don’t think that it is the most important take-away from this book. The major take-away for me is that this book says what I’ve been saying for years: Project Management requires a more flexible approach than current methodologies allow.

On page 206 the authors list the “Main Lessons” from the book…lessons that are pure gold for project managers and organizations. I’ve listed a few of the ones that I thought were ‘gold’ and also provide commentary below.

Project Management isn’t about delivering a project on time, on budget and within scope; its about serving a customer and delivering results.

How true. Many PM’s are so focused on staying within the ‘Iron Triangle’ of scope, time and budget that they lose track of the business value that they are (or should be) delivering to their clients.

To succeed in projects you must use an adaptive project management approach, adapting your project management style to the environment, the goal and the project task.

The rigidity of modern PM methodologies causes many problems for those PM’s that try to adhere to them in a strict manner. To lead a project to success, PM’s must be able to think on their feet and adapt the PM methodologies to the ever-changing environment.

Overall, this book is definitely worth the time it takes you to read.

[tags] Project Management, agility, flexbility [/tags]

IT Human Capital as Competitive Advantage

This is an excerpt of a paper I’ve just completed titled “Information Technology Human Capital as Competitive Advantage”. I’ve provided a brief intro plus the conclusion here. This white paper was the inspiration for the the topics discussed in my previous posts titled “Resource Diversity & Immobility Simplified“, “Competitive Advantage and the Resource Based View of the Firm“, and “Competitive Advantage – The Human Capital approach

To read the entire article, download the PDF titled Information Technology Human Capital as Competitive Advantage“.


Purpose of this paper

This paper provides a brief review of the literature within the space of information technology and business alignment, and more specifically, the areas of creating competitive advantage by managing human capital to create a sustainable advantage in the marketplace.

Introduction

In today’s ever-changing world, organizations must learn to evolve, adapt and continuously rethink their strategic objectives and operational abilities. As part of this strategic planning process, organizations have historically looked at two aspects; strategy (how they will go to market, what they will sell, etc) and execution (how to implement the strategy, how to do business, etc). The seminal research on strategy and competitive advantage (Andrews, 1986; Porter, 1998a, 1998b) historically overlooked two of the most important aspects of any strategy; technology and people.

In the 1990’s, researchers and practitioners began looking at merging technology into the strategic planning process and how the alignment of business strategy with information technology can help to create a competitive advantage (Henderson & Venkatraman, 1993). These researchers had brought technology into the strategic planning process, and in some respects they considered the human resources of the organization, but they still overlooked the people as being a valuable piece of capital that could be used to create competitive advantage.

This oversight is most visible within the information technology (IT) groups. Even though many organizations and researches stressed the need for IT and business alignment, they still seemed to overlook the human capital aspect while aligning IT and business strategy.

These oversights have led to the current environment of overworked, disengaged and misaligned IT personnel and IT groups. The “turnover culture” that has arisen within the IT industry provides some evidence of the unhappiness and/or discontent that most IT personnel have (Moore & Burke, 2002).

Recent research has provided a path to the solution of the problem of creating sustainable alignment between IT and business strategy. These solutions involve not only aligning IT and strategy but also implementing human capital management practices to ensure that people are considered as much of a resource for creating competitive advantage as any other asset within the organization (Hu & Huang, 2006; Robert, Agarwal, & Ferratt, 2000).

This paper provides a review of existing literature related to the strategic alignment of business and information technology and human capital management practices. The first section, titled “Alignment of IT with Business Strategy” provides a review of existing business and IT alignment research. The second section, titled “Human Capital Management, IT & Business Alignment” provides an overview of existing research into human capital management practices within the IT space.

The third section, titled “Human Capital as Competitive Advantage” outlines the use human capital as a means to gain competitive advantage in the marketplace. Lastly, the fourth and final section titled “Future Research and Conclusions,” outlines areas that may provide avenues of further research and concludes the paper.

To read the entire paper, download the PDF titled “Information Technology Human Capital as Competitive Advantage“.


Further Research and Conclusion

Further research into this area can follow Ferratt et al.’s (2005) study of the effects of human resource management on information technology (IT) employee turnover (Ferratt et al., 2005) and Joseph et al.’s (2007) suggestion that adopting a human capital management approach to managing IS employees may increase employee engagement and reduce turnover and job dissatisfaction (Joseph et al., 2007).

Another area of further research that could be considered is Huang and Hu’s (2007) approach of combining human capital management along with a business-IT alignment model by using a balanced scorecard system to implement and measure alignment. This balanced scorecard approach seems reasonable but very little quantitative data exists to measure the success or failure of this approach (Huang & Hu, 2007). Further research into the use of balanced scorecards to align IT, business and human capital management practices could be accomplished by collecting quantitative data in multiple organizations to provide more insight into the success and/or failure of this approach.

Yet another avenue for further research is within the area of validation of alignment of IT system requirements with business strategy (Bleistein, Cox, & Verner, 2005). Bleisten et al.’s research provides a framework for measuring and ensuring that all IT system requirements are in alignment with business goals. This research is interesting but as yet unproven.

Lastly, research into furthering the application of the resource based view of firms and the creation of resource diversity and resource immobility within organizations seems to be a fairly wide open area. In many organizations today, outsourcing work has become the norm as has hiring contractors instead of full-time employees. Many research questions arise from this. A few examples are:

  • How can an organization create resource diversity and/or resource immobility when they are drawing from the same talent pool of outsourcers and independent contractors as their competitors? This is an idea that is very interesting and something worth pursuing.
  • How can an organization segregate IT projects so that non-strategic projects (is there such as thing?) are managed with non-strategic assets and resources while strategic IT projects are managed with strategic assets and resources.

There is still considerable research to be done to better understand how to create sustainable advantage using technology and people. The areas of information systems, strategic human resource management and organizational behavior can provide models to help create sustainable advantage and value for organizations.

In order to truly create sustainable competitive advantage, an organization must have the right strategy, technology and people in place. In today’s world, it isn’t enough to have only one or two of these; an organization must obtain and maintain the mix of the right strategy, the right technology and the right people.


A Full References list is found in the paper.
[tags] organization, Human Resources, information technology, Strategy, Management, HR, Project, Technology, culture [/tags]

Organizational Alignment and Project Success

Organization Alignment seems like one of those ‘touchy feely’ things that most technical folks would rather not discuss but it’s actually quite relevant to success in todays technology and project driven organizations.

Note: For books on organizational alignement, check out these amazon books: Books on Organizational Alignment.

Organizational alignment is the practice of aligning an organization’s strategy and culture. In other words, organizational alignment helps to ensure that ‘what gets done’ is in line with ‘how things get done’ and vice versa. For a more detailed description of organizational alignment, take a look at the article on Organizational Alignment on Vanguard Consulting’s website.

As mentioned, Organizational Alignment is the act (or art?) of aligning strategy and culture. The field of strategic planning and organizational strategy is a very well researched and fairly well covered in academia (and blogosphere) so I won’t go into the ‘strategy’ aspect but I will cover the ‘culture’ side here.What does organizational alignment have to do with project success? In my opinion, everything.

For a project to be successful, an organization must have its strategic goals aligned with its cultural values…and projects must also be aligned with the organizations’ culture and strategy. Consider the following brief example (paraphrased from Vanguard Consulting’s website):

Assume that the goal of your organization is to create a flexible service delivery model to allow you to be flexible for your clients. You’d want to make sure that the organization is aligned to meet these goals by having flexibility as a core value. You wouldn’t want to implement a ‘command and control’ structure that requires everyone to get approval before acting. The command and control structure would completely counteract the stated goal of flexibility for your clients.

The cultural aspect of organizational alignment covers ‘how things get done’ (while the strategic aspect covers ‘what gets done’). The ‘how’ covers the values, behaviors and processes for getting things done, which are things that can be addressed across the organization using various methods, such as the implementation of a Project Management Office (PMO).

Many organizations have implemented PMO’s to standardize project management methodologies, align projects with corporate strategy and act as a central point of management for all things projects. The majority of these PMO’s usually don’t address the values and behaviors across the organization. In fact, most definitions of a PMO only describe the use of a PMO to standardize project processes and align projects with strategy but values are usually overlooked.

A PMO is a good thing for most organizations but its doesn’t go far enough to ensure alignment. Standardizing project methodologies can be a good thing but standardization doesn’t go far enough to address the issues of values and behaviors. The PMO, by definition, isn’t setup to address values and behaviors but could easily be converted into an office to help align values, behaviors and process and perhaps it could be renamed the ‘Project & Alignment Office’ (PAO).

So….after all of that (and my creating the PAO!), how do we ensure project success by organizational alignment? We don’t…you can never ‘ensure success’…but we can help set projects on the path towards success by working to align the ‘how’ with the ‘what’ and the ‘why’.

Look for more to come on organizational alignment and projects…and maybe even more on the newly created PAO 🙂

[tags] Project Management, organization, Strategy, Projects, Project, Strategic Planning, culture [/tags]

Strategic Project Management

This is an excerpt of a paper I wrote while working on my MBA. To read the entire article, download the PDF titled “Strategic Project Management.”

Strategic Project Management (SPM) (also called Enterprise Project Management by some) has been defined by Callahan & Brooks (2004) as

“the use of the appropriate project management knowledge, skills, tools and techniques in the context of the companies goals and objectives so that the project deliverables will contribute to company value in a way that can be measured” (Callahan & Brooks, 2004, p. 23).

They further describe SPM as

“a process that takes into account a company’s way of doing business, allowing for the possibility of a significant payoff with fewer risks” (Callahan & Brooks, p. 30).

The above definitions are good, but they do not convey the most important aspect of SPM, which is the fact that senior leadership needs to be involved in selecting, defining and prioritizing which projects are undertaken within the organization. Because of this, the following definition does a much better job of accurately defining SPM:

Strategic Project Management consists of selecting, managing and measuring project outcomes to ensure optimal value for an organization. All projects undertaken by an organization must meet a set of criteria setup by the organizations’ leadership to ensure alignment with the strategic vision of the organization.

Strategic Project Management is really nothing more than picking the right projects for the organization to ensure optimal returns. This sounds very simple and straightforward, but research shows that there are many organizations that have overlooked the important fact of aligning projects with corporate strategy.

References:
Callahan, K., & Brooks, L. (2004). Essentials of strategic project management. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

[tags] Strategic Project Management, Project Management, Consulting, Project Portfolio Management [/tags]

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