Category: Project management
The importance of Stakeholder engagement

 

Pablo Arias

Pablo is a seasoned professional who is focused on delivering high quality outcomes for his clients. His strength is his ability to quickly develop relationships with stakeholders at all levels to find a way through complex issues. Highly qualified with an MBA and over 14 years’ experience in consulting and project management, Pablo has helped his clients in numerous industries including Education, Health, Defence, Telecomms and Finance achieve their business and project objectives. When he is not immersed in solving his client’s most pressing challenges, Pablo enjoys spending time with his children and cooking a variety of delicious cakes and desserts which makes him valued team member for morning tea. He also doesn’t mind a long drive along the coast every now and again.

Recently, I completed two successful projects which involved delivering new technology to the Classroom – but were they really ‘successful’? The business case was approved, the budget and plan agreed with the sponsors, vendors and resources were engaged and there was enthusiasm from the project team about the innovation that would be delivered to students and staff as a result of this new technology.

As the project progressed through design, procurement and implementation, some key business decisions were required from key stakeholders. Fortnightly meetings were held with the steering committee to present project status, issues, risks and to gain input for the key business decisions. What quickly became evident to our project team was a gap in stakeholder engagement and management. What we really needed was a Change Manager – someone who could articulate the project requirements and business benefits and communicate these with the stakeholders to gain their buy-in.

Fortunately, the project was finally able to secure two additional resources to assist with these important change management activities but they were only engaged towards during the end of the delivery phase of the project. As a result, this meant the business deployment activities were delivered in a less effective manner. For example, although training was planned and organised, attendance and participation was poor due to a lack of awareness of the project and its purpose, objectives and benefits.

Similarly, finding willing participants for the trial period proved to be difficult and resulted in some classrooms with new technology that nobody used.

So back to my original question – would you consider these projects to be successful?

Ultimately – the answer has to be no. The expected business benefits of such technology could not be realised if no-one is using the technology.

So what are the lessons learnt from these project examples? Here are my key take-aways;

  1. Don’t underestimate the importance of change management requirements in any technology project. Secure a Change Manager and ensure they are part of the entire project journey.
  2. Stakeholder communication and engagement is absolutely critical to the success of a project. This requires regular communication with all stakeholder groups throughout the entire project duration in order to take them on the journey as well. They need to become the ‘owners’ of the business benefits.
  3. Identify some willing project ‘champions’ from the business – these are stakeholders who act as ambassadors for the projects, who are willing to trial the technology and greatly assist in raising awareness amongst their peers.
  4. Regularly publish and promote project communications to provide broader stakeholder groups with key messages about the project, its goals and benefits – another key method to raise awareness.
  5. Finally, it is critical to understand the ‘impact’ of technology on current business processes and workflows. Develop strategies to assist business users to embrace the technology including training, help-guides and on-site support.

So can a Project Manager also undertake the role of Change Manager in such projects? Given the right experience and size of the project, I don’t see why not.

I would definitely be keen to hear from other Project Managers and Change Managers who have encountered similar experiences and hear how you managed stakeholder engagement.



Does a Project Manager need to have industry experience?
Raymond Tye

For the past 15 years Ray has enjoyed the challenge of stepping in to pinpoint issues, provide independent health checks, recover and successfully manage large-scale and transformational business and IT programs and projects.
Having worked with blue-chip banking and financial services and global-scaled enterprises, Ray bring to each engagement strong management experience, project delivery, P&L responsibility and excellent stakeholder management.
During Ray’s personal time, Ray enjoys cricket and playing with his two kids.

How much knowledge and experience does a Project Manager need to have to start a project? It is a question that has perplexed me for a while now, as being a successful Project Manager; I have regularly been engaged in fields that I have very little background in.

Clearly going from a Project manager in IT to a Project Manager in the construction industry isn’t going to work.  Some experience in the core field is necessary, however can an IT Project Manager in Finance transition to Telecommunications or the Health Industry?  Why do organisations ask for mandatory experience in specific applications when the application is clearly unique to that organisation?  Is it really a process of advertising a job that has been customised for a specific individual?

Is it a hindrance, or an advantage having industry and business knowledge?   It is often considered that a good Project Manager is the person that progresses through the organisation from one position to another until they land as the Project Manager. Their experience in the business is seen as the advantage for a successful project.  However, often in these cases, the incumbent Project Manager has little training and experience and will get into the micro detail at the cost of not seeing the bigger picture. This is because they have been previously trained to focus on the detail and aren’t able to remove themselves from this level to operate at the project level.

I was once contacted to undertake a review of an Anti Money Laundering (AML) compliance project. The sponsor was concerned over the projects overall status, as perception was that it was not progressing.  The organisation as a whole had moved into the final phase of testing, while this subsidiary was, after 18 months, still locking down their requirements. The compliance date was rapidly approaching, and the client was rightly concerned if they were going to achieve it.  The consequences of failing were significantly high.

The health check resulted in some interesting findings.  One finding was that the Project Manager allocated for this initiative had very little project management training.  The Project Manager had progressed through a succession of successful engagements as a lawyer, and had been originally allocated as the AML legal counsel.  With several successful AML deliveries, and the resolution of the compliance act, the organisation felt that a Project Manager with AML and business knowledge would be best suited for their AML compliance project.

The Project Manager was caught up in the detailed review of all documentation, and became the bottleneck for their delivery.  The requirements were bouncing back and forth with the Business Analysts on specific wording, requirements, and details that were causing lengthy delays.  Another issue was how AML was changing the organisations process and what they could do to minimise the business impact, it was the PM that was addressing this issue.  The overall project delivery was compromised by the Project Manager, with their knowledge and understandings of the business, being stuck at the detail and overlooking the wider perspective.

Should a good Project Manager be able to transition across industries?  Here is what I believe; with the experience the Project Manager has garnered, and with support from the client, an effective and experienced Project Manager will be able to quickly identify what needs to be done and by whom.  A good Project Manager will surround themselves with the team that understands the details and provide them with the information they need.  The team will have the Subject Matter Experts and designers to provide the solutions, delivery and the detailed information.

In my opinion, it all comes down to the PM.  Some are able to easily transition to a variety of projects and industries, and others will struggle.  The question that I believe needs to be addressed is what qualities and attributes do the Project Managers have that can transition between industries, to those that find it more challenging?


Never idly sit through bad meetings
Alex Knipping

Alex Knipping has been delivering business solutions for over 20 years. Armed with a multitude of professional certifications, Alex is a life long learner, with a particular interest in effectiveness and business outcomes. He enjoys passing on these learnings to others, watching him impart knowledge on his peers or in training courses he is running for IMA is an inspiration.

As people often complain about bad meetings.  By that they mean the time-wasting, unproductive ones.  So here is my advice for eliminating your attendance from unproductive meetings without scoring demerit points.

One of the most regular complaints that I hear is that “I’ve got so many meetings, I don’t have time to get my work done”.  To me, meetings are work, and they are to be a productive and efficient use of time.  When they are sub-standard, they need to be rectified, just like any other tool or technique.

Work sometimes requires us to do things we would rather avoid.   It is a choice as to whether to be an effective professional or just another mediocre employee.  It is the same when it comes to meetings, including those called by others, be an effective professional or another mediocre employee.  There is so much written on making your own meetings productive, I won’t address that topic.  Instead, these are the things I do, and advise others to do, when they are invited to unproductive meetings:

  • Ensure the meeting purpose is known before the meeting starts.  If it is not made available, just ask for it.  Without knowing the meeting purpose, it is difficult to decide that you are not required.  Also, people who call meetings without a purpose will often not facilitate them well either.  That will be compounded by meeting participants guessing what the purpose is, or to use it to meet their own needs.
  • If you only need to know the meeting outcome and don’t need to participate, just ask for the meeting minutes or to be briefed after the meeting; one hour saved
  • If you are only required for part of the meeting, ask for that part to be done first, so that you can excuse yourself afterwards; 45 minutes saved
  • Ensure meeting notes are being taken.  If they are not being taken, ask who is responsible for them.  It may be appropriate to offer to do the minutes.  Quick and simple is fine.  I often type them during the meeting itself and send them out as “meeting notes”, another alternative is to send an image of hand-written notes.  Without these notes, people will end up with different interpretations of decisions that they thought were clear, and action items won’t be owned and actioned.
  • Ensure that action items are clear and assigned.  Often something will be stated as an action, but it is not clear.  At other times it is unpleasant and people won’t do it as they hope no-one will notice or someone else will do it.  When there is an action item, everyone in the meeting should be clear on what it is, who is responsible and if it has a deadline, what it is.  If it isn’t clear, get it clarified, then ensure it is noted.
  • Ensure decisions are clarified and noted.  Ideally, also take down a summary of the factors that influenced the decision.
  • Assist with meeting facilitation, if necessary.  People are often reluctant to facilitate meetings and often too lax at it.  If that is the case assist them.  Sometimes that will entail asking if issues can be taken offline; asking for irrelevant discussions to stop; asking for the issues to be clearly stated; and, if necessary, conducting conflict management.  Though, this can only be done if the meeting purpose is clear, but then, if it isn’t clear, it is very valuable to get it agreed.

I’ve often wondered if people think I’ve stepped over the line with this, but whenever I’ve checked people have appreciated my input.  So now, there is no excuse for sitting around idly during unproductive meetings.  Instead, put your time to good use and make the meeting productive for everyone involved.

I’d love to know what you do to make meetings more productive.

 

Let’s talk about Risk Management

 

 

What is the difference between a risk and an issue?

Many people confuse an issue with a risk.  A risk is an event that may occur; an issue is an event that has occurred.  Generally there are considerably fewer issues than risks, and if not, re-consider doing the project!

Then there is the difference between a project risk/issue and operational risk/issue.  A project risk is an event that may occur during the project lifecycle and consequently put the project development or delivery (or part of it) in jeopardy.  An operational risk is an event or situation that may be introduced with the implementation of the project.  Operational risks need to be agreed by the project owners that they are willing to accept these newly introduced risks once the project is completed and operational.

Defining issues and risks

The basic objective or goal of any project is to manage it to a successful completion, but there will always be risks that will have the potential to jeopardize a successful outcome, so a risk analysis is required to identify and mitigate them so the project is not adversely impacted.    The best approach is a workshop with representation from the various project team members to discuss the potential project risks.  Risk identification is an iterative process because new risks may only be identified as the project progresses through its life cycle and previously identified risks may get resolved and closed.

Create a risk and issue register to assist with managing these.

A note here, that a potential situation is not a risk.  A risk occurs because of a potential situation, so when identifying the risk it is important to determine the risk occurring from the situation.

Assessing issues and risks

Risks and issues need to be assessed (and categorised dependant on their impact).  Regular review dates should be attached to each, dependant on their impact category.  Determining the probability of the risk will assist in impact category.   High/Critical risks and issues need to be monitored and reviewed regularly.  Mitigation plans are required for risks.

Reviewing issues and risks

The frequency of reviewing these risks and issues depends on the size of the project.  Obviously high/critical risks need to be reviewed frequently.   A good approach is to allocate each risk and issue  to a project team member to be managed (although they are not necessarily the owner).  Either review these at the project team meetings or allocate regular, specific sessions to do this.

Managing issues and risks

People should be aware of and track risks, but spend their time resolving the issues.

Bear in mind that some risks can be positive, and hence represent an opportunity rather than a threat to the project.  Embrace these opportunities by preparing a plan which supports them and takes advantage of them.

 

These are just a few of my thoughts, I would really like to hear about other people’s views and how you deal with the horrible four letter word… RISK!



How to run effective Project Management meetings

 

Project meetings don’t have to be painful experiences.  If they are well managed and planned, they can be very effective forms of communication.  They can assist project managers with an accurate view of the project team’s work and project status as well as providing the team with this information.

Factors for an effective meeting

Have objectives – Make sure the project team understand the schedule, major risks and issues, blockers, and dependencies.  Project meetings need to include:

  • Tasks that have been completed (since last meeting) and those that should have been but are not (and these are probably the most important)
  • Tasks that are up and coming in the next period
  • Risks and issues
  • Changes.

Have an Agenda and stick to it. 

Have meetings at a regular time (and as convenient as possible for all the team) so they all know this time is allocated for the project meetings.  However morning meetings usually work better and preferably not Mondays!

Every meeting must have a leader.  It does not always have to be you, but someone must be in charge and facilitate the meeting.

Meeting etiquette – Discourage the use of cell phones or texting during the meeting, and  if members bring laptops in with them, make it known this is not the time to catch-up on emails!

How to conduct a successful meeting

Start and end meetings on time and as the host make sure you are never late!  End when the Agenda is completed; it is fine for people  to sit and chat if they choose to, but make it clear the meeting is over so those who need to leave can do so.  And make it a goal, if possible, to end meetings early!

Whilst it may be necessary to have conference call/dial-in meetings, physical meetings can be preferable, if possible, to ensure members are engaged and concentrate on the meeting content.  If using “cloud” facilities make sure all members in the meeting know who is online, and that these members are included in the relevant conversations.

Try to make sure that everyone who has something to say is given a chance to say it.  It may not be necessary to take turns, but be alert to body language and participation.  If someone seems overly quiet, ask them a question.  Remember that silence is not always golden – everyone likes to contribute.  Make sure each participant has the opportunity to bring up their concerns or ideas.  If some people are quiet or you have a person monopolizing the discussion, try and include the reserved participants.

Don’t have lengthy meetings – the project team probably need to be working on the project!    Agile Scrums have daily stand-ups and this is a good method for short, informal, effective meetings.

Have actions (allocated to a project team member) and due dates.

Dealing with conflict – Not all conflict is bad or unavoidable.  Keep the talk relevant, not personal; focus on outcomes not playing the blame game.  Remember, healthy tension is all right!

Don’t have lengthy discussions about an item – if it needs an in-depth discussion take if off-line and arrange a secondary meeting.  Likewise if you do not have all the information/people for an item, assign an action to have a follow-up meeting.

Sometimes there will be differences of opinion.  Accept what works best for the success of the project.

At the end and after the meeting

Ensure all team members know what actions items are allocated to each, when they are expected to be completed and circulate these actions to the team members promptly after the meeting (within 24 hours).  A quick email may suffice for this purpose.

 



What I wish my current PM self could tell me as I started out

If you go searching, you will find numerous blogs and web pages devoted to the art of hindsight specialising in “What I wish I could tell my past self” on matters of life, health, love, finance, pyramid schemes, tequila shots….. or almost any topic you want. Some are humorous, some serious, whilst other’s give a sad and strangely overly informative insight into misspent youth and tragic choices. But placing the entertainment and voyeurism to one side, a few truisms find a way to shine through.

  • Time is the most valuable thing you have
  • Make room for failure
  • You can’t do it all alone so stop trying
  • Don’t let the little things get to you

As a project management professional, with ‘enough’ project years to at least argue my credibility to blog on this topic, I believe I have earned the right to indulge in a little hindsight. I also believe that projects by the nature of their personal interactions and communication demands, can and should leverage off any valuable insight into human behaviour that is presented. Therefore what can the four truisms above give to the project world? Or more specifically, what advice for new PM’s can be gained from them?

Time is the most valuable thing you have

As a new PM you are taught that time is one of the ‘triple triangle constraints’ along with scope and budget. What is also often true of new PM’s is that rightly or wrongly you normally have little authority or desire to manipulate the budget or scope, and therefore you will focus your energies on stoutly defending their integrity for most of the project duration. However, one of the underutilised toolsets available to the PM that allows you to directly influence the outcome of the project is the scheduling of the internal tasks. So the message is this.

Embrace the things you have control over (time) and shift some, but not all of your maniacal focus away from those that you do not (budget/scope). Learn you schedule, love your schedule. Learn your critical path and learn any alternatives or contingencies it allows you. Embrace the ability to proactively and reactively adjust it as required. It has secrets to reveal to you if you ask it for help.

Make room for failure

As a new PM you probably fear the prospect of not being able to deliver full scope, on time and on budget as originally agreed, but yet you are still new enough to the game to feel invincible and fully expect to hit all three if you just try hard enough. Sorry to tell you this, but the project world is a complex and dynamic place and you need to re-adjust your rigid view of success and failure.

A university professor of mine taught me to understand the project context of the following statement. “Failure is not falling down. It is refusing to get back up”. So the message is this.

A project is a journey of many parts, and some of those parts will ‘fail’ against the original base line for a multitude of reasons. It is more important how you respond to those difficulties or opportunities and drive the project forward to deliver the end goal than the fact that something ‘failed’. If you ultimately achieve the objective of the project then any events along the way are just part of the journey that you learn from, they are not failures. Live and learn.

You can’t do it all alone so stop trying

As a new PM you are probably still working with projects that mostly cover your field of ‘technical’ expertise, and possibly have resources on the project that you could outperform if you were doing their role. Stop. That is no reason to do the work yourself. It may deliver a more complete or polished result for this project, but it will not help your next one or the ones that follow. As the projects get bigger and more complex, you will be stretched beyond your capabilities to assist at the task level. If you want to be a better PM then focus on the PM role and let the ‘technical’ tasks go. So the message is this.

There are subject matter experts or specialists assigned to this project for a reason. It is their job to deliver the projects sub components. Let them. By all means inspire them, lead them, drive them forward, but do not do the work for them if you do not have to.

Don’t let the little things get to you

As a new PM you can become overwhelmed with the volume of the information flowing and individual events occurring on the project. If you go looking you can find a crisis in anything, and if you stand still long enough any number of crisis will find you. It is the nature of the PM role and you need to give it the respect it is due. However picture this scenario. You are in a forest and you are covered in honey. Sure there are ants bothering you and there are a lot of them, but you tell me if you think the bear eyeing you off as lunch deserves your undivided attention or not.

So the message is this.

Focus on the things that need your attention. It really comes down to accepting that there are only so many minutes in a day, and you have to use them for the best overall value of the project. Learn to know what level of event is worth what % of your effort, and don’t stress the small stuff. There is enough big stuff out there that is worthy of your input.

In conclusion

Whether you are new to the world of projects, or a voyeur on the outside looking in, or like me you are indulgently reflecting on the naive energies of past conquests and possibly some less glamorous results, I hope you can take away some value from the insights of.

  • Learn your schedule
  • Projects are a journey of many parts
  • Let go of the ‘technical’ tasks
  • Focus on the things that need your attention

 



5 tips to manage your time effectively
Martin is an industry veteran, who's career started way back in 1989 working his way through the ranks to now be a Senior Business Analyst for IMA. A quiet achiever, his understated manner doesn't hide his undoubted ability in both business and process analysis. When not exciting our clients you'll find him in in the outer shouting for his beloved Hawks, head down in his garden or working with his other passion, the Hope City mission

Martin is an industry veteran, who’s career started way back in 1989 working his way through the ranks to now be a Senior Business Analyst for IMA. A quiet achiever, his understated manner doesn’t hide his undoubted ability in both business and process analysis. When not exciting our clients you’ll find him in in the outer shouting for his beloved Hawks, head down in his garden or working with his other passion, the Hope City mission

Time – in my opinion, the most precious of all resources.  Every person on the planet is blessed with resources (finance, assets, education, creature comforts) and talents (natural ability, skill, flair, capacity) that seem to be distributed disproportionately in many cases.  Sometimes we inherit riches and assets, sometimes we work hard to acquire them, and often nature bestows various blessings upon souls in a random manner.  The only resource distributed evenly amongst every person on the planet ……. is time.  Every person in the world has 24 hours in a day. No matter how happy, smart, popular, or talented we may be.  Everyone has 1440 minutes in a day.  No more.  No less. What we do with those minutes makes the difference.

We have all wished at some point that there was a way to get more time in a day?  It sometimes seems that we spend so much time rushing from place to place or task to task that we don’t feel as though we actually accomplish very much; certainly nowhere near as much as we would like to.

I have good news!  It is possible to ‘make’ more time by applying some basic time management techniques.  Time management is an important tool to ensure that all necessary activities are accomplished within their allotted time period. We can do simple things like use a calendar, or keep a day planner to schedule specific activities for specific times.  It is also important to determine where time is being lost, and an established routine is the most important tip for managing time effectively.

There are only three things that we spend time on: thoughts, conversations and actions.  Irrespective of the type of business environment we find ourselves in, our time at work will be consumed with these three items.  Frequently, we will be interrupted or pulled in different directions.  Whilst we will never eliminate interruptions, we can determine how much time we spend on them, and how much time we will spend on the thoughts, conversations and actions that will lead us to success.

Whilst the following keys are not all easy things to do, the time invested in learning how to implement them will be well worthwhile; increasing both our accomplishments and sense of well-being.  Here we go ….. 

 1. Realise that we cannot do it all:

 Many of us find ourselves stretched too thin because we have bought the lie that everyone can (and should) do it all.  We should all work full-time, spend quality time with our children, spouses and pets, spend time with our friends, undertake volunteer and community work, ensure we stay fit and healthy, and spend time relaxing and rejuvenating ourselves.This kind of balancing act is best left to the jugglers at Silver’s Circus.  The only thing that truly matters is that we are healthy and happy with how we are spending our time.  We need to decide what roles and activities are important to us, live our lives accordingly, and remember that it is highly likely that 20 percent of our thoughts, conversations and activities will produce 80 percent of our results.

2. Prioritise:

The other part of the lie we’ve bought – that we all can and should do it all – is that everything is equally important.  It’s not.  We should take the first 10 minutes of every day to plan our day, and we shouldn’t start our day until the time plan is complete.  The most important time of our day is the time we schedule to schedule our time.  We must then resist the urge to rush from task to task throughout the day, and instead, calmly review the list of what we have to do that day and pick out the things that are ‘must do’ for that day (trying to keep these ‘must-dos’ to three or less for starters).  Then focus on completing those things; develop the discipline to keep necessary appointments.  At the end of the day, we will have a feeling of accomplishment, no matter what else went awry or distracted us.

Another useful habit is to take a couple of minutes before each meeting or task to decide what outcome we would like to achieve.  This can help us know what success might look like before we start.  Then, take a couple more minutes after each meeting or task to determine whether the desired outcome was achieved.  If not, what was missing?  What can we do differently to ensure our next meeting or task produces the desired outcome?
Finally, a helpful rule-of-thumb can be planning to spend at least 50 percent of our time engaged in the thoughts, activities and conversations that produce most of our results.
 

3. Learn to say “Yes” and “No”:

 
The inability to say “no” can be the cause of an incredible amount of misunderstanding and frustration.  Instead of saying “no,” we often say “maybe” or “I might be able to do that” or “I’ll see”, creating the expectation for the requestor that we will do whatever it is being asked of us, and the pressure on ourselves to do it.  Then, when we don’t do it, the person we said “maybe” to instead of “no” is disappointed, annoyed, or hurt.
Let’s make it a general rule not to say “maybe” at all when we are asked to commit to something, but instead learn to make quick decisions and say “yes” or “no” instead.  Then we need to avoid elaborating or giving extensive reasons for our decisions.  A simple “No, I can’t do that” is enough.  The person we are speaking to will appreciate our honesty and our disinclination to waste their time.  And we will be without the pressure to fit in yet another activity or event that we weren’t that interested in anyhow.
 

4. ‘Un-connect’:

 
Another modern myth that we need to disregard if we want to redeem more time, is the crazy notion that we all have to be reachable and ‘connected’ all the time.  We don’t, and in fact, there are times when it’s important or useful to be unreachable to everyone or everything except the person or the task immediately in front of us.
For instance, one of our children may be telling us one evening about a traumatic thing that happened to him or her at school that day, and we are on the laptop responding to a client’s email.  We need to be attending to, and communicating with the person right in front of us, not the one calling us, or sending us email.
So, we need to recognise this and ‘unplug’ ourselves when appropriate; make ourselves the manager of our technology rather than being managed by it.  Don’t read every piece of email as soon as it arrives in the inbox, for example, or feel that we have to personally answer every phone call.  Incoming texts or tweets shouldn’t interrupt us when we are working.  Specific times of the day should be set aside to read, listen and respond to emails and messages.

5. Take time off:

Many people in the business world in particular fall into the ‘seven day trap’.  We can feel that the more time we pour into our work, the more successful we will be in our given role.  Before we know it, we can be working seven days a week and wondering why we feel so frazzled all the time!

And in doing this, are we actually more successful or productive?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  In reality, our success depends much more on what we do and how we do it, rather than how much time we spend doing it; the old chestnut – quality versus quantity.

So let’s plan time off in our schedules.  When we take time off, whether it be just an afternoon or weekend, or a week, we are able to relax and reflect, returning to our workplaces refreshed and more productive, able to accomplish so much more in the time that we have available

No, we won’t magically generate more time in our day when we put these time management techniques into action, but we will be able to manage the time we have more effectively.  In terms of what we achieve and how we feel, that can make all the difference.

 


 

5 tips for embracing the benefits of Agile Development

As a seasoned Prince2 Project Manager, I was very comfortable in managing projects in stages. The scope was defined and locked in.  The sponsor and project board had a clear understanding and agreement of what would be delivered in the stage. Any deviations to the project delivery were managed through exception reports……Life was good.

Pablo is a seasoned professional who is focused on delivering high quality outcomes for his clients. His strength is his ability to quickly develop relationships with stakeholders at all levels to find a way through complex issues. Highly qualified with an MBA and over 14 years’ experience in consulting and project management, Pablo has helped his clients in numerous industries including Education, Health, Defence, Telecomms and Finance achieve their business and project objectives. When he is not immersed in solving his client’s most pressing challenges, Pablo enjoys spending time with his children and cooking a variety of delicious cakes and desserts which makes him valued team member for morning tea. He also doesn't mind a long drive along the coast every now and again.

Pablo is a seasoned professional who is focused on delivering high quality outcomes for his clients. His strength is his ability to quickly develop relationships with stakeholders at all levels to find a way through complex issues. Highly qualified with an MBA and over 14 years’ experience in consulting and project management, Pablo has helped his clients in numerous industries including Education, Health, Defence, Telecomms and Finance achieve their business and project objectives. When he is not immersed in solving his client’s most pressing challenges, Pablo enjoys spending time with his children and cooking a variety of delicious cakes and desserts which makes him valued team member for morning tea. He also doesn’t mind a long drive along the coast every now and again.

Then – along came Agile and to be brutally honest, the prospect struck me with fear….

WHAT ?? the client can change their requirements on a whim ? My mind screams ‘that’s not in scope!!’

A Sprint is only 2 weeks long?? My mind exclaims – ‘what can these developers build in 2 weeks??’

There’s 100 stories in the Product backlog ?   How can these not be in a Project schedule…. I NEED to build a detailed schedule….

A requirement is a User Story ?  and I’m thinking – a User Story is what I read to my daughter every night…

There was a lot to learn in this new Agile world…. and yet I do enjoy a challenge….. so the lessons began.

I was the new PM on the Block…. (is that a song?)…and I needed to show my team some confidence that I (somehow) knew a bit about Agile.

So we had daily stand-ups – this was a great idea!  I could now grill….no not grill…..I could request a daily update from each team member and find out if there were any issues that I needed to resolve. This would definitely assist me in tracking project progress.

We held Sprint Planning sessions, bought some Scrum Poker cards and had great debates about business value and story points…. I enjoyed negotiating with developers on the effort to complete a user story, but it was also difficult to assign business value to a story without the Product owner present.

We conducted Sprint Retrospectives – these were difficult to begin with but the team soon learned the benefits of having regular reviews and getting feedback from all team members.

We appointed a Scrum Master to help the team manage their sprint products and keep the team on track.

I was beginning to enjoy this new approach in managing a software development project…. and I quickly began to understand how Agile can be used to deliver products to our customers in a faster way.

Not everything went to plan though so I would like to share my own lessons learnt –

  1. Get a Scrum Master on board at the START of the Agile Project.  I see the Scrum Master as the lead who will provide the guidance and direction to the development team on a daily basis.  They are also great for managing the product backlog and keeping the team on track.
  2. Like the first point – Get the Product Owner on board and keep them on board through the entire sprint. The ideal scenario is where the Product Owner is embedded in the Project team.  They can make business decisions on the spot and this is what makes the project delivery truly Agile!
  3. Develop and deploy a product version in every sprint – this can be difficult with a lengthy and complex project but there is a definite advantage in conducting regular testing and reviews with the Product owner.  We held product refinement sessions to demonstrate our product and seek immediate customer feedback that we can quickly build into the next release.
  4. Don’t underestimate the testing effort or timeframes. This includes integration, user acceptance, performance and regression testing.  Of course – I think this applies to both Agile and Non-Agile projects but it must be factored into Sprint planning sessions.  You may be tempted to squeeze testing effort – my advice – don’t!
  5. Business engagement and communication is still a key requirement – although you may have a Product Owner working in your Agile team, you still need to maintain regular contact with all your client stakeholders to ensure they are aware of current project status, issues and risks.

Overall – I can now begin to appreciate the benefits and techniques in Agile Development and I am more confident in applying these in new Projects.

I would be keen to hear your thoughts and experiences in adopting the Agile approach in your projects.

(Approximately) 50 Shades of Grey – Dealing with Uncertainty
Niall Ridge is a Senior Business Analyst with IMA who is passionate about helping other Business Analysts to explore and improve in their role. He's also a self-confessed data-nerd, and loves working on Business Intelligence solutions

Niall Ridge is a Senior Business Analyst with IMA who is passionate about helping other Business Analysts to explore and improve in their role. He’s also a self-confessed data-nerd, and loves working on Business Intelligence solutions

I have a confession to make. Ever since I started working as a Business Analyst (well, actually long before that), there has been one feeling that visits me like a recurring dream – “I don’t know what I’m doing”. Initially, this response would occur daily – what does a good requirements document look like? How do I know when I’ve got enough detail? How do I operate this coffee machine?

Fortunately, although this feeling still occurs, it happens a lot less frequently, and I now know how to operate a coffee machine. More importantly, it’s no longer something I fear and I’d almost venture to say that I enjoy the feeling. Because I know that that feeling is why I’m there. The subject I’m looking at is complicated and the problem is messy but that’s why the business has engaged a consultant – to help them work through the problem.

Without sounding too much like an advertorial, I think the biggest strength of IMA is the people. The one on one interview, the intensive logic test, the peer interview – used when IMA employs a BA – are all designed to make sure that when a business engages a consultant, they get a problem solver: someone who is logical, who can think through a problem and, quite likely, has been there before.

Nowadays, when I find myself in a situation with a high degree of ambiguity and uncertainty, I put my head down and start chipping away, knowing that I’m sometimes there because no one “knows what they’re doing” yet with this particular problem. It can sometimes involve days of having a head swimming with new information before the lines and patterns start to become clear but, because I’ve been there before, I know that I can trust the process. Of course, ‘the process’ will vary with your particular situation, but here are 6 tips that have helped me when facing uncertainty:

1. Communicate early and often – let your project manager or supervisor know about the complexity as soon as you can. Tell them (in understandable language!) why there might be complexity, what the level of that complexity may be, what you expect the impact may be and how you’re planning to investigate and address it. As for any communication, it’s critical to tailor this to your situation by understanding your audience. For an example of this, check out Chris Robson’s excellent post on how to deliver bad news.

2. Get started – the quote “the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step” has been used so often that it’s easy to overlook the truth of the statement. Don’t let yourself be overawed by the task, do something! If you’re facing a new task, this might mean getting on Google and spending a few hours researching and planning, or it might mean talking to people. Don’t feel guilty about this ‘non-productive’ time, it’s an essential part of the process.

3. Don’t get distracted – rarely is my power of imagination more evident than when facing a difficult or long task. Unfortunately, this normally manifests itself through inventing new ways of procrastinating – getting a hot drink, doing a simpler task or even checking news or social media. One technique I’ve found quite effective is to set small goals, like not doing anything else for an hour. This has been particularly effective first thing in the morning, and gets the day off to a great focussed start.

4. Write it down – with complex problems it’s easy to forget your solution to one chunk of the problem while working on another, so keep complete and clear notes!

5. Put in the hard yards early – if you’re working on an area with a lot of uncertainty, don’t get caught out by underestimating the task. Work hard during the early stages and make sure that you know how big the job is. You can relax later on when you’re much more certain about how much work there is.

6. Bottle the memory – each time you manage to find solutions in uncertainty, take a moment to reflect. One of the benefits of experience is that, the next time you feel daunted by an uncertain or ambiguous task, you can take confidence from knowing that you did get through it last time, and you can again.

I hope that these suggestions will help you break through uncertainty in your own work and, if you find yourself thinking “I don’t know what I’m doing!”, know that you’re not alone. In fact, it might be a sign that you’re in exactly the right place!How about you – can you think of a time when you’ve felt out of your depth, or overwhelmed by uncertainty? What techniques or tricks did you use to get through it?