Friday, April 26, 2013

Process: friend or foe?

Probably the greatest challenge in the creatively based industries (like advertising and entertainment) is trying to figure out if "process" is a help or hindrance to the business. The benefits of process are usually apparent (as in there being standardized practices, consistencies of experience, less time re-making the wheel), but that doesn't mean people are fighting to go through the effort of establishing or implementing it. Often, process is seen as the reviled and shunned two-bit cousin that ruins your birthday party, steals your best friend's girl, and sets your favorite grandma's shawl on fire.

A project (by PMI definition) is qualified by the following characteristics: it is unique, it creates a product, service, or result, and most importantly, it is temporary, as in it ENDS. It is finite.

So if a project is finite, and unique, how can it be replicated?

(All together now) With process.

As is true with most endeavors, there is repetition of certain elements of an activity. You brush your teeth every day (I hope). You take a bus or a subway or car route every day to work. You login to your email with the same username and password. These are all examples of the various elements that make up the processes you use to run your life.

Without process we would literally be spending life simply trying to figure out a way to live it. There would be no opportunity to enjoy just about anything because everything would be the "first" time.

Process allows us to define a system of how to do something over and over, iterating and improving over time. If every person who put out a movie, or created a campaign did it in a completely different way, you would have madness. Not to mention a whole lot of poor product. So process in this example keeps Hollywood making blockbusters because movies are made (generally) the same way.

So yea, we all know that process is needed, but again, why is it that there is such a bad rep in advertising?

WELL (imagine that said with great drama and pomp), in traditional advertising, process was almost invisible. It was relegated to the "behind-the-scenes" work that creative folk rarely had insight into. So, when a project came up, and a Creative Director, or Art Director, or Copywriter wanted something done, they simply spoke the words, and then magically.... it was so.

When digital came around, the situation wasn't so simple.

First off, nothing was relegated to "behind-the-scenes". There was a *direct* correlation between the actions and decisions of the creative teams on the final product. There was no longer the ubiquitous opportunity to "make-it-work" because sometimes there is no actual way to make it work. And then you add the project manager. The project manager has to be concerned with all of the project, not just parts of it, so if there was a problem foreseen in the future, it became a risk to be mitigated in the now.

To put it shortly: Creatives determined that Producer = Get it Done = Fun, while Project Manager = We'll see what can get done = Not so Fun. Creatives just associated not so great stuff with project managers because PMs brought process in tow.

But that's the perception we are trying to combat today right? So let's dig in on how to make that happen.

It's easy to see that the arguments against process are likely tied to a perception issue. Process is (in the creative sense) synonymous with homogeneity, which means creativity and spontaneous thought will be subdued. Now, that is not actually true, but again, perception is nine tenths of the law. Doesn't matter what the reality is when perception can rule the day.

Even PMI concedes that process should not be implemented or engaged in all ways at all times. The purpose of having a book of knowledge (hellooo PMBOK) is that you can pick and choose what makes sense.

So here are some ways to frame conversations with your creative-types to get them on board with process:

1. Process is defined by those who will see the most benefit. This is a sly way of saying "hey, whatever you need to do, and however you think this will work will become the way we work". Now to you, savvy-soon-to-be-PMP-extraordinaire, that sounds suspiciously Similar to the word process, but to your friendly sensitive creatives, THEY hear: "I want you to have all the space to be as creative as you want to be".

2. If you can help me, then I can help you (or as Jerry McGuire would say: Help me Help you). If the team can help you identify the key tasks and deliverables and actions that should always be repeated, you can better plan and respect their ideation time. Again, the only way that PMs get better at the job is by doing the job. Part of that doing is understanding how the final product comes together. Your team helps to establish and inform that education by helping you understand how they like to work, and what works best (ahem.... their process).

3. Process helps to shape the creative journey... for the rest of us mere mortals. I would argue that *any* group, executive, or chief creative director knows that process is necessary. They try and pretend for their more junior teams that it isn't true, but that is just a tactic. They could not have gotten to where they are without bottling a little bit of genius, and knowing how to manage their teams. Managing teams requires monitoring and controlling the creative execution for the art directors, visual designers, copywriters, and other creative resources. Sounds eerily familiar? That's because (in their own way) Creative Directors are PMs too. They try to hide it, but the best of them get it. This is an argument you can use to get the day-to-day resources motivated to get in line. Chances are your creative directors are telling them the same thing.

So what do these three things get you? A conversation. Which (by the way) is what PMI says that any project should have, and furthermore is the foundation of implementing a process. The team decides what kind of phases and components will be most useful for the project, and thePM helps codify those ideas into being. Inclusion and collaboration can make friends of process and creativity (not to mention you and your teams!)

Let's make it happen, cap'n
- the practical PMP

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The other "P" in PM

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor... won't you be mine?

In project management land, a PM is Mr. Rodgers. You are the mayor of your project "town". You are it's ambassador, it's ombudsperson, it's chamber of commerce, and it's pep squad. You are the person who makes the town feel like things are hunky-dory, or headed to hell.

It may seem like the types of roles described above might not be project personas, but your ability to channel those personas (and others) will make or break your project. That may be a tall order to fill, but it is all worthwhile when it comes to the emotional health of your project.

These days, I have observed that some PMs are seemingly unconcerned about whether their teams are happy. Some folks in advertising say that it doesn't *matter* if teams are happy. I seriously disagree on this point.

Since this isn't the Jetsons, or AI, or Minority Report, or any other crazy example of a "future" where robots do everything, we work with human beings. Human beings are also called people. People have feelings and emotions. Hence, the other "P" in PM is "People" management.

That "human" factor is SO important that PMI determined it should require its own competency, and the skills, tools, techniques and processes around it comprise the Human Resource Management knowledge area.

Here's about the time in the program girls and boys where we talk about feelings.

The PMBOK says that effective project management requires that the project manager possess characteristics of knowledge, learning and personal.

Yeah, yeah, that isn't grammatically correct, but go with me on this for a moment.

Knowledge - Makes sense. A PM should "know" something about project management (we hope).

Performance - Of course you would expect that a PM should be capable of "doing" something with that knowledge. (again, we hope).

Personal - This is the interesting one. This is the assumption that the PM know how to behave while doing the first two. It's her or his attitude, core personality traits, leadership capabilities, and really anything that would add to her/his ability to guide the project team while doing the more tactical and administrative functions of the role. In other words, a juggler with a good sense of humor and a "follow-me" type of presence.

Many people don't know that PMI has an opinion on the kind of *person* a PM should be. If more people knew about their position, there might be some folks who wouldn't have become PMs. But when you think it through, why shouldn't there be an opinion on it? The PMBOK outlines just about everything else, so why not try and guide the evolution of people management?

Arguably the most important part of a PM's ability to succeed comes from their skill in all three core characteristics. The Personal aspect literally separates one PM from another. Her or his ability to negotiate, facilitate, motivate, mentor and develop the team to achieve something great is so key, that in many cases, teams will prefer a "nice" PM who isn't capable to a "capable" PM who isn't nice.

And if you were wondering what makes project management difficult, it is this: the soft skills.

The PMBOK knowledge area of Human Resource management has its own nuances and processes associated with it. Formally, it is intended to give structure to the organization, management and leadership of teams. There are four processes associated with this KA:

Develop Human Resource Plan
Acquire Project Team
Develop Project Team
Manage Project Team

Develop HR Plan is more commonly referred to as "identifying a team". In practice, we have had some experience with trying to request a project team that we would *want* to lead. Sometimes that is working with people you have a rapport with, that you trust, or trust you. Overall, we are looking for people with the right skill set that will make the job easier, not harder. Whatever type of team you want to have, you have to be able to articulate what the needs are, and you are usually working with subject matter experts (SMEs) or resource managers to make sure you are getting the right skills and the right levels for the right roles on your work.

Acquire Project Team is when you actually find out who makes up your pool of resources for your project. You confirm the availability of folks and you actually obtain your team. There is a lot of negotiation in this phase because you are often bartering for a resource's time, or the role you want them to play with their functional manager (if there is one) or the resource manager. In some cases you might even be bartering with other PMs. This is also the process of figuring out the right makeup of an on-site, off-site, or blended team.

The last two processes are where the meat is. Developing and Managing Project Team.

When the PMBOK describes "developing" a team, this is what they are thinking:

As a PM, and leader for this project -

- are you increasing cooperation by understanding the sentiments of your team members, anticipating their actions, acknowledging their concerns and following up on their issues?
- are you encouraging and organizing activities designed to enhance the competencies of your project team members?
- are you scheduling team-building activities, where you are offering off-site or on-site opportunities for the team to strenthen relationships and build trust in AND out of the context of project work?
- are you making sure to reward the work and achievements of your team and looking to motivate them through fostering a positive culture of public recognition?

I think you get the idea.

You need to be FUN. You need to be SPONTANEOUS. And most of all, you need to be *calm*.

When they talk about "managing" a team, they mean that you are then constantly taking steps to interact with, and cultivate the individuals on that team in parallel with the development you provide for the team as a whole.

A PM is a litmus test for the emotional strain on a project. If the PM is emotionally out of control, quick to blame, quick to snap, and doesn't appreciate the work being done by the team, it is a short trip to disaster, and you can *see* it in the team. This is why being personable and aware of your team and their feelings is so important.

If a PM is upbeat and sociable, knows how to gauge when to apply pressure to meet a deadline versus giving the team time to recoup and take it easy, and is quick to acknowledge and congratulate the team on a job well done, there are good odds that the project could be successful. Why? Because the team will feel motivated and say: "Hey, if the PM is ok, then chances are, things are ok!"

The PMBOK has a particular philosophy on the way that teams form. Although most teams will follow this path in a linear fashion, when stress and other external factors come into play, anything goes. Knowledge of these stages might help you manage the emotional changes as your teams become a project unit.

The five stages of development are:

Forming > Storming > Norming > Performing > Adjourning

I am sure you can guess what goes on in each stage, but for fun, we'll walk through each of them:

Forming - This is the first 30 minutes of a party. People are arriving, dropping their coats, grabbing a couple of pieces of carrot from the veggie tray and checking out the drink selection. Some people may chat with others,but really, people are hanging with the folks they know, or came with.

Storming - Uh oh. There's "that guy". He was already blasted before he arrived so he's just a ping it up. Not everyone is appreciative, so there's a bit of friction. People are now exclusively paying attention to their friends. Not friendly. People are thinking, "hey, I have nothing in common with some of these folks". Something has got to change otherwise this party is dead.

Norming - The party is now underway. Most of the folks invited are there, and someone started playing some good music. People's personalities seem to be less aggressive and conflicting, and each person is starting to get their groove on. Because everyone seems to like to music being played, there is a group identity growing. As each person observes the others, there is a sense that there may be some commonality after all.

Performing - "That's my JAM". All of a sudden "It Takes Two" comes on the rotation, and EVERYONE is jumping in. Then it's quickly followed up by "Don't Stop Believin'". Every person at the party is either dancing or laughing or drinking or talking, but most importantly, people are MINGLING. Finding out more about the other part goers, and really getting into the swing of things. This is turning out to be an AMAZING shindig. (Yea, I said shindig).

Adjourning - Well, the last song has been played, people are exchanging information. "Hey great party Man!" It's a mini love-fest. People are keeping track of names and people they'd like to party with again, and everyone goes their separate ways, hopefully for the better having come to this party.

That is the type of flow that you want your projects to have. In terms of storyline, it's ok if everyone doesn't get along or appreciate each other's strengths at the beginning. It's only natural. But what you contribute as a PM is a perspective on how all of these strangers have commonality. You are the DJ at the party. You get a chance to play the songs that people want to hear, and through checking in and observing your team and it's individual members, you can create a playlist that not only coalesces the team, but gets the best performance out of them as well. You can help the team evolve and transition through the stages to eventual success.

So before you start your next project, think about the ways that you are going to get your team members to interact with each other. Plan for outings. Plan for fun time. Plan for goof off sessions. MOST importantly, KNOW what kind of performance you want to celebrate, when is the right time to congratulate your team, and just how you are going to reward folks.

If you find out ways to spread the love and appreciation while keeping the project on track and on budget, you will be the PM that everyone will work their best for, and you'll find that you'll have more fun too.

- the practical pmp

Monday, April 22, 2013

What do you do anyway?

Project managers are a pretty varied bunch. I fell into Project Management, which really isn't unique because most PMs are those who either got training as engineers, took a new job in a new field (like advertising), or had a job that transformed (like consultants) into Project Management.

So since there are a lot of us that didn't necessarily "learn" PM formally, our jobs are more or less defined by how we first performed them, or followed others at the company. In advertising, this is a mixed bag. Some agencies or design "shops" have hands on PM where everything is run by PMs. Others have setups where the PMs do little more than act as organizer and expediter (although that is shifting).

One pervasive opinion about project management in advertising is that it is at odds with the creative process. Oddly enough, *true* or *pure* project management leverages the project manager's ingenuity, experience, mastery of process and techniques, and people skills to achieve results. The PM's role is almost exclusively to make sure that the best creative or technical process wins out. Therefore, the PM does not perform any function in a project on her/his own. Technically, the only thing a PM is supposed to do more or less on her own is monitor and control the project as it chugs along.

Monitor and control the coordination between phases, the scope, the schedule, the costs, integration, the people, the quality, the vendor partners, the communications, and the risk.

Oh, by the way, those areas (if you didn't already notice) are the 9 Knowledge Areas (Integration, Scope, Time, Cost, Human Resources, Quality, Procurement, Communications, Risk).

That monitoring and controlling role is one of the most crucial to any project. It's broad-reaching and ever-changing presence provides the leadership that is necessary for success.

But PMs don't know this. Why?

Because we fell into project management. And chances are, when we fell in, we found ourselves at agencies and companies where the companies had either no idea about project management as a discipline, or what they did know about it, was not as detailed as it could be.

In other words, the definition that the organization gives to a PM defines what the PMs role will be, which gets us to the subject of today's post: What kind of work do YOU do at your company?

PMI says that the level of control and authority a PM holds depends on the organizational structure that exists at the company.

Following are some of the types of organizations in which you could find yourself:

Functional - Disciplines (Functions) are in silos and there are no cross-mix among teams. Projects are likely within each vertical, with no real cooperation or communication between disciplines. In this example, there are probably few (if any) PMs and they have little to no authority, availability for projects and they don't control the project budget. PMs in this case are used as coordinators, so obviously the worst scenario for you.

Matrixed - This is the most common form you'll encounter. There are 3 types of matrix organizations, Weak, Balanced and Strong. Each is defined by the level of authority of a PM, the availability of resources for the project, the role the PM plays in the project, and the level of control the PM has over the budget. It ranges from weak matrix, where the PM is nothing more than an expediter and resources are scarce, to strong matrix where the project manager controls the budget and there are full-time resources available to the project.

Projectized - This is the world where EVERYTHING is project based, and PM is the almighty being in charge of ALL. There are a couple of places this setup exists. I have never heard of one in advertising. Send me a link if you have seen this rainbow-colored magical unicorn.

Most traditional (read print, TV & radio) agencies and shops either started as purely functional or weak matrixed and the role of PM evolved. Producers (as in broadcast/radio/video) have existed longer in the traditional setup.

Most digital (read interactive, web, mobile) agencies and shops started as balanced or strong matrixed. In the case of digital, the inclusion of coding development teams means the higher likelihood of projects that employ the Software (or Systems) Development Life Cycle (SDLC) which was developed back in the 60's along with the original tools and methodologies of project management.

But at this point, you might be wondering what this has to do with YOU.

A lot actually. It matters a lot to your sanity. If you are thinking of getting your PMP (which of course I'm advocating), you ought to understand what that extra knowledge and expertise will get you in your current gig, or in a future one.

If you are at a functional company, a PMP or CAPM may be overkill. Your colleagues may not care, you won't have a manager who has familiarity with what you are trying to achieve, and you certainly won't have opportunity to use what you know. Plus, from a practical application standpoint, you might have difficulty meeting the eligibility requirements to even take the test. If you find yourself in that situation, join PMI, and make use of the seminars and other learning opportunities they offer. And try and make a project in your current situation... not only will your peers and managers likely appreciate the initiative, you can totally count it towards your project work.

If you are at a matrixed agency, a PMP is likely a good fit. Of course you will need to determine just how much you can effectively introduce the more beneficial elements of PMI processes (if they aren't already in use), but it will provide more of a help than a hindrance in most cases.

If you are at a projectized agency, this whole conversation is old hat, and you likely have your PMP already, if not on your way to getting one.

Whatever your situation may be, you should make sure to consider one thing when you are looking into getting your PMP as it relates to your workplace:

Regardless of where your company places on the spectrum of organizations, senior management and the employees have to be open and ready to adopt a shift in the PM's role. Whether you or your peers are ready for the processes, tools and techniques that the PMP certification might bring or not, if the organization is not ready or "mature" enough to make that change, you might find that having your PMP may be more hassle than help.

Friday, April 5, 2013

getting started...

So March ended up being a busy month! Started a new project, travelled a little, watched some TV, caught up on Game of Thrones. You know... the usual.

So now April is here and spring is in bloom, and it's time to layout some of the upcoming topics for TPPMP (I know that's not a sexy-looking acronym... I'll work on it). For the uninitiated, on this blog we'll be meandering through the core principles and philosophies of formalized project management as described and set by the Project Management Institute, AS IT ACTUALLY APPLIES to project management in the digital space. Not engineering or even software development. We are talking banners, emails, websites, etc. Marketing stuff.

Really, what will that mean? I intend to share whatever I've learned in my journey to become a PMP (and hopefully other PMI certifications) so that others might plunge into the ocean along with me. After all, if we all get better at this, then the industry gets better right?

SO - where to start? Well, with the Project Management Book of Knowledge.

The PMBOK is separated into a number of sections, and covers a lot of ground, but its focus is really on the following:

  • 5 Process Groups of Project management (Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Controlling, Closing)
  • 9 Knowledge areas (Integration, Scope, Time, Cost, Human Resources, Quality, Procurement, Communications, Risk)

And across these Groups and Knowledge areas, there are 42 major processes. Now, the finer points of how these three things interact is what makes learning and studying for the PMP so difficult. It's intuitive onto itself, but not so much in the "real" world. And the small insights I'll share here (and perhaps what we discuss) will really examine how understanding the PMBOK can actually help us become better at our jobs. (GASP!)

So for April, I am going to start with the basics. Why you should be a PM, why the PMP matters, and why learning about these process groups, knowledge areas, and processes will serve you no matter your industry or your level. Time to get started!

Happy reading!

the practical pmp

Thursday, March 7, 2013

today was a special day!

Today I got my PMP! Yes, I work in digital/interactive/online marketing/advertising/project management/production (or whatever it's called this week). Yes, I spent time studying to get certified. And yes, today, I joined the 460k+ people worldwide who have letters after their name without having spent an obscene amount of time or money getting a JD or an MD, or a PhD, or some such other craziness. 

Truth be told, studying for this sucker felt like I was trying to do one of those in a handful of weeks. 

This test was hard. I mean, yea, there are people out there who pass this thing on the first try, but that was not me. I consider myself to be of solid intellect, and I can admit it. Because I *DID* pass. Today. And that's all that matters. That you pass. 

The first time I took it, I was shocked I was able to find my way out of the testing center afterwards. Think back to high school and think of the worst grade you ever got for anything (I did in my formative years flirt once and again with a C) and figure THAT was the lowest point for you emotionally with the grading system.


Here come's the PMI, with a new way to make you feel strange about your mediocrity...

When you test for the PMP, you either fail or you pass. ("That's easy! What's the big deal?" I heard you in the back) But that isn't the kicker. 

Pass or fail (FYI, many people do not pass on the first try) you get a sense of HOW you passed/failed through a "diagnostic representation of your proficiency level per domain".

And that, ladies and gentlemen refers to something that might look like this:

Initiating: Moderately Proficient
Planning: Proficient
Executing: Moderately Proficient
Monitoring & Controlling: Moderately Proficient
Closing: Moderately Proficient

Now, if that isn't a nice "atta girl" for you, I don't know what is. And that is if you PASS. If you fail, you can swap out a whole bunch of those "Proficient" and "Moderately Proficient" designations for "Below Proficient". Yea, that first day, I got chummy with those BPs. 

I know they are probably not concerned about warm and fuzzy language at the PMI, after all, they do publish the PMBOK®, which is one of the most dense, sleep-inducing books around. But, I look to other areas of life and think that if someone said they were "proficient" I wouldn't necessarily jump up and applaud.

"Have you done this type of oral surgery before?"
"I'm proficient."

"Welcome to the restaurant! How good is your cooking?"
"Eh, I'm moderately proficient."

SO- I sought to get that slightly better than mediocre designation (for a second time) and THIS time I TRIUMPHED! I was beside myself when that grainy 1990s computer screen at the testing center splashed "Congratulations. You are a PMP". I was grinning like an idiot (for myself and the test monitors watching me on the closed circuit camera system).

I am proud that I am "Moderately Proficient". Well, not in the real world, but the PM world. In PMI's world, proficiency is where it's at, and it makes sense. I don't think that ANYONE can be a guru at this stuff, or is even meant to be. Too many people run projects in too many ways in too many industries for someone to truly ace the science of it. Plus the other cool thing is that project management is evolving. 

And that's where this blog comes in. 

This isn't supposed to be the type of site where I pull out crazy cerebral examples of PMBOK® knowledge areas or processes applied to complex situations across businesses where executive sponsors and functional groups are working in ad-hoc structures to compensate for their lack of maturity in the processes of organizational process. 

This blog is about talking about the value that formalized project management knowledge brings to the day-to-day. How it can really work, and maybe make us all a bit better at our jobs. Plus, since I now have the darn thing, I should really use it. 

So thanks for joining be on this journey. It looks to be a fun ride.

- the practical pmp