/Jim Stewart

About Jim Stewart

Principal JP Stewart Associates

How to Facilitate Productive Project Planning Meetings

The Chief Information Officer at a company for whom I consulted asked me to audit some of her company meetings. Her concern was that there were too many meetings facilitated by too many people and that they were largely ineffective. In this capacity I attended not only status and lessons learned sessions but also multi-day project planning meetings. But let’s first talk about what a facilitator does. Facilitation is the “ability to effectively guide a group to a successful decision, solution, or conclusion.” A facilitator ensures that: There is effective participation Participants achieve a mutual understanding All contributions are considered Conclusions or results have buy-in from attendees In our book, “How to Facilitate Project Planning Meetings,” my co-author and I address these necessary (if unloved) everyday business events. In that tome, our primary focus is on large multi-functional planning meetings. But many of the precepts are just as applicable to status or lessons learned sessions. Have an agenda and publish it in advance. People want to understand what’s going to be discussed and why it matters to them. Have an objective (or objectives) for the meeting. If you have that in mind, it will keep you from getting distracted. Know your stakeholders and make sure they are invited. As the name suggests, these are people who have a stake in the project. They need to “in the room where it happens.” Set expectations in advance. “I thought we were here to discuss the size and shape of the new product” is not what [...]

By | 2019-02-21T17:08:27+00:00 February 21st, 2019|

Confessions of a Waterfall project manager turned (sort of) Agilist

I've been a project manager for about 25 years and an independent consultant (and instructor) in same for about 15 years. For the great preponderance of that time I've been a waterfall guy, largely because that was pretty much the only option I had. (For the uninitiated, it's called waterfall because it's a sequential, linear process with phases that cascade forward like a waterfall.) In 2001, the Agile manifesto was created providing the world with a different approach to managing projects. So now instead of planning, planning, planning and then (hopefully) delivering what stakeholders expected, it defined an approach that worked in shorter bursts with much more day-to-day stakeholder involvement and (revolutionary!) self-organizing teams. I was slow to jump on this particular train. Oh, I read about it and got familiar with it. But while that train started rolling out of the station, I was still pretty much involved in waterfall, largely because my clients were familiar with it and, frankly, so was I. In early 2013, I decided I'd better see what all the fuss was about and got certified as a Scrum Master. I liked it, liked what I saw about the approach and wanted to use it as soon as feasible. Given that I had a heavy teaching and consulting schedule, it wasn't possible to adopt any of those techniques right away. Gradually I got involved in Scrum and I found that in the organizations I was consulting to, there were varying levels of adoption from zero to, well, not [...]

By | 2018-10-31T13:11:54+00:00 October 31st, 2018|

Making the Transition from Waterfall to Agile in Projects

Making the Transition from Waterfall to Agile in Projects I'm currently working with a Cambridge, MA-based software company, implementing a Project Management Office (PMO) for the Chief Technical Systems Officer. Among the many challenges is getting our arms around and prioritizing the many (100+) ongoing initiatives and establishing better cross-functional communication. (Too many silos.) But one of the biggest challenges is in making the transition from waterfall-based project management to Agile. Everyone throws those terms around but let's take a second to define them. Waterfall is a name used for the classic project management methodology that plans extensively and then executes to that plan. Changes can and will be made during the life of the project but waterfall is plan-oriented, not change oriented. (It's called waterfall because phases roll forward and down as in a waterfall.) Agile, however, while hardly averse to planning, operates in shorter bursts called iterations or sprints. Sprint duration is anywhere from two to four weeks which allows not only for quicker results but also allows for - and even encourages frequent change. (As well as a tighter connection between doers and business.) Now, despite the greater adoption of Agile methodologies worldwide and its recent embrace by the Project Management Institute not all companies are 'going Agile.' In fact, in a 2017 survey by Changepoint, very few organizations are going pure Agile or even adopting it at all. In fact, 'one third of organizations manage fewer than a quarter of their projects with pure Agile, and 20 percent of [...]

By | 2018-10-26T02:06:58+00:00 June 14th, 2018|

The Project Management Office: What’s in it for IT?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I specialize in the implementation of best practices for organizations. As such, I have rolled out several Project Management Offices (PMOs) for clients in industries such as financial, pharmaceutical and manufacturing. Typically, these PMOs have been within IT shops. It is my observation not only that IT tends to run significantly more projects than other parts of the organization but also tends to have the highest level of project maturity. I recently gave a presentation at a local university on the PMO and how it is 'here to help you but not do your job.' As part of that, I spoke on the state of the PMO (based on studies) and where it is going in the future. You may find this useful in your own environment. Before we talk about who the 'you' is here, let's talk about some statistics. According to a study done by PM Solutions, in 2016 the most recent year for which data was available - 85% of companies had a PMO. (Reading between the lines, not all of these PMO's can be considered 'best in class.' Many have PMO's that are barely functional.) The majority of these PMO's participate in strategic planning with an equivalent number involved in portfolio management. Some of the benefits were: 33% improvement in projects delivered under budget 27% improvement in customer satisfaction 43% improvement in alignment with company objectives 25% decreased in failed projects $175k USD cost savings per project That same study talked about [...]

By | 2018-10-26T02:10:43+00:00 February 10th, 2018|

Lessons Learned in Establishing a Project Management Office

When working with a recent client to establish a PMO for their IT shop, there were some clear insights that helped it become successful. In the course of establishing other PMO's, I have found that the lessons hold up and that if you are aiming to be successful out of the gate, you violate these at your own risk. Make sure you have a sponsor A senior executive in the organization has got to sponsor this and be willing to stay with it. You need commitment for the long haul. Organizational change which is effectively what this is takes time and you need an evangelist and supporter. (You yourself might be that person or it could be a department manager or PM Director that drives this effort.) Engage Stakeholders The standard joke in real estate is location, location, location. In project management it's stakeholder, stakeholder, stakeholder. Make sure your stakeholders (the PM's using it and the customers they're serving) have input into this and understand what it does and, just as importantly, does not do. Establish a core team. Ideally that should be the person driving the project, a senior person such as Director who wants the PMO and a senior PM or two. Collectively they will know where the bodies are buried. Decide on a Structure I'll here use the three PMI types: Supportive, Controlling and Directive. Suffice it to say that the PMO can be anything from a repository to an organization that actually runs projects. Develop a PMO Charter You [...]

By | 2018-10-26T02:16:15+00:00 October 11th, 2017|