Eric Morfin, PMP,
PMO Director, Chiron Corp.,
Emeryville, Calif., USA, and Partner,
Critical Skills Inc., Lafayette, Calif., USA
At Chiron 18 months ago, project management practices existed but needed to be followed more consistently. People were “too busy” and over-allocated to systematically follow a rational process for developing projects.
The Quality Assurance department realized the value of a disciplined project management approach. The fact that design control requirements required by the Federal Drug Administration can be better achieved with a structured process was justification in itself for improving product development processes.
As a leader, I decided to integrate best project management practices into the existing design control standard operating procedures, an unpopular decision because it would have to be followed whether commitment previously was obtained or not.
At the same time, I trained, educated and communicated the benefits and supported critical projects teams on a 24/7 basis. Some of them started to realize that better project management practices meant a better project plan, less surprises and a higher likelihood of delivering the project on time, on budget and meeting performance expectations. Opinions were changing.
Today, project management professionals have been hired and a five-phase stage gate process is in place. The process is well implemented to the extent that the standard operating procedures leverage is no longer needed—the project management practices instead will be maintained as guidelines.
A better change management approach would have helped, and this discovery is a personal learning. If you know that people eventually will see the benefits of your approach, don't be afraid to make unpopular decisions in the short term.
Kimberly Liegel, PMP,
Liegel Enterprises LLC,
Eugene, Ore., USA
Several years ago, while in the midst of implementing a PMO at HNC Software, where I worked as director of program management, one of the biggest challenges was the overall cultural change necessary for the adoption of the project management practices that engineers recognized we needed, but nonetheless scorned.
With only influential authority, I would need support from the top down in driving organizational change. To implement anything successfully across the multiple functional disciplines within our organization, it was going to take collaborative leadership with my peers—engineering directors more specifically—to drive and internalize this down to the “hands-on-keyboards” level.
To achieve this, I fostered a two-pronged collaborative leadership initiative. This included a special invitation event across all functional disciplines with the company's most respected, top-quality software engineers, quality assurance analysts, product managers and project managers. We ran this as a director-level, cross-organizational team initiative to create an environment that recognized and rewarded leadership and best practices-sharing.
This event created a groundswell of understanding and commitment to implementing many of the project management processes I was struggling to get others to accept.
The second prong was to initiate a parallel director-level team project to develop and implement a standard software development life cycle with all the supporting processes, templates, and defined roles and responsibilities. Once the director's feet were to the fire, exposed and held close by the people that attended the leadership event, real collaboration and ownership happened.
Senior Vice President for Government Affairs,
Alexandria, Va., USA
When I was working on a major IT acquisition-the computer complexes for IRS‘s National Computing Centers called “Corporate Systems Modernization-Mirror Image Acquisition” (CSM/ MIA), the U.S. government struggled to award major contracts on time and within budget. This particular IT contract was not a small effort, valued at $500 million and involving 60 to 80 specialists over two to four years.
We created a management charter for the acquisition that allowed us to abandon ineffective management practices, and become more responsive and receptive. We identified a single project manager responsible for all decision-making, as opposed to the old model that required certain decisions go to the assistant commissioner Level.
We also established an advisory board of senior executives whose opinions we valued, but we retained the right to make decisions as a management team. We created advocates for two competing philosophies on the team and committed to being responsive to issues within 24 hours. Acknowledging that no decision was “black or white,” the team pledged to value everyone, consider all views and consistently make the best “gray” decisions.
This charter and new set of management principles enabled a swift and under-budget acquisition, while delivering state-of-the-art technology. The acquisition became legendary in government circles as a model and gave me positive governmentwide exposure as the successful project manager.
As a project manager, one wonders how far one can push teams until the revolt begins. There was a time when I was caught between an unpleasant boss at an Indian software company and our ERP client in The Netherlands who believed in throwing us challenges. The offer was simple. My team and I were at the client's site, where he said he would cover all expenses for 90 days while we learned the domain and source code to a better understanding than his. He would test us at the end of 90 days, and if we passed, no issues. If we didn't, we'd get billed for all expenses.
We set ourselves a 14-hour work day, six days a week and got the job done in 60 days instead of 90. The weekday routine included daily presentations, brain-storming, in-depth planning and so on. The last 30 days, we performed code maintenance for the client to demonstrate our knowledge.
I learned that, if you carry a team on the sense of seriousness and urgency, people will cooperate and let themselves be pushed-or as in this case, take off ahead of the project manager—making the work pleasant instead of dictatorial. It was one of the most fundamental, yet decisive influences on my perception of team spirit and synergy and has helped me greatly to deal with teams.
SoonKheng Khor, PMP,
Asia ICT Project Management,
Selangor, Malaysia, and Vice President,
PMI Malaysian Chapter
In 1999, during the first airport operational trial for the multibillion-dollar construction of the Shanghai Pudong Airport in China, I was promoted to project director for the fully integrated airport computer system. The project team spent 18 months in design, development and testing of more than 40 subsystems.
At 7:45 a.m., an hour and 15 minutes before the operational trial, I received an urgent call to come to Central Command Center. The systems could not assess the common database, which resided on a hard disk adjacent to the main cluster.
When I arrived, more than 50 people were crammed into the computer room, most of them not involved with problem solving. I immediately requested that the project sponsor politely ask that everyone, including high-ranking officials, leave the computer room within one minute, except the two engineers. By 8:30 a.m., we decided to reconnect the hard disk to the direct power source, bypassing the uninterrupted power supply. Within 10 minutes, the entire integrated system returned to normal operation.
A true leader solves problems calmly and logically, taking full responsibility, no matter the outcome. The project sponsor complied with my request to clear the computer room—unusual in Chinese business practice—because he trusted my work based on my leadership in two previous airport projects. I learned that leaders don't always follow the norm.
Dr. Edward Hoffman,
Director, NASA‘s Academy of
Program and Project Leadership,
Washington, D.C., USA
I believe that the most powerful leadership decisions involve change, transformation and metamorphoses, with the realization that things will be very different—better or worse.
In 1991, I was very happily and successfully concluding my fifth year at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. At that time, I was responsible for management and organization development. My career was going well, when a leader at NASA Headquarters asked about my interest in agency project management development. My immediate reaction was to turn down the query—at the time I solely equated project management with planning, scheduling, costing and process controls. Where was the passion? Where was the fun? I was a “people” person and enjoying the moment.
Then a close colleague suggested that my satisfaction was a comfort zone. He forced me to consider that this new opportunity was a significant stretch that, good or bad, would revitalize my efforts and provide incredible challenge, responsibility and growth.
I realized that my favorite teams at Goddard were project teams—they were results-focused, passionate, team-centered and a little crazy. My stereotype of project management was countered by the reality of working with project teams.
The next day, I decided to take the position, which has forced me to reinvent myself and tap into new knowledge, skills and imagination. I am now in my 14th year, and the outcomes of this decision have led to challenge, growth, meaningful work and a most rewarding career.
PM NETWORK | MAY 2005 | WWW.PMI.ORG