nontraditional approaches to advanced project management
As technology and media have evolved, a new approach to borrowing from existing content and combining it with new or existing content to create an entirely new creative work has emerged. These methods of blending media are commonly referred to as “mashups”. This paper begins with that metaphor as a starting point and explores the ways in which established project management professionals are currently applying non-standard practices to project management with a traditional framework in order to create a blended approach that is customized to the specific practitioner or environment in which it is being applied.
The purpose of taking this blended approach is to respond to the fact that as the profession of project management has matured through the internet age, new tools and practices are required to keep pace and continue delivering value for the world of work.
The examples of Mashup Project Management provided within this document are all drawn from work done by real life project managers who are currently applying a mashup approach to their practice. Additional examples have been provided of well-known mashups in modern media in order to illustrate the concept.
As project management professionals, we are exposed to significant information about growth and development. There is, for example, the Tuckman model of the development of a team, and there are models of organizational maturity, such as Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3®) (Project Management Institute [PMI], 2008a) or Capability Maturity Model Integration® (CMMI), and while they may not be officially defined, there are stages of development that project management professionals go through as well.
As project managers advance in their professional development, they often choose a path of certification or end up developing an approach that centers around a specific model or framework, and they often seek certification such as the Project Management Professional (PMP)® or PRINCE2 in order to validate their understanding/expertise in those methodologies.
Beginning with Fredrick Winslow Taylor's development of the science of measuring work, modern project management has gone through a period of growth and development which saw the introduction of new tools and approaches every decade or so up until recent times. Each of these new tools and approaches built upon those that came before and provided for an increased capacity to understand what exactly happens in a project. This visibility has come with an assumption that it would drive changes and improvement, and to a certain extent, it has. However, the last major project management tool to gain a significant level of acceptance was Critical Chain Management, which was introduced by Eli Goldratt in 1997, just as the internet was just beginning to demonstrate its' ability to impact the world in which project managers work. At that time, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) was still in its first edition and the emerging standard tool for project management was Microsoft Project 98, which required that the individual using it had a 486 processor with at least 12 MB of RAM to run under Windows 95.
The world of work has transformed significantly since then and the playing field for project managers has evolved along with it. The tools, however, have not necessarily kept pace with the growth of our profession or the demands of the job of project manager. Today, knee deep in the “information age” we exist in a workscape that is flooded in 24/7 high-speed information. Today we manage projects on a global scale, with offshore teams blending standards, culture, and technologies in a way that has never before been seen. For the project management profession, this is unchartered territory and for the people who practice the craft of project management, there is an increasing demand for newer and better ways of keeping pace with the demands of our work. And yet, our last new, widely accepted tool was introduced before this new age began to really take hold.
So, the question is, how do we, as project managers in the information age, cope with the challenges we face day to day as we manage our work? If you look at the “normal” development of the project manager, there are standards, like the PMBOK® Guide (PMI, 2008b), which are updated every few years. For many of us, as we evolve along our individual, professional paths, our engagement with the standards like the PMBOK® Guide begins as a way to strengthen our approach and we rely on them as a toolset that we believe we will be able to apply to solve the challenges we face in managing our projects. As we gain experience and face the constantly changing workscape, many of us reach a point where this keystone of our professional approach demands additional support. Fortunately for us, this is a very dynamic time to be involved in the profession of project management, and while they may not be codified into a project management standard, we have a vast array of additional tools from which to choose.
The Mashup in Modern Media
The idea of a mashup stretches far back into the history of print and media. With the widespread use of the Internet for sharing music and video, coupled with the availability of tools that make it so easy to do, it has gone from the fringe of creative acceptability to a common way of creating “new” art. The idea is simple: you take/borrow from different sources and make something new. In literature, you can look back to the cutup work done by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin in the 1950s. In music, one of the better-known examples can be found in The Grey Album, a recording created by Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) in 2004, in which the vocals from Jay Z's The Black Album were combined with the music from The Beatles White Album. And in video, you can find thousands of examples on You Tube, like “Superfriends meets Friends,” where the audio from the TV show “Friends” is mashed with video from the 70's Saturday morning cartoon, “Superfriends”. More recently, with the advent of Web 2.0, it has jumped over to software as well. But while the form changes, the idea is constant… multiple sources, blended together to create something new and unique.
The Mashup in Modern Project Management
As applied to project management the idea is simple, you draw from multiple sources, tools, frameworks, or techniques and blend them together to create something new, which is, ideally, stronger than the elements you started with. While these new approaches may not be part of a codified standard, they are necessary for anyone moving beyond simply trying to managing projects based on a single framework into a more creative, advanced form of project management.
Examples of Mashups
GTD + EV + Scrum
Gary Booker, PMP, CSM is the man behind Project Landscape, a newsletter that is used by 12 of the local Chapters in Region 6 and has a combined circulation of 20,000 readers. Booker has officially been in project management since 1984, and since 2005, his daily application of project management has involved a blend of the traditional practices presented in the PMBOK® Guide combined with David Allen's Getting Things Done® (GTD®), a twist on Earned Value and Scrum.
Booker approaches project management by keying in one of GTD's chief principles, the separation of outcome and action. In GTD, which is a personal productivity framework (ala Franklin Covey), one of the primary techniques is to separate your desired outcome from the actions required to achieve that outcome. Where a traditional approach to creating a WBS would have you start with deliverables and break them down into activities required to create those deliverables, Booker starts at a higher level by focusing on desired outcome and then works towards the actions required to achieve that outcome. The desired outcomes are prioritized (and reprioritized as needed) to make sure that the most critical pieces are always dealt with first. This outcome-based approach places a heavy focus on the idea of creating value. Using this approach, the scoping begins with desired outcomes, which are then sized in relationship to one another (as with Planning Poker®). With all the desired outcomes sized, Booker is able to add all the size points up to determine a total size (or value) for the project. Taking an iterative approach, and completing the work on individual outcomes in each cycle, he is able to determine the rate at which his teams are recognizing the size points; in Scrum, this is referred to as velocity. With a velocity established, and a known number of size points for the project, he can then forecast duration and develop an understanding of where the work stands in relationship to the total value. Applying cost rates to the resources involved, Booker can determine the cost of value delivered as well as the cost of value remaining. If it sounds familiar, it should, because what Booker is tracking is value earned on the project. The only difference between this approach and a standard Earned Value approach like the one presented in the PMBOK® Guide is that Booker's focus is on scope first, then velocity, then cost. By incorporating GTD, Scrum, and a modified approach to Earned Value, Booker's mashup begins with an approach that takes on the scope of business value created by the project first, as opposed to the deliverables. Another benefit of this approach is that, as with Scrum, it is the team that is responsible for defining the actions that bring about the “how.” From a team-building standpoint, this enables the team and puts them in a position to be responsible for defining as well as executing their work.
Social Media + Personal Branding
These days, it is difficult to have a conversation about the Internet that doesn't end up including Social Media. Linked In, Facebook, and Twitter are just a few of the more popular successors to the chat room and message boards. Many project managers look at them as a way of establishing their professional credibility online, others use them as networking tools, and for many, they extend into an area that often seems foreign to project managers: personal branding.
LinkedIn has been around since 2002, which makes it something of an elder statesman in the realm of social media. It has spawned a vast number of copycats, but remains one of the primary tools of establishing connections and learning more about the professional background of people whom you are or will be working with. In keeping with its' senior status, it has a tendency to be a bit more staid than some of its “colleagues,” offering a way of conveying personal background information and, more importantly, professional connections. For professionals who wish to establish their credentials and keep a business-centric persona, this is the social media weapon of choice.
Facebook started in a Harvard dorm room in 2004 and has grown to the extent that about one fifth of all Internet users have Facebook accounts and spend an average of 20 minutes on the site every day.1 By way of comparison, this is LinkedIn with the windows open so your friends and neighbors can see who you are beyond your role as a professional. For many, this is a double-edged sword, offering too much exposure for the folks who would rather maintain the separation between their personal and professional persona. For others, it provides a great way of extending themselves outward, by allowing others to know more about them. At a PMI Congress a few years ago, a PMI Board Member remarked that she felt like she knew me and my whole family based on the things she had learned from my postings on Facebook. At its best, it can offer a way of getting to know more about your professional contacts so that you can find common interests, or at least provides you with a way to start a conversation. When used and promoted with care, this tool can be used to help break down walls when you are meeting new people. Even though you might not know a person, that new person may know enough about you (and vice versa) to permit a level of comfort by making each other more approachable.
In the Spring of 2008, I attended the Scrum Gathering in Orlando, Florida and was speaking with a well-known trainer and author of books on Agile and Project Management. She made the comment that she had to be careful at events similar to the one we were at because, as she put it, “I am my brand.” Similarly, Social Media tools can be incorporated into a personal approach to project management to help establish “your” brand. According to the PMBOK® Guide, 80% to 90% of a project manager's time should be spent communicating. Like it or not, in the information age, that communication extends beyond simple office relations. Our digital trail follows us wherever we go, and whether you are posting your resume in LinkedIn or posting photographs of your cat and telling people what you did over the weekend in Facebook, social media tools provide us with an opportunity to brand ourselves and communicate to the world who we are. Since it began, the Internet has been a tool that assumes familiarity as a rule and breaks down the normal barriers you find in an office setting. It is a level playing field, and in the same way that we communicate with body language, our use of social media communicates more than we often directly present in a professional world.
When it comes to interacting IRL (In Real Life), your every interaction will change the shape of the other person's perception of you. Whether we are aware of it or not, personal branding is already mashed into our approach to Project Management, by the simple fact that how we use (or don't use) these tools, introduces “noise” into every other way in which we communicate. It is not part of any formal methodology, it has no specific direct impact on the projects we manage, but for those we work with and interact with professionally, it shapes people's perception of us—and that perception impacts everything else we communicate in the same way that our style of dress, accent, and physical presence do.
For many people, especially those wishing to maintain the separation between their professional and personal persona, these tools are leveraged with extreme care in order to maintain a brand of professionalism. For others, they are a way of establishing a persona that gives an idea of who and what they want to be known as, whether it be a professional who is also a mom who loves yoga and went scuba diving in Belize last year or as a conference attendee who posted pictures from the great party he attended at the last conference. The question is, as a professional and a project manager, who do you want the world to see you as? Taking care in defining your personal branding strategy and your online presentation of your persona sets that stage from which you communicate to your clients, co-workers, colleagues, and teams. If all communication involves noise which impacts the message, Social Media tools offer you a chance to help shape the noise so that there is a greater chance people will perceive you as the person you want them to.
Mind Mapping + Cultural Awareness + Mirroring
Petra Goltz is the chair of PMI's IT & Telecommunications SIG. By way of background, Petra is probably one of the most unique people, let alone project manager, you'll ever meet. Raised in Germany, she has lived her adult life all across Europe and now resides in Italy where she works for the SITA, an Italian Telecom company. In addition to her nomadic background and her career in IT project management, Petra has also had the opportunity to work in a number of other fields including music, photography, and helicopter repair. The lessons Petra has learned in her journeys and working life have enabled her to bring a number of nonstandard elements into her approach to project management. She is also a huge proponent of mind mapping, as anyone who attended her session at the PMI Congress in Amsterdam knows.
Petra's approach to project management begins with her mind maps and then moves towards a value-based approach not unlike the one utilized by Gary Booker, as mentioned earlier in this paper. “I start with the big picture, often drawing this out using a mind map or strategy map (if it is a process improvement), and then after I have confirmed the scope with the customer, drill into the details, and set priorities, using an xls sheet with drivers that I can easily adapt to suit any project.” Where a more standard approach might begin with simply listing out details or project requirements, Petra begins at a conceptual level, which, for her, makes it easier to understand the total scope of the client's needs. Excel is far from a nonstandard tool, but her use of it in laying out value-driven priorities as a precursor to her actual project planning gives her a deeper sense of the needs of the client before she moves into formal planning.
Because she has clients throughout the EMEA region, Petra's role demands a high level of cultural sensitivity. Blending her awareness of different cultures with situational leadership techniques and a healthy dose of Emotional Intelligence allows her to tailor her approach to each client based on their culture and emotional cues, which enables Petra to establish a leadership style specifically suited to each client. If the idea of a mashup is to take existing elements and combine them to form something stronger, Petra's approach is a perfect example.
Situational leadership and EQ, she said, “comes into play when I communicate to the customer. Whether it is by telephone, e-mail, or face-to-face, I am open and approachable, while mirroring their cultural preferences—i.e., I would be more detached when dealing with a customer from the Middle East or Asia than with a “fellow” Italian, and very factual with a “fellow” German. This is reflected in body language, even on the phone I find myself sitting up straight when talking to certain cultures, and leaning into' the telephone when talking to others.” The physical mirroring through her body language is another tool that Petra is able to draw upon when she needs to modify her approach to suit her audience.
The examples presented in this paper demonstrate ways in which experienced, senior-level project managers are using nonstandard approaches to their work in order to supplement their traditional project management toolset. The ideas being leveraged are not new, but the way in which they are being used is. In some cases, it is simply a matter of recognizing the opportunities that exist and taking advantage of things we already use, like LinkedIn. In others, it is the way in which these existing tools are blended with a more traditional approach, like use GTD with a PMBOK® Guide approach. Mashing up your approach to project management should leverage tools you have a significant interest or level of expertise in. The most critical factor in developing a mashup is understanding what tools can be used to improve your approach without impeding it.
The material covered in this document will be presented at the PMI Global Congress 2009—North American in Orlando, Florida. In addition to seeing/hearing examples of the types of mashups listed above, the presentation will include a group activity that is intended to help the participants develop personal strategies for employing nonstandard tools in order to strengthen their day-to-day approach to managing projects.
Links for additional information
The Cut Ups (William S Burroughs and Brion Gysin): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMQSDwQUwWM
Mashin' Up With Granny Teller: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=driXX37mPiA&feature=channel_page
Superfriends meets Friends: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khGUPEdY-Fk
Grey Album: http://www.illegal-art.org/audio/grey.html
Remix – Lawrence Lessig : http://remix.lessig.org/
Getting Started with Getting Things Done: http://www.43folders.com/2004/09/08/getting-started-with-getting-things-done
Scrum Alliance : http://www.scrumalliance.org/
Facebook : http://www.facebook.com/
LinkedIn : http://www.linkedin.com/
Twitter : http://www.twitter.com/
Mind Mapping: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_map
Project Management Institute. (2008a). Organizational project management maturity model (OPM3®)—Second edition. Newtown Square, PA: Author.
Project Management Institute. (2008b). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® guide)— Fourth edition. Newtown Square, PA: Author.
SEI (no date)Capability Maturity Model® Integration (CMMI) Software Engineering Institute and Carnegie Melon, Pittsburgh, PA
Vogelstein, F. (2009, July). The great wall of Facebook. Wired Magazine, 1107, 98.
© 2009, Dave Prior
Originally published as a part of 2009 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Orlando, Florida