"The making of..." the new Spanish (Castilian) edition of the PMBOK guide
Muntsa S. Bau
Senior Consultant, Institut Cerdà Private Foundation.
Have you ever been intrigued by how they did that trick or special effect in a film? Do you wonder how people can jump over buildings, stay in the air and do many super-natural stuff in the movies? Well, that is precisely what most “making of” stories are about. They are about showing viewers how things were done. Film “making of” stories are the lessons learned of the film industry. Inspired by this parallel, this article presents the lessons learned in the A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), 3rd edition Spanish (Castilian) TVC Project. The key skills and requirements to effectively manage a distributed and virtual team in a voluntary knowledge-based project will be presented and discussed.
And as we were about to go on typing, we heard: “Suhhhh! Silence, please…”
…Lights, Cameras, Action! (…Or why a “making-of” story?)
…Stop! this article is not about the latest Hollywood movie success, but rather about the experiences and lessons learned of a multicultural distributed team of Project Management practitioners during the development of the Translation Verification Committee project for the new edition of the profession most recognized standard: the PMBOK® Guide.
In the cinema, “making-of” stories usually present the “behind the scenes” view of making a film. These documentaries provide viewers with additional information on the background work, filming techniques used, people involved, etc… so that the public can further understand, learn, put in context and ultimately enjoy more the film they just watched; or even sometimes spark the interest of people wanting to watch a film they did not originally planned to watch before they glanced its making-of story.
Our expectation is that the readers of this article will further learn and value PMBOK® Guide as a resource for their project management activities. As with “making of' film stories, we will explore the “technology” of virtual projects that allowed us to successfully run our project in a very short time frame.
Additionally, we believe that some of the lessons-learned and ideas presented, could be of value to people doing projects with some or all of the features of “virtual-multicultural-voluntary-knowledge-based” projects discussed below.
Lessons from the “Modern Times” of silent B&W movies
One of the earliest “making-of” films was perhaps created by Charles Chaplin in 1918. The silent black and white film entitled “How to make movies?” was not released until 1959. Nevertheless, as far back as 1918, Chaplin was already concerned on how to share with the public the secrets of his new studio and the techniques behind his passion of making movies. Another certain prove of his visionary multidimensional talent from the parody of industry in “Modern Times” to his ability of getting the most out of the rudimentary technology of his days.
Nowadays, with all the advanced technology and computing power available, millionaire budgets and mega-superstar actors things are going well for the “making-of” stories. They are now included in almost every DVD film that is released and enjoyed by millions of “hungry” eyes wanting to learn how the “thing” was done. This is true for the Black and White compilations about Chaplin to the state-of-the-art releases of the Matrix saga.
All these “making-of” stories are being seen by the millions. Because they are about learning and sharing knowledge; people all around the world are delighted with these experiences. Specially, since it is being said more and more often that the world has become flat. Again!
Flattening the world of Project Management
Yes! there was a time when people did not “know” that the world was round … and for a long time there was the idea that it was “flat”. It was perhaps Christopher Columbus and his contemporary “colleagues” who in an effort to find a shorter route to the East unintentionally discovered the Americas and the “new world”, starting a commerce-fever and indirectly proving that the world was “round”. They unconsciously set the foundations for the world -“new” and “old” - to become flat again centuries later with nowadays' globalisation, which origins could be traced back to those early days' commercial ambitions.
So, today's world is once again flat. As Pulitzer Prize winner, Thomas L. Friedman claims in his groundbreaking New York Times best-selling book “The world is flat. A brief history of the twenty-first century” (Friedman, 2005), where he analyses and discusses many of today's globalised world issues as well as the most significant historical accounts of the events that “flattened” our world. Friedman's book describes 10 “flattening forces” which are technology-related breakthroughs, political events and business or managerial practices, but specially and above all these flatteners relate to how technology have empowered people to collaborate in a global, distributed and “almost” seamlessly way.
As you might expect, a significant role in this new flat world is devoted to the emergence of the Internet and the technologies that have enabled it to become such a global phenomena. Below the Web's “surface”, a relevant part of Friedman's book discussion is actually giving special credits and recognizing the important role of the development and the adoption of standards in the emergence of a global collaborative platform.
Although the standards discussed in Friedman's book are mainly related to technology - software and hardware, similar relevance is valid to the growth of standards in other fields of human activities. Project management being one such important field. As a matter of fact, as our flat world is offering people the ability to communicate and interact to collaborate in projects worldwide, the need and potential benefits of having a set of “universal” project management best practices is emerging naturally.
We therefore argue that the world of project management have also become flat. Not just because in a “flat world’, projects and project management will have the tendency to become flat, but rather because the project management profession also have its own set of flattening forces. First the existence of global communities of practice, like Project Management Professionals (PMI®), with a steady growing number of members, components, and guess what? Projects! Secondly, the interest and value of this community of being recognized as professional practitioners of the profession, with certifications such as PMP® and CAPM®, both pushing forward and popularising professional standards. Perhaps the most popular one being the PMBOK® Guide!
The PMBOK® Guide is frequently referred as a distilled compendium of generally recognized project management good practices. “Generally recognized” meaning that the practices described apply to most projects most of the time and that there is a widespread consensus about their value and usefulness. (PMI, 2004).
How “wide” is widespread?
Well, according to PMI Fact File (PMI, 2006) by December 2005 there was a total of 1.837.432 PMBOK® Guide copies in circulation (including all editions) from which 401.927 copies are of the 3rd edition alone (including its official translations). The 3rd edition of the PMBOK® Guide is available in 11 languages (including Spanish, the project subject of this paper). And worth to mention, that by the end of 2005, PMI had 208.660 members scoring a 39.6% growth in relation to December 2004. There are also 87.776 individuals certified as PMP®'s as of December 2005. So, little doubt is left, if any, that the world of Project Management has become FLAT!
And not only “wide flat” in terms of size, but also in terms of widespread use and application of project management standards. These wide areas of applications range from effective consulting (Bello, 2003) to software process and organizational maturity improvement (Bello, 2004; Bauer, 2004) as well as many other experiences, which can be found in newspapers, professional magazines and congresses.
With this fast growth rate, PMI has become a global cross-cultural professional organization. In this powerful network of multi-disciplinary knowledgeable professionals, a great commitment to the profession is shown through timely updates of its recognized standards. Or put in other terms: PMI® and its standards, specially, the PMBOK® Guide are becoming huge flattening forces in the project management world!
A flat world brings many promises of opportunities and benefits with virtual project management. Nevertheless, alongside there are also risks and challenges that frequently arise, especially when we add virtuality to the voluntary nature of PMI®'s knowledge-based standard setting projects.
The challenges of virtual multicultural voluntary knowledge-based projects
The PMBOK® Guide defines a project as a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result (PMI, 2004). This wide definition highlights the temporality of projects, which is one of the most frequent source or “amplifier” of project risks and challenges. This is also true for virtual multicultural voluntary knowledge-based projects, as most PMI's standards related projects. Lets look then at these project dimensions one by one, and point out its key opportunities and risks.
What does “virtual” really means?
Well, the most common view is that virtual implies characteristics that are defined in terms of dispersions (Khazanchi, 2005). In the context of virtual projects, the idea of remotely disperse team members and resources, but omnipresent and available, promises a great deal of opportunities and benefits. Several studies, articles and books have pointed out many benefits of virtual teams (Daily, 2006; Levin, 2003) from those of 24/7 “time-shifts”, reduced cost on commuting, flexible work times, to the use of (local) knowledge from another corner of the world and the ability to form teams quickly. In addition to those, it is our strong belief that the most significant advantage virtual teams can provide in a “flat knowledge based world” is the improved ability to ”plug-in” talent into the project from where it is available as needed.
On the other hand, alongside all these potential advantages, there is quite some consensus on how challenging communications can be in a virtual environment. As documented by many books and studies, human communication is far more complex than just passing on from one person to another a set of words or ideas. The majority of interpersonal communication is done without speaking. (Manning, 1999) Taking into account that up to 93% of our communication is non-verbal - 38% of it being attributed to our voice tone; while our gestures, body language, and facial expressions count for 55% - (Manning, 1999), it is clear then that communication can be seriously affected by virtuality.
And indeed, communicating only in written or by voice (telephone without video), some or all of these non-verbal factors and meaning are being truncated. The fact is that in the field of effective communication, verbal and nonverbal communications are not simply non-overlapping mutually excluding well divided territories. They actually complement each other, therefore when the non-verbal part is missing chances are there that the meaning of the “remaining” verbal/written part will be not just incomplete but even distorted. Therefore communicating in a virtual world -especially when not seeing the face and gestures of the other(s) person(s)- can be difficult and challenging. Sometimes even generating “misunderstandings”, omissions or groundless assumptions that can lead to errors.
A culture is often defined in terms of beliefs and habits driving values and behaviours. It comes as a direct implication then that different cultures can imply different course of actions, which in turn could be both beneficial or disruptive depending on the situation at hand.
Therefore, a critical factor in a virtual environment is to successfully bring people together with different beliefs and customs and achieve an effective team.
A frequent challenge in many projects, is the fact that project teams are often formed in short term and with a temporary focus, and therefore people in those teams might not get to know each other very well. We argue this is even more critical in virtual projects because in addition to the temporary factor, you have to deal with a virtual environment that do not necessarily facilitate getting to know each other well and build trust.
A widely accepted research on the topic of cultures is Hofstede's “Cultural Dimensions”: power distance, individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance and long-term orientation (Hofstede, 2003).
Hofstede's dimensions have been found to vary significantly from country to country when it comes to values and behaviours of individuals. It is worth noting that when virtual projects include team members from different cultures, even in the case they do not see/meet/know each other, these cultural dimensions will probably be present and affecting the project performance “quietly” and “behind the scenes”. Therefore, when constituting a virtual multicultural team, the team forming process must include the necessary steps to identify and mitigate potential risks in this area. And this can be even more important if the team is formed by volunteers.
To volunteer or not to volunteer: That is the question!
The Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary defines a volunteer as a “person who does something, especially helping other people, willingly and without being forced or paid to do it”. It is precisely this factor of willingness and voluntary decision to participate that specially highlights volunteering projects and volunteers. Therefore is not surprising that quite often volunteers are highly self-motivated to do what they volunteered for.
This is something that at a first glance looks highly desirable and positive until a wider picture is broad into focus. The wider picture where the volunteer's other areas of life and work come into play. Quite often volunteers do their volunteering work in addition to their regular work, being their valuable time dedicated to these activities limited and scarce.
Even when their highest desire could be to spend more time volunteering they might find they cannot, as these volunteering activities might not have the highest priorities. This concurrency is not necessarily bad, but sometimes it can become difficult or schedule consuming to complete work packages or tasks, as well as very challenging to meet expected deadlines as desired. On the other hand, the level of commitment volunteer people usually show is very high, since they are performing activities they themselves freely had chosen to do.
Volunteering requires serious interest and strong personal commitment, and as the saying “no involvement no commitment” implies, commitment requires involvement which means time…quite some time. A time that is even more valuable when major project assets are knowledge and experience of project participants, which can only become effectively available through their dedication. This is a key characteristic a knowledge-based projects.
Knowledge based projects: from “inert information” to “professional experience”
There have been many terms coined to describe today's boom of data access and availability. Call it “information age” or “knowledge economy”, as more and more information is becoming available and accessible through the Internet, and initiatives like Google and Wikipedia's, the fact is that we have more information instantaneously available than ever before. This however does not mean all this information is valid, useful, or ready to be used. We argue that most of this information is “inert” in the sense of being “raw knowledge”, which needs to be broad into “life” through human interaction and relevant experience, and therefore (for the time being) we people are still needed in many projects, even when most of the information required is already “available”.
Consider for example the nearly estimated $10 billion worldwide market for translations, where the so-called “machine translations” are still well behind human performance. “All” the words from the source and target languages are already known. And even with the promise of using statistical methods and “state of the art” techniques, machine-based systems will never equal the human linguists - as pointed by Keith Devlin, executive director of Stanford University's Center for Language and Information - quoted in Scientific American magazine, March 2006 issue (Stix, 2006).
In knowledge-based projects, the knowledge, the experience and ultimately, the skills of project participants play a decisive role in project success. In such projects competent resourceful people are perhaps the main ingredients of satisfactory project results. It comes as no surprise that in knowledge-based projects, selecting, and acquiring a good team is a key success factor.
All in summary, virtual multicultural voluntary knowledge-based projects are the combination of virtual or disperse teams composed of competent and knowledgeable people who have voluntarily decided and committed to participate contributing their knowledge and skills to the project. As discussed above, each of the features of these kinds of projects involve opportunities and as well as threats. Keeping in mind, that successful virtual teams are those that plan to capitalize on the positive aspects of their technical and intellectual diversity (Levin, 2003), lets examine how one virtual voluntary knowledge-based project helped pushing forward the PM profession for the Spanish speaking community.
The “making-of” the Spanish edition
With its fast growing rate, there is no doubt that PMI has become a global multi-cultural professional organization. With its international scope and rapidly growing size, PMI faces challenges such as that of properly attending the needs of different languages and dialects in the profession's standards.
It is in this context, that PMI had the ambitious goal, for the 3rd Edition of the PMBOK® Guide, of being available in 11 languages. And as PMI planned to release all these languages simultaneously, the need for a new updated Spanish edition was not only derived from the fact that a new English 3rd edition PMBOK® Guide was coming out. The growth of the project management profession in Latin American and Spain is a reality no one can deny. Taking into account that Spanish is already one of the most spoken languages in the world, it is clear that having the new edition of the standard available in Spanish would be a major milestone for the profession.
Start with your project goals in mind!
“Start with an end in mind” is one of Stephen Covey's 7 habits of highly effective people (Covey, 2004). We argue that a parallel “habit” or practice could be stated to highly (most likely) successful projects: “Start with your project goals in mind”!
In order to assure a truly multi-cultural useful standard (our end), the project goals were established as “to produce a supreme quality document standard (PMBOK® Guide 3rd Ed.) to serve the Spanish speaking Project Management Community”.
In addition, to these “qualitative” goals, it was clear from the start that there would be a very short time to complete the project. Exhibit 1 shows an overall project milestones chart. Therefore, from the very beginning it was clear that some aspects of the project would have to be taken care off as quickly as possible, without compromising the project quality. Things as acquiring the best possible team, establishing the proper project processes and setting up the communication infrastructure were the first tasks to get done.
Selecting and organizing the project team
Key to our project success was “recruiting” a competent representative group of knowledgeable professionals of as much Spanish speaking countries as possible.
Taking into account that the project was running in such a short schedule, we knew from the start that if someone drop off from the project in the middle of it, it would be very difficult to replace him or her. Same would be true to people joining the project team once it was already started. Therefore the team was kept as stable as possible once the project was started and we intentionally build some “redundancy” in the team allowing some more people than it was strictly necessary. And once again derived from the project goals, we needed a diverse / virtual team, taking into account its key feature of being a knowledge based project.
In order to set up the project team the following criteria was used to select candidate participants: experience in translation projects, knowledge of the PMBOK® Guide, PMP® status, PMI and Chapter membership, representative of Spanish speaking countries and experience with virtual voluntary projects. All the previous criteria were used as guidelines to obtain a diverse well representative group of participants. The only limiting factor was the number of people in the team, which for the sake of limited complexity we wanted to be kept fewer than 30.
Candidate participants pre-selected to formally join the team, were asked to submit a signed “Copyright agreement form”, a fully completed team member information form, and if the candidate was not a PMI member a signed “Confidentiality agreement”. This proved to be one first “virtual assignment” that started testing our communication and collaboration mechanisms.
The final project team was constituted by 31 members from 11 Spanish-speaking countries, being a truly multicultural, distributed and virtual endeavour.
Managing the “invisible” stakeholders
Perhaps one of the most important practices in effectively managing a project is early and systematic identification and involvement of project stakeholders. It is so much so, that the 3rd edition of the PMBOK® Guide now includes a specific process “Manage Stakeholders” for this end in the Project Communications Management knowledge area. Virtual projects pose the singular situation of having literally “invisible” stakeholders. This does not reduce the importance of identifying them and properly managing their expectations, as well as setting realistic expectations from the project side on what these stakeholders would be able to contribute.
For our project, all key stakeholders were identified and their expectations managed ranging from all and every one of the team members, to PMI and the Translation Vendor members as well.
Establishing adequate project processes
As pointed out previously, virtual projects in a flat world need to be especially thankful to technology. And this was true also in our project. In order to work effectively as a distributed team, we decided from the beginning to use the PMI Communities Website infrastructure, hosted by BlueStep. Having project participants start with a review assignment for the 2000th edition of the PMBOK® Guide using this framework and tools worked out as a “warming-up” and piloting exercise. This was possible due to the fact that at the very beginning the “raw-translation” files of the PMBOK® Guide 3rd edition were not yet available.
Once we received the PMBOK® Guide 3rd ed. Glossary from the vendor, we started by validating this translation, which implicitly allowed and helped the team establishing a “common language” among participants. Actually, the glossary, once approved, would serve as a compass to guide our efforts reviewing the preliminary translations of the rest of the chapters and appendices. This was especially important, since the Glossary would contain the entries in Castilian Spanish with the assertions of other Spanish speaking countries cited at the end of each entry, but the rest of the book would be translated using Castilian Spanish.
Managing the real virtual complexity
As discussed above, communication in a virtual environment can be challenging, specially taking into account the verbal/non-verbal binomial and the asynchronous nature of the exchange of written data and information in most virtual projects.
In order to achieve an effective communication exchange, not only the proper infrastructure was needed, but well defined thorough processes and practices.
Key issues to achieve this effective communication were:
- Detailed instructions / guidelines on the tasks to be performed
- Structured information exchanges (through templates and forms)
- Focused tasks assignments in order to reduce complexity and risks
- Explicit assignment-commitment confirmation practice
- Immediate follow-up on relevant issues (delays, incidents, non-availability…)
The third point above was especially important taking into account the size of the team and the thousands of millions of ways in which information could be exchanged in a virtual team of this size. It was pretty clear that if communication was not well defined could have ended up in disaster. It was indeed an important role for the project leaders to establish and maintain a reduced/controlled complexity on the way the team was organized. We therefore used the project Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), very much dictated by the structure of the PMBOK® Guide book itself, i.e. chapters and appendices, to divided the team and assign subteams to each chapter, section or WBS element. This practice improved the project leaders ability to control the progress and flow of work, as well as facilitated the technical wok to be performed.
For each chapter to be reviewed and validated, at least two participants from Spain were assigned and up to six from the rest of the countries represented. Once reviewed all comments, suggestions and change proposals were submitted to the team leaders who merge and combined the different feedbacks into a single document, which was then sent to the vendor and PMI.
Resolving issues in a swift manner
As it is clear from the sections above and the project schedule, all this work had to be performed in a very narrow timeframe. This shortage of time did not allow wasting or spending too much time wondering about how to resolve an issue, a conflict or discrepancy. In fact, as in most people-centred activities, projects (virtual or not) are not “problem”-free endeavours.
In the case of a distributed multicultural team this is also an important aspect to take care of. Therefore as we moved through the project, every concern was identified and handled as quickly as possible, leaving no room to “known uncertainty”. This speed of resolution, action and response allowed the team to complete the project in time, sometimes with the pressure of running against the clock, as you might read on from the team feedback, but at the end achieving the project goals.
Lessons learned and to be learned!
One very much discussed “best practice” is that of gathering and issuing “lessons learned” as part of the project closeout process. Nonetheless, this good practice is less frequent than one might expect. In many projects, when the results are delivered, both teams and client are fast moving to their next projects, and great opportunities to learn about what went right and wrong are lost forever.
Fortunately, this was not the case with our project and team. One of our final team emails was asking team members for lessons-learned and feedback. The information below is based on the response provided by team members.
Below are the key improvement opportunities raised by the team:
- Starting the project with a (virtual) kick-off meeting where every team member presents himself or herself to the rest of the group.
- Having more flexibility in the deadlines, allowing more time between deliveries
- Time pressure due to the required deadlines.
- Materials to be used should be available with more time in advance
- Having backups for team members
- Having a “chat” for the team
- Nurturing and developing relationships among team members
- Have face-to-face meetings if the project duration allows it. Plan ahead for this meetings to take advantage of other (PMI) events to let the people meet each other, share experiences, etc.
- Better define and clearly communicate discrepancies and issues resolution mechanisms
- The initial phase of putting in common “terminology” and ground rules should be performed with more time for consensus and allowance of feedback.
Challenges of virtual/distributed teams
When providing ideas and feedback on the major challenges of virtual/distributed teams the main points raised were:
- Team building is more difficult due to a lack of knowledge of each other and face-to-face contact.
- Managing people in different time zones.
- Multicultural team management.
- Fluid, timely communication.
- Lack of face-to-face and verbal communication.
- Managing discrepancies and conflict.
- Making group decisions in time.
- Technical (IT) infrastructure and availability.
- Distance (time zone difference) can produce delays especially if continuous interaction is needed. Challenges of volunteering and volunteer projects
Challenges of volunteering and volunteer projects
As mentioned before, volunteering is a commitment work. These are the challenges team members described as for volunteer projects:
- Compatibilizing with other personal/work priorities.
- Getting the time to do the committed work.
- Acceptance of committed deadlines, sometimes very aggressive in time.
- Requires a great amount of flexibility with your agenda (it is easier to book 2 full (8 hours) days, than 16 hours distributed in a month)
- Dealing with and acceptance of multicultural issues. Varying terminology and customs.
- Demands of high quality work.
- Motivating participants to fulfil committed work within the agreed upon deadlines.
Key motivating factors to volunteer
When we discussed the motivation of volunteers above, we already pointed out the power of self-motivation. We believe this is confirmed by the key “motivators” team members identified when asked about their main reasons to volunteer.
These are the main reasons pointed out:
- To contribute to the new edition of the PMBOK® Guide.
- To help improve the PMBOK® Guide 3rd Spanish Edition.
- To keep up-to-date in the evolving PM profession.
- To participate in an international (PMI) project.
- Having to work/study these materials at “first hand”.
- “Ad-hoc” training on the subject
- To be/become aware of PMI and project management growth in Latin American and Spanish speaking countries.
- To work in virtual teams with other colleagues
- To work in a distributed multinational team of PM professionals
- Get acquainted with other nation's / culture's points of view
- Working in this project requires/provides deeper understanding of the materials translated (PMBOK® Guide)
- Continue to participate in the development of PMI.
- To obtain PDU's to maintain PMP® accreditation.
It is clear with these strong motivations that the team was out for success. Not only was the work completed properly and ahead of time, but we all learned from each other. Many people in the project expressed their gratitude and joy of having been part of the team. As team leaders we could have not been happier. It was a great opportunity and a significant experience made possible by the whole team, PMI and the growing recognition Project Management is having around the world. We are thankful to all of them. See page 327 of the 3rd Edition of the PMBOK® Guide, Spanish translation for a complete list of team members. In our last team email, congratulations and thanking the team for its contribution was a bold sentence, just as this one.
Shifting gears for the present future
We discussed throughout this article many features of virtual multicultural volunteer knowledge-based projects. The latest edition of the PMBOK® Guide was the result of such a project, as many others taking place within and outside PMI, in organizations worldwide and in small local companies that partner with other small companies or independent professionals to compete globally.
So, as the world becomes more and more flat, there will be many global challenges and opportunities ahead for projects and project managers. Virtual projects will be a more frequent reality. But in order to be really successful and take advantage of this new (flat) ground of opportunities, project managers and organizations will need to recognize and adapt to this global virtual multicultural environment.
One of the first steps in this new arena is to understand how good project management can make a difference in your virtual real world. We therefore encourage you to ponder, try for yourself, and put into use some of the ideas shared in this paper, so that you too can write your own “making of” success story.
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© 2006, Yan Bello Méndez, PMP – Muntsa S. Bau
Originally published as a part of 2006 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Madrid, Spain