Recently I moderated a panel discussion for my local PMI® (Project Management Institute) chapter. I wanted the questions to be engaging for both the speakers and the audience. Of course, we started with the prerequisite “Who are you?” and “How did you get here?” questions. The other questions, I hoped, inspired learning – especially for new project and portfolio managers.
In no particular order, here are the questions the project management panel in Coastal Bend Texas addressed.
Lessons From Failed Projects
Projects fail. For many different reasons, projects fail. Product innovation professionals know more about failure than other project managers because there are a lot of uncertainties in new product development (NPD). The best view, I think, is to treat failure as a learning opportunity.
Projects fail – normally – in several arenas. Poor planning results in too few resources committed to the project. Not enough money can result in poor quality outputs. Not assigning the right people to do the work can result in delays. Not understanding the final product of the project yields a mismatch between technologies and markets.
Effective project planning requires addressing the triple constraint upfront, regardless of your preferred project management system. The scope of the project must be achievable, while the budget and timeline (schedule) must align with the stated goals and objectives of the project. For NPD projects, the scope must also align with the innovation strategy. (Read more about strategy here.)
Living Life Backwards
Another question for the project management panelists was to think about what they would change in their younger selves if they lived life backwards. This is a bit of a rift on my presentation to the University of Washington graduate students earlier this year (read more here). We gain wisdom with years and (hopefully) would advise our younger selves against stupid mistakes.
One area of importance to project managers and portfolio managers is communication. Wisdom brings clarity to our communications. Project managers must communicate to several different groups of stakeholders with different needs. Team members need to know what to do and when. Some inexperienced team members might need to learn “how” to do certain tasks. The project management leader serves as a mentor for the team.
Other stakeholders are interested in the overall progress of the project, the money spent, and expected completion. In product innovation, our customers are involved in testing a product features and marketing collateral. Yet other stakeholders are internal customers, needing manufacturing specifications and quality standards. Communicating with each group necessitates a different level of detail.
In addition, communications may be synchronous or asynchronous, meaning some information must be discussed and debated face-to-face while other data can be provided without a lot of explanation. High performing project managers and portfolio managers utilize the type (synchronous or asynchronous) and format of communications to match the needs of their stakeholders. This is learned only through wisdom that we gain by experience.
Finally, another question for the panelists was how their various firms view certification. Since they were speaking at a PMI meeting, support for the PMP® (Project Management Professional) certification was high. However, product innovation professionals also benefit from New Product Development Professional (NPDP) certification, which is more encompassing of innovation than PMP. Learn more here.
My personal belief is that certifications have become almost as important as university degrees. However, there are a lot of different certifications from which to choose. What’s important in certification is to have an educational component to validate knowledge and understanding of the field. Another important component is testing and continuing education. All industrial fields are continuously changing with emerging best practices. Having a continuous education component ensures that industry practices overlay academic theories.
Many project management skills are strategic and relational. Of course, it’s important to know how to create a balanced and integrated schedule and budget. But it’s also important to value learning and communication, especially for portfolio managers. Oftentimes we miss opportunities to learn from failure yet project managers, especially those working on innovation projects, must be willing to learn to grow.
Wishing you all the best in the new year. Please contact me at info at globalnpsolutions.com if you want to learn more about managing new product development projects. We are also offering our limited, once per year course on portfolio management – 100 days to Effective Product Portfolio Management. Learn more here.
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