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24 February 2013

Project Selection

For project selection, the Project Management Institute's (PMI's) Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide assumes you have more than one project from which to choose. By analyzing the options, you can determine which has the greatest value to the company. The formal method for choosing the best option is called a project selection method.
Suppose I have to choose between
  • fixing my child's favorite meal and leftovers for my wife, or
  • fixing my spouse's favorite and cheese mac for my child.
So I ask, "which gives me the better Return on Investment (ROI)?" To answer the question, I consider
  • How much time and money it will take
  • How much of a mess I will have to clean up
  • Does it align with my goals (fun vs. study time)
  • Rewards (somebody else WILLINGLY taking out the trash)
  • How long it will take to reap the rewards
  • Risks (what if I overcook the macaroni? or burn the steak?)
A Project Manager (PM) will place a priority on each criterion and score the probable outcomes. The sum of the weighted scores for each option yields a total score for that option.
I did this with my daughter last year when she needed to buy a car. The result surprised me and was not at all what I expected, but it turned out to be a great choice.

The primary use of project selection is for choosing between projects. However, one can also used it during the project life cycle. The projected ROI of a project can change, for example, due to changing market or regulatory conditions. If the ROI falls, it might be worth canceling the project so the funds and resources can be applied to a more promising project. This is a special case of selecting between competing opportunities.
The executives of a company I won't name signed a contract to deliver a product on a certain date. If the company failed to deliver on that date, the company would have to pay liquidated damages; and if the company canceled the project, it would have to pay penalties.
Unfortunately, the executives failed to have Engineering review the contract. It turned out that the company could not meet the deadline. The PM tried schedule compression, but as risks turned into issues, it became clear that the project could not meet its deadline.
What should they have done? The company should have used the project selection method to choose between
  • Completing the project and paying the liquidated damages
  • Canceling the project and paying the penalties.
Remember, the considerations aren't always directly related to the project. Things such as the company's reputation, the future value of establishing a market presence, or future business based on this project's design work have value, too. For example, cell phone companies often sell cell phones at a loss because they make their money on the service contracts.

Copyright 2011, Richard Wheeler

09 February 2013

Project Management Career Path

In terms of study, what path should one take to become a project manager?

First, unless you have several years of project management work experience, I would suggest obtaining the Project Management Institute's (PMI's) Certified Associate Project Manager (CAPM) certification. After that, study the qualifications for the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification and create a plan based on those qualifications. The plan should include studying PMI's Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide and added studies based on the PMBOK Guide's process knowledge areas.

Second, familiarize yourself with the International Counsel on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) Systems Engineering Body of Knowledge (SEBOK). After achieving PMP certification, pursue INCOSE's certifications. PMI certification will give you a top-down perspective across all departments whereas INCOSE's certifications will give you a bottom-up understanding of the engineering processes and products.

Studying these two knowledge areas in this order should provide a faster path, on paper, to project management and beyond. However, if you would prefer a career path leading to a Chief Engineer title, you might reverse the order. Pursing Engineering in Training (EIT) and then Professional Engineer (PE) certifications would be valuable on the technical career path, too.

Third, study people, develop lots of relationships (focus on the personal aspects and what you can do for them, not on what you can get out of them), and find at least one mentor other than your supervisor. These are critical.

08 February 2013

Politics and the Project


Cultural norms include a common knowledge regarding how to approach getting things done. It also takes into account formal and informal leaders who exist in almost every organization. Most organizations have developed unique cultures that manifest themselves in many ways. Which attributes of a company culture is NOT consistent with the discussion of cultural "norms"?

A. shared vision, values, beliefs, expectations
B. policies, methods and procedures
C. consistent political views
D. view of authority relationships

I was given answer as "C".
Shared vision, values, beliefs, expectations; political views; and views of authority relationships are all cultural factors. Each is a valid topic of discussion to the degree that it affects the project and the organization.

Political views include both those related to national government and those related to the company goals, culture, and hierarchy.

Western employees are taught that religious and political views are inappropriate topics. However, Political Correctness (PC) is alive and well. For example, some countries suppress "subversive" or "counter revolutionary" political views. This can affect project success.

Even in the USA, many employers will fire you if you oppose certain movements such as homosexual marriage or affirmative action (discrimination in favor of disadvantaged minorities). The reasoning goes like this:
  • Diversity has value.
  • People who oppose a PC (politically correct) view create a workplace that is hostile to favored minorities and an atmosphere where conflict may arise.
  • This hurts members of those minorities, limits diversity, subjects the company to legal liability, and disrupts teamwork.
  • Thus, inconsistent political views concerning some topics can hurt the project.
You don't have to like PC, but it exists. PMs have to deal with it and sometimes even enforce it.

Consider a different meaning of "political views:" Every organizational hierarchy has "office politics." Competition, conflicting opinions, and popularity can affect whom you can rely on. A stakeholder or resource may oppose you, or others may not support your resource. Such factors affect how one succeeds in getting things done.

We may say (C) is an inappropriate topic, but political views are certainly a part of cultural norms, and some version of PC is enforced anywhere you go. Moreover, the question is not, "what is appropriate," but "which attributes of a company culture is [sic] not consistent with the discussion of cultural 'norms'?"  (C) cannot be correct.

While culture may affect policies, methods, and procedures, they are classified not as part of the enterprise environment (that is, external factors that affect the project), but rather as organizational process assets. (B) is correct.

Copyright (C) 2013, Richard Wheeler. Permission granted for use not involving publication.