PMTips: Greta, considering you are an expert consultant and have a formidable background in the IT industry and the field of project management, with the short time we have today, we will attempt to graze the surface of your achievements, ask about your experiences and then lead the conversation toward you providing the readers of PMTips with your expert advice.
But, first of all, I would like to welcome you and thank you for doing this interview. We are honored to have you with us today.
Greta Blash: Thank you.
PMTips: Having three decades of experience in the field of project management, can you tell us what your view of the profession is? What do you think are the greatest benefits of being a project manager?
Greta Blash: The profession is continually changing to adapt to the environments in which projects are delivered. As the environment changes, so do the tools and techniques available to those of us as a project manager. The increased emphasis on providing value to the organization through projects help ensure that the work that we do actually gets implemented by the organization.
The greatest benefit to me of being a project manager is being able to work directly with key stakeholders in an organization to support their strategic objectives. The project management discipline is applicable to all types of organizations and project efforts. But, remember, every project is unique.
PMTips: Your experience as a trainer in project management and as an IT consultant for a large number of companies is quite extensive. In 2004 you founded Facilitated Methods, a company that provides exam preparatory courses and project management consulting services. What led you to open your own consultancy? In addition, can you tell us about the benefits that your training offers?
Greta Blash: After having done consulting through other organizations, we started to get requests to do these efforts on our own, so we established our own consulting and training company in 2004. We go back and forth between consulting and training to make sure that we stay current with the project and organization environments. We also have a chance to continually try new approaches while adapting to a variety of situations.
Our training is based not only on our extensive experience with the topics that we teach, but also the result of participating in the development and review of many of the PMI standards and publications. Not only do we teach the theoretical basis of project management, but we are able to provide real-life examples from our years of experience.
PMTips: How important is it for professionals that aspire to become project managers to acquire any of the PMI’s certifications and what are the benefits for project management professionals to keep earning PDUs after obtaining such certifications?
Greta Blash: Personally, I don’t think the actual certifications are as important as the knowledge gained by studying and preparing for the certification exams. Unfortunately, many organizations believe the certification is more important than years of experience. That experience requirement that goes along with the exam is important. It shows a potential employer that the candidate not only knows the theory but has experience applying that knowledge. I have chosen to obtain certain certifications in order to be able to teach those areas – even though I have taught the entire PMI’s GAC-approved program of Masters of Project Management at DeVry/Keller.
Regardless whether you have a certification or not – it is of utmost importance to keep current with the trends in the discipline. I am continually attending webinars and presentations even though I have accumulated more than enough credits for recertification.
Benjamin Franklin said “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” What I do think is even more critical is for people who have been certified under previous editions of the standard (and especially the PMBOK Guide), to at a minimum, study the latest edition to understand the changes and trends that have taken place since they received their certification.
PMTips: You have been establishing PMO practices for multiple clients and their IT organizations. Is the utilization of PMO a complex process? Are the benefits it brings greater than the challenges in setting it up?
Greta Blash: There is not a single “flavor” of a PMO that will fit in every organization. Most PMOs mature as the project management culture matures in an organization. Regardless – the PMO should be a service organization and supportive of the work being done rather than the governance body for their methodology. This is especially true as different approaches are utilized to deliver projects. It is also important to ensure that the individuals and the PMO are well versed in the various approaches that projects utilize today.
Setting up a PMO is actually no different from establishing a new function within an organization. I managed a project a few years ago to establish a customer call center. We had to spend as much time on change management activities as we did on the actual center implementation. It was a major change to the current culture of that organization.
The same is true for a PMO. Establishing one involves not just the function but understanding the current project management environment and what changes will be required for this organization to provide value.
PMTips: You have been involved in the implementation of an initial PMO, but also a Change Control Board for a number of companies. How important is the establishment of a CCB when the implementation of changes is considered? What is the role of the committee in the change control process?
Greta Blash: Establishing a CCB is one portion of an organizational governance function. More important than just establishing a CCB is developing a well-defined change control process, with not just the forms and activities, but also a determination of what levels of requested changes can be approved by the project manager or key project leads. Not every change has to be elevated to the CCB for a decision. The role, and the members of the CCB must be established for each individual project or program.
The changes that the CCB must review vary greatly from organization to organization and project to project. The most recent CCB that I established was to help review changes proposed from individual functions and projects, and the impact that they would have on other functions and projects – not the typical review of changes within a project itself.
When a more adaptive approach to projects is used, the control and management of changes in the scope of the project is handled by key stakeholders or the product owner through the continual prioritization of requirements. With these new approaches, changes are not just accepted, but encouraged, up until the actual time the development begins. During the actual increment using a time-boxed approach, requested changes are prioritized and incorporated into the next iteration – which is usually only meaning a delay of a couple of weeks.
PMTips: During the change control process how do you ensure that no unnecessary changes are made, that there is no disruption of services and that all resources are used efficiently?
Greta Blash: One of the steps of the change control process that consumes an enormous amount of time and can disrupt the planned project activities is that of analyzing the impact of the request. Using a predictive approach where the scope for the project has been baselined, when a change request is received at least one team resource has to be diverted from the scheduled activities to evaluate the request. Using an adaptive approach, the request is added to the backlog and evaluated and prioritized by the product owner or key stakeholder to determine the importance and whether it should be incorporated into the next iteration. That continual prioritization and incorporation of changes is done external to the team and therefore does not cause a disruption to the project team delivery efforts.
PMTips: While working as an IT consultant for IBM Global Business Services, one of your responsibilities was to offer recovery support for troubled projects. In your experience, what kind of support should project managers be given when faced with a troubled project? Is there something that the organization can do, particularly in terms of applying appropriate methodologies, that can get the project back on track?
Greta Blash: The first step that a project manager who is assigned to support a troubled project must do is to determine the root cause of the problem. Once the situation has been assessed, then a plan can be established to get the project back on track. The main thing is to refrain from pointing fingers or trying to find someone to blame. Instead it is critical to re-establish the vision and objective for the project and then determine what resources are needed to meet those expectations.
Unfortunately, no single methodology or procedures can be applied to every situation. Often applying the wrong approach, rather than understanding the situation and applying the appropriate methods and resources, make the problem even worse.
The recommendation I would have for helping in situations like this is to include more experienced resources in the early stages who can understand the true requirements and what will be required to meet those expectations. Most troubled projects are the result of poor needs assessment and misunderstanding of vision, objectives and expectations. These are the skills that business analysts have and can apply to most situations.
PMTips: You are the author of Basics of Good Project Management, a book that describes fundamental project concepts applicable to projects of all sizes and complexities. What advice do you offer in this book in terms of successfully managing a project and achieving project success?
Greta Blash: This book was written to help understand the general concepts that are basic to any project – without using specific project management terminology. The most important thing is to understand why a project is being done, what the visions and expectations are for the final result – and then determining what it will take to reach that goal. That includes understanding any constraints and dependencies that impact what can be accomplished, given limited resources.
PMTips: What advice would you give to all the young people and professionals that wish to advance in their career and become successful project managers?
Greta Blash: I look at project management as a life skill rather than just a professional discipline. Regardless of the education or training you have; you will at some time be assigned to a project and need to understand what that includes.
Actually, we start teaching project management to a limited degree in elementary school. Projects are assigned and require understanding of what is to be done, and then putting together an idea of the steps that will be required to complete the assignment. PMI’s Educational Foundation (PMIEF) has created extensive aids for K-12 to help teach the basics of project management.
I started in IT as a programmer, data base designer and systems analyst before becoming a project manager. I think having a little better idea of the various project roles helps when you are in the role of the project manager. I like the analogy of the conductor to a project manager as has been described in the 6th edition. A project manager doesn’t have to be an expert in all the project roles – but sometimes having been a project team member prior to becoming the manager makes a whole lot of sense.
PMTips: Greta, thank you for joining us today, for providing advice, and for sharing your professional experiences with our readers and listeners.
Greta can be found on LinkedIn.
Interview conducted by Ana Mitevska