Project Management

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From the Editor: Expecting the Unexpected in Project Management

If there’s one thing that’s certain about undertaking complex projects, it’s that not everything will work out exactly the way you planned. The Spring 2015 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review highlights project management, in “Reducing Unwelcome Surprises in Project Management,” “How Executive Sponsors Influence Project Success,” “What Successful Project Managers Do” and “Accelerating Projects by Encouraging Help.” In a nutshell, managers must expect the unexpected in projects.

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How Executive Sponsors Influence Project Success

In each stage of a project's life cycle, two or three behaviors have significant impact on the project's likelihood for success. These behaviors, by the executive who is sponsoring the project, ensure effective partnerships with project managers and require a great deal of informal dialogue. They include setting performance goals, establishing priorities, ensuring quality and capturing lessons learned.

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What Successful Project Managers Do

Successful project managers often combine elements of traditional and agile approaches to project management. They cope with uncertainty, for instance, by developing detailed short-term plans along with firm commitments and tentative longer term plans. The authors draw from experiential data from more than 150 successful project managers affiliated with over 20 organizations, and provide a detailed look at the success factors behind NASA’s Mars Pathfinder project.

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Reducing Unwelcome Surprises in Project Management

How can managers reduce the number of “unknown unknowns” a project faces? Even projects that employ sophisticated techniques for risk management can encounter surprising derailments. But new research shows that modeling a project’s subsystems helps expose risk areas. So, too, can scenario analysis, the use of checklists and data mining. “Directed recognition, which can entail both project design and behavioral approaches, can convert knowable unk-unks [unknown unknowns] to known unknowns,” write the authors.

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Accelerating Projects by Encouraging Help

How can companies get employees to pull together to meet project deadlines? It turns out that establishing psychological safety and promoting cooperative behavior can be just as important as good planning. This case study of management innovation at Roto Frank, a German company that produces hardware for industrial and residential windows and doors, highlights the difficulties of project planning and execution — and the benefits of building a positive feedback cycle.

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Short on Analytics Talent? Seven Tips to Help Your Company Thrive

Companies are having a tough time finding the data scientists they need — they just aren’t being trained fast enough to meet market demand. While it may be challenging to keep ambitious analytics projects in development without employees with the necessary skill sets, that doesn’t mean those projects need to halt altogether. Sam Ransbotham offers seven tips for making progress when you don’t have enough analytics talent on board.

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Leveraging the Extended Enterprise: MITRE’s Handshake Tool Builds Virtual Collaboration

“The notion that we were going to crowdsource certain functions really was unheard of,” says Donna Cuomo of the nonprofit MITRE, a $1.4 billion nonprofit R&D organization. A social business tool it developed called Handshake is helping make that kind of virtual collaboration happen. In a Q&A, Dr. Cuomo and MITRE colleagues Laurie Damianos and Stan Drozdetski explain how Handshake has influenced business at MITRE and what challenges they’ve faced in its implementation.

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How to Compensate For Overoptimistic Project Leaders

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Would you know if a project was heading off the rails? Too often, members of project teams are crossing their fingers and providing only the most hopeful updates. After reviewing 14 studies into the ways in which individuals report (and misreport) the status of information technology or software projects, the authors identified five specific areas for leaders to look out for to avoid being blindsided.

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Preparing Analytics for a Strategic Role

The way health care is billed in the U.S. system is part of the reason costs are so high. WellPoint, one of the largest providers of health care benefits and insurance in the U.S., is using analytics to change its provider payment system. The goal: promote a health care system based on value, not the volume of services. This Data & Analytics Case Study takes an in-depth look at how WellPoint went from idea to implementation, working with physicians and IT staff to build its Enhanced Personal Health Care program.

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The Pitfalls of Project Status Reporting

Accepting five inconvenient truths about project status reporting can greatly reduce the chance of being blindsided by unpleasant surprises. For instance, many employees tend to put a positive spin on anything they report to senior management. And when employees do report bad news, senior executives often ignore it. Overconfidence is an occupational hazard in the executive suite, and executives need to examine their own assumptions and beliefs about project status reporting.

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How To Develop a Useful “Why” Statement

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Asking why you’re embarking on a project before you begin raises the project’s chance of success. But “to our continuing surprise, we often discover these teams have not even discussed, let alone agreed on, why they are pursuing the project,” write Karen A. Brown, Nancy Lea Hyer and Richard Ettenson. But producing a good “why” statement often requires both a lot of work and heated debate.

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Predicting the Performance of Analytics Talent

The surprising finding that 55% of big data analytics projects are abandoned comes from a recent survey of 300 IT professionals. The most significant challenge with analytics projects, according to the survey? Finding talent. Most (80%) of the respondents said that the top two reasons analytics projects fail is that managers lack the right expertise in house to “connect the dots” around data to form appropriate insights, and projects lack of business context around data.

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Inside the World of the Project Baron

In industrial sectors such as consulting, advertising, filmmaking, software, architecture, engineering and construction, most individual businesses, by definition, are “project-based firms.” This article proposes the term “baronies” to describe the organizational units that direct the projects within project-based firms, and highlights the roles that barons play in three basic types of project-based firms: dominions, tight federations and loose federations.

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Which Strategy When?

Markets are changing, competition is shifting and businesses are suffering or perhaps thriving. Whatever the immediate circumstances, corporate managers ask the same questions: Where do we go from here, and which strategy will get us there? To figure out when it makes sense to pursue strategies of position, leverage or opportunity, managers must understand their company’s immediate circumstances, take stock of their current resources and determine the relationships among the various resources.

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Flat World, Hard Boundaries – How To Lead Across Them

While technological innovations have revolutionized the workplace, it is ironic that relational boundaries — obstacles to productive human interactions — remain largely unchanged. This article identifies five types of such boundaries, and suggests that all five of them may be overcome when collaborative and creative leaders engage in six boundary spanning practices: buffering, reflecting, connecting, mobilizing, weaving and transforming.

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From “Trust Me” to “Show Me”: Moving Sustainability at Shell Oil From “Priority” to “Core Value”

The timeline of energy development projects now is largely driven by sustainability and social performance issues, says Marvin Odum, president of Shell Oil. That’s prompting innovations in how the company involves external stakeholders, incentivizes employees and drives changes throughout the entire energy industry.

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