PM Challenges

I was at yet another interview last week, and one of the questions posed to me by the interviewer was “What was the greatest challenge that you faced as a Project Manager?”  I stated that I would answer that question in two parts.  Firstly, the single greatest challenge that I have faced as a Project Manager has been attaining good knowledge transfer from the project team Subject Matter Experts (SME) to the operations teams.  Most of the larger projects that I have been engaged with have required parachuting in an expert or team of experts due to the amount of research and experience that can be provided quickly.

The SMEs move the project along in a timely fashion, answering questions and solutioning problems with the wisdom that they have gained or the network of connections that they have built performing similar work over a period of time.  There is generally some aspect of the project that was given short shrift or took longer than expected, that gobbles up cycles unexpectedly.  This always nibbles into a couple of areas that sit on the final edge of project closure.  End-user training and knowledge transfer.

Hmmm, training and knowledge transfer…  Aren’t these the same thing?  No, they are not.  Training, and especially end-user training is designed to provide an introduction to the new program or tool, and demonstrate how to perform the simple, basic, day-to-day operations that the program or tool was designed to perform.  Knowledge transfer is the transfer of knowledge from one part or member of an organization to another member or organizational part.  This knowledge consists of how the architecture was designed, what are its full capabilities, how was future enhancement conceived, what is the development roadmap, how does the system and its component processes integrate with others, where can one go for assistance or guidance, and other questions that make up “professional wisdom”.  Knowledge transfer seeks to organize, create, capture or distribute knowledge and ensure its availability for future users.

I believe that it is imperative that a knowledge transfer plan be developed at an early stage in the project life cycle, so that the critical knowledge components are identified.  Success can then be measured against this list in order to avoid premature project closure.  If you don’t make this investment up front, expect to spend up to several years building this knowledge base.

The second item that I discussed was probably what the interviewer was actually looking for, something more tactical than strategic.  I spoke about gaining management buy-in for security based projects.  Security based projects have little to no actual, demonstrable return on investment, making them very hard to sell to upper management.  Their focus tends to be on the bottom line, and they have the board and share-holders to answer to for their spending decisions.  I have gained buy-in by offering up several points for persuasion that are commonly used by vendors and solution providers.  FUD factor.  FUD meaning Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.  These 3 words have been dragged through the mud in the media.  However, when discussing security, they have their place.  Security has so few metrics, and the metrics that do exist mean little to executive management staff who have little exposure to security risk management theory.  My arguments boil down to hanging on to the money you have already earned is more effective than trying to earn more.

Second interview scheduled for next week, so I guess one of those responses was correct…