MDS 440 Educational Narrative
[Name redacted; Identifying information altered throughout document]
I am a CAPM Certified Project Manager, in the Information Technology field within Higher Education. I regularly practice traditional project management methodologies including Waterfall and Hybrid while following best practices from the PMBOK guide, and the Project Management Institute. Depending on the project, I will implement the knowledge areas including risk management, communication management, resource management, scope and integration management. In my current role, I manage projects through their full lifecycle and all 5 process areas from initiation to closure.
1. Do you have your PMP or CAPM certificate? This is a requirement for this challenge. Please upload documentation of your certificate to the ePortfolio.
YES, CAPM as of March 2019
2. Describe the project management process groups, and relate the story of a project management experience you led through those five groups, with a brief analysis of each stage.
The term ‘project’ can be pretty ambiguous in the workforce, thus the term project manager is also a difficult role to profile. I have seen and met others in Project Manager roles who are more so managers, or manage tasks with no timeline or rhyme or reason. I have also met Project Managers who are very rigid and construct work defined solely through the PMBOK guide. In a traditional term project management is guided by the 5 project management processes defined in the PMBOK Guide. The five steps are project initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and controlling, and lastly closing. I’d like to discuss the 5 processes and reflect my knowledge of them in the provided examples below.
Project initiation (what I call, discovery), is the very first step in a project lifecycle. The most memorable initiation during a project that I managed was for a college in Alabama. In higher education where I work, there is a trending software out right now that many colleges are implementing. It is very helpful in the process of student start-up. Our company had our first client want to implement the tool, and so they hired a consultant who was an expert at the tool first hand, not a professional at implementing. Blair and myself worked together to conceptualize a process that made sense to implement, and learned as we went what would work best. This wasn’t the best example for the smoothest initiation at the time, but the software has since been implemented by 6 other of our clients, where we led the process initially and created a standard procedure for implementation going forward that involves a lot more discovery, lots of training, and resources.
Project planning is probably the most time consuming part of project management many would say. It is the stage where all of the project plan documents are drafted and begun. This includes the following but not limited to a schedule, a communication plan, multiple types of logs such as a change log, risk log, issue log, or decision log, notes, contacts, and more. Depending on the length of timeline for a project, the size of the project team, you could use some or most of these planning tools. Creating an accurate project schedule is an art of its own, you have to have intensely great listening skills and know what to ask to get the right information needed. This isn’t something that comes naturally, but gets better with time. I personally think this is why jobs who request a PM to have 20+ years of experience and offer six figures – this is the reason. It is a skill that no one is born with. I recently did a project with an Illinois client of ours where we were upgrading a full networking system across a large campus. It took a large effort to plan around classroom hours, holidays, dorm rooms, etc. The communication plan was very large and extensive for this project but was probably a favorite. I lean toward liking infrastructure projects more than software development.
Execution is the meat of a project. It comes after planning, but are the actual tasks to get the project complete. When COVID took hold of the world during its first peak in March 2020 , it was obvious for most of our clients that we weren’t ready to move everyone to work remotely. One of the largest issues was for our Texas college client and their need for areas like student services and registration to have the ability to answer their office phones and their school line phones from home. At this time we did not have a way to do this besides direction to personal cell phones. This added a whole issue of security issues and was bothersome to employees to use their personal devices. This was a quick implementation to create a secure line from their work phone to their work computer as well as testing and virtual training on how to use the software. Employees were really grateful for the tool and are still getting to use it now!
Another memorable project with our Texas college client was implementing a new bank for accepting student payments and student refunds. This project is being rolled out in multiple phases, as each department area will need to implement the payment system with the college’s ERP differently. We are currently working on phase 2 with a set of departments and it is smooth sailing. Not all projects are lucky enough to be this smooth, but this one has been. It takes a consistent amount of monitoring and controlling, and meeting with the project team to make sure everyone stays on track and engaged in the end goal of getting this payment system implemented campus wide eventually.
The last phase in a project lifecycle is the closure phase. This phase can be very cumbersome, or very quick. It all depends on the size of the project, the size of the team, and ultimately how smooth the project went during the other 4 phases. For a client we had implemented a new bank for their employee payroll, and it took a very high risk conversion that failed to go live twice before we were able to implement it. This was caused by multiple reasons, one being a project team that insisted we never meet and emails would be sufficient, two being employee turnover in their finance area over the lifecycle of the project, which took pausing and retraining, and three was the client did not want our IT department to talk directly with the bank IT department. As you can guess all of these communication barriers caused a very difficult execution. Once we did go live the 3rd time, I wanted to thoroughly document our successes and failures and their reasons in the project close out documents. These documents go off to the higher management sponsors for review of the project lifecycle and reporting from a project management perspective, and signed for closure. While this was not a fun process for this project particularly, I learned so much about different personality types and the importance of communication in a project.
3. Describe your approach for effective communication as a project manager.
For most of my time working as a project manager, it has been done remotely. I had worked on-site in an interim position in a project manager role in a face-to-face office setting for only about 2 months before moving to a remote office. I do miss some aspects of working face-to-face, but for the most part I really enjoy the remote life. I could imagine 20 years ago, if you were a project manager working from home there would be a great deal of difficulties surrounding this! Email was barely a thing, cell phones were in their early stages, forget about video conferencing! Today, we can rely on a variety of tools to help us with effective communication such as phone calls, video calls, text messages, emails, chat systems, intranet systems, document management systems, and the list goes on. I personally use a combination of all the methods above. Before this pandemic, I would travel on-site to clients at times for those new or larger conversations such as project kick-off sessions, most of our clients are on the East Coast, so it was quite the trip to have that valuable face-to-face conversation with our clients. I have 2 very young children right now, so with COVID being afoot, I am better off not traveling and sticking to the many virtual communication methods available to me and many other project managers in their remote roles.
Discussing communication – there are many ways to track communication as well. There are status meetings, and notes to follow. There are also logs for decisions, risks, cost change, and change management. As a project manager, it is important to monitor and control conversations using this type of documentation to make sure messages are sent to all stakeholders and project sponsors. In all 10 knowledge management areas, communication is the most important tool to achieve control of the project during the full lifecycle.
4. Choose three areas from the 10 Knowledge Management Areas and describe your approach to those 3 as a project manager. Use an example project from your experience that applies to all 3 areas you choose to describe.
Over my 3 plus years as a project manager, I do not have direct experience with the cost management knowledge area. I do however have a lot of experience working with vendors, analyzing contracts, and tracking budgets when I was in my executive assistant role. In a lot of ways, these contracts needed overlooked and thoroughly reviewed alongside the contract reviewer to insure we were not binding ourselves in a situation that was not what we wanted. A lot of times these contracts were for software implementations, so I did have exposure at the project initiation stage. For a particular project, the software cost around 500,000 to purchase, and about 150,000 each year to maintain. Somehow, around 3 years in, the team failed to notice, or the CIO did not catch that in the fine print contract, the cost raised 7% every year. So by the 4 year, it was about $50,000 more than it had started. The CIO worked quickly to negotiate a lower increase rate and get an amendment to the contract in place to be 4% more each year, and was glad to see I had caught this!
Risk management in my opinion is probably one of the most important types of management of the 10 knowledge management areas. One thing I have noticed in my role from the surrounding areas I work with, is the pattern of ‘putting out fires’, and stopping performance to work on an urgent raised issue that must be addressed instantly. This can be eliminated by planning and controlling risks and issues that arise. Most ‘fires’ that come up, are risk and issues that have been noted long before, but not resolved or tracked. For example, I am working on Phase 2 (of 4) of rolling out a bank provider for students to make payment through a university for miscellaneous things such as orientation fee, events, and registration fees. When we began this project (when I was on maternity leave) they did not have project management support, and then they also had a very tight deadline to roll out the first phase which was the orientation fee, and other most important student payment portals, since their current bank provider contract was ending on X day, and they did little to prepare. From the start, our technical consultant noted the design and way the ERP was speaking to the bank was poorly done and hard coded, and would take about 100 hours of technical work to correct the hard code. Since we only had till X day, they had to execute the project the best they could, with workarounds in place. This was executed about 7 months ago and since then has caused so many hard coding errors such as duplication of ID numbers, duplication of payments, etc. We are in phase 2, which is rolling out the remaining payment portals in this manner, and then phase 3 will be to go back and correct them all the proper way. If the team would have had a project manager from the start, and would have noted and analyzed the risk of building out while hard coded, and not fixing the primary issue, we could have possibly saved tons of correction work. There is a process that I can practice with the team which will analyze the risk, gauge the severity, analyze worst possible scenarios, and set in place a plan to back out or restore if something goes wrong along the way.
Schedule management is an art of its own. You’d be surprised how many hours can go into making a project schedule! If you rush this processing during planning, and do not communicate with the team, or do not break down the work, you can end up in a situation where your schedule is completely off and you end up using change control heavily and way off the original estimate. For example, I had done a separate bank implementation project with a client and we had a very hard time getting their time to meet and explain things, and it was more of a fire drill the whole time, learning as we went. This was early on into taking on a contract, so there were some trust issues with our team as well as some dysfunction and turnover in their department. They did not allow us in IT to communicate with the bank IT department to get more information for the project schedule, and they did not allow us to schedule weekly status meetings as they felt they did not have time. I had very little control over the situation and it was difficult to create an accurate timeline, which is an important knowledge area and part of project planning.