Interview with Project Management Expert

Interview with Project Management Expert – Mr. Siddharth Chaurasia

Project management entails to the processes applied, techniques, knowledge, skills, and experience to achieve a specific project’s target according to the project acceptance criteria within the agreed parameters. Moreover, as project managers you will be responsible to help in efficiently initiating, defining, planning, executing, implementing, controlling, and closing a project, each of which contains particular tasks that help one reach the project goals and objectives.

Skills Required

In order to become a proficient project manager, it is advised for you to possess the following skills-

  • Business knowledge
  • Risk analysis skills
  • Ability to control budgets
  • Negotiation skills
  • Leadership qualities
  • Communication skills
  • Management skills

Let us listen to Mr. Siddharth Chaurasia, he has over 6 years of experience in strategic management, project management and customer relationship management. He is currently working at Value labs Pvt. Ltd. He completed his bachelor’s in business administration from Maharaja Surajmal Institute and his master’s in business administration from ICFAI University. He is certified in strategic management six sigma green belt, agile project management and proper strategy.

Q1. What are the factors to consider when drafting the tactics to achieve organizational objectives?

Answer: I believe it is very important to understand what is project management and what kind of tactics are needed to take care of from project manager’s perspective. So, in order to understand what project management is basically, I would define try to define this before moving forward. A project can be defined as a series of tasks that need to be completed to reach its specific outcome.

Management can be defined as designing and maintaining an environment in which individuals working in a group can efficiently accomplish their aims. Relating these two to your question about drafting the tactics to achieve organizational objectives, I believe it is very important for the project manager to read the minds of an organization.

For this, it is very important, that a project manager is aware of the goals and visions of an organization. So once an officer is aware of the missions and goals of the organization, he can move forward and think about the approach he needs to take. There are multiple approaches, I will try to cover the basic ones.

So the basic ones are PASAL analysis and SWOT analysis. PASAL is nothing but a Political economic social-technical legal and environmental analysis of the project. SWOT analysis is about strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. So once you are aware of what environmental factors can affect your project, what are the strengths and weaknesses and other opportunities of your project, you’ll be in a petty good shape to present yourself and work accordingly. Once you are through with these approaches, you can prepare for evaluation.

Evaluation can be further done in terms of the marketplace, positioning or the competitive landscape that is there. This is something very huge in terms of strategic management. Once you go through with this, you are in the final stage of fulfilling the goals properly. We can set our goals and parameters, but according to PMI, goals should be very smart. Smart refers to specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

The goals should be specific and not vague, to the pinpoint. So that people could understand what they need and what specific goal is referring to. Second, comes M, M is measurable. Any goal should be qualifiable not just quantitative. A then refers to achievable. The goal you are setting must be achievable. R refers to relevant. Whatever you are building right now should be relevant in future as well. You don’t want a product which becomes obsolete very next day. Then, T refers to time-bound. Any project should have a very definite timeline. Like many of the projects, these days are running on agile bases, which does not seem to have much scope. No project can here learn for eternity. At least after delivering basic requirements, we can think of a project to close.

That brings financial validation also into consideration. The expected financial returns are also very much important. For setting up the goals you should be aware of the return you will be obtaining out of it. Or how to make output utilization of resources. These are things if taken care of, in the end, you can plan for risk. Nothing comes without risk in project management.

As per PMI or Agile, there are basically 4 main tricks or techniques which we can use to manage the risks. The first is to avoid. The second is to reduce. The third is transfer. Fourth is accept. Either you can avoid risk to some extent. Or You can Reduce the risk or transfer it to another entity lastly, you accept the risk coming and plan how to counter it to minimize its effect on your company.

That’s how the company’s tactics should be drafted by taking into account the company’s mission and vision, selecting the right approach for your company, proper evaluation of the market-related factors, forming the goals accordingly and keeping a backup.

Q2. Do different organizations use different approaches?

Answer: Yes. It may not only depend on the organization, it may also depend on the projects. So, if you are running any internal project of a company for which you are expecting to gain the benefits internally only. Let’s say you are building a portal for your HR team, to record attendance and everything. In that case, you don’t need much competitive analysis. You better understand what are your requirements and ask your developers to work on them. You don’t need much of the research work to be done. But just in case you are building a thing for the market, for the masses, or if you are planning to push something in the market, then you need proper research. So that you don’t end up spending lakhs or crores of money without gaining anything.

Q3. Can you explain the red flags in project management and how to identify them?

Answer: Red flags are kind of indicators or warning that, “hey something is really wrong and you need to address it quickly”. The common reasons by which the red flags could be raised or are usually raised can be milestones. That whenever we have a schedule delay if the project is deviating from the initial milestones. The cost is getting over-run. If we spend way beyond are expected expenditure, then a red flag should be raised. The third could be quality. If we are not meeting the expected quality, red flags could be raised. Finally, I would say it’s resources. Resources are the one which is going to work with you. If you don’t have the right amount of resources with you or insufficient resources or they are not that skilled to deliver what you are expecting, that should raise red flags in your projects.

Apart from these, there could be a few more reasons, but they are largely dealt with properly in recent times. Like, disconnected team members. Companies have proper communication channels and chatting platforms from which team members are equally benefited. Scope grip is also seen very much in an agile environment. It is the scenario, in which requirements are not clearly defined and keep on increasing from time to time and are not documented as well. This is something agile project managers come across. Because if there is a big amount of scope, then it will lead to a loss of time and an increase the amount of expenditure.

Apart from that, there is another point, which I would like to highlight based on my experience, there are few young project managers who assume that the deviation is very small and assume that everything would be fine, which again leads to lots of delay and lots of chaos for the project managers at the later stages and even for the management. The assumption that everything will be fine by itself is a very big loophole in project management. From my experience, there is no project manager who would say, that he hasn’t done anything wrong in his career. There is always a scope for improvement. You know where you stand, based on how you are able to communicate.

So just to avoid such red flags, there are some techniques which the agile project managers are using these days. These can be taking references from agile methodologies, these can be short monitoring cycles. people try to sprint in 1 week, 2 weeks, mostly not more than 2 weeks to evaluate the progress on timely bases. But if they are running a sprint of 2 weeks they have time to demonstrate what has been delivered to the current deployment to the customer twice in the month, Which is a good rate. This is another thing which project managers can do then the control mechanism should be there, bring the deviations under control and finally I would say communication must be good.

Communication is an important part of the project. If you are not communicating properly, you won’t be able to draft the requirements properly. You won’t be able to communicate properly with the developmental team. You won’t be able to communicate to the client what has been done properly. So communication is the biggest factor in project management and PMI also. Minutes of meetings should be there for all key and important meetings.

Another point I would like to say is that there should be an open-door culture in the organization, so that young people out there can easily connect to the management. We are expected to follow a single line of sequence then obviously there will be a delay. These days open-door culture or grapevine communication is expected. This is the best way to identify and highlight the red flags and avoid them in your projects.

Q4. What methods do you use to assess operational effectiveness?

Answer: In simple words, operational excellence could be a measure of the performance of the production lines of a company. Let’s say how faster we are able to produce goods as compared to our competitors without sacrificing the quality. This is operational effectiveness as per six sigma. It is a misbelief that actual performance could be 100%. It is the same statement in six sigma books even in six sigma where very less amount of defect is observed. 99.99966%accuracy, still there is some scope of defects. So performance can never be 100%.

There are many factors which are going to affect the effectiveness of the company. 3 are the ones which are very common. The first is performance. Machine, human or production can never operate at the same speed. It’s a misbelief that actual belief can be 100%. There always be some defects in the products and the only way you can try to reduce it to see what led to those defects and how you can minimize them. That way you’ll be able to minimize the trigger points of that defects, if not the entire defect range.

Another thing which the project managers can try is to make sure that there is 100% availability of the assets required. Be it the resources, machinery, support, staff etc. or the supporting equipment you need to make sure everything is in place and in order. Whenever you feel there is going to be a shortage, you have a backup. My recommendation to improve the overall operational effectiveness is sustainable strategies should be drafted. As I just said, everything should be in order, so that also forms the sustainability of an order. If you can put the right resource allocation to the right work, let’s say you have a java developer with you. He has worked with only java, now you asking him to work on the data analysis part. Maybe he’ll do it for you, but he won’t be able to be that much perfect as compared to the proper data analyst.

It is very important to have a proper skillset and the right set of human resources or machinery in order to deliver the project effectively. Light infrastructure is also needed. If you are working in a manufacturing sector and you are expected to deliver heavy goods. You can’t operate on open ground. You need a factory, proper precautionary measures, everything in line, and proper staff to handle the machines. Last and foremost, there must always be a focus on innovation and creativity. If you want to grow further, instead of buying new machinery, you can also see if there is anything innovative with which we can deliver more goods in the same amount of time and less time.

Q5.As Mike Tyson said,” everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face”. what is your opinion and how relevant is it in the current scenario of project management?

Answer: Yes, it is very much valid in the world of project management even now. As we often come across occurrences that are unexpected and events can have a minimal too drastic impact. Risk is something which you can never ignore or take away from a project. There always be a risk attached to a project and you should always have a buffer in terms of ways to overcome the impact of such unexpected events. So in the world of management, we basically have 2 types of reserves. One is contingency reserves and another is management reserves.

contingency reserves are attached to the project. Management reserves are to deal with unexpected events that cannot be planned. So if you are maintaining these 2 reserves, in case of any unexpected events you’ll be having sufficient amount of buffer with you in terms of money to deal with them properly. It is upon the company how much reserve they are expected to maintain. There is no formula for it, it’s based on the current marketplace, positioning of the company or the amount of expenditure that is required for a specific project. There are multiple initiatives which can collectively help a project manager to decide how much is the need. The project manager should always have a clear communication plan in place to provide stakeholders with updates.

In case of unexpected events, higher management should be aware of it, so that they can also guide you. They are the ones who are more experienced and have better knowledge of multiple aspects. Never feel shy about reaching out to them to for asking help. Always have a proper communication plan so that you and other team members are clearly aware of who they are expected to reach and which scenario. If there is a risk of unexpected events, we should be prepared with a risk assessment matrix and contingency plan to effectively use the management reserve in a project.

Q6. We have seen a huge impact of AI on project management. It is predicted that 80% of today’s project management will be automated, as AI will take over the basic project management tasks. Do you think AI can take over human intelligence?

Answer: No. AI can’t take over human intelligence at least in the near future. AI is a field of computer science dedicated to a solving problem which otherwise requires human intelligence. It can take over administrative-based functions, functions like sending reminders or day-to-day updates etc. But they cannot totally act on behalf of the manager. They will definitely be able to free up the project managers to take the complex decision by themselves, by managing the task which requires lower complexity and which doesn’t require much of a decision making. So AI tools can analyze data from current and previous strengths or projects and provide useful insights to management teams or managers. They can help in the predictive analysis as well. These predictions that they can do in the current scenario are based on how much these technologies have matured.

These predictions can have PMs with automated risks estimations and adaptive resource management. But they can’t actually replace human intelligence. They can’t ignore the instant decision-making that humans have to take at some point in time.

Q7. What is the difference between project management and agile project management? Can agile replace project management?

Answer: To understand whether agile can replace project management first we need to know what is project management or traditional project management vs agile project management. So traditional project management focuses on a good amount of upfront planning. The processes are very rigid and you need to finish one task before moving to another. All the tasks are to perform in an equation order, you can’t jump from one task or stage to another. It leaves no scope for changing requirements once the project document or requirement document is drafted and the budget and everything is set. There’s nothing good to be additional that comes your way. So you have to complete every task within a pre-planned timeline and budget criteria and everything has been drafted in the project planning stage itself.

Whereas agile project management, which is used these days, especially in the world of IT world, IT sector. This came into existence because people are not aware of what they actually need. So the agile came into the picture. The word agile itself means to move forward quickly and mobility. Unlike traditional project management, it is non-lenient in nature because requirements can come any time and the project managers are expected to be fluid and the techniques are also expected to be fluid and incremental as well. You are going to deliver a specific set of requirements, you are going to demonstrate it to customers, receive feedbacks. This relies highly on customer collaboration, and requires lots of teamwork and flexibility. The project requires a lot of connectivity than agile is right way to go.

In agile work is delivered continuously, instead delivering at the very end and feedback is continuously received. This is the very basic difference between agile and project management. Coming back to the point, whether agile can take over project management, traditional project management works better for smaller and low budget projects. Let’s say if there is a small company that has a limited budget, they know whatever they need to deliver must be within a specific amount. They will drafts their requirements accordingly and everything will be based on that only. They will also be considering the timelines because they were working in a specific duration. So, in that case, traditional project management will provide you with lots of techniques and you will be able to track your project more closely.

Whereas agile won’t be that much helpful for you in that case, because agile doesn’t focus more on documentation. There’s a very minute difference, in traditional project management we have lots of documentation that we have to maintain but in agile there is very limited set of documentation that managers are expected to maintain and that doesn’t cover that specific sets of cost, budget within which we need to operate. For very large projects, let’s say you are building a dam, you can’t say like you will work on an upper part and then on lower and then i would think of how to stop the river. In that case, also, you need to take up traditional project management. Resource planning is another factor which must be done in a very better way. You must have time and money with you.

To summarize, in case you don’t have any idea what your final product would look like, then agile is the way to go. If you have a proper picture and you know what your final product will look like and what all things and features will it have, in that case, the traditional project approach is what you must approach.

Q8. Kanban board is increasingly getting integrated into more structured project management. How does it help the project manager?

Answer: It is a Japanese system which is used to assign tasks to the individual. Agile project managers also use the kanban board to assign tasks or tasks-related instructions, mention the dates or the story points that they need to mention. It is very easy to use with a visual interface and ability to see what everyone is working on. So i would say kanban board is a very good initiative or technique to manage the project and assign the tasks to the team members.

These days multiple project managers are using different tools, which are there in the market and can be used for kanban kind of features and even Gantt is used very widely. Even though Gantt is very much different project managers are using it that too very efficiently. Gantt chart shows the start date and the end date. So along with Gantt Jira has things as well, to show the overall picture from where a task will be running, kanban will show you which task in specific section. Kanban alone cannot be the one short solution, it still needs other tools and techniques to be more effective.

Kanban board is a simple board with multiple sections in terms of vertical and horizontal. Each vertical section of a column is a stage of a project. So kanban board gives sheets in project manager and an overview at a glance. Like this is a to-do task, this is a section for a test change, and final deployment. People can use different sections based on their requirements. There can be 5-6 sections based on the requirements. Horizontal lines on kanban boards are called swing lanes. You will find this in Jira, those people who are work on Jira can find it in the setting section and swing lanes can help to separate different work items, activities, services etc. So the kanban board is a mix of both swing lanes and columns. It is very much like a chess board. you can clearly identify which task is in which section and what is the update.

The kanban cards that are on the individual tasks or the work item which needs to be performed. Each kanban card is filled with different kinds of information about maybe the assignee. Taking the example of Jira board, in the assignee section, it’s start date and end date, due date and information about specific tasks like description or history section. But the traditional kanban board has only the task name and brief description about it. The Jira which is being used now is a very detailed one. You just click on it, it will show you the entire list of details. But it cannot obviously be done on a piece of paper. Kanban board is a good thing you are using but it would always be better to use something else along with it to get the best out of it.

I personally use Gantt. I won’t say it isn’t a good tool but requires a partner along with it to be more effective. There are some points of kanban board which are it is very to use, you can put anyone who is new and they could easily grasp it within minutes. It is not a very detailed thing. Kanban is a simple pick-and-drop personality. It provides very good view to the users. You are able to limit the tasks in very specific sequences that nothing gets pilled up. In that way you are able to remove bottlenecks from a specific project. This will ultimately help you to speed up and complete the work.

Q9. What are the latest tools you would recommend to learn to increase project efficiency?

Answer: I can name a few for the namesake. To be honest, no new tool has been able to grab eyeballs and attention of the project managers in a period of time. They still prefer to use the trial and tested project management tools with which they are very much comfortable and which are already offering a lot of features and almost all the things they need. One of them is Jira , i have been actively naming this tool as it offers almost everything and is a complete marketplace for itself, you can download the plugins as well.

The only drawback is it’s slightly expensive, that’s why people look for alternatives. If it’s in your budget go for it, Jira is a task tracking tool which can provide you with a features to assign a ticket, keep a track of ticket, manage the details, specific kanban board. It is very used to use and have pick and drop personality. You can train anyone with basic functions of Jira. There’s another tool from the Microsoft side, slightly complicated and looks very much like excel. But offers a lot more like functionality for the project management. It is measured used in the planning of the projects, setting up of milestones, deadlines establishing risk relationship, etc. It is widely used in place of traditional project management. So about other tools, apart from Jira and Microsoft projects, you can see rally and monday.com. There are comparatively not very much great but is very much effective to get your work done effectively.

Q10. What advice would you give to candidates who wish to get into this field?

So, the first thing is don’t just run after agile scrum blindly. Not all projects run after agile, not all projects run on scrum, and all projects run on scale agile, which is a safe framework. Traditional project management is very much in use. it might not be popular these days in IT world but still, lots of its principles are there and widely used. Often blended with agile methodologies to create hybrid work models. Agile might work for you but not might work for some other project which is running in parallel. That’s why managers blend multiple methodologies and frameworks together to see which approach is working for them.

Another thing that i would like to communicate is agile methodology doesn’t encourage much of a record-keeping but it doesn’t discourage either. It needs some sort of documentation to see what kind of changes have been requested by the clients, how many changes, what all impacts will have, how much scope it will create, whether it can be delivered within same timelines or early or would need more time.

Don’t assume things. Try to get details around it. You have to be a good listener, for understanding the requirements of the customer, you must listen to all the details attentively and make notes out of them. And also make sure communication is not one way. A good communication is always 2 way. Listen to what they are saying carefully and tell them even the points you noted to confirm is your understanding correct. It’s very important to get your understanding clarified because there can be a scenario, where one person is communicating and the other operating it another way.

So another thing is on some occasion, customers are not very sure what they want and how their final product will look like. So be very patient in those scenarios and try to understand the requirements and plan for demos. This could happen to anyone, that’s why agile came into existence. It was observed on a very frequent note. If you are coming across with such scenarios try to adjust with them, You’ll be coming across many such scenarios in your career. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and conflict resolution. This can be a slightly debatable topic.

Conflict resolution is a kind of aspect, which needs to be handled carefully. As a project manager ,we are expected to manage our team well, act as a servant leaders, handle our team well. You are not supposed to dictate them and you are also not supposed to let them fight and assume that everything will be fine by itself. Just interact with them, try to bring them on common grounds and see if anyone is correct and the other person isn’t, try to make them understand what is right without naming them. This is what I believe and everyone has their own perspective. This is my approach to dealing with such issues.

Last and foremost, try to build commitment within your team and try to provide them adequate challenges in their work. There should also be improving individual working capacity or velocity from time to time.

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