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Marathon Consulting at PMI Hampton Roads Professional Development Conference 2017

The Hampton Roads chapter of Project Management Institute (PMIHR) held its annual Professional Development Conference (PDC) at the beautiful Founder’s Inn in Virginia Beach on June 22, 2017. Marathon has long been a Sponsor of this important annual event. The new venue is an improvement over prior locations, and should be incentive alone for hesitant folks to sign up next year!

Several Marathon consultants attended the event to fortify their project management expertise and network with some of the strongest project management professionals in the region. Those lucky consultants included Bryan Hickman, Reggie Mano, Carolyn Mize, and Amy Arnoux. Katie Keene manned the Marathon Consulting information booth and introduced PDC participants to the services and value Marathon can bring to their organizations.

The sessions were outstanding, and the presenters were engaging subject matter experts in their respective areas. Not all presenters or presentations were focused on core project management disciplines; one outstanding high-energy presentation featured activities to help build a better brain!

Dr. Peter Ronayne, PhD, gave a rousing presentation titled "Thrive! Build a Better Brain for a Better, Badder You!" This was a perfect start to the day to jump start the energy and enthusiasm of the audience. The theme behind this presentation focused on ways to increase the effectiveness of one’s brain.

There were many takeaways from this session, but one in particular focused on the hormone Oxytocin. When we connect socially with our family, our friends, our peers, or even our pets in a positive way (e.g., hugging), Oxytocin is released which makes us feel happy and connected with an overall sense of well-being. During Dr. Ronayne’s session, he asked the audience to connect socially with folks sitting next to each other in a positive and negative way so the audience could realize the difference in terms of how they felt.

Another lesson learned from this session is that our brain is not built to operate effectively over long periods of time. Similar to any athlete who trains for an event or game, the brain will operate more effectively if there are peaks and valleys throughout the day. The analogy of the athlete resonated with the audience, because they could understand that an athlete doesn’t train at a high level for eight hours in a row. An athlete will often work out at a high intensity for an hour or two and then take a break or even smaller intervals like ten to fifteen minutes and take a break. Dr. Ronayne suggested that to be at your best and to get the most out of your brain, we would need to operate very similarly at work. Working the brain for an hour or two requires a ten to fifteen-minute break in order to sustain that effectiveness throughout the eight hour work day. The audience walked away from this presentation with great tips for ‘building a better brain’.

Another interesting session focused on using Monte Carlo analysis software tools to conduct a Schedule Risk Analysis (SRA).  Schedule risk analysis essentially assesses the probability that your target project schedule will be met while factoring in uncertainties about task duration and completion.  The PMIHR PDC session featured a specific Monte Carlo analysis software product for conducting the SRA.  Marathon does not promote specific vendors or tools, but an online search should produce information about the product, which is a Microsoft Project or Oracle Primavera add-on.

There are some preconditions for using the SRA tool to assess schedule risk. The project schedule must be fully developed with precursors and successors. Resources must be assigned, and three-point task estimates must be provided by the resources performing the work.  The three-point estimates are entered in the SRA tool interface, and the desired number of Monte Carlo simulations is set. After the tool executes, the probability of achieving the targeted schedule is displayed. There are different graphics that display the potential outcomes.  The ‘Volcano’ graphic was most interesting – using red and green indicators to suggest the tasks that introduced the most schedule risk.

Using an SRA tool and developing a schedule risk analysis mindset may be beneficial for organizations that are maturing their project management methodologies. Also, the session facilitator indicated that some form of SRA is now required for federal government projects.

Dr. Celeste Murphy Green’s presentation, “Leadership Challenges for the 21st Century” outlined the qualities of being an effective leader in a diverse world. Many of her points reminded the audience that leadership is based on principles which have been in practice for many years, such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, having emotional intelligence, and being a servant leader. The highlight of her discussion was an interactive case study. In the case study, there were eight people on a boat, thirty miles from land, and you must decide who will be allowed on the life raft and who will have to stay on a boat that will sink within twenty minutes. There was only one life raft and only held four people. The study described the eight people along with their demographics, and our task was to list five criteria to determine their fate. As each group presented their results, one group stood out and elected not to follow the instructions and “changed the rules”. Their solution was to save everyone by rotating four people in the boat, while the others remain in the water hanging onto the side of the boat.  This was truly thinking “out of the box”, and reminded the audience, that at times, you must feel compelled to look for a solution that does not follow the norm.

Susan Parente’s presentation, "Agile Myth Busters: that’s not Agility”, did a great job of dispelling some of the myths commonly associated with Agile development. Susan is a Risk Management Guru from Washington, D.C. She is experienced with managing both software and hardware development for complex systems implementations.  Some of those myths included: 

  • Agile teams are flexible and embrace change - this does not mean that teams can be interrupted at any time, but should be allowed to complete the current sprint and consider the impact of changes with their next sprint planning cycle.
  • Agile development does not require planning – Agile probably requires more planning because it is done at the end of each Sprint. Often waterfall projects are planned initially and are never re-planned.  Long term planning is also needed to establish a release plan and agree upon the definition of ‘done’ for each release.
  • Agile development does not require documentation – A well-run Agile team needs documentation to track the product backlog, capture user stories, measure the velocity of the team, and maintain burndown charts.
  • Daily standup meetings are for problem solving – Daily standup meetings may reveal problems that need to be solved, but should not be the forum for discussing a solution.  The agenda for the daily standup should allow each person to review what they did yesterday, what they will do today, and what barriers they have.  Barriers and problems would be addressed in separate meetings, facilitated by the Scrum Master.

PMIHR PDC 2017 was truly a success, and an enlightening experience for project management professionals who attended. In addition to the informative sessions mentioned above, there was a keynote speaker in the morning along with a panel discussion at lunch time. This one-day event continues to exceed expectations. PMIHR expressed interest in heading back to the Founder’s Inn next year for an even more informative and engaging conference. Marathon Consulting looks forward to being a continued supporter.

Thanks to our contributing authors: Amy Arnoux, Reggie Mano, and Carolyn Mize.

Bryan Hickman

Bryan Hickman has over 14 years of Information Technology and Project Management consulting experience in the government and commercial sectors. He completed his Project Management Professional (PMP) certification in 2008 as well as became a Certified Scrum master (CSM) in 2016. He currently provides Delivery Lead and Scrum master services to a large healthcare company in the Government Business Division. There, he supports an IT Application team, which utilizes the Agile management methodology.

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