Top tips on passing the Project Management Professional exam

Posted: December 12th, 2012 | Author: Ralph Booth | Filed under: Behind the Scenes | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

The Europe West region in Comptel, have been encouraging their Project Managers to study for and attain the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI).

I am pleased to say that on Friday 23rd November I passed my PMP exam and proudly became a Project Management Professional! Europe West now has 4 PMP certified project managers in their team.

My latest blog covers why it’s sensible for organisations to encourage and support their Project Managers in achieving this qualification. Furthermore, whilst it’s fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share my tips for passing the exam!

  • Credibility: Having a Project Management team who have the qualification adds weight to our services credibility. Highlighting our experience and knowledge of Project Management.
  • Motivation: Setting this objective and supporting your Project Manager’s to attain this qualification is a good motivational tool.
  • Standardising approach and language: By learning the PMP approach, your project managers have a common understanding of process, terminology and templates.
  • Learning new ways of doing things: No Project Manager knows it all, so learning the PMP way, will also help teach new techniques and ideas.

My Top tips on passing the exam are below, they are not an alternative for hard work mind and I’m afraid a thorough revision of the PMP study materials will also be required!

  • Memorise the mathematical formulas relating to Earned Value. Being able to recall these 4 formulas will help answer a good number of questions on the exam.
  • Focus on the process groups around Risks and Scope. A good understanding of these two areas will help prepare you for the exam.
  • Thoroughly revise Project Closure activities. Whilst they appear easy, it’s worth thinking about the order in which you’d logically close a project.
  • Practice exam questions religiously and above all, concentrate on why you got any answers wrong.
  • The day before the exam, my manager said to me, when looking at the exam questions, if you are stuck; take a step backwards and look for the most simple and straight forward answer. Don’t always look to justify a complicated answer, sometimes the answer is the simple option!
  • Finally in the exam, have confidence, rely on your experience and revision. Trust your instincts!

If you are in the process of studying for your PMP certification, I wish you good luck! At Comptel we recognise it’s a worthwhile achievement for individuals and the company alike!

CSPs’ Role in Multi-Stakeholder Telecom Projects

Posted: November 27th, 2012 | Author: Afaq Bashir | Filed under: Behind the Scenes | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Recently, the U.S. Air Force announced that it is shutting down its next-generation, billion-dollar logistics management software project after its implementation was consistently stalled, and goals went unmet. This multi-stakeholder project started in 2005 and was designed to save billions of dollars by streamlining supply chain management and replacing more than 200 legacy IT systems and 500 interfaces. With such promising benefits, the decision to scrap this project raises more questions than answers: Why did it take so long, and so much money, to realise this project wasn’t going to pan out? What planning process was in place that allowed this to happen?

Drawing Parallels with Telecom and OSS Projects

Projects in the telecom industry have similar implementation challenges, especially because of the numerous stakeholders involved like network suppliers, OSS/BSS vendors, system integrators, VAS providers, in-house IT and various communications service provider (CSP) departments. Such a landscape of not just stakeholders but also systems and processes results in high complexity and risk, meaning there are many ways project execution can go wrong. For instance, individual vendors may promise more than they can deliver, system integrators might not take end-to-end responsibility, and CSPs could miss some important details. These gaps in ownerships, stakes, understandings, initiatives and interoperability create a snowball effect over time, leading to project delays that could mean disaster.

Insistence on Collective Responsibility

To help prevent this, it’s important for CSPs to be very knowledgeable about the big picture apart from being very detail oriented. Knowing the big picture ensures that the CSP can keep a firm grasp on the various parties engaged, and to what capacity, as well as each party’s weight and significance during the course of a project. On the other hand, being detail-oriented ensures that the CSP knows how to negotiate a meaningful, clear and unrelenting scope of work for each party. The scope of work distributed across different stakeholders should be collectively exhaustive and aspects like dependencies and engagement service level agreements (SLAs) should be very clearly stated and agreed upon in advance.
This can ensure that any conflicts of interest are alleviated, so vendors can act in the best interest of the project at hand to guarantee its collective success. Vendors like Comptel can play a very leading and helpful role in bringing different parties together to agree on a clearly documented scope at the very outset. This can involve details such as key objectives, success factors, project scheduling and budgeting, and risks.

Ensuring a Collaborative Project Roadmap

In my opinion, the CSP’s role in ensuring a collaborative project roadmap involving OSS/BSS vendors and system integrators is crucial. CSPs can define project execution models at the very outset and play an important role in overall project leadership and governance to ensure delivery within the constraints of budget, time and scope.
Furthermore, it is the CSP’s leadership alone that can contain the many simultaneous business-to-business relationships at any cost and without letting any party indulge in a game of blames. Success being the only ultimate benchmark, CSPs should trickle it down to all of its suppliers in unequivocal terms.

Succeeding in OSS Project Engagements – Insights from MEA

Posted: November 11th, 2012 | Author: Afaq Bashir | Filed under: Around the World, Behind the Scenes | Tags: , , | No Comments »

A learning organisation is the sum-total of the experiences of its people. At Comptel, we take great pride in having delivered on excellent projects, and the lessons we have learned through them are our prised possession. To a large extent, a distinctive pattern begins to emerge from the various projects and engagements conducted in each region. The Middle East and Africa (MEA) is no exception – its unique characteristics come through its many region-specific best practices, as well as the lessons and cultural themes we have accumulated through our commitment to our customers.

When it comes to the success of a project, leadership is an important aspect– from managing project charters and negotiating scopes, to resolving conflicts and involving stakeholders, to addressing resources and process implications. From my experience in MEA, I’ve seen six elements of success emerge that stem from strong leadership.

1. Trademarks
First, it is very important that a project be ‘trademarked’ both internally and externally. This should go hand-in-hand with the company’s corporate strategy and bear an inspiring slogan that attracts everyone’s contribution. Externally, with the customer, the trademark should bear in succinct terms the top 2-3 goals and objectives sought from the project. These should be posted at all times as the overriding milestones for all stakeholders, especially the customer. Internally, this should become more of a symbol that people can relate to in daily activities, when talking by the water coolers, for instance. Last, it should be attached to a group of influential sponsors, decision-makers and key participants, who can help develop an inclination across company ranks to make the project successful.

2. Strong Launch
The project should be kicked off like the Olympics. What I mean by this is that everyone should feel willing and ready to be a part of an exciting new journey. The most important thing is making sure that the project leadership is technology savvy and capable of understanding the complexities involved. A sense of control, responsibility, raw skill and effective management can only be inculcated by a project manager with extensive domain expertise. This, in my humble opinion, can be a deciding factor for a project’s success at the very outset. The project leader should then be able to recruit a balanced team and prepare for a strong launch.

3. Alignment
The project leader should have a comprehensive, organisation-wide understanding of the customer’s business units (e.g. commercial, network, human resources, finance), business processes (TM Forum standards can help), key stakeholders, parallel vendors and existing IT and systems landscape. This helps align the project to all of these various entities, so that any risk is taken care of proactively, and all parties/resources are marshaled to a collective success.

4. Clear Scope
It’s important that the project leader is actively involved alongside any sales staff in negotiating, understanding and freezing the scope of a project. The scope should be very clearly documented and have approval from all key stakeholders. This can involve details such as key objectives, success factors, project scheduling and budgeting, and risks. Again, it takes a project leader proficient in that domain to effectively record the different requirements, needs, assumptions and risks.

5. Communication
The project leader should be able to develop a very clear communications methodology to ensure transparency and a real-time window into the project’s workings. He or she should be able to identify ‘what messages’ need to be passed to ‘which stakeholders’ at ‘what intervals’ through ‘what methods and channels’ with ‘what level of severity’. The communications methodology should be able to integrate and harmonise the many artifacts of project communication including meetings, emails, progress reports, workshops and portals.

6. Motivation
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the project leader should strive to be a true source of motivation, energy and inspiration for the whole team. A confident and independent leader can take hold of a project without letting control sink away to distant and irrelevant corners of the organisation. He or she should be bold enough to take calculated risks and use the team’s best energies to create win-win situations with the customer. An effective project leader manages and resolves conflicts through creative ideas and through the power of communication. A dynamic leader is imaginative enough to adapt the fabric of the project to the changing strategic needs of the customer and of his or her own organisation. Finally,  he or she should be able to culminate all of these leadership themes into closing the project, celebrating it like a hard-earned victory, learning from its course and moving on to the next challenge with a bigger, more self-assured poise.

These types of leaders deliver on strategic opportunities, resulting in increased revenues through cross-sell and up-sell opportunities and references, and ultimately happier customers.

All Good Things Must Come to an End: Reporting from the Olympics, Part 3

Posted: August 16th, 2012 | Author: Ralph Booth | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Well it’s true, all good things must come to an end and on Sunday night we fondly waved farewell to the London 2012 Olympic Games! This is also the third, and final, post in my series drawing parallels between project management and the Olympics. In this concluding post, I’ll focus on how to properly wrap up a project, or in other words, hold its Closing Ceremony!

On Sunday night we watched the festival of British Music mark the end of the Games with performances by George Michael, Queen and the Spice Girls! We also saw the athletes celebrate their medal triumphs during the ceremony – after all, this is an opportunity to recognise their achievements, say thank you, and take a moment to reflect on future possibilities.

For any event or project, the closing ceremonies hold just as much significance as the opening ones. At Comptel, the Europe West Services team places great emphasis on properly closing a project. And while our project closure activities are not as jaw-dropping as the Olympic Closing Ceremony, they do share many of the same objectives.

Recognising achievements:

The project closure phase is an opportunity for teams and individuals to be rewarded and thanked for their efforts. Recognising when a project has been successfully delivered is important for morale and team building. During the London 2012 Closing Ceremony, for instance, a section of the show was set aside to honour and thank the thousands of volunteers who have helped make the Games such a success.

Formally marking the end of a project:

It is also important to formally mark the end of a project, allowing resources to be re-allocated to other initiatives and ensuring loose ends, like the project financial accounts, are properly closed. By marking the end of the project, the team can also begin to concentrate on finding their next venture. Furthermore, it’s an ideal time to provide a thorough handover to the support teams who will look after the customer as part of business as usual.

Documentation and materials:

The materials and assets relating to the project, like effort estimates, need to be updated and saved to the communal areas/libraries for use by subsequent similar projects. Take, for example, transportation – considered one of the main concerns around London 2012. Prior to the Games, there was talk about whether the city’s old transport system could cope with the additional journeys that were sure to come with the Games. This was no small task, with around 4.3 million journeys being taken every day! Detailed plans were put in place to help the city handle these additional journeys, and the next host city of Rio de Janeiro will certainly be looking to these for guidance on overcoming transportation issues for 2016.

Lessons learned:

It’s important to perform a lessons learned exercise to build upon what went well and understand how to improve other items for next time. In terms of the Olympics, team Great Britain won their greatest-ever record haul in over 100 years, centred on the great successes from the cycling and rowing teams that dominated their sports. Other nations, as part of their lessons learned, will be assessing how they can improve and compete with Great Britain at the next Games.

Ongoing legacy:

Finally, you want to make sure there is an ongoing legacy, or in other words, another related project following on from the one you have just completed.  But moreover, it’s important to ensure the relationship with the existing customer is maintained. At Comptel, the customer is transferred to a dedicated client manager who provides ongoing support and care for them. With the Olympics, the transition to Rio for the 2016 Games was marked with the Mayor of Rio arriving and acknowledging the handover by waving the Olympic flag for all to see!

So we come to the end of my Olympic project management related posts. This blog covers the steps we complete at Comptel’s Europe West Services team to ensure that our projects end properly and on a high note!

And on a personal level, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the Olympic Games in London; the whole country has been swept away by the excitement and spectacle of hosting one of the greatest events on earth. For me it was sad to see them come to an end, but now our focus and anticipation switches to Rio in 2016… And I, for one, cannot wait!

Going for Gold with Project Management: Reporting from the Olympics, Part 2

Posted: August 7th, 2012 | Author: Ralph Booth | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

As I mentioned in my previous post about the Opening Ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games, I’m amid a kick-off session of my own for a major Europe West Comptel project and discussed some tips for a successful project launch.  Now in the second post in my series, I’ll focus on the implementation phase – and how this parallels with the Games!

Firstly, I’d like to mention this year’s amazing Opening Ceremony, which not only rewrote the rule book for kicking off the games, but also showcased Britain’s collective passion, strengths and sense of humour to the world. What a fantastic show and start to the Games! Now with the kick-off phase behind us, both my client project and the Olympic Games have moved into the marathon implementation phase.  Here are some tips that I use as a project manager on Comptel’s Europe West Services team to ensure the implementation stays on track for a podium finish.


From watching the games in full force, what has struck me is the level of organisation that is required –from the food stalls to the medal makers, to the facilities and even the technology. All of these items required planning, tracking and organisation – and this is all about being prepared and knowing who needs to do what and when they need to do it! A project implementation phase is no different, as it requires a properly thought-out project plan that can be used to prepare, monitor and drive this phase, ensuring every work item is delivered on time and all dependencies are understood.


Reporting is vitally important – after all, the London 2012 Olympics can be enjoyed on the television, mobile devices, the Internet, Twitter and through various newspapers. Similarly, project reporting is just as important. For instance, understanding what’s going well and what requires additional focus helps the entire project team concentrate on the essentials. Agreeing to the type of reporting and meeting structure upfront is vital to ensure everyone is informed and the progress is transparently tracked.

Team Work:

Whilst watching the cycling road race on the first day of the Games, I was struck by the level of team work required for an individual to win a medal – and with it all the glory. Project implementation phases parallel this sense of solidarity. It is imperative to create a team spirit and ensure that, where required, your implementation team works together to keep the project on track.

Strong Leadership:

During the implementation phase strong leadership is essential to ensure the project is delivered on time and all issues are managed effectively. The role of the project manager is vital to coordinate and drive the project to completion.

Focus on the Goal:

Finally, as in the Olympic Games, there must be a steady focus on the goal in order to come out on top. It is easy tobecome distracted during the implementation phase and, for example, look at bringing in additional scope. But you must remain dedicated to fulfilling the original requirements for which the project was created. Take, for instance, Michael Phelps – he has remained focused throughout the Games with the sole intent of securing as many medals as possible. This unwavering drive and concentration is the key to securing success and, combined with his talent, has made him the most decorated Olympian ever.

On a personal note, on Friday 3rd August, my family and I headed to the Olympic Stadium and watched the first day of the athletics, the highlight of which was the Women’s Heptathlon opening rounds with team Great Britain’s ‘face of the games’ Jessica Ennis competing.

Upon entering the Olympic Park, I was struck by the sheer scale of it. The stadium is enormous and really quite inspiring with the fantastic Orbit sculpture dominating the view. There was a real buzz of excitement around the place as spectators made their way to their respective events. Upon first glimpse inside the Olympic Stadium, it really does take your breath away and once it’s full, the atmosphere in the arena is incredible – the whole stadium enjoying being part of the Olympics and urging the athletes to do well.

I truly got the sense that Britain is very proud to be Olympic hosts and to have this incredible once-in-a-lifetime event in our capital; to the point where the crowds were going to make sure they enjoyed every second of the experience and spectacle! The London Olympics was intended to inspire a generation to take up sport and our great city has certainly stamped its personality on the games, grabbing the world’s attention along the way. It will be quite sad to see them come to a close!

Speaking of, my next post will sadly turn to reviewing the Closing Ceremony and my tips for what we do within Comptel’s services team to ensure that a project is properly concluded with all the lessons learned.