Effective Solutions Through Partnership

Category Archives: Project Management Professional (PMP)

How to Use Problem Statements to Solve Project Issues

Best Practices, Issues and Risks, Problem Statements, Project Management, Project Management Professional (PMP)

By Stephen Alfano

Who doesn’t have problems? Now, a real question: Is there a simple, surefire, and quick way to break problems down?

Answer: Problem statements.

A problem statement is basically a short, yet compelling description of an issue, or set of issues, that must be resolved. It’s used by problem-solvers of all stripes—from research scientists to project managers to postgraduate students—to drive an effort from beginning to end to ensure and validate an anticipated outcome (not a problem with a well-written problem statement!).

How do you write a problem statement?

I recommend carefully breaking the problem—and the undesirable world it lives in—into three basic components:

  • Vision – This is the description of the anticipated (desired) outcome. Think of it as a view of the future with the changes that will result from the issue(s) being resolved.
  • Issue(s) – This is the description of the problem using a narrative derived from real-world experience (e.g., use cases or test results). It’s usually only a couple of sentences in length and straightforward and concise in tone and manner.
  • Method – This is the description of how the problem (and issues therein) will be resolved. It’s often prescriptive language—sometimes filled with jargon—that helps the problem-solvers map out their path to success.

Of course, there’s a great deal of background detail and mitigating factors that must be condensed to create those three basic components. (We’re talking about a scaling down a small mountain of data and accompanying data analysis into a couple of paragraphs.)

Truth be told, problem statements can be problematic. The input isn’t always neatly packaged. It often comes from structured and unstructured sources that need to be identified, categorized, prioritized and, in some cases, synthesized to establish the following:

  1. the root cause of the problem
  2. the known consequences of the issues that users (and key stakeholders) both up and downstream face
  3. the ill-effects associated with the known consequences
  4. the myriad assumptions and constraints (the pros and cons) within the method used to resolve the issues

Above all, problem statements require persistence and patience. Distilling and editing the content to be clear and concise takes rigorous work—and lots of practice using a tried and true template.

Below, you’ll find links to some of my favorite problem statement templates and best practices:

How do you think problem statements could help your project mitigate issues and achieve success?

About the Author: Stephen Alfano is an Organizational Change Management Consultant and Communications Expert. He has over 25 years of experience leading and managing internal and external marketing initiatives for both private and public-sector clients. His résumé includes providing both new business and business process improvement services to Apple, American Express, AT&T, California Department of Transportation, Chevron, Entergy, Levi Strauss & Co., Louisiana Office of Tourism, Mattel, Microsoft, Novell, SONY, Sutter Health, and Wells Fargo. Stephen currently works as an Executive Consultant with KAI Partners, Inc., providing change management and communications expertise and support services to California State Departments.

Project Management: A Case Study

Business Analysis, Issues and Risks, KAI Partners, Project Management, Project Management Professional (PMP)

By Guest Blogger Tony Oliver, Penny Wise Consulting Group

This blog post first appeared on the Penny Wise Consulting Group’s blog and was posted here with permission. The original post can be found here.

Ah, flying. The friendly skies. The luxury aboard the plane. The jet-set and the glamour. All gone.

Nowadays, few experiences elicit the same sort of hatred as commercial aviation. Beyond the vitriol, the stale pretzels, and the harsh treatment from flight attendants, though, there are many project management tactics at play.

According to USA Today, an average day has 1,000 commercial flights over the U.S., mostly distributed across the major ~9 domestic airlines. Major carriers like American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Airlines each boast over 200 regularly-scheduled segments, each replete with its own challenges and intricacies.

Despite the obvious similarities (fly a large metal bird from point A to point B), each flight should be seen as a stand-alone project. Though it may be regularly-scheduled and often repeated daily, each one represents a specific, time-boxed instance.

While it does share various elements with its predecessors and successors (such as origin, destination, expected route, etc.) it is very much a different iteration every day. Much like publishing a daily newspaper, a monthly newsmagazine, or hosting a yearly event like the Super Bowl or the Oscars, the blueprint may exist, but its execution may be wholly different. Here’s how:

  • The “project team.” Some pilots, co-pilots, and flight attendants may be assigned routes that repeat themselves every week, as circuits begin and end. To paraphrase Jon Bon Jovi, “it’s all the same, only the names have changed.” Much like a professional sports team or even an award-winning theater ensemble, the composition of the crew may carry over to a large degree, but rarely does it reach 100%. Nevertheless, the accumulated knowledge, captured as best known methods, checklists, or even desk manuals, can be reused to the benefit of would-be successors or apprentices.
  • The passengers are different. With an average plane carrying 200 souls, things are bound to go awry. Babies, first-time fliers, and stranded connecting passengers can all wreak havoc on the best-laid plans. Much like a project has contingency and risk management plans to address what could “feasibly” go wrong, a plane’s crew has multiple ways to address—and ideally remedy— any misalignments between the project plan and reality.
  • The conditions may be different. Yes, point A to point B is typically best served in a straight line…but does it always go that way? Turbulence, traffic, and unforeseen circumstances like airspace closures can make plans just another example of wishful thinking.
  • Risks from associated processes, Part 1. A snafu with catering, unexpected downtime by the TSA screening machines, or a broken luggage conveyor belt can prevent the loading and unloading of the passengers. These are shared risks not “owned” by the airline, but with a strong direct dependency. Contingency plans show their value here, shedding any would-be “luxury” label to rightfully claim the “necessity” one.
  • Risks from associated processes, Part 2. The above are somewhat related to the airport, but what happens if the issue stems from outside of it? A massive accident on the freeway or the spontaneous protests against President Trump’s immigration order would deter thousands of would-be passengers from boarding their flights. Deciding what degree of delay is acceptable (flying without the passengers seems silly, but affecting subsequent flights from destination cities may affect a much larger portion of the customer base) is part finesse and part analytics— but 100% necessary for proper project management.

Even if your next flight is for pleasure, keep your “project manager hat” on and count the many instances of project management. Like hidden Mickeys scattered throughout Disney World, you will be amazed at how much is in plain view when you are really looking for it!

 About the Author: Tony Oliver is a project manager by trade, a marketing guru by profession, and a lifelong learner from birth. His best trait is an inquisitive mind, which drives his desire to understand not just the “what” but also the “how” and more importantly, the “why” and “why not?” Tony is experienced in supply, pricing, demand, and consumption analysis and holds an MBA in marketing from a top 20 school (UNC Chapel Hill) and an undergraduate English Literature degree from Georgetown University. With 15+ years of experience with Intel and Cisco, Tony is fully bilingual (English, Spanish) with a working knowledge of French, as well as a seasoned public speaker and instructor of Project Management and Presentation Skills courses.

KAI Partners Staff Profile: The PMP

Agile, Business Analysis, Certified ScrumMaster (CSM), General Life/Work, KAI Partners, KAI Partners Staff Profile, Managing/Leadership, Project Management, Project Management Professional (PMP), Sacramento, Scrum, Small Business, Technical Writing


There are many paths to success and while not everyone takes the same path, we often manage to arrive at the same destination. In our KAI Partners Staff Profile series, we share interviews and insight from some of our own employees here at KAI Partners. Our staff brings a diversity in education, professional, and life experience, all of which demonstrate that the traditional route is not necessarily the one that must be traveled in order to achieve success. Today, we bring you the journey of one of our Project Managers, Jamie Spagner, Project Management Professional (PMP)® and Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM).

KAI Partners, Inc.: Jamie, how did you get into project management work?

Jamie Spagner: I got into Project Management by default. In college, I wanted to be a lobbyist. I wanted to influence the actions, policies, or decisions of elected officials. But, life had a different plan. I was blessed with a beautiful little boy my last semester in college. Because of this new addition to my life, I was unable to attend The Washington Center program I was slated for in Washington D.C. Being a mother forced me to explore other career options that would allow me to provide a decent life for my son as a single mom. At the time, the IT industry had higher-paying jobs out of college, so I looked for a ways to get into that field.

In college, I worked part-time for the Money Store, which later became First Union, then Wachovia, and is now Well Fargo. I held many positions, but I always watched the job boards to see the various positions being offered and the qualifications needed. One day I stumbled on a Senior Technical Writer position.

While I ultimately didn’t have the experience for the Senior Technical Writer role at the time, I did establish a relationship and mentorship with the hiring manager. She told me the books I should read for learning, encouraged me to join the Society for Technical Communication (STC), and invited me to different events with her team. Within 6-8 months of establishing that relationship, she hired me as a Technical Writer.

Through natural progression, I worked as a Technical Writer, then transitioned to a Business Analyst. From Business Analyst, I advanced into Project Management.

KAIP: Some people may not realize the difference between being a Project Manager and being a Project Manager with a Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. Can you explain why you decided to pursue your PMP®? How has it helped you?

JS: I decided to pursue my PMP because it’s a respected certification in the field. The test is not an easy test, so it shows a level of dedication to employers to see a potential candidates who has gone the extra step to obtain those three letters.

It also opens doors professionally. Many employers require a PMP certification for Project Management positions; the project I am currently working on requires it.

KAIP: What is your favorite part about your line of work and why?

JS: My favorite part about my job is collaborating with people to deliver a product or service. Ninety percent of a Project Manager’s job is communication. What I enjoy most is building relationships,

collaborating, influencing directions and decisions, and successfully delivering products and services to the client’s satisfaction.

KAIP: What is one of the most common project management questions you receive from clients and what counsel or advice do you give them?

JS: “What is project management?” is the most common question I get from people. The advice I give to clients is to be transparent and always be able to defend their “Why.” In this profession, you have to make quick decisions and sometimes they are not always the right decisions. However, it’s important to always be able defend why you made the decision you made.

JamieAbout Jamie: Jamie Spagner is an Executive Consultant for KAI Partners, where she works as a Project Manager for a public sector health care client. She graduated from California State University, Sacramento with the Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies/Public Relation. She is a loving mother of a teenage son named Wyatt. In her spare time, she enjoys shopping, spending time with family/close friends, and working out.

Quick Q&A with Jamie:
Daily, must-visit website: Pinterest
Preferred genre of music or podcast to listen to: Hip-hop and R&B
Best professional advice received: Be courageous; do not be afraid to fail
Book you can read over and over again: “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle
Most-recent binge-watched show: New Edition Movie. This was a movie about the pop group New Edition that aired on BET…I loved it!

How to Manage Data to Achieve Business Goals

Best Practices, Data Management, Project Management, Project Management Professional (PMP)

Data Management

By Tim Cleary

Businesses and regulators are continuously faced with a flood information that is out of control. It’s a veritable information firestorm in the complex data management environment. Even more, information has many different looks and packaging, making it is easy to get lost in the maze. Here’s just a small sampling of the types of data you may encounter:

  • Knowledge management
  • Business intelligence
  • Information management
  • Content management
  • Data warehousing
  • Data cubes
  • Data analytics
  • Key performance indicators
  • Data mining dashboards
  • Scorecards
  • Data marts
  • Decision support systems
  • Document management systems

So, what do you do with all that data? Data management programs are typically tied to organizational objectives and are intended to achieve specific outcomes. First you must decide on the outcome you would like to achieve. Some outcomes include: Effective analysis and decision-making, improved performance, competitive advantage, innovation, lessons learned, knowledge transfer, and the development of social networks, collaboration, and teaming.

To achieve your desired outcome, you must effectively manage the data by coming up with a formal process for determining what information you have and then devising ways to make it easily available. Key data management components include:

  • Awareness: (Knowing What You Know) – about people, skills, markets, competitors, customers, alliances, suppliers, the environment, regulation, legislation, and other factors that are key to organizational success
  • Sharing, Capturing, and Storing Data – electronically and/or through communities of practice, informal groups, knowledge sharing and best practice workshops, training, mentoring, and using collaboration tools and approaches
  • Using the Data in the Workplace – finding and applying the appropriate information through operational systems, having data embedded in processes, and encouraging the appropriate data sharing, capturing and transferring of behaviors through reward systems that recognize the use of data in decision-making and delivery
  • Defining Organizational Priorities – like customer satisfaction, improved processes, improved innovation, profits, and employee satisfaction

At the beginning, and throughout the development of a new data management and intelligence program, you should seek to envision a new model for workforce effectiveness. This vision should precede any system or process planning and define the end business state from a benefits and usage point of view.

While this vision is useful for identifying priorities and creating excitement for the program among managers, it will also be useful in communicating the new workday to staff. Delivering the vision to staff will require communication, training, incentives, and many other program attributes associated with the data management changes.

Data management doesn’t have to be daunting—simply keep your eye on what you want to achieve, put into place a data management plan that supports that outcome, and inform staff along the way so they too are aligned with your vision.

About the Author: Tim is an Executive Consultant with project management, consulting, business development, and sales experience spanning business transformation, technology adoption, change management, shared services, knowledge management, learning and development, and enterprise cost reduction. Tim has more than 30 years of business system development and implementation experience focused on Energy – Utilities/Oil & Gas, Technology, Media & Entertainment, Financial, Federal, State, and Life Sciences (Disability, Medicare Claims Management, and Conservation) organizations. Tim has lectured at the university level and at business conferences focusing on technology adoption, change/knowledge management, and business issues and solutions.

7 Frameworks for Project Management Success

Data Management, Project Management, Project Management Professional (PMP)

PM Frameworks

By Stephen Alfano

Successful project management starts with organization. More than just a set of lists and timelines, though, a strategic framework is critical. Consisting of a thoughtful collection of tasks, processes, tools, and templates, the right framework can help kickoff, plan, execute, control, monitor, and close project activities throughout the management life-cycle. A framework most often breaks down into phases on both a micro and macro scale, and can include templates and checklists, activities, roles and responsibilities, training material, and work guidelines. The pertinent project management information follows a systematic structure which offers project stakeholders, managers, and planners an organized view of the path to success. 

Experienced project managers and planners will use different frameworks to facilitate, forecast, and finalize a project. Perhaps more important, project managers and planners will also deploy different versions or views of their frameworks depending on the audience or stakeholder conducting a review. For example, a project sponsor may only wish to see high-level tables filled with milestones and key deliverables, whereas the project manager will need to see all of the dependent variables and activities that lead up to and proceed beyond those milestones and deliverables.

So, which project management frameworks work best? Simply put, it’s those frameworks that help guide and govern a project most efficiently and effectively throughout the management life-cycle. Below you’ll find links to seven examples that should give you the insight and inspiration you’ll need to craft the right framework for your next project.

About the Author: Stephen Alfano is an Organization Development Consultant and Communications Expert. He has over 20 years of experience in leading and managing internal and external marketing initiatives for both private and government sector clients. His résumé includes providing both new business and business process improvement services to Apple, American Express, AT&T, California Department of Transportation, Chevron, Entergy, Levi Strauss & Co., Louisiana Office of Tourism, Mattel, Microsoft, Novell, SONY, Sutter Health, and Wells Fargo.

 Stephen currently works as an Executive Consultant with KAI Partners, Inc., providing change management and communications expertise and support services to California State Departments.

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