Voices on Project Management

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with - or even disagree with - leave a comment.

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Fair's Fair

Give Your Project a Home

A Hollywood-Style Move From PM to Scrum Master

To Have and To Hold

Leading With Integrity

Fair's Fair

Categories: Stakeholder

When you have to deliver bad news, the processes you use are at least as important as the decision you've made.

Take this example: The car manufacturing industry in my hometown of Melbourne, Australia is in the process of ceasing manufacturing and moving to an importing business. Over the next few years, thousands of jobs will be lost or transformed. Progress and change are inevitable, and the transition has been reluctantly accepted by most people. However, I was really surprised--when the first major round of layoffs occurred a few weeks ago at a manufacturer--to hear the local trades union representative complimenting the factory management on the way it had handled the decision of who should go now, who had a job for a few more months and who would be relocated into the new import business.  

The key factor was not the decision or its fairness. The key was the empathy and consideration shown to each of the laid-off workers by their management, and the fact that the members of the management team (most of whom would be losing their jobs as well) had taken the time to speak with each worker and appreciate his or her input to the business over many years.

By applying "process fairness" and giving everyone a chance to be heard, what could have been a very angry and disruptive event was transformed into a wake to remember the good times and the contributions made by the industry. It was still a sad and stressful time, but far less so than it might otherwise have been.

So what is process fairness and why is it important?

Process fairness is quite distinct from outcome fairness. Outcome fairness refers to judgments made about the final outcome. In this case, it is unfair to lose your job after 20 or 30 years due to a combination of factors largely outside of anyone's control. Process fairness is aligned with the concepts of procedural fairness and natural justice, and particularly applies to decisions affecting the team leader/team member (or manager/employee) relationship. Broadly speaking, there are three intertwined components of process fairness:

  1. How much input team members believe they have in the decision-making process. Are their opinions requested and given serious consideration? 
  2. How team members believe decisions are made and implemented. Are they consistent? Are they based on accurate information? Can mistakes be corrected? Are the personal biases of the decision-maker minimized? Is ample advance notice given? Is the decision process transparent? 
  3. How managers behave. Do they explain why a decision was made? Do they treat employees respectfully, actively listening to their concerns and empathizing with their points of view?

Process fairness makes a big difference! A study of nearly 1,000 people--led by U.S. researchers E. Allan Lind and Jerald Greenberg (and cited in the book Manager's Desktop Consultant)--found that a major determinant of whether employees sue for wrongful termination is their perception of how fairly the termination process was carried out. Only 1 percent of ex-employees who felt they were treated with a high degree of process fairness filed a wrongful termination lawsuit, versus 17 percent of those who believed they were treated with a low degree of process fairness. Similar results can be found for patients suing doctors and customers suing businesses.

Process fairness doesn't ensure team members will always get what they want or that the final decision is "fair"--but it does ensure they will have a chance to be heard. It is also highly likely that a decision-maker who follows a fair process will reach a fair and correct decision.

Fairness demands that the affected people are told about the impending decision and are given the chance to reply before a decision that negatively affects their existing interest or legitimate expectations is made. Put simply, hearing both sides of the story is critical to good decision-making and happier team members.

There are six rules that apply to procedural justice (or natural justice), and they equally affect procedural fairness:

  • Consistency
  • Bias suppression 
  • Accuracy
  • Correctness
  • Representativeness
  • Ethicality
Process fairness in the workplace and in communication simply requires fairness to everyone--that is, when something is applied, it has to be applied to everyone and procedures need to be consistent with moral and ethical values.

So next time you have to make a decision that affects your team, rather than trying to make the best decision on your own, tell the members about the decision and the reasons it needs to be made, ask for their input and take the time to listen. Once you have reached your decision, explain the reasons clearly and leave space for feedback, particularly from anyone the decision will hurt. You may be surprised by the support you get from everyone.

Do you think your decision-making process is fair?
Posted by Lynda Bourne on: September 12, 2014 12:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Give Your Project a Home

Categories: Teams

Have you ever been on a project where the team members and the project manager resemble migratory birds? This nomadic existence does not lend itself well to fostering project cohesion and direction. And without a cohesive project team, project performance can suffer. 

In my experience, one of the more effective ways to produce cohesion and focus on a project is to have a central location that serves as its geographic and social home. To create such a home, project managers should build and operate a "project control room." The project control room is a gathering spot for a team to conduct essential project activities with a high level of productive interaction. Having created project control rooms in the past, I can attest they're a great method to increase the overall performance of a project team. 

Here are a few aspects that make for a successful project control room -- and ultimately, a successful project: 

1. Tell the story of the project. The project control room is a great venue to share an at-a-glance view of disposition of a project. This can be done by printing the key artifacts on large-format paper using a plotter and posting them on a wall. These would include, but are not limited to the overall project schedule, current status readouts, risks/issue list, deliverable lists and milestones status. If budget and time permit, project teams can create virtual "printouts" by projecting them on television screens, which also saves a lot of paper each week!

2. Enable collaboration. Design the project control room to foster communication and interaction between people. This can include items such as a group meeting area, private phone rooms, electrical outlets to plug in computers, speakerphones, good lighting, soundproofing and comfortable chairs. In addition, the project manager and at least one member of the project support team should be in the project control room on a recurring basis to support ad-hoc dialogue and meetings. 

3. Offer a visible project destination. Use signage with the project name and objective to make the project control room visible to passers-by. Set the room as the location for regular project meetings. At the start of the project, communicate to project leadership that the project control room is the home for the project and its team members. To reduce expenses and mobilization time, the room could be shared across multiple projects; each team can claim a wall for project artifacts as well as set consistently recurring times to use the room. 

4. Make every detail count. Even the smallest details can contribute to an effective project control room. For example, how many times have you reached for a marker to write thoughts on a board and found the marker empty of ink? Supplying the room with an abundance of office supplies -- such as board markers, notepads, large sheets of paper to capture action lists -- helps reduce administrative distractions. In addition, keep a stockpile of the project team's favorite snacks and drinks on hand. Everyone knows how project activities can consume a lot of energy!  

Creating and operating a project control room goes a long way toward building the cohesion that allows teams to operate at a high level of performance without distractions.

Do you have any good tips for project control rooms? Maybe a recommended type of snack or drink that gets project sponsors to enthusiastically attend project meetings on a regular basis?
Posted by Kevin Korterud on: September 10, 2014 08:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Hollywood-Style Move From PM to Scrum Master

Categories: Agile

"As your mother tells you, and my mother certainly told me, it is important, she always used to say, always to try new things." 
-- Sir Philip Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs, 1991)

Cinephiles and regular movie-goers know who Sir Philip Anthony Hopkins is. Sir Anthony is a Welsh actor of film, stage and television, considered to be one of the greatest living actors.

Your journey as a project management practitioner may be similar to Sir Anthony's journey as an actor. You may have to play different roles in projects and might gained recognition for your work. As your journey continues, you may be looking for the next stop that may lead you to explore other project management disciplines, like agile -- and, in particular, the role of an agile scrum master.

From Stage to Movie Set

Versatility is a virtue of all great actors. Though Sir Anthony has experience as a stage actor, acting for a film is quite different. As a stage actor, Sir Anthony had to undergo many rehearsal hours, and experienced a specific, tight-knit team of actors and staff. Lighting and environment are essential for the performance and there is no room for error in every live show. A theatrical play delivers a well-defined "product" that may resemble what agilists call a "traditional project" under waterfall methodology. As a project manager, you "manage the stage" of the project, meeting the stakeholders' pre-defined requirements and applying your skills supported by the project team. Your project will deliver the product or service it was intended for.

But on the film set, Sir Anthony likely needed to be more flexible, since a scene may require several takes until the director is pleased. The film set is more dynamic: different locations; a different type of crew; the addition or removal of stunts, etc. The phases of a motion picture-making -- pre-production, principal cinematography and post-production -- are similar to sprints in an agile environment.

Sir Anthony makes transferring acting skills from stage to the film set seem easy. But like him, you also have transferrable skills: you can communicate, influence, orchestrate and remove roadblocks. You can use these talents to help you adjust to the new project environment.

From Hannibal to Odin

While Sir Anthony has occupied diverse roles -- from Richard Nixon (Nixon, 1995) to Odin (Thor, 2011) -- he's been successful because he's always prepared properly, trained to correctly represent the character and depended on his foundation as an actor (whatever the media).

As a project practitioner, you are likely familiar with PMI's A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)--Fifth Edition, tools and techniques; best practices; and project methodology of the company or customer you work for. Those elements complement your preparation and training as a project manager -- and lay the foundation to explore and learn new methodologies like agile.

What is your experience as a project management practitioner transitioning to scrum master?
Posted by Conrado Morlan on: September 03, 2014 10:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

To Have and To Hold

In one of my previous posts, I suggested ways to maintain documentation. And as you know, documentation is very important -- it's the essence of knowledge transfer. The beauty of documentation is that it allows us to avoid the pains of reinventing a series of events that may only reside in a person's mind as a singular experience. It can also lead us to extract some aspect that may move our project from uncertainty and unknowns to more useful information. 
So, once we have taken the precautions I mentioned in my previous post for generating clear and valid documentation, the question becomes: What project documentation should we always have and hold on to? I would suggest, at a minimum, the following:

The charter. It is the closest disclosure to everything the project should touch on. It includes a high-level look at the project: resource list, budget, timeline, assumptions, constraints, risks, other areas of impact and dependencies, a brief description and an immediate focus.

Budget background and expenditures. This information typically details the budget spending and directs you to possible future support, if any can be used again.

Sources. These include contacts and stakeholders; where information is stored; direct lines of contact; contacts who would be next in the succession; who and where to reach out to in case of additional needs; and where information stemmed from, and how it should be categorized and even prioritized.

A status report of risks and issues in their most recent form. These items show the progress that has or has not been made and is especially helpful in communicating to a new project manager (or yourself, if returning to a project) where to pick up. This status report can even help determine the project's resource needs.

Scope. This tells you what should have been the focus of the project. It also helps determine whether there needed to be an extension to this scope or if something different should be embarked upon, such as a total new project or maybe a revamping of the current scope.

Are there any types of documentation you find significant to have during a project and to hold on to after a project closes?
Posted by Bernadine Douglas on: August 28, 2014 12:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Leading With Integrity

Categories: Leadership

A few months ago, I wrote about the essential principles of leadership, and one seemed to have really struck a chord with readers. That principle is integrity. And, as I prepared to write some thoughts on the role of integrity in leadership, several examples of why integrity is so important jumped to mind. 

Take the case of the United States senator accused of plagiarizing his college thesis paper, or the seemingly lenient penalty that the National Football League commissioner laid down on one of the league's stars over a domestic violence incident, when other comparable infractions have drawn much stronger responses. 

What these two situations have in common is a lack of integrity that, on the surface, seems to be driven by taking the easy way out. Integrity is often defined as "doing the right thing when no one is watching." I don't think that is an appropriate enough definition, though. Integrity is the act of doing the right thing, even if it is extremely difficult. 

That being said, here are a few tips on how you can lead your project teams with integrity:

1. Lead honestly. The foundation of leadership and integrity is leading with honesty. You can't tell everyone everything they want to hear all the time and still get things done. Business doesn't work like that and life doesn't work like that. So to be a high-integrity leader, you need to be honest in all cases. As Erika Flora, PMP, PgMP, told me recently, being a leader requires you to "be brutally honest and provide feedback that sometimes people just don't want to hear." You can put this to work by setting clear and realistic expectations of your team, sponsors and stakeholders at the beginning, and not allowing yourself to be tied down to unrealistic expectations just to make everyone happy.

2. Take ownership. I've been in a number of organizations that faced a challenge of ownership in their projects. What that means is people are running around with big titles and the expectation is that those who report to them will jump at their slightest utterance. And as long as everything is moving along according to plan, everything is great. But as soon as the project goes off track, the "leader" is looking to point fingers and place blame to help relieve his or her responsibility. Don't do that. Being a leader and having integrity means you have to take responsibility for your performance and your team's, good or bad. As a leader, you should always start the project by telling your team something along the lines of, "Ultimately, I am responsible for the success or failure of this project, but I can't do it without you."

3. Share the spotlight. To be a strong leader of high integrity, you need to allow your team members to receive some of the glow and adulation that comes with goals achieved, projects delivered that exceed expectations and overall high performance. Allowing your team members to receive this share of the attention will make it much easier for you to get buy-in on tough issues or tricky situations in the future because they'll see you as the kind of manager who allows them to receive recognition. By the same token, when it comes to delivering bad news and accepting criticism, allowing yourself to receive the blame and not looking to share that blame with your team will engender a great deal of goodwill. And never, ever look to use one of your team members as a scapegoat for something that is ultimately your responsibility.

How do you see integrity playing out in your current team?
Posted by Dave Wakeman on: August 26, 2014 11:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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"Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric."

- Bertrand Russell

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