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.

About this Blog


View Posts By:

Cameron McGaughy
Marian Haus
Lynda Bourne
Lung-Hung Chou
Bernadine Douglas
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Roberto Toledo
Cecilia Wong
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller

Recent Posts

Leadership Tips from Entrepreneur and Sports Legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson

Passion and Rigor Drive PMI’s Project of the Year Award Winner

End a Business Relationship and Keep Your Cred

Fair's Fair

Give Your Project a Home

Leadership Tips from Entrepreneur and Sports Legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson

Categories: PMI

A legend on the basketball court and in the business world, Earvin “Magic” Johnson understands how to build all-star teams.

“You’ve got to know every teammate. I know the strengths and weaknesses of everybody that works with me — what they can and can’t handle,” said Mr. Johnson, who kicked off PMI® Global Congress — North America in Phoenix, Arizona, USA. “It’s about understanding how they can get to the next level. When they believe that you’re for them, then you can lead them.”

Mr. Johnson knows how to get teams to play at the top of their game: After leading the Los Angeles Lakers to five National Basketball Association championships, the Hall of Famer went on to become the most successful African-American businessman in the United States. As CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises, he operates subsidiaries spanning the entertainment, foodservice and healthcare industries, among others.

Despite that track record, he never rests on his laurels. “I’m still learning, I’m still growing, I still have room for growth—and I know you do too,” Mr. Johnson told the 2,200 attendees gathered from 60 countries around the world.

Without that commitment to learning, project practitioners and their organizations risk being left in the dust.

“The marketplace is moving so fast. If you can’t adapt and adjust, it’s going to move right past you,” he said.

He urged audience members to conduct biannual SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analyses — for themselves and their businesses.

And before they begin planning projects, organizations must understand the environment they operate in. When his company gets a new contract, Mr. Johnson said, “we have town hall meetings and listen to what people say. And then we deliver what they’re looking for.”

To get the right results, organizations must go in with the right strategy — and then make sure team members are on board and have the right skills to get the job done.

“You have to sell your team on the strategy so they can be successful,” he said. “The best basketball players I know made their teammates better. Ask yourself, how can you make the people you work with better?”

Congress attendees appreciated the “magic tricks.”

"There's a lot of truth in his approach to life — of the importance of hard work and relying on the right people for the job,” says Harold Mosley Jr., PMP, director, project management processes, Zachry Industrial Inc., San Antonio, Texas, USA. “You have to set high expectations and get the right people to fulfill them.”

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: October 27, 2014 03:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Passion and Rigor Drive PMI’s Project of the Year Award Winner

Categories: PMI

Talk about project management in action: When an electrical fire sparked a mass evacuation of the Sheraton Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, the PMI team had just hours to relocate its Professional Awards Gala. “That’s the power of risk management!” said Ricardo Triana, PMP, chair, 2014 PMI board of directors.

Against a chaotic backdrop, the team executed an emergency move from the Sheraton Hotel to the Convention Center. They quickly coordinated catering, set up the room and notified all attendees of the new venue. Despite the shift, the awards ceremony was a success.

The evening celebrated the best of the best in project, program and portfolio management. In a world characterized by rapid change, innovation is becoming a necessity in the business world.

Rio Tinto Alcan took home the top prize for its AP60 Phase 1 project. In a large-scale plant, the company implemented a cutting-edge smelting technology that produces 40 percent more aluminum at lower costs and fewer emissions.

The project team not only came in on schedule and on budget, despite a scope increase, it dramatically overhauled the region’s poor safety culture.

“I think it’s quite an achievement. It’s something we’ll remember for a long time,” said Michel Charron, project director, Rio Tinto Alcan, a PMI Global Executive Council member. He credited the passion and rigor of the team—including senior project manager Andre Noël, PMP—with driving the project’s success.

Winner Rio Tinto Alcan was honored with two other finalists.

Energy Systems Integration Facility at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, Colorado, USA: Smart risk management—including careful risk mitigation and a staggered release of contingency funds—allowed the project team to maximize the value of a US$135 million facility and supercomputer. Scientists at the facility now study the integration of renewable energy into the grid.

Access Health Connecticut, Hartford, Connecticut, USA: Despite fluctuating requirements and just 10 months to complete a project that would typically take three years, the project team built an online health exchange for Connecticut’s 365,000 uninsured citizens. The project exceeded federal enrollment goals by 245 percent.

For more on these projects, read PM Network®’s finalist round-up.  Then, check out videos of all the finalists on PMI’s YouTube channel and extended inside looks in upcoming issues of PM Network®.

Michel Charron credits the AP60 team's passion and rigor in winning PMI's Project of the Year Award.

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: October 26, 2014 03:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

End a Business Relationship and Keep Your Cred

As much as we wish these things didn’t occur, we sometimes find ourselves having to leave a project early or terminate a business engagement. This is always difficult to do, and how you do it can help you maintain your integrity and credibility throughout the transition.


Recently, I had to terminate a business relationship myself. Here are a few lessons that I learned that you can apply the next time you are in a similar situation.


1.   Place the blame on yourself. I know you wouldn’t be leaving a project or quitting a business relationship if it were all your fault, but the key thing here is that you need to buck up and take responsibility for the business arrangement ending. There are several ways you can frame it to take the emphasis for the decision away from the other party. For example: “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the ability to deliver the work to you in a manner that you have grown accustomed to” or “I find myself at a point where I don’t feel my presence best serves the project, and I think a new set of eyes is going to be helpful to getting things back on track.” Or, you can come up with your own. The point is that you take a little of the emphasis off the party that you are ending the relationship with and place it on yourself. This will lessen any bad blood or negativity from the decision. It is important to note that you must cast the decision in terms of your inability to continue to serve the client in a manner that he or she deserves.

2.   If possible, present options for replacements.If you find yourself at a point of no return and need out of a business relationship, you can soften the blow even more if you provide alternatives. The question you are probably asking yourself is, “If I can’t work with this person or on this project, why would I refer them to someone else?” But the truth is, we are all in different businesses and at different stages of our career — and while your threshold for some clients may be zero, someone just starting out or looking to find a different focus may be more than willing to accept a challenge that you consider unnecessary. This goes back to the first point: If you can’t serve the client in the way that he or she deserves, you are doing the client a favor by removing yourself from the project and helping him or her find someone who can do better.  

3.   Be prepared for blowback.Even when these things go great, there will be some sort of blowback or negative impact. You might have spelled everything out with as much tact as a veteran diplomat, but you are still leaving the business relationship with a jilted partner who may lash out to other members of your organization or other potential business partners. In this instance, you can try to contain any negative feedback or impact on you and your career by preparing a standard statement that you give to everyone that explains your role in the dissolution of the relationship. It should cast a bad situation in the most favorable light for you. One I have used is: “I am sorry the project didn’t work out, but I made a series of unwise choices that made my effectiveness impossible, and to best serve the project, I felt it was best for me to step away.” That’s it — it isn’t perfect, but neither is the situation you find yourself in.


How have you found success in ending business relationships?


Join meon December 4, 2014, in my upcoming seminar on leadership in project management.

Posted by David Wakeman on: October 22, 2014 05:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

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 (2)

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)