Focus on the Team, Not the Project, to Succeed
Every project manager has his or her own way of managing projects. Most focus on the project’s needs and manage the team accordingly. But I focus on the team itself to ensure the success of the project.
The reason is simple: A happy team is a productive team. That’s fairly obvious. The point I want to underscore is that project managers have more control over team members’ happiness than one might think. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you work to make your teams motivated and effective.
Team members need to work together well to produce the best work. Good work relationships can result from people who’ve been working together for a long time or from personalities that match. Either way, if you have the luxury of building the team yourself, try matching people accordingly.
If team members are frustrated with one another, it’s your job to step in before it begins to harm the project. Solutions can include conflict resolution or helping the team members discuss issues by acting as a moderator.
Another step toward achieving a happy team is to prevent roadblocks that might slow them down. For example, make sure the project’s documentation is clear to the team. Sometimes what is obvious to you is not necessarily obvious to others. Unclear information can waste time, prevent work from being done or mislead people, causing the need to redo work.
It might also be that team members cannot find the information they need. Make sure to take the extra step to remind them where specific information is when you know they will need it. If you send what they need even before they ask, they keep their momentum rather than stalling while waiting for answers.
Outside sources that frustrate your team can be a little tricky, since these are out of your control. However, there are steps you can take to try to mitigate this: clear and constant communication with third parties, a mitigation plan in case they provide something different from what was expected, and managing the team’s expectations around these third parties.
In the end, managing your projects with a team-first focus isn’t all that different from typical project management. If you always remember that an unhappy team is an unproductive team, it won’t be hard make this approach second nature.
How do you make sure your team is happy?
By Lynda Bourne
Organizational agility is being promoted as the silver bullet to create value and eliminate project failures. However, decades of research show that factors like methodologies and standard operating procedures (SOPs) are essential underpinnings of consistent success.
Are these mutually exclusive propositions? Or is there a more subtle answer to this apparent contradiction?
First a bit of background: There’s decades of research looking at various maturity models, ranging from the old CMM (now CMMI) to PMI’s OPM3. The consistent findings are that investing in creating organizational maturity demonstrates a strong return on investment. Developing and using a pragmatic methodology suited to the needs of the organization reduces failure, increases value generation, and outcomes become more consistent and predictable. These findings are supported with studies in the quality arena, including Six Sigma, which consistently show that good SOPs reduce undesirable variability and enhance quality.
But given that every methodology consists of a series of SOPs, where’s the room for agile? In fact, you can get the best of both worlds by embedding organizational agility into your procedures, methodologies and management.
Solid Standard Operating Procedures
Getting your standard operating procedures right is a good starting point. SOPs should define and assist project teams in the performance of standard processes. SOPs also should provide templates, guidelines and other elements that make doing the task easier and quicker.
Key success factors for SOPs are:
The enemy of useful SOPs is a dictatorial unit focused on imposing its view of how work should be performed in a bureaucratic and dogmatic way.
Methodologies combine various SOPs and other requirements into a framework focused on achieving project success. A good methodology must also be lean, light and scalable so it is fit for use in different circumstances. Every project undertaken by an organization is by definition unique, therefore the methodology used by the organization must allow appropriate flexibility—one size does not fit all, ever!
The PMBOK® Guide describes it this way: “Good practice does not mean that the knowledge described should always be applied uniformly to all projects; the organization and/or the project management team is responsible for determining what is appropriate for any given project.” A good methodology incorporates agility by including processes for scaling and adjusting the methodology to fit each project.
The final element in blending agility with sensible processes is an agile approach to management. But agile doesn’t mean anarchy. It means the flexible application of the right processes to achieve success.
The so-called military doctrine of command and control is outdated. The rigid, process-oriented concept was replaced by the idea of “auftragstaktik,” or directive command, in the Prussian army following its defeat by Napoleon at the battles of Jena and Auerstedt in 1806.
The core concept of auftragstaktik is “bounded initiative.” Provided people within the organization have proper training and the organizational culture is strong, the leader’s role is to clearly outline his/her intentions and rationale. Subordinate personnel can then formulate their own plan of action for the tasks they are allocated and design appropriate responses to achieve the leader’s objectives based on their understanding of the actual situation.
But the process is not random. SOPs define how each specific task should be accomplished, and bounded initiative allows team members to optimize the SOP for the specific circumstances to best support the leader’s overall intent.
Helmuth von Moltke, chief of staff of the Prussian army for 30 years, believed in detailed planning and rigorous preparation. But he also accepted that change was inevitable, famously saying, “No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.”
Projects are no different! Both the methodology and the project management plan need to encourage bounded agility to lock in opportunities and mitigate problems. Effective military leaders were doing this more than 150 years before the Agile Manifesto was published. It’s time for project management to catch up!
How much bounded initiative does your methodology allow?
The PMBOK 5th Edition Hindi Translation Team Gets Recognition
This piece continues my previous blog posts, “The Techniques That Don't Resolve Conflict” and “The Only Technique That Resolves Conflicts,” which looked at why no technique other than collaborate/problem-solve truly resolves a conflict.
Researcher Bruce Tuckman suggested that a project team generally goes through the forming, storming, norming and performing stages. In this post, I will discuss a team that skipped the storming stage—or, rather, they managed their conflicts so well that they spent most of their time in the performing stage. Fortunately, I was part of the team.
PMI India took up the task to provide the PMBOK Guide—Fifth Edition in Hindi to promote project management in Hindi-speaking regions. The project initiated in February 2013 and aimed to finish by August 2013 so the new Hindi version could launch at the PMI National Conference in Delhi in September 2013. We had only six months, and the team was yet to be recruited. We had to onboard a translator and form a Translation Verification Committee (TVC) of subject matter experts who were native Hindi speakers with sound knowledge of the PMBOK Guide—Fifth Edition.
The cover of the PMBOK 5th Edition Hindi version.
PMI India already had some volunteers for the TVC. We selected a few names and started interviewing. We also tried to persuade people who were part of the TVC for the Fourth Edition to participate. We intended to select eight people for the TVC, but we settled for seven.
Facing and Overcoming the Challenges
After finalizing the team, the kickoff meeting happened on 31 March, 2013. So we had only five months to complete the job. We met the first time to understand each other and set the agenda. We prepared a schedule with our best estimates. It turned out those estimates had us completing the project in October! That was not acceptable, but we decided to start work on the first three chapters and revisit the schedule later. We decided on one face-to-face meeting per month on a weekend and to connect via a conference call in between.
In the first call, we could see what we feared most. There was a lot of discussion to select the right word and sentences, and we couldn’t make much progress.
At the second meeting, the target was to finalize Chapter 1 on the first day, but again there was a lot of discussion about choosing the right word, and we could not complete the chapter. It was a matter of concern now.
We decided to set ground rules:
At the third meeting, we lost one of the team members. Before the fourth meeting, another was transferred out of the country, reducing his availability significantly. Now the only way to complete the project before 31 August was to take less time in review. The only way to do that without losing quality was to keep our conflicts in control. Forming the above rules turned out to be the most critical factor. Obeying these rules reduced unnecessary discussion and considerably improved the pace. We completed all the activities by 27 August, leaving two weeks for printing and publishing.
Working on this project, I closely observed how a team can manage its conflicts and focus on delivering the work. The following five factors were most critical:
Do you have a similar experience or opposite to it? Please share your view.
Hello, project manager? You are needed in the meeting room; you are needed for an online chat; you are needed on the phone.
Typical, right? You may feel overwhelmed if you’re expected to be in all places at once. It can help to realize there are only three realms in which you’re truly needed: physical, mental and electronic. Here’s how to address each.
Physical: If possible, try to be physically present for your team. Walk around and talk to stakeholders, team members and others to gather details about your projects.
This provides you with the current status and tidbits that will allow you to be proactive on your projects. It also lets you build rapport with team members.
Mental: You don’t have to be an expert in a programming language or even in the company’s industry. It bodes well, though, when you have some idea of the jargon for conversations with your stakeholders. You’ll want to be aware of the environment—all the external and internal factors and their impact on your projects.
You’ll also need to stay abreast of the benefits your projects bring to the organization. Project managers have to stay mentally focused on their project’s objectives and bottom line.
Try thinking about lessons learned from previous projects to help you gain understanding of how to address potential problems. Investigate tools that allow you to present project results to all levels of management and team members, too.
A detailed report on planned versus actual data is a source that can be shared in various audience-specific formats. You may be called on at any moment for project results and can rely on these tools to support your efforts to be mentally there.
Electronic: Social media and mobile technology allow people to be reached easily. Apps let you track and stay in touch with others. You will want to take advantage of these programs to gain information and respond to concerns about your projects. In many cases, they allow us to address and resolve concerns more quickly.
No matter how you do it, being a project manager means you have to be accessible. We have to manage our projects, not let them manage us.
By Kevin Korterud
After many years of challenges and successes as a project manager, I took a moment to reflect on what made me leave my functional role and embrace project management. While I enjoyed working as an individual contributor with a particular function, project managers seemed to have a unique set of skills that I both respected and envied.
Here are four factors that set me off down the project management road. Hopefully, these insights will prove helpful to people considering project management roles and project managers who might need to re-energize themselves.
1. Projects Allow You To Build Things
When I was growing up, I loved to build models of aircraft, ships and cars. The process of making something interesting out of a disparate set of parts, selection of paints and sometimes vague instructions appealed to me. While sometimes the final product did not look exactly as I hoped, the journey helped build cognitive and visualization skills that made the next model turn out better.
Projects are not unlike model building. You have a set of parts (people, process and technologies), paint colors to select (requirements, communications) and quite often limited instructions from stakeholders on how to achieve success.
However, projects have additional complexities. You need to create the instructions (a project plan), determine who helps with what parts (project work activities) and coordinate when the parts are assembled.
2. The “People Factor” of Projects
As a functional specialist, I began to observe how effectively selecting, engaging and guiding people had a great impact on the project’s outcome. Often, the ability to produce a good team had more of an impact than my individual contributions.
One of a project manager’s most powerful skills is the ability to form and lead a team. While processes and technologies tend to behave in a somewhat predictable manner, people often do not.
As I grew as a project manager, I found that in addition to core project management skills, I needed to also build soft skills. These included: verbal communications, presentation skills, clarity in written communications and more.
In retrospect, working with people on project teams to achieve successful outcomes as well as helping them grow professionally has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my project management career.
3. Projects Yield Visible Results
When I was a functional specialist, I was most commonly tasked with creating and implementing a set of project deliverables. I was rarely on a project long enough to see the complete implementation and final results.
When I became a project manager, I began to see how I was responsible for the outcomes that created visible results. The project’s desired outcomes were more than the successful installation of a process or technology. It had to create a benefit once adopted by the project stakeholders.
The notion of producing visible results from a project can be very exciting. I was once involved in leading several projects that touched on the health and safety of employees. There was no greater professional and personal satisfaction than to complete a project that someday might save someone’s life.
4. Projects Build Personal and Professional Character
We all have days where things go so bad, we think, “If I could only return to my former role before becoming a project manager.” Project managers have to deal with constant uncertainty, a wide range of emotions, a lack of resources, schedule conflicts, missed milestones and more. However, all of these challenges have unintended positive consequences.
I once worked for a project manager who had been assigned to more failed or failing projects than anyone else in her group. It was a source of pride for her that these challenging projects strengthened her professional abilities and her character. By constantly having to work through adversities, she quickly built advanced skills and rapidly developed her confidence level.
In many ways, projects mirror situations we face in everyday life. By learning to adapt to ever-changing conditions, we grow in our ability to deal with difficulties, be they in a project plan or missing the train to work. I found that when I became a project manager, my professional and personal skills grew at an accelerated pace.
So what got you to become a project manager?