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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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
Vivek Prakash
Rebecca Braglio
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Rex Holmlin
Wanda Curlee

Recent Posts

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To Develop Project Managers, You Have to Understand How Adults Learn

To Develop Project Managers, You Have to Understand How Adults Learn

By Peter Tarhanidis

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Many organizations rely on traditional curriculum-based learning to develop project leaders. However, such approaches are deeply rooted in pedagogy—the teaching of children.

Even though top managers at many organizations invest in traditional project management curricula, these courses have limited utility for adult project managers, slowing down the organization from reaching goals. In my experience, organizations tend to employ disparate training methodologies while teams dive into execution with little planning. With scattered approaches to talent management and knowledge transfer, they miss project goals.

All this creates an opportunity for an enterprise-wide approach that integrates contemporary adult learning and development practices.

Leveraging this approach allows the organization to motivate and sustain increased individual and project performance to achieve the organization’s strategic plan.

In coming up with such an approach, organizations should consider several adult learning and development theories. For example, consider Malcolm Knowles’ six aspects of successful adult learning: self-directed learning, building experiences, developing social networks, the practicability of using new knowledge, the internal drive to want to understand why, and how to use new knowledge.

And they must also keep in mind how the aging project management workforce of project managers drives organizational performance. Other considerations include:

  1. Employee learning is necessary due to fast-paced changes in demographics, technology and globalization. But those employees are already busy staffing the growing demands of strategic initiatives.
  2. Adult learning models should be the foundation of your training programs.
  3. Traditional adult development theories must expand to include integrative learning models.
  4. Self-directed learning must integrate new transformational approaches that provide for content delivery and experiential learning.
  5. The impact of cognitive development processes on intelligence and aging can yield new and useful approaches to teaching and learning.

Try these eight steps to build a more flexible and integrated adult learning framework. 

  1. Identify self-directed approaches for employees to acquire knowledge, information and skills, and readily apply them to meet organizational outcomes.
  2. Create a learning environment that helps make sense of practitioner situations and allows for reflective dialogues to create solutions to problems and new knowledge.
  3. Sponsor internal networks, social media and gaming/simulation technology to distribute information.
  4. Define clear levels of learning that can be achieved by moving across boundaries. Examples of such boundaries can be small, medium, large projects or local, national, global projects.
  5. Leverage experts to instruct groups. If the organization is seen to value the role of teacher, others will want to teach as well, reinforcing a continuous cycle of development.
  6. Encourage learning on the job, so that an employee’s learning is based on understanding the effects of his or her actions in an environment.
  7. Launch communities of practice that are based on the influence of the community to develop the group expertise.
  8. Engage quick feedback through co-participation or co-emergence of learning based on everyday interactions through peers, leaders or certain situations.

New integrative learning approaches are required to increase project managers’ competence while motivating and sustaining older adult learners.

By applying these practices to critical needed competencies, organizations can create new capabilities to meet their strategic plans.

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: August 04, 2015 09:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Hiring a Project Manager? Here Are 4 Tips for Leveraging the Interview Process

 

By Kevin Korterud

 

 

It’s not uncommon, particularly on larger programs, that project practitioners have to assemble a team of project managers. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to hire project managers we know. But quite often, we have to resort to a formal application process.

I get many questions about how to find the right project manager for a role. The process of interviewing and selecting a project manager requires preparation, efficiency and the ability to quickly focus on the skills needed for a project.

Here are four tips for navigating the interview process—and identifying the ideal candidate. 

 

1. Read and Rank Résumés—Before Interviews  

It is essential to prepare for the interviews. Good preparation practices include:

  • Think about the primary behavioral skills as well as industry/technical skills that the role requires.
  • Read each résumé in detail, looking for the desired skill profile.
  • Rank the résumés based on the desired skill profile.
  • Create a list of scenario-based questions that reflect those skills and the desired responses.

 

2. Set the Stage  

Where you conduct the interview can be as important as what you ask. Secure a location that makes for easy dialogue with minimum distractions and supports your scenario-based questions.

The best location is in a program “control room.” These rooms typically have project schedules, metrics, risks and issues displayed on their walls. Having real-time project artifacts as a reference point promotes both active dialogue and the ability to highlight examples related to the scenario-based questions. If a control room is not available, create a temporary one in a conference room where you can tack up project management artifacts.

 

3. Ask the Right Questions

The candidate has probably already gone through an initial screening. So resist the temptation to ask questions that could have been posed before or “dead-end” questions that don’t shed light on a candidate’s project management skills. Dead-end questions include:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Share your strengths/weaknesses.
  • Why did you leave your last role?  
  • Why should I hire you?

Scenario-based questions that bring out the depth and breadth of a person’s project management skills include:

  • Why did you become a project manager?
  • Share some accomplishments and learning experiences.
  • How do you deal with challenging stakeholders?  
  • What are your favorite project management metrics?
  • What techniques do you use to get a project back on track?

 

4. Leave a Positive Impression     

Sometimes a candidate isn’t a good fit for a specific project management role. If that occurs, consider the interview to be an investment in the future—perhaps you will need a project manager with that skill set for a later project. Be sure to stress this to the candidate. If there are other project manager roles open, explain that you will route the person’s résumé for consideration for those roles.

No matter the decision, it’s essential to leave a positive impression with the candidate. A positive impression left with candidates also helps attract referrals to your role.

 

Interviewing project managers can feel like as much work as the project itself. Good preparation, execution and decision-making during the process can help to quickly fill your open project manager role—as well as build a pipeline of candidates for the future.

What techniques do you use to interview project managers? 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: May 01, 2015 01:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

How to Use Your Position to Improve Team Members

As a project manager, do you realize how many people are observing you? It’s true—in addition to all of our varied responsibilities, we also have team members constantly watching and depending on us for their next moves.

To take advantage of all this attention to benefit the project and organization, a project manager should always remember the three “i” words: help team members improve, be an inspiring professional model, and illustrate project management excellence.

Improve. First, be aware of the wealth of talent your resources hold, as well as what their professional development needs are. You may want to cross-train team members so project activities can continue even if someone leaves the project.

In addition, in some organizations, project managers are asked to contribute to team members’ performance reviews, which gives you another opportunity to suggest areas of improvement. It’s also helpful to pass along training events that you know could interest and enhance the skill sets of your team members.

Inspire. Whether or not members of your team want to become project managers, you should always be a good example of one. How you act on the job says a lot about your profession and your organization, and will be a cue for others to follow.

In addition, you can use your status as project manager to show team members that they can be leaders in whatever position they hold.

Illustrate. Demonstrate project management hard and soft skills. For example, you could show a disorganized team member better techniques for issue and defect logs, or help a struggling team member learn ways to communicate with stakeholders more confidently.

Consistently turning these three words into action takes conscious effort. The good news is that project managers have a fantastic opportunity to be a partner in their team members’ growth. 

Do you practice these leadership skills to foster growth in your team members? What other leadership skills would you add to the list?

 

Posted by Bernadine Douglas on: March 24, 2015 10:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

3 Project Management Lessons From March Madness

Here in the United States, it’s that time of year again: March Madness. If you aren’t familiar with the phrase, it refers to the annual NCAA men’s college basketball tournament taking place throughout the month. Sixty-four qualifying teams from around the country compete for the national championship.

In a sense, the coaches of these teams act as project managers, managing resources on a schedule to reach a specific goal. They can teach us a great deal about strategic leadership and aligning a project to an organization’s goals.

Because each member of any team in the tournament has different ambitions and desires, it is the responsibility of the coach to figure out how to manage and integrate these competing interests in a way that will lead to a successful outcome. Sound familiar, project managers?

Whether your goal is to cut down basketball nets to celebrate winning a championship or bring your project in on time and on budget, here are a few tips for successfully aligning team members to achieve your organization’s goals.

1. Integrate all members into a cohesive team. Most of the time as project managers and leaders, we want the best available talent on our team. Unfortunately, having “the best” isn’t always a sure route to success. It’s far more important to focus on developing talent into a cohesive team that performs and maximizes its efforts.

This is a challenge that Villanova University’s Jay Wright had to faceafter taking the school’s Wildcats to the 2009 tournament’s semifinals.

After that year’s strong performance, lots of talented players wanted to play for the team. Coach Wright accepted a handful of standout players into the school’s basketball program, and in the following years standout individual talents came to dominate his coaching philosophy.

But more talent ended up delivering worse results. After years of subpar Villanova performances in the NCAA tournament, Wright has returned to his old coaching style, where team and personal accomplishments are aligned. One takes care of the other.

The lesson for project managers: Raw talent isn’t enough. It’s your job to make sure individual team members’ goals align to the project goals as much as possible.

2. Serve the team first.As project managers, it’s easy to forget that we are team members as well. Without the best efforts of our team members, we won’t succeed. That’s why it’s important to put the team first—and to always think about how your efforts can improve the team.

The career of legendary University of North Carolina coach Dean Smithillustrates this point. For example, he created a “coach’s honor roll” to recognize the team-oriented efforts of specific players. When the team flew to a game, he and the team’s assistant coaches always sat at the back of the plane, because cramped seats in coach would be uncomfortable for seven-foot-tall players.

As a project manager, put your team first by making sure you highlight your team’s successes and accomplishments during the project. As much as possible, shield them from the demands of sponsors and stakeholders who may have a particular agenda they are trying to advance.

3. Build connections.Possibly the most successful coach in NCAA basketball history is Duke University’s Mike Krzyzewski. One of his great revelations as a coach was the importance of creating connections between team members so that everyone shared in the ultimate goal of a successful basketball program.

As project managers, we often face challenges in this regard because many of our team members may be in different sites, working remotely. Yet you can still do a great deal to foster connections by having group calls, encouraging team members to collaborate on solutions and promoting a culture of inclusion by reinforcing behaviors that will lead your teams to work more closely.

Whether they are in the sports world or other industries, well-run projects generally feature tightly connected team members who put the project goal above themselves, and service-oriented leaders who help steer the team toward the winning basket.

How do you build teams that can achieve your organization’s goals?

Posted by David Wakeman on: March 17, 2015 08:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

How Talent Mapping Can Shore Up Your Project’s Future

By Bernadine Douglas

Every team member brings a unique skill set to a project. It’s easy enough for observant project managers to take note of individuals’ varying backgrounds and skills. What’s harder is using different team member talents strategically to aid a project when the going gets tough.

Here are a few tips for practitioners looking to maximize their team’s talents to keep a project on track.   

The How. The first step is to get to know your team members. On many fast-paced projects, it may not be easy to find time to have general conversations with people. But if small time slots arise, be sure to take advantage of them. The payoff could be quick: Even during a casual conversation, a team member may share an insight for getting a task done in an innovative way or information about a skill you didn’t realize he or she had.  

The What. It’s important to map your team’s skills while keeping potential resource shortages in mind. You want to make sure that one aspect of the project can continue if the point person for that area on your team becomes unavailable. Ideally, you’ll be able to identify a backup on the team with the right skills to step in if necessary. If that proves impossible, you may have to get approval from another project manager in the organization to bring in someone from another project to meet a tight deadline. (This has happened to me.)

The When. Don’t be afraid of being flexible. In a budget-constrained situation, I have had to quickly train a team member on a skill so a project could continue. The key is finding a team member with the availability and willingness to learn on the fly. 

Have you mapped your team’s varied skill sets? Have you thought about whom you’d turn to if a highly valuable team member were suddenly unavailable? I’d love to hear your project contingency plans.

Posted by Bernadine Douglas on: February 18, 2015 07:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)
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