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.
By Conrado Morlan
For most of us, good isn’t good enough — we want to be the best at what we do.
Becoming an elite project management professional requires focus, drive and a willingness to learn from our role models, whether they are bosses, team members or co-workers performing very different functions in the organization.
You may not possess all of their abilities, but some of the traits you admire in them are within you. Becoming an elite practitioner is partly about tapping into your hidden inner potential. I believe that a crucial part of professional development is developing a mindset that will unlock your abilities.
To that end, I adapted the following mental strategies from The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive by Jim Afremow. Based on high-performance psychology research, these strategies will help you learn how to think, feel and act like one of the best.
1) See Success
Imagine yourself at the end of the project, when the product or service has been delivered and the organization has achieved its strategic goals. Visualize the ideal scenario: a satisfied project team, optimized processes, and satisfied internal and external customers.
This will help you define the optimal project execution and “turn on” success in your mindset.
2) Stay Positive
You may be assigned to a project in an area in which you lack experience. Identify your deficiencies at the beginning of the project and define a strategy on how to address them — bring an expert to your project team, identify a mentor or train yourself.
3) Do Not Panic
Projects are not a bed of roses. You will have to deal with changes in scope and risks, difficult teammates and resource constraints. Resilience is an important trait for project managers. Focus on the solution, not the problem. Dogged determination will help you reach your professional goals.
4) Be Confident
When meeting the project board, what is your body language saying? Are you smiling? Research shows that “power posing” can positively affect the brain and might even have an impact on your chances for success. Adopt the pose of a powerful project management professional!
5) Evaluate Progress
Assess yourself: How well are you emulating the behaviors of your role models? What did you do that was good? In which areas do you need to improve? What changes do you need to implement? This evaluation will give you perspective on how close or far you are from your goals.
What are your strategies for taking your performance to the next level? What do you think sets the very best project management professionals apart from the rest?
By Conrado Morlan
About five years ago, I made a New Year’s resolution that I renew every year: become a SMARTer project practitioner. This annual resolution is how I strive for excellence in my professional life.
What is a SMART project practitioner? It’s a project professional — project manager, program manager or portfolio manager — who plays multiple roles within the organization and contributes to achieving goals emanating from the organization’s mission and strategy. It stands for strategic, mindful, agile, resilient and transparent.
The SMART project professional goes beyond just managing projects. He or she helps achieve business objectives by exploring new ways to lead, execute and deliver projects supported by dispersed and diverse teams. Technical expertise is not enough — SMART professionals must adopt a business-oriented approach.
Time has proved the concept of this more expansive definition of the project professional valuable. In the 2012 video “Are You Ready?” PMI President and CEO Mark Langley discusses the new skills and capabilities required by project professionals to fully support projects. Companies are struggling to attract qualified project professionals with strong leadership and strategic and business management skills, Langley notes.
Since technical expertise is no longer enough to drive high performance,the SMART concept includes a portfolio of skills the project professional must master to meet the needs of the organization in the coming years.
Being SMART means being:
• Strategic. Demonstrate an understanding of the organization’s business goals to help it get ahead of the competition.
• Mindful. Develop cultural awareness and leadership styles to influence and inspire multicultural and multigenerational project teams. Foster strong relationships across the organization’s business functions. Adhere to the organization’s values and culture as well as the professional codes of ethics.
• Agile. Business strategy is not static and is frequently impacted by internal and external factors. Projects will need to be adjusted to remain aligned with the business strategy, so embrace change.
• Resilient. Remain committed and optimistic, and demonstrate integrity, when realigning or repairing projects facing hardships because of miscommunication and problematic behaviors as well as cross-cultural issues and conflicts.
• Transparent. Whether the project is in good shape or facing challenges, the state of projects needs to be shared promptly with relevant parties.
In summary: To become SMARTer, you need to continually strive for excellence and master new skills to support professional growth and help your organization achieve its business strategy.
Did you make (or renew) New Year’s resolutions for your professional life in 2015? If so, share them with me.
By Vivek Prakash
While high-performing team members are assets for us as project practitioners, we struggle with underperformers. Generally, we have two options with underperformers — get rid of them or help them become better performers. The first option is easy, while the second requires hard work, patience and persistence.
However, the unavailability of skilled employees nowadays can make even thefirst option difficult. So helping the team member improve is often preferable. It’s a challenge, but the rewards are great: We not only convert a underperforming asset into a performing asset but also gain power and respect.
I believe that underperformance is more a perception than a reality, more an expectation mismatch than an incapability. For example, a software company might recruit team members mainly based on technical skills like programming. But all software engineers do not work alike, because their background, behavior, style and beliefs differ.
Imagine giving two different but equally capable team members, A and B, the same task. You believe A is more of a planner, while B is action-oriented. Neither approach is wrong. Employee A will create a meticulous plan before starting, while B will work with a broader plan. A’s action will start later, while B will make a couple of course corrections during the work.
If you are a planning person, you might like A, but if you are an action-oriented person, you prefer B. For urgent work, B is suitable; for quality work, however, A might be better. Based on the type of work, urgency, expected outcome and your own nature, you would pick A or B.
So if a team member is not performing well, the reason may not be his or her incapability. What if your expectations were not correctly explained to the employee? What if the employee has no motivation to complete the task?
To improve someone’s performance, I suggest changing your role from that of a boss to mentor. Why? Because a boss gives further challenges, while a mentor provides support. A boss applies pressure while a mentor tries to find a solution.
People often cannot understand their own underperformance. Providing constructive feedback with a helping hand is the first step. If the employee did not understand expectations well, clarify them. Suggest a reward for improved performance. Money is the lowest award, and you can offer it to anyone. Instead, if possible, create milestones and praise the person for reaching them.
Always try to understand the employee’s natural inclinations. Perhaps the job doesn’t align with his or her natural abilities. Consider another assignment, offer some alternatives and do not ignore the person’s own suggestions.
One more tip: Beware of labeling a person as having a negative attitude. A negative attitude is often created by the environment, an objective mismatch or employee concerns. As soon as the environment improves, objectives align or concerns are addressed, a team member’s attitude will often become positive.
You may have faced a similar challenge in your projects. What was your experience? How did you resolve it?
As we move toward the end of the year and prepare our personal and professional goals for 2015, I’ve been thinking about how someone can go from being just a manager to being a leader.
Years ago, a big project I was working on with American Express and one of its partners ran into trouble. A lot of factors probably led to that, but one still stands out to me: I was succeeding as a manager but failing as a leader. And that was the project’s ultimate downfall.
Over the years, I’ve been able to reflect and grow from that experience. Here are three ways you can use my experience to help you become more of a leader in 2015.
1. Focus on the vision. Managers are, by their nature, implementers. We get tasked with projects that we may not have had a great deal of input into. But just because we’re helping our sponsors reach their goals doesn’t mean we can’t apply our vision as well. To focus on vision in your management and leadership, start by formulating what this project means to you, the organization, the team and the end users. Then, most importantly, personalize those aspects that are likely to inspire your team.
2. Focus on important conversations.I once read that a project manager spends 90 percent of his or her time communicating. To become a better leader, focus on the most important of these conversations: ones with your sponsor and your team. They are the people who are going to be able to inform you about changes in circumstances, troubles in a project or resource challenges. While there are lots of important people to talk with, the most important are the ones who have the most direct impact on the project’s success or failure — so prioritize those.
3. Look at the long-term.This advice ties into having a vision for your project and having conversations with your important team members and sponsors. But thinking long-term also means you need to infuse your vision and conversations with a future orientation. This might mean that you talk with your sponsor about how a project fits into a long-term strategic plan for the organization. Or, it might mean that you spend time during conversations with your team members asking about their goals and values. This can allow you to shift your actions and assignments in a way that delivers on the promise of the current project. At the same time, you will have built a stronger understanding and real relationship with your sponsors and teams that will transcend your current project and have lasting benefits for projects and years to come.
What are some of the ways you’ve helped make yourself a stronger leader, rather than solely a manager?