By Dave Wakeman
Last month, I wrote about how you can become a more strategic project manager. This month, I want to continue exploring the topic by focusing on a few ways to make sure your projects have strategic focus.
1. Always Ask “Why?”
This is the essential question for any business professional. But I am aware that asking the question can be extremely difficult—especially in the organizations that need that question asked the most.
Asking why you are taking on a project is essential to the project’s success or failure. Using the question can help you frame the role that project plays in the organization’s goals. It can also allow you early on to find out if the project is poorly aligned with the long-term vision.
This can make you look like a champ because you can make course corrections or bring up challenges much earlier, saving you and your organization time and money.
When asking about a project’s strategic value, you may find it helpful to phrase it in less direct ways, such as: “How does this project fit into the work we were doing with our previous project?” or “This seems pretty consistent with the project we worked on several months back—are they connected?”
2. Bring Ideas
As the focal point of knowledge, project managers should know where a project is in meeting its goals and objectives. So if you know a project is losing its strategic focus (and therefore value), generate ideas on how to make course corrections or improve the project based on the information you have.
There is nothing worse than having a team member drop a heap of issues on us with no easy solutions and no ideas on how to move forward. As the leader of your projects, don’t be that person. To help you come up with ideas to move the project toward success and strategic alignment, think along the following lines:
· If all the resources and effort expended on the project up to the current roadblock were removed from consideration, would it still make sense to move forward with the project?
· What actions can we take that will help alleviate some of the short-term pain?
· Knowing what I know now, would I suggest we start or stop this project? Why?
3. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!
On almost any project I work on, more communication is a good idea. This is because the more the lines of communication are open, the more likely I’m to get information that will be helpful to me and my ability to achieve the end results that I’m looking for.
As with most things in project management, communication is a two-way street and loaded with possible pain points and missteps. As a project manager looking to deliver on the strategic promise of your projects, your communications should always be focused on information you can use to take action and move your project along.
To effectively communicate as a strategic project manager, ask questions like these:
· What do I need to know about a project that will have a material impact on its success or failure?
· What can I share with my team or stakeholders that might help them understand my decisions?
· What information does my team need to take better actions?
As you can see, adjusting your vision to become more strategic isn’t too far removed from what it takes to be an effective project manager. The key difference is making sure you understand the “why” of the project. From there, you need to push forward your ideas and to communicate openly and honestly.
What do you think? How do you bring a strategic focus to your projects?
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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?
Seattle's Troubled Tunnel: 3 Communications Tips for Regaining the Public's Trust
Human Aspects of PM,
PM & the Economy,
PM Think About It,
Categories: Best Practices, Change Management, Communication, Complexity, Ethics, Generational PM, Government, Human Aspects of PM, Leadership, Lessons Learned, PM & the Economy, PM Think About It, Program Management, Project Delivery, Project Failure, Project Planning, Social Responsibility, Stakeholder, Strategy, Teams
One of the biggest public works projects in the United States right now has some major problems. It’s a more than $3 billion effort in Seattle, Washington to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, an aging elevated highway on the city’s waterfront, with a 2-mile-long tunnel. If you’ve been keeping an eye on the project, you know that the tunnel-boring machine (dubbed “Bertha”) broke down more than a year ago, creating various challenges and overruns. Public outcry is mounting.
Now, if you’re like me and believe in the power of communication to ensure that projects run more smoothly, the tunnel project has highlighted the need for more openness, better stakeholder management and speaking to your audience in understandable ways, instead of falling into buzzwords or corporate speak.
If I were working on the project right now, here are three things I would look at to regain the public’s trust and help everyone in Seattle and the state of Washington understand exactly where the project is.
1. Be willing to convey incomplete information. The project’s big challenge is that the machine built specifically for drilling the tunnel encountered a setback when it struck a metal pipe during the excavation process. Unfortunately, it took project leaders over a week to convey the extent of Bertha’s problem, the course of action and any sort of timeline to get things back on track. Since Bertha stopped working in December 2013, information has trickled out to stakeholders.
The project’s leaders could have set a much different tone early on by stating what they know and what it means to the project—along with an acknowledgement that they really aren’t 100 percent sure what the solution is, and a clear statement that they will work to provide status updates to all stakeholders as often as possible.
Instead, it’s been “hard to get straight answers,” as the Seattle radio station KUOW put it.
2. Be honest. This really goes hand in hand with the first point about having the confidence to convey information that is accurate, even if it is incomplete. The public has begun to doubt that project leaders are being honest about the tunnel’s current status and future. This is partly because when the city’s department of transportation (DOT) or the state government has updated the community about the project, they have given information that seems farfetched and is tough to believe in light of Bertha’s lack of progress.
Case in point: A DOT official recently toldSeattle’s City Council that the project was “70-percent complete.” That claim was met with a great deal of skepticism by journalists and members of the community.
The lesson for project managers is: Don’t fudge information to avoid blowback. In the long run, you are putting your project at a strategic disadvantage because you may lose funding or you may come under heavier oversight…or worse. So just explain things in an honest and forthcoming manner.
3. Be consistent in the delivery of information. A lack of consistent communications has been one of the big failings for the Seattle project team. And when there’s an information void, it will usually be filled by something you aren’t going to like. In this instance, the lack of communications has led to a real breakdown of trust.
That’s why you need to make a plan for communicating consistently with stakeholders. It should include the best ways to communicate with specific stakeholder groups, and a plan for gathering accurate, up-to-date information from the project team. To ensure timely gathering, build the consistent delivery of information into day-to-day project activities. Set a schedule of when you want your team members to communicate information to you, and hold them accountable.
In turn, you need to inform key stakeholders of when and how you’ll communicate information to them, and then stick to that plan.
In most cases, communications comes down to recognizing the importance of clarity in effective project leadership. In Seattle, you can see what a lack of a clear process can do to the trust between stakeholders and the project team. I’m confident that most unsuccessful projects began to unravel when communications stopped being clear and consistent.
What do you think?
Give Your Project a Home
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?
3 Tips for Remote Control
A relatively new challenge for many project managers is managing remote project teams. As our capacity to work remotely has increased thanks to greater connectivity and skilled employees who aren't restricted by geography, a new challenge has opened up: How do we effectively manage our remote project teams? Here are three ways that I've found success working with mine:
1. Manage based on outputs. Focus on results -- place an emphasis on what must be delivered, not what activities are taking place. If you find yourself doing the latter, begin the shift simply: The next time someone asks what you need him or her to work on, offer an assignment that is based on a deliverable and that is time-sensitive. That's because activities are not the best metric for measuring team members' participation. Plus, if you are measuring for an end goal, you can often find better and more creative solutions to problems because everyone's on the same page in regard to the goal you are pursuing.
2. Set a clear communication plan. When dealing with a remote project team, it's important to set a clear communication plan -- and to stick to it. If not, the void in communications will be filled by baseless speculation and observations that won't be helpful to your team's success. You can begin to set a clear plan by telling team members exactly when you are going to begin communicating with each member and working with your team to make sure the methods you choose are best for communicating with them. Conversely, you should also work together to create a plan that lays out the most effective ways to reach and communicate with you. Doing so ensures open lines of communication and a proper expectation of what positive, productive communications look like despite the distance.
3. Establish a chain of command. When managing from afar, it's tough for project managers to let go of the desire to manage and control every aspect of the project. But you need to accept that this is nearly impossible, because you're likely to have team members in various countries and time zones. You aren't going to be able to effectively manage every aspect of your projects, so setting a chain of command is vital to project success. This chain of command can be in the form of a work flowchart, for example. The important thing is to have a plan that allows the project to continue to move forward, even if you are half a world away.
If you've never managed a remote team, becoming comfortable with it takes time and testing. But if you start with these three tips, you will find it much easier to take on some of the other challenging aspects of managing remote teams, such as cultural sensitivity, team building, and disconnecting so that you can refresh yourself mentally and physically.
What are your basic tips for managing remote teams?