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


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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
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rebecca Braglio
Rex Holmlin
Christian Bisson

Recent Posts

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Focus on the Team, Not the Project, to Succeed

Categories: Teams

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?

Posted by Christian Bisson on: October 06, 2015 06:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

What Project Managers Can Learn From One Very Successful College Football Coach

by Dave Wakeman

I’m always looking for a way to tie project management to college football, and the start of football season is a great time to do just that. I went to the University of Alabama, which has been on one of the greatest runs in college football history over the last nine years. This is due in part to the vision of coach Nick Saban.

If you don’t know much about college football and Nick Saban, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with project management. But Saban’s success stems in part from his coaching philosophy, which he calls “The Process.” His reasoning is straightforward, as he once said: “Process guarantees success. A good process produces good results.”

Here are several lessons project managers can learn from coach Saban’s process.

Culture is everything: Every organization has a culture. Some are well thought-out, methodical inventions imprinted through consistent actions and accountabilities. Other organizations, not so much.

At the University of Alabama, “The Process” is at its heart a cultural tool that seeps into every action that every member of the football program takes over the course of the year. Saban is consistent in his discussion of creating a culture that allows his team to focus on the aspects of their “jobs” that create success.

As a manager and leader of your projects, you might be able to deliver the same sort of project culture by clearly stating your expectations for communications, reporting or meetings—or all three.

Regardless of your priorities, take a look at how you can communicate the kind of project culture you want to create.

Success is a process: As leaders, we have to balance two competing interests: the long-term success of our projects and our organization and the short-term tasks involved in delivering us to the long-term outcomes.

One of the big things Saban has done at Alabama is emphasize setting long-term goals for each team and the program, while also consistently focusing his players on the task at hand. This most readily plays out in his insistence that his players focus only on winning the play of the moment, treating each play as its own mission and never looking at the scoreboard.

You might help your teams by setting clear long-term project goals, but then breaking them down into phases with each phase having its own individual stages with a beginning and end. More emphasis should be placed on the specific stage than the overall project.

Communication is key: The image of Saban as a fiery hard-to-please taskmaster may have some validity. But one thing that often goes unnoticed is that he’s typically toughest on his teams when they’re winning and have a tendency to lose focus. When the team is losing a game, he tends to be very encouraging and measured.

As the leader of your team, you can put this idea to work by looking at the way you communicate with your own team and think about what is and what isn’t effective. Maybe you’ll find you’re pushing when you should be nurturing or nurturing when a good push is needed.

Even if you don’t like Alabama, Nick Saban or football, you can and should learn lessons from college football. A great college football team is very similar to a great project team, and a great coach has to be a great project manager.

For your enjoyment, here’s a 60 Minutes TV show profile of University of Alabama’s team from a few years back:

Let me know what you think in the comments! And, most importantly, Roll Tide! 

By the way, I've started a brand new weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. Make sure you never don't miss it, sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: September 09, 2015 02:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

The 3 Things That Transcend All Project Approaches

by Dave Wakeman

Recently I had the chance to engage with Microsoft’s social media team about some of the issues I have been covering here. Their team brought up a question you may have asked as well: How do you differentiate between “digital” project management and project management?

It’s an interesting question, because I firmly believe all projects should be delivered within a very similar framework. The framework enables you to make wise decisions and understand the project’s goals and objectives.

I understand that there are many types of project management philosophies: waterfall, agile, etc. Each of these methods has pros and cons. Of course, you should use the method you are most comfortable with and that gives you the greatest likelihood of success.

But regardless of which project management approach you employ, there are three things all practitioners should remember at the outset of every project to move forward with confidence.

Every project needs a clear objective. Even if you aren’t 100-percent certain what the “completed” project is going to look like, you can still have an idea of what you want the project’s initial iteration to achieve. This allows you to begin work with a direction and not just a group of tasks.

So, even if you only have one potential outcome you want to achieve, starting there is better than just saying, “Let’s do these activities and hope something comes out of it.”

Frameworks enable valuable conversations. I love talking about decision-making frameworks for both organizations and teams. They’re valuable not because they limit thought processes, but because they enable you to make decisions based on what you’re attempting to achieve.

Instead of looking at the framework as a checklist, think of it as a conversation you’re having with your project and your team. This conversation enables you to keep moving your project toward its goal.

During the execution phase, it can give you the chance to check the deliverable against your original goals and the current state of the project within the organization. Just never allow the framework to put you in a position where you feel like you absolutely have to do something that doesn’t make sense.

Strong communication is the bedrock. To go back to the question from Microsoft’s social media team about digital vs. regular project management: the key concept isn’t the field or areas that a project takes place in.

No matter what kind of project you’re working on and in which sector you’re in, the critical skill for project success is your ability to communicate effectively with all the project stakeholders.

This skill transcends any specific industry. As many of us have learned, it may constitute about 90 percent of a project manager’s job. You can put this into practice in any project by taking a moment to write down your key stakeholders and the information you need to get across to them. Then put time in your calendar to help make sure you are effective in delivering your communications.

In the end, I don’t think there should be much differentiation between “digital” projects or any other kind of projects. All projects benefit from having a set of goals and ideas that guide them. By trying to distinguish between different project classifications, we lose sight of the real key to success in project management: teamwork and communication.

What do you think? 

By the way, I've started a brand new weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: August 30, 2015 09:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

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)

The 5 Ingredients for Getting the Best From Your Team

What’s the most important asset of your project? Your budget? A great project management tool? Your expertise and skills? They’re all valuable, yet the most important asset is your project team!

Projects are done by people, so success depends heavily on them. Imagine you have budget constraints; if you have talented and motivated people, they’ll find a way to move ahead.

Imagine you have an ancient project management tool; if you have the most reliable people, you might skip tracking the standard deviation of your project tasks’ duration estimates.

Imagine you’re relatively new to project management; if you have great team members, they’ll move the project ahead and drag you along till you get up to speed.

Now imagine you have an unmotivated, disorganized or poorly skilled project team. Regardless of how good the other project assets are, your job as project manager will be difficult and it’s likely your project will fail.

Sometimes as project managers, we neglect our most priceless asset—the project team. We focus too much on a project’s deliverables, the timeline, or making the end customer or sponsor happy.

Don’t get distracted. By treating your project team like any other asset of the project, you will be acting as a project administrator. By focusing on the quality, happiness and development of your project team, you will be acting like a project leader.

Here are five key ingredients for being a successful project leader and getting the best from your project team:

1) Motivation: Motivate and inspire the team by listening, mentoring, coaching, guiding and putting emphasis on people’s values. Establish a common set of values or a team credo.

2) Focus: Being busy with detailed project activities, team members might not see the forest for the trees—they might forget why the project is being done in the first place. Explain the focus by describing the end goal (the “what”). Articulate the benefits (the “why”) of achieving the project outcome.

3) Empowerment: Make your team members feel responsible for their work and accountable for the project success. It’s not just your project; it’s theirs too. Instead of assigning or delegating tasks, foster proactiveness and independence.

4) Skills Development: The daily project work should offer your team the chance to gain experience and develop expertise. Skills development during a project is a byproduct that is often neglected.

5) Appreciation: Throughout the project, take the time to appreciate and celebrate achievements. This will motivate the team and boost optimism and self-confidence, which will ultimately drive increased performance.

The ability to mix these ingredients into your team mark the difference between being a project manager and a project leader. A project manager will focus on the activities to be done and will assign them to people. A project leader will focus on the team and empower and motivate its members to achieve the project goals.

Are you a project administrator or project leader? How do you get the best from your team?

Posted by Marian Haus on: July 09, 2015 04:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

"You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."

- Dale Carnegie