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


View Posts By:

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
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina

Recent Posts

How to Avoid Dysfunctional Project Team Setups

When Project Benefits Erode

What Do Next-Gen Project Leaders Look Like?

How to Avoid Useless Meetings

Future-Proof Projects — and Careers — With a Little Engineered Serendipity

How to Avoid Dysfunctional Project Team Setups

Categories: Leadership, Teams

By Marian Haus

Looking for the appropriate template to help set up your project team?

Well, the bad news is that regardless of the project’s size or complexity, industry or business area, project organization, geographical location, applied project management methodology, etc., there is no single team-setup template that will match all your project needs.

On the contrary, there are many traps or patterns that lead to dysfunctional team setups. These include teams with no structure or governance, teams with unclear project roles, teams with no leaders or multiple leaders, teams with fragmented member assignment across too many projects and topics, etc.

The good news, though, is that there are a few sound principles that can help project leaders and organizations set up their project teams:

Size. Go with smaller teams—the bare minimum necessary to get the work done. The typical project team size is five to nine members. If you assign more people than needed, just to be safe, you might experience Parkinson’s law: Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Instead, try to enhance the team later if needed.

Purpose. Foster ownership and team cohesion by grouping the team around a common goal, such as a successful product launch. Project teams without clear goals or with multiple small goals won’t work as well together on attaining the ultimate project goal.

Skills. Aim for self-sufficient teams, meaning you have all the skills needed within the team for getting the job done. Being dependent on skills external to your project team could delay the project.

Roles and responsibilities. Clarify and assign project roles upfront, and define clear responsibilities for each project role. If you have team members sharing project roles, make sure you define who does what.

Stand-ins. While setting up the project team, establish stand-in pairs among members with similar skills, roles or responsibilities. This will help you manage problems and avoid unexpected reassignments when team members are sick or on holidays.

Accountability. Although each project team needs someone who is responsible for the overall work getting done (often the project manager), I encourage delegating accountability to team members for each of their assigned responsibilities. This inevitably will lead to increased commitment and empowerment across the project team.

Leadership. Assign the project team with a project leader instead of a project administrator. The difference between the two is that the project leader will also lead, coach, advise and inspire team members, on top of carrying out project planning and execution and administering project parameters (scope, time, budget, resources, risk, etc.).

How exactly do you set up your project teams? What’s your experience with project team structures?

Posted by Marian Haus on: May 29, 2016 09:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Is Your Agile Communications Toolkit Up to Snuff?

By Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina

A lot of things change when moving from traditional project management frameworks to agile ones. But what doesn't change (or shouldn't!) is how much and how often teams communicate. 

Agile frameworks don't actually require daily stand-ups or regular retrospectives. But you should consider adding some new trade tools and a few other staples to your project management toolkit if you’ll be working in an agile context. You may find that they quickly become essential to keeping communication flowing through your team—and your project on track.

Here's a short list of tools I've used on all of my projects.  

Sync-ups/Planning Meetings: This helps me start a project off right by making sure the product owner and execution team are on the same page. We set expectations, talk requirements and the direction for deliverables in areas such as UX, design, marketing.  

Daily Stand-Ups: Quick check-ins with the entire team help gauge project health and bring roadblocks to the forefront sooner rather than later. This is also where we address scope creep, taking note of good ideas that need more exploration before being included in the backlog.

Retrospectives: After each sprint and after each project, a retro helps the team ensure processes are working— and decide if we want to carry over those processes to the next iteration.

Wiki: These often get a bad rap but can act as an excellent centralized location for real-time documentation editing and sharing. In my experience, it can serve as a digital asset management (DAM) system for sharing web copy and design assets. While not a perfect DAM solution, it will do in a pinch.

Instant Messaging: Whether collocated or remote, teams sometimes need quick answers to questions—and a meeting can be overkill as a way to get answers. The challenge with instant messaging, though, is to make sure teams are on the same page about how and when to use an IM tool.

Email: This tool still reigns supreme when it comes to quickly keeping a lot of people in the loop about what's going on. Even if it's an email directing people to a wiki, it's still one of the best tools for mass communication. But maybe not for decision-making!

What tools am I missing? And do you find any of the tools mentioned particularly good or bad for certain kinds of communications? Share your thoughts below.

Posted by Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina on: March 24, 2016 12:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Is a Happy Team a Motivated Team?

Categories: Teams

By Linda Bourne

How important is happiness to team performance? We’ve all heard that a happy workplace is a productive one. And in fact, studies have demonstrated that a motivated, happy workplace is more productive and has better health outcomes than an unhappy one.

What is less clear is the relationship between happiness, motivation and productivity. Is a happy workplace an essential prerequisite to motivation, or is it a consequence of a motivated team enjoying their work and successes?

The relationship between happiness and motivation is not straightforward. Firefighters dealing with a dangerous wildfire are likely to be highly motivated, risking their lives to save the lives and properties of others. But they aren’t likely to be happy about the situation they are in. If their efforts are successful, there will probably be a very happy celebration. But the prospect of this celebration is unlikely to have any effect on their firefighting efforts.

The search for the role of happiness

So what is the role of happiness in team performance?

The elements associated with motivation are well-defined (for a discussion of the basic theories relating to motivation, read this article  (PDF)). But none of these theories includes happiness!

Unhappiness is a powerful de-motivator that has to be removed to allow the motivators to work, but does this flow through to the positive motivator side of the equation? Happiness may be a motivator, or it may be a collateral benefit of other positive motivators.

There are three possible scenarios:

  1. The fact that a team is motivated tends to create a happy workplace.
  2. Happiness and motivation are independent attributes but may be influenced by the same stimuli.
  3. Happiness is a significant facilitator that helps create a motivated team.

My last post on this topic, looking at the Australian Cricket team (PDF), tends to support the proposition that unhappiness is a de-motivator. It argues for option 3, since the new coach brought fun back into the team. Certainly the new approach caused a major change in performance standards; the success identified in 2013 has largely continued through 2016.

What’s not so clear is if the fun factor contributed to the improved motivation and performance or if the successes of the team created happiness. There may even be a combination of both effects in a beneficial feedback loop.

To complicate matters, happiness itself is a difficult concept. Happiness can range from the wild euphoria of a team that’s just scored a winning goal to the contentment and inner peace sought by Buddhists.

Then there’s biology. The brain seems to be designed to keep our level of happiness relatively constant. So while a positive stimulus will generate a short burst of happiness for everyone, the increase in happiness starts from the person’s innate baseline and reverts back to that setting after a short period.


So what to do?

My recommendations for using happiness to help motivate your team are in two parts:

  • First be aware of unhappiness. It’s a powerful de-motivator, and its causes need to be addressed. Everyone will experience unhappiness differently, so careful observation is needed to notice what’s occurring and then alleviate the issues.
  • Seeking to create happiness is less important. If you focus on the other elements needed to create a motivated team—such as setting clear objectives, recognizing good performance, offering the ability to develop and providing a cooperative team environment—then happiness might emerge spontaneously.

How important do you think creating a happy workplace is in the overall quest to motivate your team? 

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: March 18, 2016 02:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Are Your Communication Habits Good Enough?

By Marian Haus

About 75-90 percent of a project manager’s time is spent formally or informally communicating, according to PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (aka, PMBOK). No surprise, then, how much communication is linked to project success.

PMI’s latest Pulse of the Profession report, published this month, reveals that up to a third of surveyed project managers identify inadequate or poor communication as a cause of project failure. A Towers Watson survey conducted in 2012 showed that companies emphasizing effective communication practices are 1.7 times more likely to succeed financially than their peers.

So what can project managers and organizations do to improve communication and hence drive success? Here are six good habits.

  1. Acknowledge and accept the need for active, clear and transparent communication as a key ingredient for project success.
  1. Establish a simple and transparent communication framework. This means agreeing on who communicates what, to whom, when and how. For instance, a team member might communicate the project’s internal and external technical matters (the “what”), while the project manager will communicate the project status (the “what” again) for various audiences (“whom”).

    The communication time frame and frequency (“when”) will depend on the communicated message and the targeted audience. The communication tools (“how”) could range from project status slides delivered via email to status updates exchanged on the project’s internal websites.

  1. Invest in communication, presentation and other related soft skills. Above all, the project manager has to be a confident communicator. Strengthening communication skills might be especially required if the project manager grew into the role from a more technical position.
  1. Encourage project managers and teams to communicate openly and proactively regardless of whether the message is positive or negative. Especially when things go wrong, communicating issues early and transparently can mean more for the organization than solving the issues itself.
  1. Put emphasis on the quality and effectiveness of communications. Communicating frequently and with the appropriate tools is not enough. Effective and high-quality communication means delivering the appropriate message in a simple and articulate manner and to the right stakeholders. For instance, within the project team you might use a detailed and technical communication approach. But when communicating (to management and sponsors), you will have to simplify your message.
  1. Last but not least, communication isn’t only about speaking, reporting and asking. Communication also means time spent listening to what others have to say.  

How much time do you estimate you spend communicating? What best practices can you share?



Posted by Marian Haus on: February 25, 2016 02:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Project Leaders as Ethical Role Models


By Peter Tarhanidis            

This month’s theme at projectmanagement.com is ethics.  Project leaders are in a great position to be role models of ethical behavior. They can apply a system of values to drive the whole team’s ethical behavior.

First: What is ethics, exactly? It’s a branch of knowledge exploring the tension between the values one holds and how one acts in terms of right or wrong. This tension creates a complex system of moral principles that a particular group follows, which defines its culture. The complexity stems from how much value each person places on his or her principles, which can lead to conflict with other individuals.

Professional ethics can come from three sources:

  1. Your organization. It can share its values and conduct compliance training on acceptable company policy.
  2. Regulated industries. These have defined ethical standards to certify organizations.
  3. Certifying organizations. These expect certified individuals to comply with the certifying group’s ethical standards.

In project management, project leaders have a great opportunity to be seen as setting ethical leadership in an organization. Those project leaders who can align an organization’s values and integrate PMI’s ethics into each project will increase the team’s ethical behavior. 

PMI defines ethics as the moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior. The values include honesty, responsibility, respect and fairness.

For example, a project leader who uses the PMI® Code of Ethics to increase a team’s ethical behavior might:

  • Create an environment that reviews ethical standards with the project team
  • Consider that some individuals bring different systems of moral values that project leaders may need to navigate if they conflict with their own ethics. Conflicting values can include professional organizations’ values as well as financial, legislative, religious, cultural and other values.
  • Communicate to the team the approach to be taken to resolve ethical dilemmas.

Please share any other ideas for elevating the ethical standards of project leaders and teams, and/or your own experiences!

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: February 22, 2016 09:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

"A thing worth having is a thing worth cheating for."

- W.C. Fields