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
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rebecca Braglio
Rex Holmlin
Christian Bisson
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina

Recent Posts

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

I, Project: A Peek Into a Machine-Powered Future

7 Easy Tricks to Kill Innovation on Your Team

Innovation is a natural skill in human beings—that’s how we moved from the Stone Age to the Space Age. The corporate world, however, seems like it’s in a different universe, where everyone wants innovation but appears to be racing to kill it. Here are a few easy-to-use tricks for you to join the race.

1. Focus on the quarter

Make sure you’re not allowing your team to think beyond a quarter. Quarterly results are dear to CEOs. So only focus on the next quarterly result and make sure everyone on your team does too.  

2. Be Impatient

Patience is a weapon of lethargic people. You should never allow it to develop in your team. Any project or idea that takes time to materialize should not be your cup of tea. Let your team members continue to focus on your short-term goals.

3. Keep the team busy

You should be a very strict taskmaster. Check what time your team comes in and leaves for the day, and all the activities they do in between to ensure they are continuously busy in day-to-day activities. Keep their task list overflowing so that no room is left for any free time or “blue sky” thinking.

4. Maintain order

You should lay down strict processes and not allow any deviation at any cost. Teams must follow the process even if it is not required. You never know how a simple deviation could turn out to be an innovation. Explain to your team that doing things differently is the job of other teams!

5. Stay safe

Just in case the above suggestions do not impress you enough, and some little spark in the corner of your heart wants to allow a deviation, let me warn you—they all are full of risks. Risks mean uncertainty that can put your project in trouble or jeopardize your dearest short-term goals. They can even hit your reputation of consistently delivering linear results. You should play it safe by taking the routine paths already proven by others.

6. Don’t listen

Listening will be seriously injurious. If anyone comes to you suggesting a solution to a problem or a new way of doing something, don’t listen. Sometimes, you may be tempted, especially if someone’s sharing success stories. But ignore it all, lest innovation seeps in. If anyone suggests any idea, reject it immediately, giving a very routine reason, such as “it will not work in our project.” You should not give any new reason, otherwise it will appear that you are doing some innovation.

7. Reward only the million-dollar idea

Rewards are precious and should be given to the best of the best people. If a stubborn team member implements a good idea despite all your efforts, immediately point out a flaw in it, ignoring everything else. If this person meets some early-stage failure, that’s an opportunity for you to explain to the team why they should not try new things. Thoughts of rewarding someone should not even occur to you until the idea is recognized by some external agency.

I’m being facetious, of course. My point is that breakthrough innovations are not harder in practice than many seem to think—but our day-to-day responsibilities and deadlines make it hard to step back and change thinking.

What do you think are the most common practices that prevent innovative thinking? How can they be avoided? Please share your thoughts in a comment below.

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: March 05, 2016 10:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

3 Lessons From My First Project Manager Job

By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

Fifteen years ago, I transitioned from being an IT manager to a project manager for the first time. With this month’s theme at projectmanagement.com being “new practitioner PM,” here are three key lessons I learned while managing my first projects.

When I was an IT manager, I always had projects that were assigned to my department. I loved being part of large projects so much I realized I wanted to do it full-time. So I made a conscious decision to transition to being a dedicated project manager.

Managing a project is truly like being a CEO of your own company—you have authority over budget, resource and key decision-making responsibilities. However, it’s an art, and mastery takes time. These are the three fundamental lessons I learned:

1) Communication is about simplifying and personalizing.

Although we may hear that 90 percent of a project manager’s job is to communicate, the best communication is one that doesn’t contain acronyms, special terminology or techno-speak.

Remember that key stakeholders are often involved in multiple projects. To get their attention, you need to make your communications concise and personal while clearly specifying the action desired.

Avoid lengthy mass emails, and tailor the frequency and channel according to the person. One sponsor told me she gets so many emails that I should schedule a meeting if it’s important. Another sponsor told me he works best with instant messaging if I needed something immediately.

The key is to know your audience and adapt accordingly. My first sponsor meeting always includes finding out how and when he or she would like to be communicated with.

2) Project management is about knowing which tools to use when.

Yes, project management is about processes, knowledge areas and ITTOs (inputs, tools and techniques, outputs), according to the PMBOK Guide. But, most importantly, it’s a menu of available options.

Trying to do everything by the book or insisting on adherence to every single template and tool is setting yourself up for disaster. Assess the needs of the project, and don’t ignore the culture of the organization. You can’t go from zero processes to textbook processes overnight. You may need to start slow by introducing concepts and build from there.

3) Build relationships.

Trust is key. When you’re starting out as a project manager, you’re an unknown, so you need to work extra hard to establish the relationships. It’s important to come across as professional, yet approachable and flexible in order to build confidence with your team, and most importantly, your sponsors and key stakeholders. Regular, relaxed one-on-one meetings, such as getting coffee or grabbing lunch, help to build cohesive partnerships that will pay dividends when the going gets tough on the project.

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: January 23, 2016 07:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

3 Strategic Resolutions For The New Year

by Dave Wakeman

 

The new year is a good time for every project manager to take a moment to pause and reflect on what has worked and what hasn’t worked during the last 12 months. Many of my blog posts last year (like this one, and this one) focused on the intersection of strategy and project management. So I thought it could be valuable to suggest three ways you can propel yourself, your projects and your organization forward in 2016.

1. Set clear goals and objectives. As a project manager, you’re usually like the CEO of your project. So even if you’re in an environment where most determinants of success and failure are laid out by others, you still have the opportunity to set goals and objectives that will set your team up for success.

Imagine a project that is stuck. If you’re in the middle of this situation, it’s a good time to sit down and look at the project holistically and try to define some goals and objectives to get the project moving again.

This might require more than just saying what you hope to achieve over the next month, quarter or year—it could involve ways that you can give your team some short-term wins to create new forward momentum. The important thing is to take the opportunity to stop, think carefully, and decide with intention which way you want to move.

2. Simplify communications and decision-making. One of the supreme challenges for all project managers is the constant need to juggle information and communicate to various stakeholders effectively. Being the filter for most communications can hamper and complicate the communication process. As a strategic-minded practitioner, you’re going to have to simplify processes to avoid becoming a bottleneck.

You may find it easy to streamline your communications and decision-making processes by taking the following three steps:

First, set clear expectations for communication.

Second, empower your teams to use their best judgment and to take action within certain well-defined parameters.

Third, regularly review these processes to reinforce what’s working and change things that aren’t working.

3. Always return to the outcomes you need to produce. I’m guilty of belaboring this point, because it’s essential. The end results are what you need to be working toward. You have to be clear on expected outcomes and what you are trying to achieve. This will inform every action, tactic and process you roll out in your projects.

Get started by clarifying the desired results of your project, and then break them down by each piece of work that you need to produce to make them reality.

If you do this in combination with the items in #2, you’re on your way to becoming even more of a strategic partner in your organization’s success. 

By the way, I write a weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: January 15, 2016 12:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Are You Managing For The Right Outcomes?

by Dave Wakeman

Last month I wrote about measuring your project’s ROI. Part of that discussion included the idea that in the end, your projects need to be measured according to the outcomes they produce and not the actions that are taken.

So I wanted to take a few minutes to go back over the concept of outcomes and how outcomes, execution and strategy play together to deliver successful projects.

1. Outcomes are all that matter: Every project has deliverables and actions that are meant to drive the project forward and give stakeholders an understanding of where things are and what is happening. The fact is, things like schedules, a work breakdown structure and risk assessments are just tactics that are meant to move your project closer to its end goal: the outcome!

In every project the only relevant measurements of success are the outcomes. Outcomes mean things like a fully functioning product or service, a project delivered on time and schedule, and one that meets the goals of the client and stakeholders.

So try to frame your project conversations in terms of the outcomes and the tasks important to those outcomes. Instead of an activity, think about how these activities play into timelines and budgets or into the overall success of the project.

2. Outcomes aren’t always obvious to everyone: It can be very easy to take a black-and-white view on outcomes. But the truth is that depending on where you are in a project and the role you play, the outcomes may not always be obvious to you.

Why? It’s pretty simple, really. In any situation, we spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the actions and activities that are most important to us. So when we look at projects, it can be easy to just think about the tasks we need to do to clear out our schedule or to move onto the next task on our checklist.

Most of this isn’t intentional, so you may have to spend some time relating to team members how activities play into the desired outcomes or even spending time communicating the vision of how the project will play out in the organization.

3. Always be prepared to change: We spend a lot of time talking about risks and change in projects, but I think that in many instances these two skills aren’t applied with as much success and consistency as desired.

But the process of implementing your strategy and optimizing execution comes with the basic jumping-off point of needing to understand, prepare for and embrace change as a constant within all projects.

To better prepare yourself for change, develop this mindset: you are going to communicate consistently with your stakeholders and proactively manage where your project stays within the marketplace, the desired outcomes that the project will produce, and changes in the circumstances of resources and other internal factors.

The simplest way to think about a project is as a set of activities that can be checked off on the way to completion. In fact, a lot of projects are managed that way.

But to be the best project manager and a partner to your organization’s success, you have to make the effort to keep strategy top of mind while executing for the right outcomes. I think these three tips will get you started.

What do you think? 

By the way, I write a weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: December 08, 2015 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

The Customer Is Always Digital—So Make the Experience Right

By Peter Tarhanidis

New and proliferating digital technologies are giving rise to new competitive businesses while transforming legacy organizations. It’s no longer just about the Internet, but increasingly tech-savvy users and inexpensive smartphones and tablets.

From an organizational perspective, it’s not just a matter of grappling with new technical platforms: The relationship between organizations and their customers is being transformed.

Before, the cornerstone of customer service was the golden rule: treat your customers the way you want to be treated. Customer relationships were facilitated and managed within just a few departments.

Disruptive technologies have enabled a shift to a new paradigm: customer empowerment. This ushered in the new platinum rule: treat your customers the way they want to be treated. Disruptive technologies integrate organizations to their digital customer experience and are simultaneously influenced by social, consumer and professional media portals like Facebook, Yelp, NetPromoter Scores, and LinkedIn.

Now, much of the work and measurement of this activity is shared across the entire supply chain of the customer journey, which requires more cross-team collaboration to report on the customer experience.

So the importation question has become: How can we make the digital customer experience flawless? This is the new competitive differentiator for companies. Those that stand apart in this respect build market leverage.

Project managers are one asset organizations have at their disposal to ensure success with this new digital customer experience dynamic. Here’s a four-stop roadmap for optimizing your organization for the brave new digital world we all live in.

  1. Establish a plan to:
    • Identify current customer journey paths.
    • Optimize those paths into one consistent and simple location.
    • Digitize that journey and make it available online, mobile and global.
  2. Build the requisite foundation required to sustain the digital journey (e.g., big data analytics, and mobile-first and cloud infrastructure).
  3. Transition customers from legacy operating approaches into the new digital journey with a change management plan that leads to sustainable adoption.
  4. Improve the experience by acting on key performance metrics that gauge the quality of the customer’s entire journey—don’t just rely on the customer service department for quality control.

How is your organization adapting to the new realities of our digital customer age? Please take a moment and share your thoughts.

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: November 17, 2015 03:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)
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