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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Careful -- What You Measure Is What You Get

Categories: Communication, Metrics

"You cannot manage what you cannot measure" is a common mantra of today's business world. But to really make a difference on projects, you also have to make sure you're measuring -- and communicating -- the right things.

A policy introduced to measure the performance of our local hospitals a couple years back offers a salient lesson. Our state government decided to incentivize hospitals by rewarding good performance and penalizing poor performance using a standard set of KPIs.

The plan created many vested interests:

  • The government's desire to look good by reducing patient waiting time
  • The hospitals' desire to achieve the maximum budget income for the year
  • The administrators' desire, both in the hospital and the government, to avoid rocking the boat 
But an audit found KPI-induced behaviors, in many cases, were worse for patients than if nothing had changed in policy.

For example, one key measure was the time patients wait in the casualty/emergency area before being admitted to the hospital. So to avoid a fine for failing to admit the patient within the prescribed maximum time, some administrators were transferring patients from emergency care to the operating theater's waiting area. 

The action meant a reduction in the level of care, with the patient being moved to an area with little monitoring capability. Throughput in the operating theater was also diminished due to overcrowding and skilled staff having to spend time on patient care rather than surgery.

The government had its data and the hospital system responded to the stimulus of the KPI, but everyone forgot the key objective: enhanced patient care. 

There are a number of important lessons in this story to consider when setting up project dashboards and the like:

  • The KPIs you choose communicate to stakeholders what you think is most important. What is easy to measure is not necessarily important.
  • What you choose to measure will change behaviors. Focus on things that matter, such as value and benefits, not easy-to-measure statistics, such as time and cost. 
  • Make sure the data is validated. 
  • A KPI system cannot solve the problem, but it can be a powerful facilitator of solutions if it's set to measure the right statistics and ask the right questions. 
Simply identifying a problem and creating a KPI is not enough! Work with the project team to make sure an effective solution is crafted and then measure the effectiveness of the solution. This is far more challenging than simply processing monthly reports on easily accessible information such as schedule performance, but it can really contribute to the overall performance of your organization. 

Finally, remember that if you pick the wrong KPI, you will get behavior changes, often times for the worse. It's better to have an informed conversation with key stakeholders over value and what really matters. 

What messages are you sending with the metrics you choose to measure success?
Posted by Lynda Bourne on: January 29, 2014 11:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

3 Ways to be a Better Communicator

Categories: Communication, Teams

As project managers, it's easy to get caught up in the technical aspects of our jobs. For example, if you are in IT, there is always a new bit of code, application or hardware that -- if you invest the time in learning about it -- will make your work easier. 

But I'd like to share the number-one way you can actually improve your project management skills -- and it won't take days of learning a new technology or software. It's by using communication skills you already have in a more focused, conscious manner. 

  1. Build communication into your everyday plan. Project managers tend to get pulled in multiple directions. So instead of being the driving force behind the information flow, you end up reacting to the latest problem or sponsor demand. While you are never going to be free of these things, you can manage them more effectively by creating a communications plan. This can be as simple as having a daily status meeting to cover where everyone is, or as elaborate as a multilayered communications plan that accounts for interactions with sponsors, team members and stakeholders. Either way, start by planning for how you want to manage your daily communication, and your project management will get easier. 
  2. Be specific. We find ourselves dealing with very complex and difficult projects. With this complexity comes the challenge of making clear your directions, instructions, timelines and goals. The best way to overcome that is by being extremely specific. As a project manager, you may not have the industry-specific technical skills needed to understand every aspect of your project, but you should know what goals are driving the project, which means you have the ability to set and understand very specific objectives for your team. This is going to help you not only manage the workflow more efficiently, but your communication with your sponsors, stakeholders and teams will be more efficient because you are going to have more specificity with which to address their questions and concerns.
  3. Show empathy and support. You know what pressure from sponsors, stakeholders and team members feels like. So take a step back and think about how those parties feel as well. After all, you are often at the center of the flow of all information into and out of the project. So to really move your communication and project management skills forward this year, be consciously aware of how the flow of information -- or lack of it -- can make your team and stakeholders feel. Let them know you understand how they feel about being a little behind on the information curve. Express your support for the project and the work that is being done. Often this little step of positive communication can win you big points with stakeholders. 
With these three tips, you can do a better job of managing the aspects of communication that you can handle -- making the aspects you can't always control a little easier to navigate. 

Read PMI's The Essential Role of Communications to learn how effective communication impacts the success of your projects and programs. 
Posted by Dave Wakeman on: January 24, 2014 01:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Harnessing the Law of Reciprocity

Categories: Communication, Stakeholder

I have become an ardent advocate for "the law of reciprocity" -- the principle that when you do a favor for someone, he or she will have a deep-rooted psychological urge to do something nice in return. And I believe it should be consciously practiced within the work culture. 

Reciprocating to a goodwill gesture is one of the universal rules of good manners. It is a principle that comes naturally to many of us despite our culture. Organizations and businesses are now capitalizing on this principle to build relationships internally with their employees and externally with clients and customers. Reciprocity exists in many different ways, such as: 

  • Information or good advice that is of value to the receiver 
  • Help or a kind gesture 
  • Recognizing and appreciating a person's contribution
  • Remembering events that are of importance to others
  • Rewards, celebrating personal or group achievements and successes
  • Sharing job opportunities or networking leads
  • Creating convenient services for employees, such as complimentary or subsidized meals for workers or on-site child care 
  • Free services for clients and customers
  • Thank-you messages
  • Public acknowledgment or mentions of good work 

So how can a culture of reciprocity help projects and those who work on them? 

Employee psychology surveys and studies have found a positive relationship between supportive organizations and employee commitment to the organization. These employees often also showed willingness to help the organization reach its goals. What's significant from these findings is that as reciprocity as a whole increased, so did employee obligation.  

Commitment and obligation to pursue project goals is ideal for project managers and project-orientated organizations. Therefore, creating a reciprocating project environment can only deepen individual and team commitment and ownership of tasks and concern for the project. It can also help increase individual satisfaction and team motivation as individuals feel supported, valued and connected. 

Project leaders can utilize the law of reciprocity by engaging and encouraging feedback from team members, and then using the information to create well-defined and simple processes or provide the means to make their work efficient. By removing unnecessary obstacles and demonstrating an active interest in wanting to help, leaders send a clear message to the team that its time and views are respected and valued. In return, team members may feel more obliged to reciprocate these efforts and show willingness to support the project and the manager during difficult circumstances. 

Reciprocity with project sponsors and executives can pay dividends for a project manager as well. A sponsor may become more willing to support the project manager in pivotal matters, such as acquiring resources and approval processes. And being in a reciprocal relationship allows project staff to say no to requests without angering or offending stakeholders -- with good relationships, there is more understanding and forgiveness for when things go wrong. 

Beyond project teams and stakeholders, reciprocity should be exercised with clients, customers and vendors. This is good for projects as it helps develop robust, long-term relationships rather than one-time engagements. And these relationships are especially useful when negotiating for resources, contracts, deadlines and finance-related matters.

But beware of how you approach reciprocity. It should be informal and without expectation of return in a specific situation or by a specific date -- otherwise it becomes a bribe, something negative and undesirable. Reciprocation should be carried out with sincerity, generosity and integrity. 

Can you think of a time when you used reciprocation to help with project work?
Posted by Saira Karim on: January 03, 2014 05:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Dealing with Difficult People

Categories: Communication, Stakeholder

Your ability to contribute to a project team depends a lot on your ability to relate to people -- your team members, stakeholders, managers. While positive and supportive relationships can propel you to success, dysfunctional relationships can destroy you. 

If you mismanage a dysfunctional relationship with a difficult person, the fallout will affect your productivity and, quite possibly, the fate of your project. 

The first step is to identify whether you're in a toxic professional relationship. Here are some signs to look for in the other person; he/she:

  1. Stifles your talent and limits your opportunities for advancement 
  2. Twists circumstances and conversations to their benefit 
  3. Punishes you for a mistake rather than help you correct it 
  4. Reminds you constantly or publicly of a disappointing experience or unmet expectation 
  5. Takes credit or withholds recognition for new ideas and extra effort 
  6. Focuses solely on meeting their goals and does so at your expense 
  7. Fails to respect your need for personal space and time 
To successfully manage difficult people, you need to set boundaries that encourage mutual respect and keep the focus on productivity. Boundaries remind people of what's acceptable to you and what's reasonable to expect from you, and prevent difficult people from taking up too much of your time and energy. Failure to set these boundaries simply allows a toxic relationship to develop.

Establishing boundaries isn't easy, however. Difficult people don't like boundaries. They want to shift responsibilities according to their mood and create work environments that mirror their personal environments. 

Here are some ways you can set boundaries:

  1. Manage your time. Set a limit on the amount of time you spend beyond the hours needed to complete the project work. For example, you should politely but firmly decline an invitation to a peripheral meeting.
  2. Express yourself. Reveal aspects of your personality that reinforce your values. Sometimes it's a matter of letting people in a little bit to help keep your boundaries intact. If aggressive behavior offends you, say so (in a firm, but non-aggressive way), but you also need to consistently act in an assertive (rather than aggressive) way.   
  3. Build your reputation, and do it carefully and consistently. Everyone plays a role at work. Your co-workers should know what you stand for and what to expect from you. Then, don't waiver. Authenticity is the key -- behave in the way you expect others to treat you.
  4. Change the conversation. Stay focused on the project and away from nonproductive behavior.  Avoid gossip, criticism and other negative conversations by simply stating: "I don't really have time to discuss that just now, but I really do need your input on this project issue." If the attack is on you personally, ask to "take the conversation off line and focus on this important project matter now."

Effective relationship management is not for the faint-hearted. But when you know how to handle difficult relationships appropriately, you'll be in a much stronger position to achieve your objectives and succeed.

How do you manage difficult people? What advice would you give for establishing boundaries?
Posted by Lynda Bourne on: December 06, 2013 01:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Adapting to Cultures, Lessons from my Father

A few years ago, after I finished a presentation about multigenerational and multicultural teams in Mexico City, Mexico, someone in the audience asked me what kicked off my interest in these topics, which have become a bigger trend in the past decade. The first thing that came to mind was a proverb that my late father used to say to my brother and me: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. He wanted to remind us that we need to adapt to the conditions of our environment.

My father was a member of the Silent Generation. He faced many challenges during his childhood and adolescence, but he was able to adapt to every circumstance and went on to explore opportunities in many fields: factory worker, amateur sportsman, mechanic, and opera and popular music singer. Through his interest in opera, he taught himself foreign languages -- he wanted to know what he was singing so he could add emotion to his act. Later, when he explored popular music, he learned to play guitar and created his own performance style. This is how he adapted to different environments -- by learning constantly and proactively.

Despite being from the Silent Generation, my father was an extrovert in his own way, which led him to be a great relationship builder. During our Sunday strolls in Mexico City, he always looked for tourists who needed directions and took the opportunity to practice the languages he had learned and ask questions about their culture. Adapting is as much pushing yourself to learn on your own as it is learning from others.

And while my father and that good old proverb inspired my interest in these topics, here's one piece of advice I can give you from personal experience: To master multicultural and multigenerational issues, it's pivotal to keep a positive attitude and accept the challenges that different environments offer.

What sparked your interest in multicultural and multigenerational teams? Was it second nature, or did you need to do so for a project?
Posted by Conrado Morlan on: November 08, 2013 11:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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