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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End a Business Relationship and Keep Your Cred

Fair's Fair

Give Your Project a Home

A Hollywood-Style Move From PM to Scrum Master

To Have and To Hold

End a Business Relationship and Keep Your Cred

As much as we wish these things didn’t occur, we sometimes find ourselves having to leave a project early or terminate a business engagement. This is always difficult to do, and how you do it can help you maintain your integrity and credibility throughout the transition.

 

Recently, I had to terminate a business relationship myself. Here are a few lessons that I learned that you can apply the next time you are in a similar situation.

 

1.   Place the blame on yourself. I know you wouldn’t be leaving a project or quitting a business relationship if it were all your fault, but the key thing here is that you need to buck up and take responsibility for the business arrangement ending. There are several ways you can frame it to take the emphasis for the decision away from the other party. For example: “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the ability to deliver the work to you in a manner that you have grown accustomed to” or “I find myself at a point where I don’t feel my presence best serves the project, and I think a new set of eyes is going to be helpful to getting things back on track.” Or, you can come up with your own. The point is that you take a little of the emphasis off the party that you are ending the relationship with and place it on yourself. This will lessen any bad blood or negativity from the decision. It is important to note that you must cast the decision in terms of your inability to continue to serve the client in a manner that he or she deserves.

2.   If possible, present options for replacements.If you find yourself at a point of no return and need out of a business relationship, you can soften the blow even more if you provide alternatives. The question you are probably asking yourself is, “If I can’t work with this person or on this project, why would I refer them to someone else?” But the truth is, we are all in different businesses and at different stages of our career — and while your threshold for some clients may be zero, someone just starting out or looking to find a different focus may be more than willing to accept a challenge that you consider unnecessary. This goes back to the first point: If you can’t serve the client in the way that he or she deserves, you are doing the client a favor by removing yourself from the project and helping him or her find someone who can do better.  

3.   Be prepared for blowback.Even when these things go great, there will be some sort of blowback or negative impact. You might have spelled everything out with as much tact as a veteran diplomat, but you are still leaving the business relationship with a jilted partner who may lash out to other members of your organization or other potential business partners. In this instance, you can try to contain any negative feedback or impact on you and your career by preparing a standard statement that you give to everyone that explains your role in the dissolution of the relationship. It should cast a bad situation in the most favorable light for you. One I have used is: “I am sorry the project didn’t work out, but I made a series of unwise choices that made my effectiveness impossible, and to best serve the project, I felt it was best for me to step away.” That’s it — it isn’t perfect, but neither is the situation you find yourself in.

 

How have you found success in ending business relationships?

 

Join meon December 4, 2014, in my upcoming seminar on leadership in project management.

Posted by David Wakeman on: October 22, 2014 05:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

8 Steps for Better Listening

Categories: Communication

In my last post, I discussed the benefits of learning to listen. Here, I will share easy, actionable steps to help develop your listening skills. While going through the steps below, please remember, listening more and talking less are two sides of the same communication coin. 

  1. Start your discussion by praising the other person who has just finished talking, even if you disagree with him or her. Normally we do not disagree with all the points of the other person, but we tend to ignore the points of agreement. Starting with praise will help you listen to the other person completely, and you will be compelled to try to find points where you agree rather than disagree.
  2. Remember that more talkative people spill more information, and that can be used against them. As talkative people listen less, their questions also often go unanswered. When you are aware that you may be providing unnecessary information to others, you'll make an effort to speak about only what is necessary. 
  3. Better listeners get more information from others, which they can use to fine-tune their point of view and present it more effectively. When you're eager to improve your thoughts, you listen more carefully, because that helps you strategize. Listening will make you a better negotiator.
  4. Write down points of agreement and disagreement. When you write down the points, you have little option but to listen. 
  5. If you do not get the opportunity to talk, the sky will not fall. Moreover, it is of little use talking in a forum that does not give all participants an opportunity to present their point of view. Most of the time, when someone says, "Listen to me," the opposite happens.
  6. Don't try to win the speaking contest. Instead, focus on winning the hearts of the people by understanding them. Many times, more talkative people appear to win the battle, but they lose the war. More talkative people do not converse, but instead force their viewpoint on others. This creates a negative perception of such a person that sustains beyond the conversation and impacts the overall relationship. 
  7. Establish simple, fair rules. In a group, ground rules help create an environment of listening. For example, solicit opinions one at a time, give everyone two minutes to put up their points in round-robin fashion, or ask that everyone reiterate the previous speaker's point of view before making his or her own. 
  8. Take an example from the deaf. I will leave you with a thought from A Comma in a Sentence by Indian businessman and author R. Gopalakrishnan, in which he gains a valuable perspective from hearing-impaired teacher Bruno Kahne. The book paraphrases Mr. Kahne: "Deaf people look at the speaker in the eye and make sure they are fully present in the interaction. They absorb more and retain more. In many management situations...there are simultaneous and multiple conversations. That will never happen with deaf people. They follow a strict protocol of one person speaking at a time. Consensus and agreement are reached faster than out of a heated and overlapping conversation. In the long term, slower is faster. Deaf people are direct and they communicate with their thoughts and feelings.... They are economical about the way they communicate. For the same reason, they listen well, too."

What is your top tip for becoming a good listener? 

Read PMI's The Essential Role of Communications to learn more about effective communication.
Posted by Vivek Prakash on: February 02, 2014 09:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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 David Wakeman on: January 24, 2014 01:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Listen Up

Categories: Communication

Project management is about making decisions and actions, and actions don't require words. Speaking is inversely proportional to the exchange of information: Silence allows the other to speak more, and thus those who listen receive more information. The more information you have, the better decisions and more effective actions you can make. 

By focusing on listening, you can know the issues beforehand and can sense the problem before it hits the project. And when you know issues and problems, you solve them before they damage the project. Here are a few scenarios that illustrate the power of listening.

If you don't listen

U.S. author and businessman Dr. Stephen Covey said, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." This temptation to reply is so intense that it leads to frequent interruptions, ignored viewpoints and fewer opportunities for others to share their knowledge. Information flow is blocked, which impacts decision-making. Interruptions also make people feel like they are not respected and valued, leading to dissatisfaction, loss of interest and attrition. What's worse, when it's the customer who is not listened to, it could lead to loss of business. 

If you listen

A positive attitude toward listening creates a productive environment. When people's opinions are heard and acted upon, they feel respected and valued, which motivates them and garners higher levels of commitment for you. And a sense of commitment yields powerful results: Team members won't need to be "controlled," support functions become eager to help, and customers contribute instead of interfere. 

So why do people not listen? 

The reason for a lack of listening skills in project management varies. For example, a person may have grown up in an environment that does not promote listening. He or she may lack patience and critical thinking -- when he or she hears a new viewpoint, instead of evaluating his or her beliefs, the person immediately defends preconceived ideas. In addition, delivery and timeline are so important that he or she does not bother with other people's comments. Multitasking also impacts listening, and someone might often pretend to listen while his or her attention is on responding to emails.
How can someone develop a listening attitude? Adopt and religiously follow some of these points:

  • Realize that the sky will not fall if you lose the opportunity to express your viewpoint.
  • Focus on content and not on speaker's style of delivery.
  • Paraphrase the speaker's viewpoint before presenting yours.
  • Stop multitasking -- prioritize and focus on one item at a time.
  • Feelings, respect and experience are more important than results. Better feeling, respect and experience will bring better results.
  • Organize your meetings to reduce interruptions. Do not rush your meetings. If you're crunched for time, allow fewer people to speak, but listen to everyone fully, respond and take notes.   
  • Seek feedback, publicly or anonymously.
  • Appreciate! The more you appreciate others, the more others will appreciate you.

Old habits die hard, and things do not change overnight. But if you recognize that a change is needed, start with some of the bullet points above, and work your way up to all of them. It takes some time to get results, but eventually you will observe a significant difference. 

How did you develop your listening skills? Read more about the impact of effective communications in PMI's Pulse of the Professionâ„¢ In-Depth Report: The Essential Role of Communications.

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: January 10, 2014 10:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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