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
Cecilia Wong
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy

Recent Posts

How to Think Like an Elite Project Management Professional

Seattle's Troubled Tunnel: 3 Communications Tips for Regaining the Public's Trust

Project Managers as Change Agents

2025 Vision: The Future of PMOs

My New Year’s Resolution: Become SMARTer

How to Think Like an Elite Project Management Professional

By Conrado Morlan

 

For most of us, good isn’t good enough — we want to be the best at what we do.

Becoming an elite project management professional requires focus, drive and a willingness to learn from our role models, whether they are bosses, team members or co-workers performing very different functions in the organization.

You may not possess all of their abilities, but some of the traits you admire in them are within you. Becoming an elite practitioner is partly about tapping into your hidden inner potential. I believe that a crucial part of professional development is developing a mindset that will unlock your abilities.

To that end, I adapted the following mental strategies from The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive by Jim Afremow. Based on high-performance psychology research, these strategies will help you learn how to think, feel and act like one of the best.

1) See Success

Imagine yourself at the end of the project, when the product or service has been delivered and the organization has achieved its strategic goals. Visualize the ideal scenario: a satisfied project team, optimized processes, and satisfied internal and external customers.

This will help you define the optimal project execution and “turn on” success in your mindset.

2) Stay Positive

You may be assigned to a project in an area in which you lack experience. Identify your deficiencies at the beginning of the project and define a strategy on how to address them — bring an expert to your project team, identify a mentor or train yourself.

3) Do Not Panic

Projects are not a bed of roses. You will have to deal with changes in scope and risks, difficult teammates and resource constraints. Resilience is an important trait for project managers. Focus on the solution, not the problem. Dogged determination will help you reach your professional goals.

4) Be Confident

When meeting the project board, what is your body language saying? Are you smiling? Research shows that “power posing” can positively affect the brain and might even have an impact on your chances for success. Adopt the pose of a powerful project management professional!

5) Evaluate Progress

Assess yourself: How well are you emulating the behaviors of your role models? What did you do that was good? In which areas do you need to improve? What changes do you need to implement? This evaluation will give you perspective on how close or far you are from your goals.

 

What are your strategies for taking your performance to the next level? What do you think sets the very best project management professionals apart from the rest?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: January 26, 2015 11:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Seattle's Troubled Tunnel: 3 Communications Tips for Regaining the Public's Trust

One of the biggest public works projects in the United States right now has some major problems. It’s a more than $3 billion effort in Seattle, Washington to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, an aging elevated highway on the city’s waterfront, with a 2-mile-long tunnel. If you’ve been keeping an eye on the project, you know that the tunnel-boring machine (dubbed “Bertha”) broke down more than a year ago, creating various challenges and overruns. Public outcry is mounting.

Now, if you’re like me and believe in the power of communication to ensure that projects run more smoothly, the tunnel project has highlighted the need for more openness, better stakeholder management and speaking to your audience in understandable ways, instead of falling into buzzwords or corporate speak.

If I were working on the project right now, here are three things I would look at to regain the public’s trust and help everyone in Seattle and the state of Washington understand exactly where the project is.

 

1. Be willing to convey incomplete information. The project’s big challenge is that the machine built specifically for drilling the tunnel encountered a setback when it struck a metal pipe during the excavation process. Unfortunately, it took project leaders over a week to convey the extent of Bertha’s problem, the course of action and any sort of timeline to get things back on track. Since Bertha stopped working in December 2013, information has trickled out to stakeholders.

The project’s leaders could have set a much different tone early on by stating what they know and what it means to the project—along with an acknowledgement that they really aren’t 100 percent sure what the solution is, and a clear statement that they will work to provide status updates to all stakeholders as often as possible.

Instead, it’s been “hard to get straight answers,” as the Seattle radio station KUOW put it.

 

2. Be honest. This really goes hand in hand with the first point about having the confidence to convey information that is accurate, even if it is incomplete. The public has begun to doubt that project leaders are being honest about the tunnel’s current status and future. This is partly because when the city’s department of transportation (DOT) or the state government has updated the community about the project, they have given information that seems farfetched and is tough to believe in light of Bertha’s lack of progress.

Case in point: A DOT official recently toldSeattle’s City Council that the project was “70-percent complete.” That claim was met with a great deal of skepticism by journalists and members of the community.

The lesson for project managers is: Don’t fudge information to avoid blowback. In the long run, you are putting your project at a strategic disadvantage because you may lose funding or you may come under heavier oversight…or worse. So just explain things in an honest and forthcoming manner.

 

3. Be consistent in the delivery of information. A lack of consistent communications has been one of the big failings for the Seattle project team. And when there’s an information void, it will usually be filled by something you aren’t going to like. In this instance, the lack of communications has led to a real breakdown of trust.

That’s why you need to make a plan for communicating consistently with stakeholders. It should include the best ways to communicate with specific stakeholder groups, and a plan for gathering accurate, up-to-date information from the project team. To ensure timely gathering, build the consistent delivery of information into day-to-day project activities. Set a schedule of when you want your team members to communicate information to you, and hold them accountable.

In turn, you need to inform key stakeholders of when and how you’ll communicate information to them, and then stick to that plan.

 

In most cases, communications comes down to recognizing the importance of clarity in effective project leadership. In Seattle, you can see what a lack of a clear process can do to the trust between stakeholders and the project team. I’m confident that most unsuccessful projects began to unravel when communications stopped being clear and consistent.

         What do you think? 

Posted by David Wakeman on: January 23, 2015 10:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

My New Year’s Resolution: Become SMARTer

By Conrado Morlan

About five years ago, I made a New Year’s resolution that I renew every year: become a SMARTer project practitioner. This annual resolution is how I strive for excellence in my professional life.

What is a SMART project practitioner? It’s a project professional — project manager, program manager or portfolio manager — who plays multiple roles within the organization and contributes to achieving goals emanating from the organization’s mission and strategy. It stands for strategic, mindful, agile, resilient and transparent.

The SMART project professional goes beyond just managing projects. He or she helps achieve business objectives by exploring new ways to lead, execute and deliver projects supported by dispersed and diverse teams. Technical expertise is not enough — SMART professionals must adopt a business-oriented approach.

Time has proved the concept of this more expansive definition of the project professional valuable. In the 2012 video “Are You Ready?” PMI President and CEO Mark Langley discusses the new skills and capabilities required by project professionals to fully support projects. Companies are struggling to attract qualified project professionals with strong leadership and strategic and business management skills, Langley notes.

Since technical expertise is no longer enough to drive high performance,the SMART concept includes a portfolio of skills the project professional must master to meet the needs of the organization in the coming years.

Being SMART means being:

Strategic. Demonstrate an understanding of the organization’s business goals to help it get ahead of the competition.

Mindful. Develop cultural awareness and leadership styles to influence and inspire multicultural and multigenerational project teams. Foster strong relationships across the organization’s business functions. Adhere to the organization’s values and culture as well as the professional codes of ethics.

Agile. Business strategy is not static and is frequently impacted by internal and external factors. Projects will need to be adjusted to remain aligned with the business strategy, so embrace change.

Resilient. Remain committed and optimistic, and demonstrate integrity, when realigning or repairing projects facing hardships because of miscommunication and problematic behaviors as well as cross-cultural issues and conflicts.

Transparent. Whether the project is in good shape or facing challenges, the state of projects needs to be shared promptly with relevant parties.

In summary: To become SMARTer, you need to continually strive for excellence and master new skills to support professional growth and help your organization achieve its business strategy.

Did you make (or renew) New Year’s resolutions for your professional life in 2015? If so, share them with me.

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: January 08, 2015 02:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

8 New Year’s Resolutions for Your Project Portfolio

By Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

As you reflect on 2014 and prepare for the New Year, consider these eight resolutions for your project portfolio in 2015.

1.     Be a portfolio leader. Don’t just manage the portfolio — lead it by thinking in terms of profits and losses. In that sense, how does it compare to other portfolios or business units? What was your 2014 return on investment, and what is your 2015 estimated return? Is this within your organization’s expectations? What projects/programs were a drag and should be stopped? What projects/programs have the potential to generate the most returns and can be a calculated risk? (A calculated risk has a reasonable probability of generating a return; of course, what is “reasonable” depends on your organization’s risk appetite and threshold.)  If you were an investor, would you invest in your portfolio? Asking these questions may help you decide what to do differently in 2015.

2.     Accelerate the business. Ensure strategic alignment by thinking about your portfolio as dynamic and agile — an accelerator to business goals and objectives. How can you free up resources to innovate rather than just keep the lights on?

3.     Sell your portfolio’s value by understanding your audience. Speak the organization’s language while remembering the 5 C’s: clear, concise, credible, creative and compelling:

Clear— Frame the discussion in terms the other party can easily relate to and understand.

Concise— Long decks and presentations will lose your audience. Think elevator speeches: If you can’t sum it up in a sentence or two, it’s probably too complicated to understand. And if it’s too complicated, then you will not have the opportunity to influence, let alone reach agreement.

Credible— Know what you’re talking about and be prepared. This means doing your homework before coming to the table.

Creative— Look beyond the obvious to find the solution.

Compelling— Always know what’s important to the other party and what will drive them to action. Tease out the underlying need instead of only the stated desire. Understand what your bottom line is, and theirs.

4.     Establish a culture of innovation. Do this, and you can deliver long-term as well as quick wins. 

5.     Make data-driven decisions.Look at the facts to drive decisions, not emotions. Don’t get attached to pet projects.

6.     Engage with the world.Go beyond stakeholder engagement at work. Don’t forget about yourself, your home and your community.

7.     Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. That little voice is an early indicator — listen to it. Sometimes when we forge ahead against our instincts, we find out later that it would have been better to take another course.

8.     Find meaning in your portfolio. Your portfolio delivers the impossible — innovative projects and programs that have not been done before. What achievements in the past year were key to the organization, in terms of values, culture and feeding creative juices? How can you do more of that in 2015?

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: January 06, 2015 02:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

How To Improve An Underperforming Team Member

By Vivek Prakash

How To Improve An Underperforming Team MemberWhile high-performing team members are assets for us as project practitioners, we struggle with underperformers. Generally, we have two options with underperformers — get rid of them or help them become better performers. The first option is easy, while the second requires hard work, patience and persistence.

However, the unavailability of skilled employees nowadays can make even thefirst option difficult. So helping the team member improve is often preferable. It’s a challenge, but the rewards are great: We not only convert a underperforming asset into a performing asset but also gain power and respect.

I believe that underperformance is more a perception than a reality, more an expectation mismatch than an incapability. For example, a software company might recruit team members mainly based on technical skills like programming. But all software engineers do not work alike, because their background, behavior, style and beliefs differ.

Imagine giving two different but equally capable team members, A and B, the same task. You believe A is more of a planner, while B is action-oriented. Neither approach is wrong. Employee A will create a meticulous plan before starting, while B will work with a broader plan. A’s action will start later, while B will make a couple of course corrections during the work.

If you are a planning person, you might like A, but if you are an action-oriented person, you prefer B. For urgent work, B is suitable; for quality work, however, A might be better. Based on the type of work, urgency, expected outcome and your own nature, you would pick A or B.

So if a team member is not performing well, the reason may not be his or her incapability. What if your expectations were not correctly explained to the employee? What if the employee has no motivation to complete the task? 

To improve someone’s performance, I suggest changing your role from that of a boss to mentor. Why? Because a boss gives further challenges, while a mentor provides support. A boss applies pressure while a mentor tries to find a solution.

People often cannot understand their own underperformance. Providing constructive feedback with a helping hand is the first step. If the employee did not understand expectations well, clarify them. Suggest a reward for improved performance. Money is the lowest award, and you can offer it to anyone. Instead, if possible, create milestones and praise the person for reaching them.

Always try to understand the employee’s natural inclinations. Perhaps the job doesn’t align with his or her natural abilities. Consider another assignment, offer some alternatives and do not ignore the person’s own suggestions.

One more tip: Beware of labeling a person as having a negative attitude. A negative attitude is often created by the environment, an objective mismatch or employee concerns. As soon as the environment improves, objectives align or concerns are addressed, a team member’s attitude will often become positive.

You may have faced a similar challenge in your projects. What was your experience? How did you resolve it?

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: December 20, 2014 01:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)
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