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


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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

Recent Posts

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End a Business Relationship and Keep Your Cred

Fair's Fair

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 (4)

Leading With Integrity

Categories: Leadership

A few months ago, I wrote about the essential principles of leadership, and one seemed to have really struck a chord with readers. That principle is integrity. And, as I prepared to write some thoughts on the role of integrity in leadership, several examples of why integrity is so important jumped to mind. 

Take the case of the United States senator accused of plagiarizing his college thesis paper, or the seemingly lenient penalty that the National Football League commissioner laid down on one of the league's stars over a domestic violence incident, when other comparable infractions have drawn much stronger responses. 

What these two situations have in common is a lack of integrity that, on the surface, seems to be driven by taking the easy way out. Integrity is often defined as "doing the right thing when no one is watching." I don't think that is an appropriate enough definition, though. Integrity is the act of doing the right thing, even if it is extremely difficult. 

That being said, here are a few tips on how you can lead your project teams with integrity:

1. Lead honestly. The foundation of leadership and integrity is leading with honesty. You can't tell everyone everything they want to hear all the time and still get things done. Business doesn't work like that and life doesn't work like that. So to be a high-integrity leader, you need to be honest in all cases. As Erika Flora, PMP, PgMP, told me recently, being a leader requires you to "be brutally honest and provide feedback that sometimes people just don't want to hear." You can put this to work by setting clear and realistic expectations of your team, sponsors and stakeholders at the beginning, and not allowing yourself to be tied down to unrealistic expectations just to make everyone happy.

2. Take ownership. I've been in a number of organizations that faced a challenge of ownership in their projects. What that means is people are running around with big titles and the expectation is that those who report to them will jump at their slightest utterance. And as long as everything is moving along according to plan, everything is great. But as soon as the project goes off track, the "leader" is looking to point fingers and place blame to help relieve his or her responsibility. Don't do that. Being a leader and having integrity means you have to take responsibility for your performance and your team's, good or bad. As a leader, you should always start the project by telling your team something along the lines of, "Ultimately, I am responsible for the success or failure of this project, but I can't do it without you."

3. Share the spotlight. To be a strong leader of high integrity, you need to allow your team members to receive some of the glow and adulation that comes with goals achieved, projects delivered that exceed expectations and overall high performance. Allowing your team members to receive this share of the attention will make it much easier for you to get buy-in on tough issues or tricky situations in the future because they'll see you as the kind of manager who allows them to receive recognition. By the same token, when it comes to delivering bad news and accepting criticism, allowing yourself to receive the blame and not looking to share that blame with your team will engender a great deal of goodwill. And never, ever look to use one of your team members as a scapegoat for something that is ultimately your responsibility.

How do you see integrity playing out in your current team?
Posted by David Wakeman on: August 26, 2014 11:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

World-Class Lessons from World Cup Coaches

Categories: Leadership

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Photo: AC Moraes

People around the globe are tuning in to the FIFA World Cup. Even overloaded project managers will manage to find time to watch some of the global football championship coverage and root for their team. 

I can't help but find parallels between what happens on the pitch and some of the challenges we face as project managers. Both successful World Cup coaches and project managers spend a lot of time giving direction to a team to mitigate unexpected events. Here are four lessons to take away from these coaches that could help ensure your project produces winning results in the face of the unforeseen:

1. Set starters and specialists. World Cup coaches know what skills key team members must have to win games. They also have intimate knowledge of their players' skills, capacities, endurance and adaptability to changing conditions. That knowledge allows coaches to pick the players they want to start the game as well as those specialists to enter the field when the key players need support. 

Project managers should also know who the key team members are to have at the start of a project and the specialized resources -- such as subject matter experts on the business or work planners -- needed toward project completion to ensure success. 

2. Be a coach, not a player. One of the more risky tendencies for a coach is to try to teach his own playing expertise to the team members. Yet the best World Cup coaches focus on making the team perform well as a whole, not on providing detailed instruction on ball technique. Specialized coaches (for physical training or goaltending, for example) and fellow team members should provide this detailed level of instruction, leaving the World Cup coach free to direct the overall flow of the game. 

Project managers can do the same by identifying and employing specialized resources that can assist team members with fundamentals, such as writing good requirements and creating work plans. This frees up the project manager to focus on solving risks and issues across the project. 

3. Make sure everyone knows the plays. World Cup coaches go to great lengths to employ existing plays that are a good match for their players. In addition, they spend time creating new plays that can be used in unexpected conditions that can come up during a game. The World Cup coach spends a lot of preparation and practice time with the team making sure the plays are executed in a smooth and efficient manner. 

Project managers can do the same by identifying the right approaches -- that is, methods, processes and tools -- and spending time with the team to practice the execution of these approaches.

4. Provide feedback on results. At the end of every game, World Cup coaches spend time with the team as well as the media, sharing their thoughts on the outcome of the game. In addition, they will frequently share key decisions and outcomes that resulted in a win or loss for the team. World Cup coaches do this in a manner that reflects the overall effort of the team as opposed to the efforts of a few key players. 

Project managers should provide this type of feedback at regular intervals throughout the project, especially during project status meetings. Projects also have the equivalent of media attention in the form of sponsors, so project managers should openly provide the same type of feedback on a regular basis.  

What behaviors and practices have you seen that might help project managers create winning projects?
Posted by Kevin Korterud on: June 25, 2014 09:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Leadership Lifestyle

Categories: Leadership

Recently I wrote about the non-negotiable attributes of leaders. A lot of the feedback I received asked how we can use these skills in our day-to-day jobs, especially when we're encountering a business culture that doesn't always place emphasis on leadership and long-term thinking. Here are a few ways you can begin applying leadership attributes to your projects, even in challenging circumstances.

  1. Build adaptability into your routine. One of the great challenges of project management is conquering the ever-changing project -- the one with a fluid scope, ill-defined objectives and budgets that fluctuate constantly. This is why building adaptability into your daily routine is essential. And it doesn't have to be complicated. One habit you can adopt right away is to start or end your day with a question like, "What has changed in the last 24 hours that will require me to alter my project plan?" By asking that question, you will keep yourself in the center of the project's changing landscape and be able to react in a proactive manner, rather than having change forced upon you.
  2. Accept mistakes -- and their part in innovation. Organizations often talk about wanting innovation, but then turn around and penalize mistakes. And yet you can often only have better judgment -- and develop innovative solutions -- by making mistakes. If you feel your performance is suffering because you're tying yourself down to routine techniques, try this: Go to the sponsor and explain that you've been thinking about a new way to tackle a challenge. Outline the possible outcomes, risks and mitigation plans when you explain that you feel your team needs to try this new technique. Innovation and advances only occur through new thinking and experimentation, so mistakes can and should be encouraged. They are what enable project managers and teams to develop the judgment necessary to make huge leaps forward. 
  3. View integrity as a way of life. When I talk with project managers, executives and leaders, one thing that comes up frequently is the so-called leadership gap. This "gap" has infiltrated our organizations because we've moved to a culture that spends too much time focusing on the next quarter's profits. In a culture like this, it's difficult to act with the vision and integrity that will foster long-term results. As team leaders in our organizations, we all need to understand that integrity isn't a one-time event, but a lifestyle that shines through in everything we do. To put this into practice, it's important that you start speaking up within your organization. If your project's ambitions don't fit the long-term objectives of the organization, you have to be confident enough to point that out. If you feel that actions are being taken that aren't conducive to success, say something. Doing so isn't going to be easy, but being a leader never is. 

Are you -- and your organization -- willing to carry out these tips toward developing leadership skills? 

Take this project management leadership self-assessment to learn where you stand in six leadership areas.
Posted by David Wakeman on: May 15, 2014 09:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Managing to Go Green

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Is it expensive to build and run a green factory? I had been wondering this before meeting Chuang Tzu-Sou, director of the new fab planning and engineering division of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. His opinion: "Not at all!"

The construction cost of TSMC's 14th semi-conductor manufacturing plant, compared to older facilities, only increased by 1 percent. And while the budget for "Fab 14" ("fab" is short for fabricating of semiconductor chips) was US$50 million, it is expected to easily recover this cost in electricity savings within the next five years.

One of the major cost savings resulted from rethinking the industrial boiler. A major part of Fab 14 would be a boiler facility costing almost US$2 million -- industrial boilers are an integral part of the semiconductor manufacturing process, but they emit a vast amount of wastewater and carbon. Yet after researching alternate production methods and taking a close look at available technologies, they managed to do away with the boiler facility. That resulted in cuts in both Fab 14's building costs and carbon emissions once operational.

Mr. Chuang, the program manager, thinks this cost-saving measure was possible only through a manager's ability to understand and motivate workers. He felt his technicians were individuals who tended to be most capable of solving problems on their own. However, being scientifically trained and aware of business constraints, they would go with what they knew would solve a problem. They are pragmatists who evolve their knowledge slowly and are not prone to experiment with new solutions. So Mr. Chuang realized he would need to inspire them, remind them of the bigger picture, encourage them to keep an open mind and give them sufficient time to search for new solutions. 

These cost-savings affected just one building of a facility that's part of a bigger factory complex. So how did Mr. Chuang and his technicians expand savings across all Fab 14 buildings and activities? He again encouraged his team to think outside the box. His technicians devised a way for the hot air generated from semiconductor production to be circulated to other buildings and work areas for their own use, such as for air conditioning. This created an additional US$230,000 in electricity savings. 

The technicians also developed a way to purify large amounts of wastewater, enough to supply half a million people with clean water for daily use. Apart from improving the efficiency of Fab 14's construction by recycling 90 percent of the wastewater (one of the highest rates in the world), this also cut supply and recycling fees. This meant a combined savings of up to US$88 million annually.

Based on this experience, Mr. Chuang and his team realized that improvements in individual areas didn't amount to huge savings. Instead, it was making sure improvements were sought across the whole factory complex and at all stages of production. It was the creation of a green supply chain that made a change toward sustainability both possible and profitable, and TSMC is now trying to put that change into place for all its Fabs. The ultimate plan is that this will help stimulate other industries to do likewise and cause improvements for generations to come.

While the vision for this program came from Morris Chang, the chairman of TSMC, it was realized by Mr. Chuang. Mr. Chuang succeeded by focusing on the bigger picture offered by the whole program, instead of getting mired in the problems of individual projects' technical difficulties or budget overruns. By relating Mr. Chang's vision to an organizational mission, Mr. Chuang ensured short-term problems and opportunities were dealt with in a way that fed strategic long-term goals.

Learn more about Fab 14 in this video, and about Roger Chou, PgMP, on his Facebook page. How have you made green projects profitable?

Read how a fellow project practitioner is making the most of advancements in sustainability in "Biofuel From Seed to Factory," in March's PM Network.
Posted by Lung-Hung Chou on: March 11, 2014 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)