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

Level 5 Leadership: Taking Your Project from Good to Great

Sprinting a Marathon

How Managers Can Grow Into Leaders

Managing The Last 100 Feet

The Network Diagram Mentality

Level 5 Leadership: Taking Your Project from Good to Great

Categories: Leadership

A Level 5 Leader (L5L) is an individual who blends extreme personal humility with intense professional will. The characteristics and success of these leaders were first identified by Jim Collins in 2001. They formed a central plank in his best-selling book Good to Great.

The discovery of Level 5 leadership derived from a research project that Collins began in 1996, when he set out to answer one question: Can a good company become a great company and, if so, how? The answer was the concept of a Level 5 Leader.

The L5L sits on top of a hierarchy of capabilities and is, according to Collins’ research, a necessary requirement for transforming an organization from good to great. Individuals do not need to proceed sequentially through each of the lower four levels of the hierarchy to reach the top, but to be a full-fledged L5L requires the capabilities of all the lower levels, plus the special characteristics of Level 5. The characteristics are:

  • Level 5 Executive:Builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional will.
  • Level 4 Effective Leader:Catalyzes commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision; stimulates the group to high performance standards.
  • Level 3 Competent Manager:Organizes people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives.
  • Level 2 Contributing Team Member:Contributes to the achievement of group objectives; works effectively with others in a group setting.
  • Level 1 Highly Capable Individual:Makes productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills and good work habits.

When Good to Great was published in 2001, the concept of Level 5 leadership was counterintuitive, even countercultural. People generally assumed that transforming companies from good to great required larger-than-life leaders with big personalities like Lee Iacocca and Jack Welch, who made headlines and became celebrities. And while Level 5 leadership is not the only requirement for transforming a good company into a great one—other factors include getting the right people “on the bus” (and the wrong people “off the bus”) and creating a culture of discipline—Collins’ research showed L5L to be essential. 

Thirteen years later, what’s this got to do with project management?

The answer is that rather than focusing on being the “project management hero,” project managers can apply the lessons of Level 5 Leadership to take a project from good to great!

Some of the key traits of an L5L are:

  • Humility. Whenever your team members have success, make sure credit goes to them for their hard work. But as a leader, you need to take responsibility for your team’s efforts, particularly when things go wrong.
  • Asks for help.Knowing when and how to ask for help lets you call upon the expertise of someone stronger in an area than you are. The result? The entire team or organization wins, not just you.
  • Takes responsibilityfor the team’s mistakes or failings.
  • Discipline.When you commit to a course of action, no matter how difficult, stick to your resolve. It’s always important to listen to differing opinions, but don’t let fear be your driving motivator when you make, or change, a decision.
  • Takes the time to find the right people.And then helps them reach their full potential.
  • Leads with passion.When you demonstrate to your team members that you love and believe in what you’re doing, they will too.

Becoming a L5L is not easy. But rather than being a hero fighting to make your project a success, shifting to Level 5 leadership allows you to be successful while benefiting your organization and team.

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: December 12, 2014 06:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Sprinting a Marathon

By Conrado Morlan

It was a cold and windy morning in Chicago as I lined up among more than 40,000 runners from all over the world. I was ready to start my seventh marathon.

I had set five hours as my target finish time, and I joined a team of runners with the same goal. Before the race at the assigned corral, I met my fellow runners and the pacers who would keep us at the correct speed.

After running the first mile with the group, led by the pacers, I inevitably started to think as a project manager. I realized the race mimics an agile Scrum project, and I began to identify roles and responsibilities based on the context of the race.

The pacers played the Scrum master role. At the end of every mile, they confirmed that the runners’ cadence was right, providing feedback on speed and recommendations on hydration. At the same time, they led the stand-up, checking with every runner on how he or she was doing and if anyone would need additional support. Pacers also kept updating the backlog to ensure product increments were delivered by the runners on every sprint.

The group of runners was the self-managed development team. We had acquired the skills and abilities required to run the race after weeks of training. Our project was set to be completed in eight imaginary sprints of 3.1 miles (5 kilometers) each and would deliver the final product — the ninth sprint. It was our task to keep the cadence and burn rate constant.

As in any project, issues cropped up. On my fifth sprint, I had to make adjustments to my race plan and update my “backlog.” Around mile 15 (kilometer 24), I detected a blood stain on my left foot that kept expanding as I tried to keep my time under 11:30 per mile, so I decided to slow my pace and let the five-hour group go ahead. By mile 19 (kilometer 30), the situation was under control, and I set my new pace. But between mile 24 and 25 (kilometer 40), I had to stop at the aid station for pain reliever ointment to alleviate the discomfort of cramps in my quads.

In any race, no matter the distance, spectators and volunteers are key. They are the stakeholders of the runner’s project. Their function is to provide support along the race with signs, words of encouragement and refreshments. Spectators and volunteers’ commitment to the runners is unconditional.

An important part of the agile approach is the retrospective. For my marathon project, here’s how my retrospective would look:

What went well?

·       Enjoyed the experience of running with a pace team

·       Finished my seventh consecutive marathon and my first World Major Marathon despite a few problems

·       Improved my strength, endurance and recovery time dramatically

What didn’t go so well?

·       Not taking advantage of the resources provided at the aid stations

What have I learned?

·       Running with a pace team lessens race stress

·       The importance of listening to my “brain/body” and paying attention to its signals from the very first step

What still puzzles me?

·       After finishing seven consecutive marathons, why do I still want to run more?

·       Why do challenges pump adrenaline into project management professionals and runners?

This marathon gave me valuable lessons that will be applied at my next race, the Dallas Marathon, where I look forward to improving my performance.

Do you inevitably start thinking as a project manager when performing non-project related activities? If so, share your experiences.

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: December 10, 2014 10:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

How Managers Can Grow Into Leaders

As we move toward the end of the year and prepare our personal and professional goals for 2015, I’ve been thinking about how someone can go from being just a manager to being a leader.

 

Years ago, a big project I was working on with American Express and one of its partners ran into trouble. A lot of factors probably led to that, but one still stands out to me:  I was succeeding as a manager but failing as a leader. And that was the project’s ultimate downfall.

 

Over the years, I’ve been able to reflect and grow from that experience. Here are three ways you can use my experience to help you become more of a leader in 2015.

 

1.   Focus on the vision. Managers are, by their nature, implementers. We get tasked with projects that we may not have had a great deal of input into. But just because we’re helping our sponsors reach their goals doesn’t mean we can’t apply our vision as well. To focus on vision in your management and leadership, start by formulating what this project means to you, the organization, the team and the end users. Then, most importantly, personalize those aspects that are likely to inspire your team.

2.   Focus on important conversations.I once read that a project manager spends 90 percent of his or her time communicating. To become a better leader, focus on the most important of these conversations: ones with your sponsor and your team. They are the people who are going to be able to inform you about changes in circumstances, troubles in a project or resource challenges. While there are lots of important people to talk with, the most important are the ones who have the most direct impact on the project’s success or failure — so prioritize those.

3.   Look at the long-term.This advice ties into having a vision for your project and having conversations with your important team members and sponsors. But thinking long-term also means you need to infuse your vision and conversations with a future orientation. This might mean that you talk with your sponsor about how a project fits into a long-term strategic plan for the organization. Or, it might mean that you spend time during conversations with your team members asking about their goals and values. This can allow you to shift your actions and assignments in a way that delivers on the promise of the current project. At the same time, you will have built a stronger understanding and real relationship with your sponsors and teams that will transcend your current project and have lasting benefits for projects and years to come.

 

What are some of the ways you’ve helped make yourself a stronger leader, rather than solely a manager?  

Posted by David Wakeman on: December 09, 2014 10:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

The Network Diagram Mentality

You want your projects to get off to a good start and end without major glitches. However, what typically happens is that projects begin with many unknowns and continue to progress with more unknowns. Not only that, projects hit many bumps along the way — and you are constantly addressing problems, attempting to resolve issues and rallying to minimize risks. 

Faced with this, I recommend approaching projects with a “project network diagram” mentality. (A network diagram is a planning tool that shows sequences of tasks, dependencies on tasks and impacts on a project.) Here are tips on using a network diagram mentality for managing project schedules:

1.   Count backward. There are tasks that inevitably depend on each other and have specific time frames. For example, it might take 10 days for one task to be done and 15 days for dependent tasks to be complete. So right away, you know you already need 25 days for that project. So these start-to-finish and other connecting relationships matter when building a schedule, as do float, slack and critical path times. These are all time factors you consider when doing backward counting. The technique of counting backward helps define the schedule because you focus better so as not to miss a number or a task. 

2.   Look in other directions.  A horse can see in one direction with one eye and in the other direction with the other eye. A project manager needs to do the same and constantly be aware of the surroundings. A network diagram offers this peripheral vision by encompassing all the aspects that matter to the project — and helps you set boundaries. A view in one direction can focus on what’s happening in the project. The other direction could be the bigger picture of your project. Let the boundary be what could potentially surface from either of those directions. For example, say your company has a portfolio of projects it has to complete. So at the same time you’re keeping an eye on the spending on your project, you also want to be aware of whether the company will be able to maintain your resources over the length of the project, especially in an economy in which layoffs happen all the time. If your company has to release some of your resources, what then would be your contingency plan to still make sure your project can be completed?

3.   Keep the end in mind.  Have an idea of the goal the project should achieve. Encourage team members to maintain a layout of their tasks in a way that identifies and prioritizes what must be done and can be done to reach that goal. Then, inspire your team to approach all tasks with confidence. In a network diagram, after having laid possible connections together, the project manager sets controls in place, giving him or her the capability for more optimal opportunities of project success. Manage your time and your project team’s time based on making it to the finish line.

What method do you use to help you prepare for and better manage project schedules?

Posted by Bernadine Douglas on: December 02, 2014 05:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Managing for Stakeholders — Not Stakeholder Management

The new Knowledge Area, stakeholder management, was cheerfully welcomed in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Fifth Edition.


We all agree on the importance of stakeholder management. It’s common sense. However, it is not common practice. Few project managers have a formal approach to stakeholder management. And many organizations lack guidelines to manage stakeholders.

Figure 1: Lack of stakeholder management leads to poor results. (Trentim, 2013)

 

Most of us rely on soft skills, communication and leadership to manage stakeholders. But while they’re helpful, interpersonal skills are far from being the sole way to implement stakeholder management. As a matter of fact, there are hard skills in stakeholder management — tools, techniques and methods that should be diligently applied to enhance stakeholder management and improve project success rates. 

 

For example, there are at least 10 different tools for stakeholder identification. Often, project managers rely only on brainstorming to write a stakeholder registry, conforming to the methodology imposed by a project management office (PMO). That’s why I believe we need a paradigm shift.

 


Figure 2: The virtuous cycle—as opposed to the “vicious cycle”—for managing stakeholders (Trentim, 2013)

 

A project manager’s goal is to add value. Value depends on stakeholder expectations and perception. Consequently, the project manager’s goal is to engage and involve stakeholders in value creation. This is what we call managing for stakeholders.

 

On the contrary, the term stakeholder management assumes we can manage expectations. This is wrong. We cannot manage people, to paraphrase U.S. author and businessman Stephen Covey. We lead people. We persuade and influence stakeholders.

 

In 2013, the Project Management Institute published my book, Managing Stakeholders as Clients. It presents a framework with a paradigm shift from traditional stakeholder management by first setting the premise that we can’t manage stakeholders or their expectations — we can only lead, influence and persuade people. To my surprise, I was the recipient of PMI Educational Foundation’s 2014 Kerzner Award* at PMI® Global Congress 2014—North Americafor my results in managing projects and programs. But in particular, the award recognized my creation of this stakeholder management framework and the results of its application.

 

The main difference between stakeholder management and managing for stakeholders is this: Stakeholder management’s goal is to manage stakeholders’ expectations, enhancing support and reducing negative impacts — a reactive measure. It’s almost as if project managers develop stakeholder management plans to protect themselves from external interference.

 

Managing for stakeholders means involving and engaging stakeholders in value creation, boosting their support and having them take ownership in a proactive way. Managing for stakeholders embraces change as a learning process.

 

 

While stakeholder management is instrumental, employing processes for conformity, managing for stakeholders is results-oriented. In summary, stakeholder management is an attempt to manage stakeholders’ expectations toward the project. On the other hand, managing for stakeholders is clearly oriented to manage the project and its results for the stakeholders, on behalf of their changing needs and expectations.

 

Now that it’s clear we should start approaching stakeholder management from a different perspective, in my next post I’ll share more tips and details from Managing Stakeholders as Clients. Don’t miss it!

 

How do you manage for stakeholders?

 

*The PMI Educational Foundationadministers the prestigious Kerzner Award. The Kerzner Award is sponsored by International Institute for Learning, Inc. (IIL)to recognize a project manager who most emulates the professional dedication and excellence of Dr. Harold Kerzner, PhD, MS, MBA.

Posted by Mario Trentim on: November 25, 2014 09:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
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