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
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David Wakeman
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Recent Posts

A True Story of a Bad Sponsor

How To Keep Yourself, and Your Team, Energetic and Engaged

The Techniques That Don't Resolve Conflict

Targeted Communication: the Key to Effective Stakeholder Engagement

How Portfolio Managers Do What the CEO Says

COO: A Position PMs Are Well-Suited For

 By Wanda Curlee

Do you ever wonder where project management could take you? Believe it or not, being a project manager is excellent preparation for becoming a chief operating officer (COO).

After serving in the U.S. Navy on active duty for more than five years, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I stumbled into a project management role. I am lucky I did, because it prepared me for many different business roles. I am now on my journey from project manager to COO. The road is not simple, and there have been setbacks, but the goal remains close at hand.

To see how project management can help prepare you for a COO role, take a look at this job description. OK, finished reading? Let’s break down the large parts of the description and how they relate to project management.

Lots of similarities

A COO has “overall strategic and operational responsibility.” As a project manager, you drive the project toward the end goal and keep it on track. But you also drive the strategy of the project and oversee its operational aspects. Granted, you are not doing these tasks at the executive level, but you are the COO for the project.

The COO also develops, implements and manages the operational aspects of the annual budget. As a project manager you do all of this—at a project level.

And depending on the size of the project, you may be managing a budget that is far greater than an organization’s. Think about construction of an oil rig, building a high rise, outsourcing an IT department—all of these projects could have a budget larger than an entire company.

Chief operating officers also have to know management operations. Fortunately, this is what you do day in and day out as a project manager. A COO just does operations on a larger scale. But with practice, understanding, and leading larger projects and programs, you will excel at the same skills required to be an effective COO.

Although the job description may not spell it out, many of the soft skills you’ve honed in project management—networking, communicating, leadership, mentorship/coaching and learning from failure—are also required to be a successful COO.

In addition, tangible skills like planning a budget, implementing training, overseeing the project budget and reporting to leadership will serve you well in the C-suite.

A little help from your mentors

As you prepare for a COO role, I’d also recommend finding mentors. Mentors were necessary for my advancement. I suggest finding three of them: one in your chain of command, the second in your organization but outside the chain of command, and the third outside of your organization.

Choose your mentors carefully. Mentors—especially those outside the chain of command and the company—can help you stretch your limits. A mentor can provide suggestions on how to handle difficult situations.

He or she can also provide insight into politics within the organization or how to handle a political situation. Finally, a mentor can provide advice on the next project or program to tackle to put you on the track to becoming a COO. 

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: February 24, 2015 05:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

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)

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 (5)

The Search Is On

For project managers out of work or just looking to change gigs, the recession and job cutbacks have made the competition tough. John Thorpe, managing director of Arras People, a project management recruiting firm in London, England, offers some tips for landing your dream job.

1. Focus on you, not your projects. Many people make the mistake of ticking off all their successful projects rather than talking about how they contributed to that success. "People are interested in what you did," he says. "You could have been serving coffee on that project. But if you made the difference in a project's outcome, be loud and proud about it."

2. Experience trumps training. Hiring managers are most interested in a proven track record. Mr. Thorpe suggests you put project experience front and center.

3. Market yourself. Your résumé is your sales literature and you have to sell your experience and education in a way that speaks to the person doing the hiring. "A generic CV is not going give you the best chance, particularly in this economy when hiring is tighter and roles are much more specific," Mr. Thorpe says. He suggests tweaking your résumé for each job, emphasizing your experience in a way that specifically relates to the position you are applying for.

4. Keep it short and sweet. Recruiters have hundreds of résumés to sort through. If yours is 17 pages long, they're likely to pass it by. "You have to grab their attention in the first half of the page or you are not going to make the cut," he says.

5. Consider contract work. Many companies are opting for temporary employees to fill gaps in staff without making a long-term commitment. For those with the right skills, contract gigs can garner decent wages and help you get your foot in the door.

6. Go to networking events. A lot of jobs never even get advertised, so it pays to network. It's a time-consuming but necessary part of the search, he says. "Finding a job is a job. You need to work hard at it and commit yourself full time."

Want to know where the hotspots are even in a down market? We've got it covered PMI's Career Track in the May issue of PM Network. We will also have stories on making time for training and moving up the career ladder.

And in the 10 April issue of Community Post, PMI members can check out an article on how to highlight your credential when you are jobhunting.

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: April 03, 2009 10:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Managing Through Layoffs

Categories: PM & the Economy

The bad news keeps pouring in when it comes to job markets around the globe. In Israel, nearly 20,000 people lost their jobs in January. In Ireland, that number neared 37,000. And in the United States, it was a staggering 600,000.     
   While such details are simultaneously horrifying and fascinating, it raises a question: Who is taking on all the work these layoffs have left behind?
   In a recent article, Cynthia K. West, Ph.D., vice president of Project Insight, highlighted several factors that organizations, resource managers and project managers must face when job losses occur. They include:

•    Replacing resources on existing process
•    The loss of best practices, business practices and other knowledge
•    Assessing project priorities
   She goes on to say:

"The most immediate challenge that arises is the replacement of resources on existing projects. More often than not, projects in process still need to be completed on schedule--and within budget. The questions that must be answered are: Do the remaining resources on the team have the skill sets to complete the work? Can we transition these tasks without getting behind schedule? Does the organization have an effective way to look into the resource pool and know what skill sets the team members have?"
    So what is the solution?
    Ms. West makes several suggestions for managing these problems, for example she suggest organizations should put together a resource pool together to keep track of employee skillsets, while at the same time creating a knowledgebase that all employees can access and benefit from. It should include best practice documents, lessons learned, etc.
She also says it's important to ask the question, "Does this project help the organization reduce cost?" And then prioritize.  
     But what do you think? According to a recent poll here on Voices, more than half of our readers organizations' have experienced layoffs thanks to this global economic crisis. How is your organization dealing with  the mounting workloads--and making sure you don't lose any critical knowledge?

Posted by Kelley Hunsberger on: February 18, 2009 10:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
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