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
Wanda Curlee
Rebecca Braglio

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

The Techniques That Don't Resolve Conflict

A team goes through five stages in a project: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. The success of a project depends on how much time the team spends in the storming and performing stages. If a team leader is good at managing conflicts, the storming stage can be shortened, and the team can gain more time for performing. That significantly increases the chances of success.

Many authors and PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) define five techniques to resolve conflicts: withdraw/avoid, smooth/accommodate, compromise/reconcile, force/direct and collaborate/problem solve.

Aside from collaborate/problem solve, in my opinion all the approaches conclude with either one party winning and the other losing, or with both losing. I think these techniques are intended to achieve results only in the short term, and give no thought to what will happen in the long term.

If you use withdraw or force, one person wins and other loses. The winner might be satisfied, but what about the person who has lost? Will he/she not try to recover losses at the next opportunity? In my experience, if you use smooth or compromise, both parties lose by having to give up something that is important to them.

Let’s take a common example: negotiating price with a vendor. A conflict can arise because you both want a favorable price. Suppose you have the upper hand and force the vendor to settle on a considerably lower price than he or she wanted. Have you resolved the conflict? Probably not.

Since the vendor lost in the negotiation, he or she may try to gain back the lost money by working on the lower threshold of the acceptable range, trying to cut corners in the process or production, or using cheaper material. This will degrade the quality of the deliverable. What you think is a win-lose for you could easily become a lose-lose.

The same thing can happen when you negotiate a salary with a candidate, negotiate a promotion/raise with your report, or settle a conflict between two team members by either forcing one, or asking both, to compromise.

Compromise or smooth are even worse, in my opinion. They are lose-lose in the short term and even worse in the long term. That’s because in compromise or smooth, we often sacrifice important things. Later, both parties keep trying to recover the things they compromised away. They repeatedly negotiate with little takeaway. Lots of time is wasted in negotiations and productivity remains low.

I think problem solving/collaborating is the only technique that truly resolves conflicts. The collaboration focuses on the problem and helps solve it to the satisfaction of both parties—and therefore resolves the conflict for good. It’s easier said than done, of course.

I’ll focus on the collaborate/problem solve technique in my next blog. Until then, please share your views. How have you resolved conflict within your team? What were the results in the short-term and long-term?

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: April 14, 2015 02:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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)

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 (4)

Get Over Your Fear and Acknowledge Your Boss

Categories: Human Resources, Teams

Senior managers rank among the most under-acknowledged people in the workplace.

Part of it comes down to harried, stressed out, schedule-conscious project managers not being overly concerned with delivering the praise that does pop up in their brains from time to time. And we also wonder if that praise will be taken the wrong way. Will managers think we're just trying to get on their good side?

But once they're encouraged to acknowledge upward, people can't seem to wait to take action. In one virtual course I led, a project manager texted "I'll be right back. I have to go acknowledge my boss!"

Ten minutes later he was back. "I did it!!!" he texted, and you could feel his pride. We all felt proud of him, too, and shared his three-exclamation-mark excitement.

I was pleased to hear a similar story in a different course:
 
Some time ago, I had told my boss privately, but I had not told anyone publicly (so as not to embarrass him too much) that he was my hero -- that he had saved me from an almost intolerable situation and allowed me to retain my dignity. I'd always felt that he acknowledged me, but was especially honored as a result of the appointment to my current position.

"What he hasn't known, but will now," I told our class, with my boss sitting right there, "is that because of this, I say thank you to him every day that I've worked here, since November 2008, through my password, which is a combination of a 'thank you' to him and his name." - Jyll D. Townes, deputy commissioner for regional affairs, New York State Division of Human Rights
 
When Jyll told this story, her boss -- and everyone else in the room -- just lit up! It was so refreshing and wonderful to see. He was totally surprised and moved. She took the risk of acknowledging upward in a public setting and reaped the reward.

Don't hold back appreciation because of a person's position or influence. Sometimes those in the highest positions need our acknowledgment the most. Theirs can be a lonely and stressful path. Letting them know they made or make a difference in the workplace and in our lives will go a long way.
 
Feel free to post an acknowledgment of your manager as a comment to this blog! 
Posted by Judy Umlas on: August 18, 2010 11:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

PMBOK®Guide for the Trenches, Part 7: Procurement and Human Resources

I'm linking the procurement and human resources chapters of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) together for the simple reason that I have absolutely no idea why they're in there in the first place. I have never been in or encountered an organization of any size that lumps human resources and procurement departments under the head of project management.

I'm pretty sure this is because human resources and procurement should be understood as asset management, not project management. Asset and project management are completely different animals, with different objectives, tools and methods for attaining their respective goals.

Those differences were vividly illustrated for me when I was working on a software project for my organization's human resources department. I had loaded the schedule into a critical path network, pulled status and recalculated the projected end dates. When I was presenting the resulting Gantt chart to the human resources manager, I pointed out that one set of activities involving the software coders looked like it would be delayed, and, if it was, it would delay other key milestones.
 
"Tell everyone to come to work this weekend and maybe next," was his automatic reply. "Wait," I interjected. "These activities have nothing to do with your folks - it's the management information systems people who are involved here, and we don't even know what their difficulty is. It may not be fixable with more people working it." "No difference," he replied. "This project is so important that all of our assets must be performing optimally."

Of course, project management is not about the performance of assets. It's about attaining the scope that the customer is expecting, within the customer's parameters of cost and schedule.

I'm engaging in a little bit of hyperbole here, but most project managers don't concern themselves about whether they should have bought or rented a key piece of equipment. They care about whether or not the job gets done on time and within budget.

Procurement is in the same boat. Sure, it's important that the procurement professionals who work with you are very good at what they do. But they obtain assets and are similarly afflicted by the asset managers' mind set.

I just don't think we're kindred spirits. But, if there are any human resources or procurement heavy-hitters out there who think our managerial goals and techniques are completely compatible, I'd love to hear from you.

Posted by MICHAEL HATFIELD on: August 13, 2010 03:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)
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