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
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rebecca Braglio
Rex Holmlin

Recent Posts

Want Satisfied Stakeholders? Guide Them Through a Learning Process

There Are No Free Steak Knives

When Is A Project Actually Over?

Project Bully on Your Case? Here Are the Negotiation Skills You Need to Get What You Want

To Develop Project Managers, You Have to Understand How Adults Learn

The 5 Ingredients for Getting the Best From Your Team

What’s the most important asset of your project? Your budget? A great project management tool? Your expertise and skills? They’re all valuable, yet the most important asset is your project team!

Projects are done by people, so success depends heavily on them. Imagine you have budget constraints; if you have talented and motivated people, they’ll find a way to move ahead.

Imagine you have an ancient project management tool; if you have the most reliable people, you might skip tracking the standard deviation of your project tasks’ duration estimates.

Imagine you’re relatively new to project management; if you have great team members, they’ll move the project ahead and drag you along till you get up to speed.

Now imagine you have an unmotivated, disorganized or poorly skilled project team. Regardless of how good the other project assets are, your job as project manager will be difficult and it’s likely your project will fail.

Sometimes as project managers, we neglect our most priceless asset—the project team. We focus too much on a project’s deliverables, the timeline, or making the end customer or sponsor happy.

Don’t get distracted. By treating your project team like any other asset of the project, you will be acting as a project administrator. By focusing on the quality, happiness and development of your project team, you will be acting like a project leader.

Here are five key ingredients for being a successful project leader and getting the best from your project team:

1) Motivation: Motivate and inspire the team by listening, mentoring, coaching, guiding and putting emphasis on people’s values. Establish a common set of values or a team credo.

2) Focus: Being busy with detailed project activities, team members might not see the forest for the trees—they might forget why the project is being done in the first place. Explain the focus by describing the end goal (the “what”). Articulate the benefits (the “why”) of achieving the project outcome.

3) Empowerment: Make your team members feel responsible for their work and accountable for the project success. It’s not just your project; it’s theirs too. Instead of assigning or delegating tasks, foster proactiveness and independence.

4) Skills Development: The daily project work should offer your team the chance to gain experience and develop expertise. Skills development during a project is a byproduct that is often neglected.

5) Appreciation: Throughout the project, take the time to appreciate and celebrate achievements. This will motivate the team and boost optimism and self-confidence, which will ultimately drive increased performance.

The ability to mix these ingredients into your team mark the difference between being a project manager and a project leader. A project manager will focus on the activities to be done and will assign them to people. A project leader will focus on the team and empower and motivate its members to achieve the project goals.

Are you a project administrator or project leader? How do you get the best from your team?

Posted by Marian Haus on: July 09, 2015 04:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

The Only Technique That Resolves Conflicts

The Only Technique That Resolves Conflicts

This piece continues my previous blog post, “The Techniques That Don't Resolve Conflict,” which looked at why no technique other than collaborate/problem solve truly resolves a conflict. Withdraw/avoid, smooth/accommodate, compromise/reconcile and force/direct are all temporary solutions—they postpone conflict resolution for a later date. Problem solving (through confronting and collaborating) is the only way to settle the conflict for good.

Here are a few points to help resolve conflicts to achieve a win-win.

Separate the Person From the Problem

Normally, people are not right or wrong. They just have different opinions, or want a different outcome than us. There is a fair possibility for an opportunity in this difference. As soon as we start seeing the difference from an angle of opportunity, we reduce our negative emotions, reduce negativity toward the person, start taking an interest in his or her viewpoint and put more focus on the problem.

Respect the Opposite Party

See the rival as a potential ally and friend in this opportunity. Respect him and his views. Genuinely try to help the other party achieve their goal. Persist with this approach even if it is not reciprocated.

Keep the Dialogue Going

It usually takes some time to work through conflicts. Matters do not get resolved quickly or within the time frame we expect. We have to maintain patience and resist the urge to fast-track the decision. Actively explore for a suitable time, engage in a two-way conversation, listen to the other party and express our views. Focus more on the points where we share common ground.

Find the Root Cause

Finding the root cause of the conflict is key to attacking the problem, and not the person. Often the reasons that appear on the surface are different than the real problems at root.

Quite often people cannot express what they really want. We often call this a hidden agenda. Many times, this hidden agenda is not as bad as it appears. For instance, some people do not openly say that they are looking for a promotion, but that’s what they really want. We have to figure out the real need by establishing a two-way conversation.

We also have to look into whether the outcome the other party seeks is a need or interest. Interests are more aspirational, and we can put them on the table. Needs, on the other hand, are basic and therefore nonnegotiable.

Allow Others to Save Face

If the other party comes out clearly on the wrong side or starts losing face, it is not the time to slap. Instead, offer opportunities to save face. Allow the other person a safe way to exit with respect. 

Use the Law of Reciprocity

Reciprocity is the foundation of living together. What we give is what we get. Empathizing and showing acceptance creates an environment of acceptance. If we make a concession, quite possibly the other party also responds. When we realize that the other party has made a concession, we should reciprocate it.

Create an Emotional Link

Emotions are at the core of conflict resolution. Create an emotional link with the other party. We must foster positive emotions such as trust, empathy and acceptance by showing these emotions. Also, we should reduce negative emotions such as anger, fear and frustration. We must balance logic and emotions.

We can find conflicts almost everywhere. The good news is that they can bring more inclusiveness and cohesion in the project team if settled by confronting and not by withdrawing or forcing.

Confronting means: Let’s talk, let me understand you first, let’s find out the root cause, respect others and create an emotional connection. I believe any type of conflict can be resolved by confronting, bringing a win to both the parties.

What’s your experience? Please share your views. 

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: July 06, 2015 08:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Hiring a Project Manager? Here Are 4 Tips for Leveraging the Interview Process

 

By Kevin Korterud

 

 

It’s not uncommon, particularly on larger programs, that project practitioners have to assemble a team of project managers. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to hire project managers we know. But quite often, we have to resort to a formal application process.

I get many questions about how to find the right project manager for a role. The process of interviewing and selecting a project manager requires preparation, efficiency and the ability to quickly focus on the skills needed for a project.

Here are four tips for navigating the interview process—and identifying the ideal candidate. 

 

1. Read and Rank Résumés—Before Interviews  

It is essential to prepare for the interviews. Good preparation practices include:

  • Think about the primary behavioral skills as well as industry/technical skills that the role requires.
  • Read each résumé in detail, looking for the desired skill profile.
  • Rank the résumés based on the desired skill profile.
  • Create a list of scenario-based questions that reflect those skills and the desired responses.

 

2. Set the Stage  

Where you conduct the interview can be as important as what you ask. Secure a location that makes for easy dialogue with minimum distractions and supports your scenario-based questions.

The best location is in a program “control room.” These rooms typically have project schedules, metrics, risks and issues displayed on their walls. Having real-time project artifacts as a reference point promotes both active dialogue and the ability to highlight examples related to the scenario-based questions. If a control room is not available, create a temporary one in a conference room where you can tack up project management artifacts.

 

3. Ask the Right Questions

The candidate has probably already gone through an initial screening. So resist the temptation to ask questions that could have been posed before or “dead-end” questions that don’t shed light on a candidate’s project management skills. Dead-end questions include:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Share your strengths/weaknesses.
  • Why did you leave your last role?  
  • Why should I hire you?

Scenario-based questions that bring out the depth and breadth of a person’s project management skills include:

  • Why did you become a project manager?
  • Share some accomplishments and learning experiences.
  • How do you deal with challenging stakeholders?  
  • What are your favorite project management metrics?
  • What techniques do you use to get a project back on track?

 

4. Leave a Positive Impression     

Sometimes a candidate isn’t a good fit for a specific project management role. If that occurs, consider the interview to be an investment in the future—perhaps you will need a project manager with that skill set for a later project. Be sure to stress this to the candidate. If there are other project manager roles open, explain that you will route the person’s résumé for consideration for those roles.

No matter the decision, it’s essential to leave a positive impression with the candidate. A positive impression left with candidates also helps attract referrals to your role.

 

Interviewing project managers can feel like as much work as the project itself. Good preparation, execution and decision-making during the process can help to quickly fill your open project manager role—as well as build a pipeline of candidates for the future.

What techniques do you use to interview project managers? 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: May 01, 2015 01:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

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 (10)

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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