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


View Posts By:

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
Christian Bisson
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina

Recent Posts

What Do Next-Gen Project Leaders Look Like?

How to Avoid Useless Meetings

Future-Proof Projects — and Careers — With a Little Engineered Serendipity

I, Project: A Peek Into a Machine-Powered Future

Think Like a Gladiator—and a Transformer

Want to be a Strategic Project Manager? Communicate Better!

by Dave Wakeman

In recent months, I’ve been talking about how to become a more strategic project manager on this blog (see here, here and here). I thought it would be a good idea to circle back and talk about how being an effective communicator will help you be more strategic.

Here are three tips to remember:

1. Communications is at the base of performance.

Never lose sight of the fact that as a project manager, you are basically a paid communicator. And, as a communicator, you have certain responsibilities: being clear, keeping your message concise and making sure you are understood.

If you aren’t meeting these requirements, you are likely going to struggle to achieve success in your projects. In addition, poor communicating may mean you miss the message about why this project is important to the organization. You also may miss information from the team on the ground that would shape the organization’s deliberations about the project.

So always focus on making sure that your communications up and down the organization are clear, concise and understood.

2. A free flow of communications delivers new ideas.

Managing a lot of communications and information is challenging—I get that. But by the same token, if you aren’t exposing yourself to information from many different sources (both inside and outside the organization), you’re likely missing out on ideas that can transform your opinions and open you up to new ways of looking at things.

While being a strong project manager is about having a good, solid framework for decision-making, you aren’t going to have all the technical expertise yourself. In addition, your team may be only focused on the one area that they are in charge of. So it’s important that someone is open to the flow of ideas that can come from any direction and that may have the power to reshape your project in unimaginable ways.

You can achieve this by making sure you have conversations up and down the organization and pay attention to things outside of your scope of work. You never know where a good idea is going to come from.

3. Relationships are the key to project success—and they’re built through communication.

If we aren’t careful, we can forget that our project teams are groups of people with wants and needs. Remember: at the heart of our work are real people whom our projects impact.

That’s why it’s essential that you focus on the human aspect of being a project manager, especially if you want to become a top-notch, strategic project manager. Our human interactions and relationships are the key to our success as project managers.

This is something you should be taking action on all the time. Maybe you start by pulling someone on your team aside for a conversation about what’s going on. Maybe you find out a little more about the person’s home life. Or, you just make sure you have an open-door policy when it comes to information on your projects.

The key is to make sure you give your personal relationships an opportunity to thrive in the project setting.

Let me know what you think in a comment below! 

By the way, I write a weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: April 10, 2016 02:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Project Leaders as Ethical Role Models


By Peter Tarhanidis            

This month’s theme at projectmanagement.com is ethics.  Project leaders are in a great position to be role models of ethical behavior. They can apply a system of values to drive the whole team’s ethical behavior.

First: What is ethics, exactly? It’s a branch of knowledge exploring the tension between the values one holds and how one acts in terms of right or wrong. This tension creates a complex system of moral principles that a particular group follows, which defines its culture. The complexity stems from how much value each person places on his or her principles, which can lead to conflict with other individuals.

Professional ethics can come from three sources:

  1. Your organization. It can share its values and conduct compliance training on acceptable company policy.
  2. Regulated industries. These have defined ethical standards to certify organizations.
  3. Certifying organizations. These expect certified individuals to comply with the certifying group’s ethical standards.

In project management, project leaders have a great opportunity to be seen as setting ethical leadership in an organization. Those project leaders who can align an organization’s values and integrate PMI’s ethics into each project will increase the team’s ethical behavior. 

PMI defines ethics as the moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior. The values include honesty, responsibility, respect and fairness.

For example, a project leader who uses the PMI® Code of Ethics to increase a team’s ethical behavior might:

  • Create an environment that reviews ethical standards with the project team
  • Consider that some individuals bring different systems of moral values that project leaders may need to navigate if they conflict with their own ethics. Conflicting values can include professional organizations’ values as well as financial, legislative, religious, cultural and other values.
  • Communicate to the team the approach to be taken to resolve ethical dilemmas.

Please share any other ideas for elevating the ethical standards of project leaders and teams, and/or your own experiences!

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: February 22, 2016 09:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Creative


“Creative” is rarely a word used to describe project managers. Typically, they’re called “organized,” “good communicators,” etc.

A colleague of mine inspired me when he said that a good project manager is a creative one. I was confused at first, but his explanation made sense. To be able to take advantage of great opportunities as they present themselves, a good project manager needs to be creative with the scope and the budget as the project evolves.

In other words, project managers shouldn’t automatically respond: “No, we can’t, it’s out of scope or budget.” Instead, they should say: “How can we make it work?” Genius!

Every project manager is guilty of refusing a great idea when the team comes up with something out of scope or budget. It’s easy to say “no,” but it’s a lot more rewarding for you, the team and the project to find a way. That’s where you get creative!

The first solution that generally comes to mind is upselling the idea to stakeholders and asking for more funds. This could be denied, or it might not even be an option if the budget is fixed.

Another solution is to reduce another part of the scope or even remove it completely to accommodate this new idea. There are often “nice to haves” on projects, and they can be traded for better ideas. That’s where the new idea needs to be sold as more efficient than what’s being removed.

Other solutions can be outsourcing to reduce some costs, or even pulling some strings if needed. And you know what? You don’t have to do this thinking alone—give your team the chance to contribute ideas. You might find out that if some features are slightly different, you can save effort here and there, and then you are able to transfer some budget somewhere else.

The key point here is leaving “no” as a last resort, and asking yourself and the team: “How can we make it work?


How are you creative with your projects?

Posted by Christian Bisson on: October 29, 2015 07:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

If Your Project Addresses the Wrong Problem, It Won’t Be Successful

In my previous post, I emphasized the importance of engaging and involving stakeholders proactively in a learning process about project definition and planning. I highlighted soft systems methodology as a powerful problem-structuring method.

But how exactly can we incorporate problem-structuring methods into the project management practice? Are they really useful and feasible? Let me guide you through an example below, step by step, according to the Soft Systems Methodology.

Project: Build a New Power Plant

  1. Problem situation unstructured: Our energy supply isn’t meeting demand.
  2. Problem situation expressed: This expresses the area of concern through a rich picture containing both appropriate symbols for real-world activities and words.

Figure 1: Simplified rich picture for the project “Build Power Plant” (Trentim, 2013)

  1. Root definition: The purpose of the project is not to build a new power plant; the end objective is to deliver enough energy to the client. The client expresses the most important human activity system (HAS) to be further studied. We could define more than one root definition to represent a different HAS. For each HAS, we have an analysis of the customer, actors, transformation, weltanschauung (comprehensive worldview), owner and environment (CATWOE).
  • Root definition: to ensure that the client has enough energy.
  • CATWOE Analysis

Customer: client

                           Actors: sponsor, project manager, team and contractors

Transformation: provide enough energy

Weltanschauung: energy fuels operations

Owner: client

Environment: client environment

  1. Conceptual models: We could develop many models in different levels to better understand the problem. Simplifying, I’ve created a conceptual model of how the client uses energy, based on the root definition stated before.

Figure 2: Conceptual model based on root definition “to ensure that the client has enough energy” (Trentim, 2013)

  1. Comparison between conceptual models and the real world. This stage compares what we are now to what we want to be able to do. The conceptual model (or models) represents how things should work. The reality has to be changed in some way to improve the problem-situation.

Table 1: Comparison to reality (Trentim, 2013)

  1. Feasible desirable changes: The project manager and his or her team propose solutions (project scope). In stage 5, we compare the ideal conceptual model to reality, so we can propose feasible solutions and create action plans.
  2. Implement solutions: project execution.

Actually, the solution implementation might encompass all of the project life cycle. Stages 1 to 6 may happen prior to project initiation or in the beginning of the planning phase. Once we have the problem statement and the proposed solution aligned strategically to stakeholders’ expectations and needs, we can use our traditional project management knowledge, as compiled in the PMBOK® Guide, for example.

A successful project delivers solid benefits. That’s why we have to understand the problem before we start creating a solution. In other words, well-crafted plans and detailed scope definitions are useless if they do not address the real needs of stakeholders. Don’t you think?

Have you ever solved the wrong problem? Please leave your comments and thoughts below.

Posted by Mario Trentim on: September 15, 2015 04:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

3 Ways To Become A Strategic Project Manager

By Dave Wakeman

You don’t have to be a great philosopher to understand that our business environment has changed tremendously over the last few years. One result of all this change is that organizations now rely more heavily on projects to deliver on their strategic efforts.

Instead of considering this a problem, project managers should look at it as a huge opportunity to act more strategically and add value to their roles. We should work with executive leadership to help deliver successful projects aligned with the overall organizational strategy.

Many organizations have just begun to incorporate project management into their strategic delivery. Here are three ways you can align yourself with your organization’s strategy to take advantage of the shifting dynamics in the business environment.

1. Always jump to “why?”

I tell my clients that everything we do in an organization is driven by the answer to one simple question: Why?

As a project manager looking to jump into the strategic deployment of projects, you must move from implementer to strategic partner.

As a strategic partner, you want to get out in front of projects that you suspect won’t be successful from the start. To do so, always ask yourself, “Why this is important?” or “Why isn’t this important?” By being driven by the “why,” you can take control of wayward or poorly aligned projects.

Onecautionary note: When you explain that the project isn’t in alignment with the organizational strategy, you need to offer some alternatives.

2. Pay close attention to the business environment surrounding your organization and project.

As someone close to the implementation of the strategy, you will have a great vantage point to recognize and diagnose any challenges that might impede your team’s progress. You are also likely to be much closer to changes that present opportunities, technologies that will expedite delivery or unresolved issues that may derail the project.

The key is to stop thinking about just your individual project, and begin to think about how your project plays in the overall strategy. Then, when the opportunity presents itself, you should step into the conversation about how the project is working or not working with the organization’s strategy. But be prepared to explain how you got there and how you can get things back in order.

3. Think in terms of outcomes.

As a project manager in a project-driven organization, you’ll need to think and manage based on outcomes. This is in part because the demographics of our workforces are changing from on-site, lifelong employees to remote teams, project-driven workforces and employees who are looking for higher degrees of balance in their lives.

This makes outcome-based objectives a key component of delivering on the strategic promise of the organization. And it means you need to give up the idea that you can or should try to control every activity in your project.

It also means you are likely going to have to focus more on opening clear communication lines with your team and key stakeholders so you can communicate the importance of these outcomes in the context of the organization’s strategy.

How is your role becoming more strategic, and how do you drive strategic thinking in your projects? Let me know what I missed. 

By the way, I've started a brand new weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. Send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com 

Posted by David Wakeman on: May 22, 2015 08:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

I did this thing on the Ottoman Empire. Like, what was this? A whole empire based on putting your feet up?

- Jerry Seinfeld