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

Recent Posts

Is Managing Risk a Negative Way to Work?

Don’t Shout the Loudest—Think Ahead

Can We Use the Principles of Newspeak for Good?

The Customer Is Always Digital—So Make the Experience Right

Reality Check: Stop Being So Optimistic

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

By Peter Tarhanidis

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Many organizations rely on traditional curriculum-based learning to develop project leaders. However, such approaches are deeply rooted in pedagogy—the teaching of children.

Even though top managers at many organizations invest in traditional project management curricula, these courses have limited utility for adult project managers, slowing down the organization from reaching goals. In my experience, organizations tend to employ disparate training methodologies while teams dive into execution with little planning. With scattered approaches to talent management and knowledge transfer, they miss project goals.

All this creates an opportunity for an enterprise-wide approach that integrates contemporary adult learning and development practices.

Leveraging this approach allows the organization to motivate and sustain increased individual and project performance to achieve the organization’s strategic plan.

In coming up with such an approach, organizations should consider several adult learning and development theories. For example, consider Malcolm Knowles’ six aspects of successful adult learning: self-directed learning, building experiences, developing social networks, the practicability of using new knowledge, the internal drive to want to understand why, and how to use new knowledge.

And they must also keep in mind how the aging project management workforce of project managers drives organizational performance. Other considerations include:

  1. Employee learning is necessary due to fast-paced changes in demographics, technology and globalization. But those employees are already busy staffing the growing demands of strategic initiatives.
  2. Adult learning models should be the foundation of your training programs.
  3. Traditional adult development theories must expand to include integrative learning models.
  4. Self-directed learning must integrate new transformational approaches that provide for content delivery and experiential learning.
  5. The impact of cognitive development processes on intelligence and aging can yield new and useful approaches to teaching and learning.

Try these eight steps to build a more flexible and integrated adult learning framework. 

  1. Identify self-directed approaches for employees to acquire knowledge, information and skills, and readily apply them to meet organizational outcomes.
  2. Create a learning environment that helps make sense of practitioner situations and allows for reflective dialogues to create solutions to problems and new knowledge.
  3. Sponsor internal networks, social media and gaming/simulation technology to distribute information.
  4. Define clear levels of learning that can be achieved by moving across boundaries. Examples of such boundaries can be small, medium, large projects or local, national, global projects.
  5. Leverage experts to instruct groups. If the organization is seen to value the role of teacher, others will want to teach as well, reinforcing a continuous cycle of development.
  6. Encourage learning on the job, so that an employee’s learning is based on understanding the effects of his or her actions in an environment.
  7. Launch communities of practice that are based on the influence of the community to develop the group expertise.
  8. Engage quick feedback through co-participation or co-emergence of learning based on everyday interactions through peers, leaders or certain situations.

New integrative learning approaches are required to increase project managers’ competence while motivating and sustaining older adult learners.

By applying these practices to critical needed competencies, organizations can create new capabilities to meet their strategic plans.

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: August 04, 2015 09:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

How to Use Your Position to Improve Team Members

As a project manager, do you realize how many people are observing you? It’s true—in addition to all of our varied responsibilities, we also have team members constantly watching and depending on us for their next moves.

To take advantage of all this attention to benefit the project and organization, a project manager should always remember the three “i” words: help team members improve, be an inspiring professional model, and illustrate project management excellence.

Improve. First, be aware of the wealth of talent your resources hold, as well as what their professional development needs are. You may want to cross-train team members so project activities can continue even if someone leaves the project.

In addition, in some organizations, project managers are asked to contribute to team members’ performance reviews, which gives you another opportunity to suggest areas of improvement. It’s also helpful to pass along training events that you know could interest and enhance the skill sets of your team members.

Inspire. Whether or not members of your team want to become project managers, you should always be a good example of one. How you act on the job says a lot about your profession and your organization, and will be a cue for others to follow.

In addition, you can use your status as project manager to show team members that they can be leaders in whatever position they hold.

Illustrate. Demonstrate project management hard and soft skills. For example, you could show a disorganized team member better techniques for issue and defect logs, or help a struggling team member learn ways to communicate with stakeholders more confidently.

Consistently turning these three words into action takes conscious effort. The good news is that project managers have a fantastic opportunity to be a partner in their team members’ growth. 

Do you practice these leadership skills to foster growth in your team members? What other leadership skills would you add to the list?


Posted by Bernadine Douglas on: March 24, 2015 10:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Value of Community

“Community” is a hot topic, but what does it mean?  I’ve been seeing the word thrown around by a lot of different brands lately – “Join our community of coffee lovers” or “Be a part of our vegetable-loving community and get great recipes and advice.”  I guess brands are realizing the value of community and the massive potential for driving the business.

But should the primary purpose of a community be about driving the business? Not to me. In my opinion, the primary purpose of community should be about the community.

What does “community” mean, anyway?  For ProjectMangement.com, a “community” is a group of people who share an interest, fate, or purpose. A community has shared values. A community has shared symbols that show a united identity.

open house imageWe take our community very seriously. Our members help to create valuable content for us to share with other project managers around the world. It’s our members who ask the tough questions and challenge the status quo. Our members not only grow the community, they help to shape it.

Which is why we are celebrating our community on ProjectManagement.com all day long on March 16, 2015. We’d like to think of it as an “Open House” to all members, whether they’re new or early adopters. We’ll be offering lots of content around collaborating and team building (ahem, see that “community” theme?). To sweeten the deal, we’re even giving away some prizes!

So, stop by ProjectManagement.com at any time on March 16th and celebrate with us. Hope to see you there!

Posted by Rebecca Braglio on: March 13, 2015 10:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Done With Military Service? You Could Make a Great Project Manager

By Wanda Curlee

Transitioning from the military into the civilian workforce can be difficult. If you’re interested in project management, however, you may find that you have valuable skills and experience. When I was introduced to project management years after I finished my service in the U.S. Navy, one of my first thoughts was: I’ve done this before.

Still, it can be hard to know how to start a civilian career as a project manager. Here’s some food for thought.

First, think about tasks you did in the military, whether it was organizing a 5K race or walk for the base, preparing for deployment, returning from deployment, or staging a change of command or retirement ceremony. Just like in project management, all these tasks had a definite beginning and end. Even if the event had been held before, each time was unique. For all of these tasks, a team helped you implement your project.

As you delve into project management as a possible career, I suggest reviewing Project Management Institute’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). You may discover your military experience directly relates to the project management knowledge areas it details:

Integration management is making sure that processes and project management activities occur when they should. In other words, you would not finish the planning for the change of command ceremony when you are just starting the project. Tasks can happen in parallel and can jump from process to process, but need to occur in an orderly fashion.

Scope management is about making sure the project doesn’t expand beyond what was agreed upon with the project sponsor. For example, you are leading the team that ensures all heavy equipment arrives back at the base after deployment. Your scope is the heavy equipment, not the laptops and desktop computers. Scope change may not be bad, but it has to be monitored.

Cost management can be tricky for military personnel because some types of military projects—such as returning a unit home from overseas deployment—don’t always have clear budgets. But many, such as organizing a dinner or race, do. If you handled smaller projects such as these, you had a finite amount of money—and you knew it would not be fun to have to ask your superiors for more. 

Quality management is straightforward in a military context. Anyone who has served as junior officer or senior enlisted officer has made sure the team followed the rules and made good judgment calls.

Human resource management is a no-brainer for officers and senior enlisted officers: they know how to lead teams. (By the way, one of my pet peeves is how PMI refers to human resource “management” rather than leadership.)

Communications management is another no-brainer. Without communication in the military, no one would survive. On a project, communication is formal and informal, and both types need to be documented.

Risk management is understanding what about the environment or team might derail the project. In my day, we commonly referred to this as “operational planning.”

Procurement management is what you need to buy for the project. You might not have had experience with this in the military, but if you have been given a budget, you may have dealt with various vendors to determine the best deal to implement your project.

Stakeholder management is the process of leading the individuals who have a stake in the project, and dealing with any concerns they may have. This is all about knowing people, including their likes, wants and agendas, and managing those.

If any of this piques your interest, consider pursuing a project management certification to develop your skills and signal them to potential employers. In the civilian world, the most globally known one is PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential. (A list of PMI’s registered education providers is here.)

If you hope to work for the civilian side of the U.S. military, check out the Defense Acquisition University (DAU). Anyone with a current U.S. military affiliation is eligible for free DAU courses and certifications, which aim to develop the U.S. Department of Defense’s acquisition (aka procurement/contract) management workforce.

Beyond certifications, many universities and companies offer project management certificates and degrees. Not all of these programs are well respected, so make sure to examine their curricula closely before signing up and/or get to know their reputation through online research. (A directory of accredited university programs around the world is here.)

LinkedIn groups can also help you transition into civilian project management and deepen your project management knowledge. (I recommend the Gr8MilitaryPM group.)

Finally, keep in mind that as a transitioning service member, many free or low-cost training options may be available to you. For example, in the United States, funds for training and certification exam reimbursement are available to military veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs and the G.I. Bill.

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: March 10, 2015 07:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

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 (9)

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