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

How to Avoid Dysfunctional Project Team Setups

When Project Benefits Erode

What Do Next-Gen Project Leaders Look Like?

How to Avoid Useless Meetings

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

How to Motivate Your Team

Categories: Stakeholder, Teams

By Lynda Bourne

In my last post, “Is a Happy Team a Motivated Team?,” I suggested a happy project team was likely to be an outcome of a motivated team, rather than something you achieve in isolation. So this post looks at some of the key elements a project manager can use to develop a motivated team. That, in turn, should lead to a happy group of people who enjoy their work. My next post will examine even more ways to achieve this.

In his book Your Brain at Work, Dr. David Rock defines the “SCARF” model of what happens in the brain during social situations. This model can provide useful insight into the way motivation works. While it may seem odd to some, every team, every project and every workplace is primarily a social situation. People are interacting with other people to achieve something for their stakeholders—who are also people!

The SCARF model defines five elements that can be a motivational reward, or a threat to an individual:

  • Status
  • Certainty
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness
  • Fairness

A leader who establishes the right foundation for each of these factors will help build a successful and happy group.

The challenge for a leader is that each of these factors can trigger a threat or a reward experience. Insufficient levels will cause resentment (pain). The right levels will cause pleasure. But too much of any (with the possible exception of fairness) can lead to fear or the feeling of repression (pain). The challenge for every leader is to know enough about your team members to hit the sweet spot of “just right.”


Everyone has a deep human drive for self-esteem or competence, but this is almost never assessed on its own. We are social beings, so our sense of competence appears to be deeply connected to others. What we actually measure is status.

Status means where we are positioned in relation to those around us—the pecking order. A person’s perception of status, and any changes in it, will be experienced as a reward or a threat. A sense of increasing status can be more rewarding than money, and a sense of decreasing status can make you feel like your life is in danger.  

There’s no universal scale for status. When you meet someone new and size up your relative importance, you might do so based on who is older, richer, stronger, smarter or funnier. Whatever framework you think is important, when your perceived sense of status goes up or down, an intense emotional response results.

Because of this, people—and teams—go to tremendous extremes to increase or protect their status. As Dr. Rock says, “The desire to increase status is behind many of society’s greatest achievements and some of our darker hours of destruction.” The challenge for every leader is to respect the status of all of the team members and minimize negative movements.

Conversely, thrusting someone into a high-status role they are not prepared for can be equally destructive. This is why public speaking ranks as one of the biggest fears. The spotlight is on the speaker, it is a high status position, and the person is terrified of failing.


A sense of uncertainty about the future generates a strong threat response. Your brain detects something is wrong, and your ability to focus on other issues diminishes. Your brain doesn’t like uncertainty—it’s like a type of pain. Certainty, on the other hand, feels rewarding, and we tend to steer toward it, even when it might be better for us to remain uncertain.

Effective leaders provide enough certainty for their followers to experience the feeling or reward, but not so much as to stifle creativity and innovation. Again, this is a balancing act aimed at hitting the sweet spot and needs to be tailored to the characteristics of each individual. Some people crave stability and certainty; others like a degree of challenge (but not too much).

In my next post, I’ll dive into the rest of the SCARF model to finish my discussion of how to motivate people.

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: April 18, 2016 12:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

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)

Aligning Stakeholder Engagement to the Big Picture

Categories: Stakeholder, Strategy

By Lynda Bourne

Stakeholder engagement is an essential part of project management. Chances are your organization focuses on stakeholder engagement but uses another name for the activity.

From an organizational perspective, stakeholder engagement is a means to achieving outcomes increasingly seen as necessary to comply with various rules and regulations or meet customer or community expectations. Here are some terms you’ve probably heard that have stakeholder engagement at their core.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Stakeholders increasingly have expectations about the behavior and responsibilities of organizations that go beyond the provision of jobs and products or services. CSR is generally defined as the continuing commitment by an organization to improve the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the community and society at large.

The social responsibilities of organizations arise in the context of stakeholder relationships. No two organizations are likely to have the exact same set of responsibilities, because each organization has different products, services and strategies and therefore different combinations of stakeholders and stakeholder interests and issues.


Sustainability in an organizational context goes beyond environmental issues to include every dimension of how a business operates in the social, cultural and economic environment. It is a business approach that creates long-term consumer and employee value and directly contributes to the sustainability of the organization itself.

The Triple Bottom Line (TBL)

TBL is an accounting framework with three parts: social, environmental and financial. These three divisions are also called the three Ps: people, planet and profit, or the "three pillars of sustainability." Many corporations are required to report in the TBL framework as part of their exchange listing rules.

(The International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 26000:2010: Guidance on social responsibility, and the Global Reporting Initiative’s closely aligned guidelines set out the framework for social responsibility and guidelines for reporting, respectively.)

What This Means for Project Managers

As project managers, we don’t always have input to organizational policies, but we are at the cutting edge of organizational change. Many projects have a significant impact on stakeholders outside of the organization.

Therefore if your organization’s executives are using any of the terms detailed above and are “walking the talk,” you need to make sure your project activities support the organization’s overall stakeholder engagement philosophy. 

Project failures such as the tailings dam disaster in Brazil last month can undo decades of work by an organization to establish a reputation as a good corporate citizen. Building such a reputation is not purely altruistic!

ISO 26000 suggests organizations that practice CSR and sustainability and focus on the TBL have a distinct competitive advantage that includes:

  • Reputation
  • Ability to attract and retain workers or members, customers, clients or users
  • Maintenance of employee morale, commitment and productivity
  • Positive views of investors, owners, donors, sponsors and the financial community
  • Good relationships with companies, governments, the media, suppliers, peers, customers and the community in which it operates.

In summary: Project managers cannot create corporate policy. But if the organization is focused on its TBL, the wise project manager will make sure his or her project plan includes proactive stakeholder engagement, and view that engagement as part of a much larger picture.

How much focus does your organization place on stakeholder engagement? How much does it care about CSR, sustainability and the TBL?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: December 15, 2015 05:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Don’t Shout the Loudest—Think Ahead

communications comic

Have you been in situations where it seems that only shouting generates results? Or has your team been pressured to complete tasks that don’t appear to benefit your project? Maybe as the project manager, you have been in the middle of confusion and agitation that seem to undermine your project management abilities.

Could it be that many of the scenarios you encounter have their roots in conflicting stakeholder requests and misunderstandings? Well, it’s possible to avoid these types of predicaments. Consider utilizing the following three tools that allow you to have better control of your project and your project team:

1) Communications Plan. Outline a plan with names, contact information, and details on when and what messages need to be delivered to and from you. This tool allows you to know the frequency of message exchanges and the media required for specific contacts. 

It also lets you know what level of detail the message should have, i.e., if it is going to a senior manager vs. a member of the supporting team.

2) Stakeholder Analysis. Prepare an analysis of your stakeholders to understand what their roles are and what area of your project is impacted by their involvement. This tool can help you with the department that has the biggest impact all the way down to the departments that have even a small effect.

Additionally, this tool can show how those who are directly or indirectly connected to your project may have an influence that can be detrimental.

3) Project Plan. Develop a plan with the focus on your project objectives and what the project will entail. Organize the plan for what needs to be done and when. The tool should show ownership and timings that you can share with stakeholders to also make them aware of the potential influence of their requests. 

Sometimes, we get can get distracted when trying so hard to make sure our projects meet every need. There are many voices, conflicts, risks and events that affect the success of our project. Leaning on these tools may make your stakeholder management process smoother.

What tools do you leverage to ease stakeholder management issues?



Posted by Bernadine Douglas on: November 25, 2015 06:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

The Team That Skipped the Storming Stage

PMBOK 5th Edition - Hindi Translation Team

The PMBOK 5th Edition Hindi Translation Team Gets Recognition

This piece continues my previous blog posts, “The Techniques That Don't Resolve Conflict” and “The Only Technique That Resolves Conflicts,” which looked at why no technique other than collaborate/problem-solve truly resolves a conflict.

Researcher Bruce Tuckman suggested that a project team generally goes through the forming, storming, norming and performing stages. In this post, I will discuss a team that skipped the storming stage—or, rather, they managed their conflicts so well that they spent most of their time in the performing stage. Fortunately, I was part of the team.

The Project

PMI India took up the task to provide the PMBOK Guide—Fifth Edition in Hindi to promote project management in Hindi-speaking regions. The project initiated in February 2013 and aimed to finish by August 2013 so the new Hindi version could launch at the PMI National Conference in Delhi in September 2013. We had only six months, and the team was yet to be recruited. We had to onboard a translator and form a Translation Verification Committee (TVC) of subject matter experts who were native Hindi speakers with sound knowledge of the PMBOK Guide—Fifth Edition.    

PMBOK 5th Edition Hindi VersionThe cover of the PMBOK 5th Edition Hindi version.

The Team

PMI India already had some volunteers for the TVC. We selected a few names and started interviewing. We also tried to persuade people who were part of the TVC for the Fourth Edition to participate. We intended to select eight people for the TVC, but we settled for seven.  


  1. The challenges were many, and the short timeframe was the first. We had to complete the project by 31 August.
  2. The translation had to be simple, easy to read and use the language of common people.
  3. Another big challenge was to find the equivalent word in Hindi. It is very common to find many Hindi equivalents for one English word, but none of them exactly matches the meaning. So you have as many opinions as people on the team. This was the most time-consuming challenge. If not addressed appropriately, it could cause serious delays.
  4. Committee members came from four different cities and could not meet frequently. All had full-time jobs and would verify the translation after work.
  5. One translator was the only team member hired professionally. His pace set the pace of the whole team.

Facing and Overcoming the Challenges

After finalizing the team, the kickoff meeting happened on 31 March, 2013. So we had only five months to complete the job. We met the first time to understand each other and set the agenda. We prepared a schedule with our best estimates. It turned out those estimates had us completing the project in October! That was not acceptable, but we decided to start work on the first three chapters and revisit the schedule later. We decided on one face-to-face meeting per month on a weekend and to connect via a conference call in between.

In the first call, we could see what we feared most. There was a lot of discussion to select the right word and sentences, and we couldn’t make much progress.

At the second meeting, the target was to finalize Chapter 1 on the first day, but again there was a lot of discussion about choosing the right word, and we could not complete the chapter. It was a matter of concern now.

We decided to set ground rules:

  1. Based on the skills demonstrated so far, we made two people the final word on Hindi and two others the final word on the PMBOK Guide. In the case of long debates about these two issues, the group would accept what these people decided.
  2. If we could not conclude a word debate in a specified time, we would have an online vote, with everyone voting within three days. The word that had the most votes would be selected with no further discussion.
  3. To maintain quality, we decided on two levels of review. Every team member would do a first-level of review and pass it on to a specified person for the second level of review.
  4. As the project was taking longer than expected, we decided to appoint one of the TVC members to help the translator fast-track the work.

At the third meeting, we lost one of the team members. Before the fourth meeting, another was transferred out of the country, reducing his availability significantly. Now the only way to complete the project before 31 August was to take less time in review. The only way to do that without losing quality was to keep our conflicts in control. Forming the above rules turned out to be the most critical factor. Obeying these rules reduced unnecessary discussion and considerably improved the pace. We completed all the activities by 27 August, leaving two weeks for printing and publishing.


Working on this project, I closely observed how a team can manage its conflicts and focus on delivering the work. The following five factors were most critical:

  1. Form ground rules based on the project’s objectives
  2. Identify skills in the team and assign responsibilities accordingly.
  3. Build a decision-making tool with consensus
  4. Build a process that can deliver quality
  5. Follow the rules with discipline

Do you have a similar experience or opposite to it? Please share your view.


Posted by Vivek Prakash on: October 03, 2015 01:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

"In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed - but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

- Orson Welles, The Third Man