Voices on Project Management

by , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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

RSS

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
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 Secret to Stakeholder Management

By Mario Trentim

 

According to Le Chatelier’s Principle, any change in the status quo prompts an opposing reaction in the responding system. Although Henry Louis Le Chatelier was a chemist, his principle applies to project management, right?

No project occurs in isolation: Each inevitably disturbs the environment because it stems from the organization’s structure, politics and strategic objectives. So, it’s no wonder that some projects can’t succeed despite a project manager’s best efforts.

To make things happen, you need a support coalition of powerful and/or influential stakeholders. But how can you get the necessary buy-in for a project?

Let me assure you: You will fail if you try to guess what is in your stakeholders’ heads. We all have a natural tendency to do that because, by nature, we feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. That explains why we are always trying to "fill the gaps."

What does this have to do with project management? Everything. Project managers must overcome two biases that pose obstacles to successful stakeholder management.

The first is that we see the project from our perspective, which leads us to narrowly identify stakeholders. Forgetting to include the project’s "hidden stakeholders" can be catastrophic.

The second, which I believe is bigger, is that we conduct stakeholder assessment and analysis with preconceived thoughts and distorted vision.

The secret to stakeholder management is obvious: You cannot catch fish using your favorite food as a bait. You have to use the fish’s favorite food!

When assessing stakeholders and strategizing how to engage them in your project, be sure to do your homework. When possible, ask your stakeholders directly about their expectations regarding the project.

This diagram offers an overview of potential stakeholder interview questions:

 (Monteleone Consulting, 2010Generic Questions for Interviewing Stakeholders”)

Of course, to a certain extent you need to be skeptical of the answers your questions elicit. My MBA students always ask me: How do you know if a stakeholder is telling the truth?

My answer is simple: you don't. You cannot tell for sure if a stakeholder is trying to manipulate the project (and you). But here’s a tip. Keep observing your stakeholders' behaviors and attitudes. Always put yourself in the stakeholders' shoes and discuss hypothetical scenarios with your core stakeholder management team.

Here is a worst-case scenario: I once had a sponsor who was against the project. I admit it took me some time to realize that he would do everything he could to make the project fail.

How did I discover the truth?

I’ll explain in my next post—don’t miss it. Until then, share your thoughts. What would you do in this situation?

Posted by Mario Trentim on: March 12, 2015 01:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

How to Think Like an Elite Project Management Professional

By Conrado Morlan

 

For most of us, good isn’t good enough — we want to be the best at what we do.

Becoming an elite project management professional requires focus, drive and a willingness to learn from our role models, whether they are bosses, team members or co-workers performing very different functions in the organization.

You may not possess all of their abilities, but some of the traits you admire in them are within you. Becoming an elite practitioner is partly about tapping into your hidden inner potential. I believe that a crucial part of professional development is developing a mindset that will unlock your abilities.

To that end, I adapted the following mental strategies from The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive by Jim Afremow. Based on high-performance psychology research, these strategies will help you learn how to think, feel and act like one of the best.

1) See Success

Imagine yourself at the end of the project, when the product or service has been delivered and the organization has achieved its strategic goals. Visualize the ideal scenario: a satisfied project team, optimized processes, and satisfied internal and external customers.

This will help you define the optimal project execution and “turn on” success in your mindset.

2) Stay Positive

You may be assigned to a project in an area in which you lack experience. Identify your deficiencies at the beginning of the project and define a strategy on how to address them — bring an expert to your project team, identify a mentor or train yourself.

3) Do Not Panic

Projects are not a bed of roses. You will have to deal with changes in scope and risks, difficult teammates and resource constraints. Resilience is an important trait for project managers. Focus on the solution, not the problem. Dogged determination will help you reach your professional goals.

4) Be Confident

When meeting the project board, what is your body language saying? Are you smiling? Research shows that “power posing” can positively affect the brain and might even have an impact on your chances for success. Adopt the pose of a powerful project management professional!

5) Evaluate Progress

Assess yourself: How well are you emulating the behaviors of your role models? What did you do that was good? In which areas do you need to improve? What changes do you need to implement? This evaluation will give you perspective on how close or far you are from your goals.

 

What are your strategies for taking your performance to the next level? What do you think sets the very best project management professionals apart from the rest?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: January 26, 2015 11:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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 (8)

End a Business Relationship and Keep Your Cred

As much as we wish these things didn’t occur, we sometimes find ourselves having to leave a project early or terminate a business engagement. This is always difficult to do, and how you do it can help you maintain your integrity and credibility throughout the transition.

 

Recently, I had to terminate a business relationship myself. Here are a few lessons that I learned that you can apply the next time you are in a similar situation.

 

1.   Place the blame on yourself. I know you wouldn’t be leaving a project or quitting a business relationship if it were all your fault, but the key thing here is that you need to buck up and take responsibility for the business arrangement ending. There are several ways you can frame it to take the emphasis for the decision away from the other party. For example: “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the ability to deliver the work to you in a manner that you have grown accustomed to” or “I find myself at a point where I don’t feel my presence best serves the project, and I think a new set of eyes is going to be helpful to getting things back on track.” Or, you can come up with your own. The point is that you take a little of the emphasis off the party that you are ending the relationship with and place it on yourself. This will lessen any bad blood or negativity from the decision. It is important to note that you must cast the decision in terms of your inability to continue to serve the client in a manner that he or she deserves.

2.   If possible, present options for replacements.If you find yourself at a point of no return and need out of a business relationship, you can soften the blow even more if you provide alternatives. The question you are probably asking yourself is, “If I can’t work with this person or on this project, why would I refer them to someone else?” But the truth is, we are all in different businesses and at different stages of our career — and while your threshold for some clients may be zero, someone just starting out or looking to find a different focus may be more than willing to accept a challenge that you consider unnecessary. This goes back to the first point: If you can’t serve the client in the way that he or she deserves, you are doing the client a favor by removing yourself from the project and helping him or her find someone who can do better.  

3.   Be prepared for blowback.Even when these things go great, there will be some sort of blowback or negative impact. You might have spelled everything out with as much tact as a veteran diplomat, but you are still leaving the business relationship with a jilted partner who may lash out to other members of your organization or other potential business partners. In this instance, you can try to contain any negative feedback or impact on you and your career by preparing a standard statement that you give to everyone that explains your role in the dissolution of the relationship. It should cast a bad situation in the most favorable light for you. One I have used is: “I am sorry the project didn’t work out, but I made a series of unwise choices that made my effectiveness impossible, and to best serve the project, I felt it was best for me to step away.” That’s it — it isn’t perfect, but neither is the situation you find yourself in.

 

How have you found success in ending business relationships?

 

Join meon December 4, 2014, in my upcoming seminar on leadership in project management.

Posted by David Wakeman on: October 22, 2014 05:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Are Project Managers Born or Made?

Every so often, I hear theories from team members on how their project manager became effective at leading projects. Sometimes they say something like, "She was born to be a project manager." 

This got me to thinking whether some people are naturally predisposed to be project managers, or if they have a specific set of experiences that shapes them to become project managers. It's almost a question of anthropological proportions: Are good project managers born or made? 

To help answer it, let us look at some key competencies of project managers and see if these skills are innate or developed over time.

  1. Functional knowledge. Understanding the fundamental business processes that are added, changed or impacted by a project is an essential competency. An understanding of these business processes allows a project manager to make more effective decisions when it comes to design considerations as well as resolving project issues. But it is a set of skills that one is not necessarily born with. It's typically acquired through training -- many times on-the-job training, for example, in a business process analyst role or a functional role such as manufacturing operator, company accountant or human resources representative. 
  2. Technical expertise. In addition to understanding fundamental business processes, a project manager must also understand the core technologies and supporting tools that enable a successful project outcome. As with functional expertise, we are not born with technical knowledge. Software developer, content designer or software package configuration specialist are just some of the roles where one can accumulate technical expertise. 
  3. Project management experience. Back when I became a project manager, the only real avenue for gaining competency was by serving as a project manager. Today, there are many outlets for gaining exposure to project management in preparation for actually leading a project. Acquiring a certification such as a Project Management Professional (PMP)®, taking training courses on specialized project management practices or serving in a project management office (PMO) role are some examples of professional training opportunities that exist today. 
  4. Leadership. Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle, once said, "I had all the necessary disadvantages to be successful." Mr. Ellison struggled from modest beginnings to lead a global software company. It is common for project managers to face uncertainty, adversity, conflict and many other challenges every day on a project. Their personal tenacity, durability and creativity can have a large bearing on the overall success of a project. To a great degree, being a leader -- the foundation of a project manager -- is born of our inherited behaviors as well as our early position and experiences in life. 

So coming back to the question of whether project managers are born or made, I think both are true. While nobody has yet found a project manager gene, we all seem to be born into a journey that leads us to being a project manager. This journey starts with the skills and behaviors we're born with, and continues with the functional knowledge, technical expertise and professional training we accumulate over time. This essential mix of what we are as well as how we grow is key to becoming an effective project manager. 

Do you think you were born to be a project manager or became one over time?
Posted by Kevin Korterud on: January 08, 2014 10:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)
ADVERTISEMENTS

You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.

- Margaret Thatcher

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsors