Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate in behavioral economics and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, has written about how people tend to make decisions based on the potential value of losses and gains rather than the final outcome. Considering our common cognitive and emotional biases, how can we cope with daily ethics challenges with integrity?
We humans are in some ways predictably irrational. “Common sense” doesn’t mean best practices. Some people might have totally appropriate but opposite stances on the same topic.
Does that mean ethical practices are a matter of choice? Of course not—ethics are a matter of common good: In his book Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do, Michael Sandel explores timeless philosophical and theoretical questions with real-world examples. He does the same in this video:
My conclusion is that the more we abide by a code of ethics based on strict rules and procedures, the more people tend to display unethical behaviors when faced with gray areas and edge cases.
So what’s the solution?
In How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life, Russ Roberts provides extremely valuable insights to the question above. In summary, we are much better off by teaching and praising Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments than by creating new regulations and sanctions to prevent unethical behavior.
What All This Means for Project Managers
What’s the upshot of all this for project management professionals? We must abide by the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, but it’s even more important that we adhere to ethics focused on the common good.
Project managers face extreme pressure. Shortcuts are tempting—but in the long run they seldom pay off. Here are two examples of unethical temptations that put our work into the broader moral perspective that I think is so valuable.
It’s easy to point fingers at doctors and lawyers—their work dramatically impacts people’s lives. A mistake made by a prosecutor may imprison an innocent. A doctor’s mistake may kill or handicap a patient.
How about project managers’ mistakes? You may put your project in jeopardy, of course. But that’s not all: You may put your team members, client and other stakeholders at risk. You may even bankrupt your organization.
The bottom line: The most surefire way to maintain high ethical standards is to think frequently about the far-reaching impacts of your work—on worker safety, the environment and social well-being, for example. Our choices matter—in ways we can’t necessarily anticipate.
How do you respond to everyday ethical challenges in your project management practice? Share your thoughts below.
By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP
Fifteen years ago, I transitioned from being an IT manager to a project manager for the first time. With this month’s theme at projectmanagement.com being “new practitioner PM,” here are three key lessons I learned while managing my first projects.
When I was an IT manager, I always had projects that were assigned to my department. I loved being part of large projects so much I realized I wanted to do it full-time. So I made a conscious decision to transition to being a dedicated project manager.
Managing a project is truly like being a CEO of your own company—you have authority over budget, resource and key decision-making responsibilities. However, it’s an art, and mastery takes time. These are the three fundamental lessons I learned:
1) Communication is about simplifying and personalizing.
Although we may hear that 90 percent of a project manager’s job is to communicate, the best communication is one that doesn’t contain acronyms, special terminology or techno-speak.
Remember that key stakeholders are often involved in multiple projects. To get their attention, you need to make your communications concise and personal while clearly specifying the action desired.
Avoid lengthy mass emails, and tailor the frequency and channel according to the person. One sponsor told me she gets so many emails that I should schedule a meeting if it’s important. Another sponsor told me he works best with instant messaging if I needed something immediately.
The key is to know your audience and adapt accordingly. My first sponsor meeting always includes finding out how and when he or she would like to be communicated with.
2) Project management is about knowing which tools to use when.
Yes, project management is about processes, knowledge areas and ITTOs (inputs, tools and techniques, outputs), according to the PMBOK Guide. But, most importantly, it’s a menu of available options.
Trying to do everything by the book or insisting on adherence to every single template and tool is setting yourself up for disaster. Assess the needs of the project, and don’t ignore the culture of the organization. You can’t go from zero processes to textbook processes overnight. You may need to start slow by introducing concepts and build from there.
3) Build relationships.
Trust is key. When you’re starting out as a project manager, you’re an unknown, so you need to work extra hard to establish the relationships. It’s important to come across as professional, yet approachable and flexible in order to build confidence with your team, and most importantly, your sponsors and key stakeholders. Regular, relaxed one-on-one meetings, such as getting coffee or grabbing lunch, help to build cohesive partnerships that will pay dividends when the going gets tough on the project.
By Peter Tarhanidis
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:
Try these eight steps to build a more flexible and integrated adult learning framework.
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.
By Dave Wakeman
Last month, I wrote about how you can become a more strategic project manager. This month, I want to continue exploring the topic by focusing on a few ways to make sure your projects have strategic focus.
1. Always Ask “Why?”
This is the essential question for any business professional. But I am aware that asking the question can be extremely difficult—especially in the organizations that need that question asked the most.
Asking why you are taking on a project is essential to the project’s success or failure. Using the question can help you frame the role that project plays in the organization’s goals. It can also allow you early on to find out if the project is poorly aligned with the long-term vision.
This can make you look like a champ because you can make course corrections or bring up challenges much earlier, saving you and your organization time and money.
When asking about a project’s strategic value, you may find it helpful to phrase it in less direct ways, such as: “How does this project fit into the work we were doing with our previous project?” or “This seems pretty consistent with the project we worked on several months back—are they connected?”
2. Bring Ideas
As the focal point of knowledge, project managers should know where a project is in meeting its goals and objectives. So if you know a project is losing its strategic focus (and therefore value), generate ideas on how to make course corrections or improve the project based on the information you have.
There is nothing worse than having a team member drop a heap of issues on us with no easy solutions and no ideas on how to move forward. As the leader of your projects, don’t be that person. To help you come up with ideas to move the project toward success and strategic alignment, think along the following lines:
· If all the resources and effort expended on the project up to the current roadblock were removed from consideration, would it still make sense to move forward with the project?
· What actions can we take that will help alleviate some of the short-term pain?
· Knowing what I know now, would I suggest we start or stop this project? Why?
3. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!
On almost any project I work on, more communication is a good idea. This is because the more the lines of communication are open, the more likely I’m to get information that will be helpful to me and my ability to achieve the end results that I’m looking for.
As with most things in project management, communication is a two-way street and loaded with possible pain points and missteps. As a project manager looking to deliver on the strategic promise of your projects, your communications should always be focused on information you can use to take action and move your project along.
To effectively communicate as a strategic project manager, ask questions like these:
· What do I need to know about a project that will have a material impact on its success or failure?
· What can I share with my team or stakeholders that might help them understand my decisions?
· What information does my team need to take better actions?
As you can see, adjusting your vision to become more strategic isn’t too far removed from what it takes to be an effective project manager. The key difference is making sure you understand the “why” of the project. From there, you need to push forward your ideas and to communicate openly and honestly.
What do you think? How do you bring a strategic focus to your projects?
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Project managers work hard to keep stakeholders informed. Nonetheless, sometimes when a stakeholder asks about the status of a project, he or she gets the impression that a project manager is hiding something or being less than honest.
Here are three circumstances where stakeholders may get this feeling, and how you as the project manager can handle them to ensure you’re viewed as trustworthy.
1. You can’t disclose certain information or documents. On our projects, we become the caretaker of all information and documents, including some that can be extremely sensitive. Stakeholders might request the home phone number of a team member, the contingency target of a budget or other confidential information. In some cases, your organization may require a security clearance or other confidentiality measures.
In this sort of scenario, it’s appropriate for a project manager to say, “Let me check on disclosure agreements and provide allowable information."
2. You’re the bearer of bad news. Project managers sometimes must communicate negative issues, risks or unforeseen events to stakeholders. The risk here is that a stakeholder might believe the project manager had prior knowledge of the problem, or even allowed the problem to fester as a way of extracting additional funds for the project.
To avoid a “shoot the messenger” scenario, it’s a good idea to not blame someone for a problem. A better tactic here may be to arrange a discussion on the topic with key decision-makers. This could lead to a satisfactory acceptance or a suitable compromise.
3. You made an error. You may have inadvertently distributed a report with wrong information. Mistakes happen. As soon as possible, apologize and acknowledge that the wrong information was given.
Our reputations as project managers depend on us being creditable and trustworthy. We must always be honest and remain professional and polite, no matter what the concerns of a stakeholder are.
How do you handle stakeholders who question the truthfulness of a project’s status?