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.

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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

How to Use Your Position to Improve Team Members

Taiwanese Firm Simplifies Green Building Projects

3 Project Management Lessons From March Madness

The Value of Community

The Secret to Stakeholder Management

3 Project Management Lessons From March Madness

Here in the United States, it’s that time of year again: March Madness. If you aren’t familiar with the phrase, it refers to the annual NCAA men’s college basketball tournament taking place throughout the month. Sixty-four qualifying teams from around the country compete for the national championship.

In a sense, the coaches of these teams act as project managers, managing resources on a schedule to reach a specific goal. They can teach us a great deal about strategic leadership and aligning a project to an organization’s goals.

Because each member of any team in the tournament has different ambitions and desires, it is the responsibility of the coach to figure out how to manage and integrate these competing interests in a way that will lead to a successful outcome. Sound familiar, project managers?

Whether your goal is to cut down basketball nets to celebrate winning a championship or bring your project in on time and on budget, here are a few tips for successfully aligning team members to achieve your organization’s goals.

1. Integrate all members into a cohesive team. Most of the time as project managers and leaders, we want the best available talent on our team. Unfortunately, having “the best” isn’t always a sure route to success. It’s far more important to focus on developing talent into a cohesive team that performs and maximizes its efforts.

This is a challenge that Villanova University’s Jay Wright had to faceafter taking the school’s Wildcats to the 2009 tournament’s semifinals.

After that year’s strong performance, lots of talented players wanted to play for the team. Coach Wright accepted a handful of standout players into the school’s basketball program, and in the following years standout individual talents came to dominate his coaching philosophy.

But more talent ended up delivering worse results. After years of subpar Villanova performances in the NCAA tournament, Wright has returned to his old coaching style, where team and personal accomplishments are aligned. One takes care of the other.

The lesson for project managers: Raw talent isn’t enough. It’s your job to make sure individual team members’ goals align to the project goals as much as possible.

2. Serve the team first.As project managers, it’s easy to forget that we are team members as well. Without the best efforts of our team members, we won’t succeed. That’s why it’s important to put the team first—and to always think about how your efforts can improve the team.

The career of legendary University of North Carolina coach Dean Smithillustrates this point. For example, he created a “coach’s honor roll” to recognize the team-oriented efforts of specific players. When the team flew to a game, he and the team’s assistant coaches always sat at the back of the plane, because cramped seats in coach would be uncomfortable for seven-foot-tall players.

As a project manager, put your team first by making sure you highlight your team’s successes and accomplishments during the project. As much as possible, shield them from the demands of sponsors and stakeholders who may have a particular agenda they are trying to advance.

3. Build connections.Possibly the most successful coach in NCAA basketball history is Duke University’s Mike Krzyzewski. One of his great revelations as a coach was the importance of creating connections between team members so that everyone shared in the ultimate goal of a successful basketball program.

As project managers, we often face challenges in this regard because many of our team members may be in different sites, working remotely. Yet you can still do a great deal to foster connections by having group calls, encouraging team members to collaborate on solutions and promoting a culture of inclusion by reinforcing behaviors that will lead your teams to work more closely.

Whether they are in the sports world or other industries, well-run projects generally feature tightly connected team members who put the project goal above themselves, and service-oriented leaders who help steer the team toward the winning basket.

How do you build teams that can achieve your organization’s goals?

Posted by David Wakeman on: March 17, 2015 08:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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)

Has Your Project Hit Bad Weather? Here’s How to Communicate in Crisis

If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere right now, you may be dealing with inclement winter weather. That in turn means your local public officials are dealing with how to communicate during a crisis. Project practitioners can learn from them.

Late last month in New York, New Jersey and the New England region in the United States, officials were tasked with preparing citizens for a snowstorm called “historic” before it arrived—but which ultimately spared New York City and neighboring New Jersey. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had to defend the decisionto shut down the city’s subway system due to snow for the first time in its 110-year history.        

Similarly, project managers must be aware of the downsides involved with communicating risks on fast-changing projects to stakeholders. If flagged risks don’t materialize, we might find ourselves unable to gain cooperation at a later date.      

Here are three communication rules of thumb, each corresponding to a project stage, to keep in mind when you have imperfect information about a project with constantly changing variables—but still must address stakeholders. 
 

1. Plan ahead: One of the first rules of crisis management is to be fully prepared for a crisis.In New York City last month, we saw de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo get out early and explain that the forecast indicated the storm could be the largest in the city’s history. Only 6 inches of snow ended up falling, but the city’s leadership did have a good plan and did effectively prepare the population for the storm.

What can practitioners take away from this? Depending on the type of project you are running, take a few moments to think about how you are going to communicate with your team in case of a problem or uncontrollable event occurring, even if it’s just laying out the steps you need to take on the back of an envelope.

2. Have a clear message:When you are communicating in a variable or crisis situation for your project, you need to have a consistent message, even if you are delivering imperfect or changing information.

Think about how the U.S. National Weather Service issues “advisories,” “warnings” and “watches.” Although some people can be confused by these terms, the service’s definitions of them are distinct.

As a project manager, you may want to put your stakeholder messages into three categories: best case, worst case and most likely case, for example. Choose whichever categories work for your project and clearly define them. Bottom line: Confidently communicate what you know and how it will impact the project and your stakeholders.

3. Review and adapt: Like all good project managers, you likely review best practices at the end of your project. If the project involved communicating in crisis—whether related to weather or a different kind of variable circumstance—it’s especially important to take a few moments at the end to review what worked and what didn’t.

Like the planning and messaging stages noted above, the review doesn’t need to be highly complex. These questions can elicit communications lessons learned:

•   How well did my plan allow me to begin communicating early in the crisis?

•   Was my message easy for all stakeholders to understand?

•   What about my communication delivery methods worked? What didn’t work?

•   Did stakeholders respond to my message in the way that I wanted?

These are just three approaches crisis communications. How have you overcome communication challenges driven by project crises or adverse situations in your organization?

Posted by David Wakeman on: February 04, 2015 07:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Seattle's Troubled Tunnel: 3 Communications Tips for Regaining the Public's Trust

One of the biggest public works projects in the United States right now has some major problems. It’s a more than $3 billion effort in Seattle, Washington to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, an aging elevated highway on the city’s waterfront, with a 2-mile-long tunnel. If you’ve been keeping an eye on the project, you know that the tunnel-boring machine (dubbed “Bertha”) broke down more than a year ago, creating various challenges and overruns. Public outcry is mounting.

Now, if you’re like me and believe in the power of communication to ensure that projects run more smoothly, the tunnel project has highlighted the need for more openness, better stakeholder management and speaking to your audience in understandable ways, instead of falling into buzzwords or corporate speak.

If I were working on the project right now, here are three things I would look at to regain the public’s trust and help everyone in Seattle and the state of Washington understand exactly where the project is.

 

1. Be willing to convey incomplete information. The project’s big challenge is that the machine built specifically for drilling the tunnel encountered a setback when it struck a metal pipe during the excavation process. Unfortunately, it took project leaders over a week to convey the extent of Bertha’s problem, the course of action and any sort of timeline to get things back on track. Since Bertha stopped working in December 2013, information has trickled out to stakeholders.

The project’s leaders could have set a much different tone early on by stating what they know and what it means to the project—along with an acknowledgement that they really aren’t 100 percent sure what the solution is, and a clear statement that they will work to provide status updates to all stakeholders as often as possible.

Instead, it’s been “hard to get straight answers,” as the Seattle radio station KUOW put it.

 

2. Be honest. This really goes hand in hand with the first point about having the confidence to convey information that is accurate, even if it is incomplete. The public has begun to doubt that project leaders are being honest about the tunnel’s current status and future. This is partly because when the city’s department of transportation (DOT) or the state government has updated the community about the project, they have given information that seems farfetched and is tough to believe in light of Bertha’s lack of progress.

Case in point: A DOT official recently toldSeattle’s City Council that the project was “70-percent complete.” That claim was met with a great deal of skepticism by journalists and members of the community.

The lesson for project managers is: Don’t fudge information to avoid blowback. In the long run, you are putting your project at a strategic disadvantage because you may lose funding or you may come under heavier oversight…or worse. So just explain things in an honest and forthcoming manner.

 

3. Be consistent in the delivery of information. A lack of consistent communications has been one of the big failings for the Seattle project team. And when there’s an information void, it will usually be filled by something you aren’t going to like. In this instance, the lack of communications has led to a real breakdown of trust.

That’s why you need to make a plan for communicating consistently with stakeholders. It should include the best ways to communicate with specific stakeholder groups, and a plan for gathering accurate, up-to-date information from the project team. To ensure timely gathering, build the consistent delivery of information into day-to-day project activities. Set a schedule of when you want your team members to communicate information to you, and hold them accountable.

In turn, you need to inform key stakeholders of when and how you’ll communicate information to them, and then stick to that plan.

 

In most cases, communications comes down to recognizing the importance of clarity in effective project leadership. In Seattle, you can see what a lack of a clear process can do to the trust between stakeholders and the project team. I’m confident that most unsuccessful projects began to unravel when communications stopped being clear and consistent.

         What do you think? 

Posted by David Wakeman on: January 23, 2015 10:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

8 New Year’s Resolutions for Your Project Portfolio

By Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

As you reflect on 2014 and prepare for the New Year, consider these eight resolutions for your project portfolio in 2015.

1.     Be a portfolio leader. Don’t just manage the portfolio — lead it by thinking in terms of profits and losses. In that sense, how does it compare to other portfolios or business units? What was your 2014 return on investment, and what is your 2015 estimated return? Is this within your organization’s expectations? What projects/programs were a drag and should be stopped? What projects/programs have the potential to generate the most returns and can be a calculated risk? (A calculated risk has a reasonable probability of generating a return; of course, what is “reasonable” depends on your organization’s risk appetite and threshold.)  If you were an investor, would you invest in your portfolio? Asking these questions may help you decide what to do differently in 2015.

2.     Accelerate the business. Ensure strategic alignment by thinking about your portfolio as dynamic and agile — an accelerator to business goals and objectives. How can you free up resources to innovate rather than just keep the lights on?

3.     Sell your portfolio’s value by understanding your audience. Speak the organization’s language while remembering the 5 C’s: clear, concise, credible, creative and compelling:

Clear— Frame the discussion in terms the other party can easily relate to and understand.

Concise— Long decks and presentations will lose your audience. Think elevator speeches: If you can’t sum it up in a sentence or two, it’s probably too complicated to understand. And if it’s too complicated, then you will not have the opportunity to influence, let alone reach agreement.

Credible— Know what you’re talking about and be prepared. This means doing your homework before coming to the table.

Creative— Look beyond the obvious to find the solution.

Compelling— Always know what’s important to the other party and what will drive them to action. Tease out the underlying need instead of only the stated desire. Understand what your bottom line is, and theirs.

4.     Establish a culture of innovation. Do this, and you can deliver long-term as well as quick wins. 

5.     Make data-driven decisions.Look at the facts to drive decisions, not emotions. Don’t get attached to pet projects.

6.     Engage with the world.Go beyond stakeholder engagement at work. Don’t forget about yourself, your home and your community.

7.     Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. That little voice is an early indicator — listen to it. Sometimes when we forge ahead against our instincts, we find out later that it would have been better to take another course.

8.     Find meaning in your portfolio. Your portfolio delivers the impossible — innovative projects and programs that have not been done before. What achievements in the past year were key to the organization, in terms of values, culture and feeding creative juices? How can you do more of that in 2015?

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: January 06, 2015 02:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
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