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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How to Make the Jump From PM to Delivery Lead
By Kevin Korterud
As project managers, our career paths typically involve increasing levels of delivery responsibility on larger and more complex projects. As we grow, many of us have the opportunity to take on delivery responsibilities that focus more on enablement and orchestration of multiple projects in a program manager role.
Beyond that level of responsibility, there is a need for people capable of overseeing multiple programs that can contain many projects. Concurrent multiprogram/project delivery involves the need for a new set of skills that transcends traditional project and program management competencies.
In my company, Accenture, people who serve in multiprogram/project delivery roles are called delivery leads. I think of them as “super program managers”—they’re not as high-level as portfolio managers, but they also don’t get caught up in deep project delivery activities.
One of the most frequent questions posed to me is how project and program managers can “graduate” to delivery lead. Here’s some advice I’ve offered in the past to budding delivery leads.
1. Adopt A ‘Big Picture’ Delivery Mindset
By the nature of what they do, project and program managers immerse themselves in the details around schedule, budget, scope and other project essentials. Their day-to-day roles involve processing a lot of information that enables them to make effective project management decisions.
Delivery leads, on the other hand, need to stand back from program and project management to broadly view the delivery landscape. This perspective gives a delivery lead the ability to see the interconnected delivery “big picture” that enables him or her to take strategic action to keep all programs and projects on track to success.
2. Don’t Manage Projects, Guide Them
In the course of typical project duties, effective project and program managers strive to resolve risks and challenges. They spend a significant amount of time reacting to unforeseen situations.
Delivery leads, on the other hand, should resist jumping into specific delivery details and instead focus their efforts on preventing situations that cause project and program managers to spend all of their time reacting to situations.
Delivery leads accomplish this by providing people, budget, tools, processes and assets to project and program managers in advance of their need. In addition, delivery leads also set policies, governance and other forms of delivery guidance that effectively orchestrate the overall delivery process.
3. Acquire Business Knowledge
Project and program managers invest a large amount of energy and expense in becoming well-versed in practices that enhance their project management skills.
Professional development for delivery leads, on the other hand, assumes a foundational knowledge of project management that needs to be balanced with industry domain knowledge related to the organization’s projects and programs. Delivery leads don’t have to be subject matter experts, but they should be able to communicate effectively with all forms of stakeholders.
For delivery leads, making an investment in business domain knowledge such as supply chain, oil refining, equity trading or other specific industry knowledge enables them to be effective communicators.
4. Manage for Business Outcomes
For project or program managers, success most often comes in the form of achieving key project metrics such as schedule variance, budget variance, planned versus actual progress and other key elements of project delivery.
As a delivery lead, the measures of success change dramatically. Effective delivery leads must be able to translate project results into cost savings, increased sales and improved customer satisfaction as well as other measurements that don’t necessarily fall into traditional delivery activities. This shift in success criteria to business outcomes comes about from delivery leads being accountable for the business rationale behind executing projects and programs.
The journey from project or program manager to delivery lead is best characterized as relieving oneself of common managerial habits in favor of broader leadership activities.
Areas such as governance, orchestrating the schedules of multiple programs, complex resource management and external dependencies become new competencies needed to handle larger delivery responsibilities. In addition, you will also serve as a visible leader to project and program managers who are starting on the same journey.
Does your organization have delivery leads or something like that role? What advice would you offer to help project and program managers who are starting this journey?
By Kevin Korterud
It’s not uncommon, particularly on larger programs, that project practitioners have to assemble a team of project managers. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to hire project managers we know. But quite often, we have to resort to a formal application process.
I get many questions about how to find the right project manager for a role. The process of interviewing and selecting a project manager requires preparation, efficiency and the ability to quickly focus on the skills needed for a project.
Here are four tips for navigating the interview process—and identifying the ideal candidate.
1. Read and Rank Résumés—Before Interviews
It is essential to prepare for the interviews. Good preparation practices include:
2. Set the Stage
Where you conduct the interview can be as important as what you ask. Secure a location that makes for easy dialogue with minimum distractions and supports your scenario-based questions.
The best location is in a program “control room.” These rooms typically have project schedules, metrics, risks and issues displayed on their walls. Having real-time project artifacts as a reference point promotes both active dialogue and the ability to highlight examples related to the scenario-based questions. If a control room is not available, create a temporary one in a conference room where you can tack up project management artifacts.
3. Ask the Right Questions
The candidate has probably already gone through an initial screening. So resist the temptation to ask questions that could have been posed before or “dead-end” questions that don’t shed light on a candidate’s project management skills. Dead-end questions include:
Scenario-based questions that bring out the depth and breadth of a person’s project management skills include:
4. Leave a Positive Impression
Sometimes a candidate isn’t a good fit for a specific project management role. If that occurs, consider the interview to be an investment in the future—perhaps you will need a project manager with that skill set for a later project. Be sure to stress this to the candidate. If there are other project manager roles open, explain that you will route the person’s résumé for consideration for those roles.
No matter the decision, it’s essential to leave a positive impression with the candidate. A positive impression left with candidates also helps attract referrals to your role.
Interviewing project managers can feel like as much work as the project itself. Good preparation, execution and decision-making during the process can help to quickly fill your open project manager role—as well as build a pipeline of candidates for the future.
What techniques do you use to interview project managers?
By Dave Wakeman
One topic we don’t always consider when talking about sustainability—projectmanagement.com’s April theme—is how to sustain our teams and ourselves. Because the truth is, projects can be difficult. Mental burnout can be a factor in your success and that of your team.
Having dealt with some intense stakeholders and projects over the years, I have figured out a few ways to maintain my energy and focus, as well as my team’s. Hopefully one of these can be helpful to you.
1. Plan Out Your Day: As project managers, planning is drilled into us almost constantly. But we also know that in many cases, our best-laid plans are quickly discarded.
I have learned that one way I can control burnout and stress is by planning out my day. I’m old school and do this with paper and pen. You can use your smartphone, tablet or whatever works best for you. I like to write down the five to seven most important things I need to get done each day and schedule time in my calendar for those activities.
This practice may take some time to get used to, and you may have to work with your stakeholders to enforce a daily plan, but the tradeoff in productivity over time is well worth it.
2. Breathe: A lot is made of taking breaks, balance, meditation and other terms that can come off as too “new age” for some. But the benefits of these practices are so powerful that they’re worth investigating.
Here’s how I slow down and reset myself through the power of breath: Take a deep breath for seven seconds, hold the breath for ten seconds, then slowly release the breath for an eight count. After about four or five rounds of that, I find myself having slowed down enough that I can look at my challenges from a fresh standpoint.
3. Communicate Openly and Consistently: If you have been reading my blog posts, you know I am adamant about the idea of communicating openly and consistently. From a team standpoint, having access to information, feedback and ideas can quickly ratchet down the intensity of a project.
You aren’t going to be able to share all the information you have, but if you are open about what you can and can’t share, you won’t encounter any challenges. Just the opportunity to know that their voices are heard and that they have a forum to communicate can do wonders for your team members.
However, as the leader, make sure you don’t allow your communications and sharing to devolve into negative, destructive conversations about all the challenges of the project.
It is important that you make sure that even the negative issues find some sort of positive resolution, even if the only resolution you can muster is, “I understand that this project is tough. If we can just get through this part, things should get better.”
What techniques do you use to prevent burnout?
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?