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 Lynda Bourne
Project stakeholders can be helpful, obstructionist and almost everything in between. The good news is that how you deal with most stakeholders is largely up to you! The only certainty is your stakeholders are not about to go away and leave you in peace.
As you’ll see below, there are three basic ways to deal with stakeholders.
1) Crisis Management
With this approach, you basically choose to ignore the stakeholder problem until something dramatic happens—and then you react to deal with what has become a crisis!
Doing nothing may seem like a good idea when confronted with all of the other demands of the project, but this is misguided. When the crisis erupts, you are reacting to someone else’s agenda. This places you in a vulnerable situation. The atmosphere is typically hostile, and the time and effort needed to recover the situation can easily exceed the time and effort needed to employ alternative options.
2) Stakeholder Management
This approach is proactive rather than reactive. By proactively managing your stakeholder community, you will eliminate most of the crises and be in a much stronger position to deal with any issues that do “blow up.”
Stakeholder management involves identifying the members of your stakeholder community, recognizing their needs and expectations, and implementing a planned communication strategy to maximize their support for the project and minimize any opposition.
Through regular, planned communication activities, you seek to identify issues and problems before they become significant. You take appropriate steps to exploit opportunities and defend against emerging threats and problems. As with any management function, the manager seeks to control and optimize the situation.
This is essentially a “push” process and includes elements such as reporting, public relations (PR) and, in larger projects and programs, may extend to customer relationship management (CRM).
3) Stakeholder Engagement
This approach requires a paradigm shift in thinking! Rather than trying to manage stakeholders to achieve the predetermined outcome your project was established to deliver, stakeholder engagement invites stakeholders to become part of the process designed to fulfill their requirements.
The solution delivered through the project evolves and adapts based on the interaction between the project team and its key stakeholders. Opening up to stakeholders and inviting them to be part of the solution requires letting go of the concept of “one correct solution.”
In place of the answer, the project team and stakeholders work together to develop an agreed-upon outcome.
The concept of stakeholder engagement is a central tenet of the Agile Manifesto. But agile approaches aren’t the only way to open up the power of stakeholder engagement. Many modern forms of project contracts, typically used on major construction and engineering contracts, recognize that collaboration between key stakeholders reduces risk and increases the value of the project for everyone.
Alliance contracts, early contractor involvement (ECI) contracts, and various forms of partnerships and supply chain arrangements all seek to replace the command-and-control management approach to delivering defined outcomes, based on inflexible contract conditions, with collaborative working arrangements focused on achieving a mutually beneficial outcome.
Breaking habits formed over decades of “hard contracting,” and the almost routine litigation that follows, is not easy. But it does seem to be worth the effort.
Numerous surveys (primarily in the U.K. construction sector) have consistently shown that the client gets a better outcome for less cost and the contractors make more profits working in a collaborative environment where everyone is pulling in the same direction. Similar results have emerged from projects employing agile approaches, where the magic trifecta of “better, cheaper and quicker” seems to be regularly achieved.
So my question to you is: Are you still operating in crisis management mode when it comes to stakeholders? Or have you moved toward effective stakeholder management? And are you willing to take the plunge and go for full-on stakeholder engagement?
Stakeholder engagement is not an easy option. It requires a range of skills quite different from traditional stakeholder management, but the results are definitely worth the effort! The beauty of stakeholder engagement is that you open up to your stakeholders and allow them to help you successfully deliver their requirements.
It’s a real win-win outcome.
by Dave Wakeman
If you read this blog regularly, you may have noticed that I’ve been focusing on strategy a lot lately. The reason is simple: The alignment between projects and strategy tends to be a significant driver of organizational success.
For this post, I want to focus on a crucial figure when it comes to alignment: the sponsor. In working to align projects and strategy, the sponsor really is the key to whether or not your efforts will be successful.
For this reason, it’s essential that project managers candidly communicate with sponsors. You need to understand how the project fits into the organization and how you can position your project in a way that will deliver on your organization’s strategy.
Here are three tips for optimizing sponsor relations.
1. Keep Pushing for Answers: We’ve all dealt with projects and clients that give us some variation of the classic line from our parents: “Because I said so.” That may have worked for our parents, but it won’t work too well for our careers.
As a proactive leader in your organization, you need to work with your sponsor to understand how the project fits into the organization’s strategy. For some of you, that may seem difficult, but if you frame the questions around wanting to understand where you may be challenged for resources or time, you can usually get the conversation started.
Other questions that will help you discover how well your project aligns with the organization’s goals are:
2. Communicate Consistently: One of the big challenges of aligning strategy and projects is that you’re busy, your sponsor is busy, and your team is busy. This is no excuse for not communicating consistently. In fact, a constant stream of demands is a reason you should be communicating consistently—that way you ensure that no one’s efforts are wasted on something that is no longer relevant.
To make sure you communicate consistently with your sponsor, use the following framework:
3. Embrace Change: I’m sure that at one time or another we’ve all felt humiliated and downtrodden because our most dear project has been shut down for no discernable reason and we can’t get an explanation from anyone.
These situations are challenging. But you owe it to yourself, your team and your sponsor to embrace change. You also need to proactively address the change, positive or negative, with your sponsor. This will help you gain information that will allow you to make better decisions. But it will also encourage an open dialogue with your sponsor.
Also, proactively dealing with change can be extremely helpful in assisting your sponsor on new courses of action based upon the new information and the new realities that your projects face.
To accelerate your ability to embrace change, ask questions like:
I’m curious to find out how you handle these kind of strategic communications with your sponsors. Let me know in a comment below!
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This piece continues my previous blog post, “The Techniques That Don't Resolve Conflict,” which looked at why no technique other than collaborate/problem solve truly resolves a conflict. Withdraw/avoid, smooth/accommodate, compromise/reconcile and force/direct are all temporary solutions—they postpone conflict resolution for a later date. Problem solving (through confronting and collaborating) is the only way to settle the conflict for good.
Here are a few points to help resolve conflicts to achieve a win-win.
Separate the Person From the Problem
Normally, people are not right or wrong. They just have different opinions, or want a different outcome than us. There is a fair possibility for an opportunity in this difference. As soon as we start seeing the difference from an angle of opportunity, we reduce our negative emotions, reduce negativity toward the person, start taking an interest in his or her viewpoint and put more focus on the problem.
Respect the Opposite Party
See the rival as a potential ally and friend in this opportunity. Respect him and his views. Genuinely try to help the other party achieve their goal. Persist with this approach even if it is not reciprocated.
Keep the Dialogue Going
It usually takes some time to work through conflicts. Matters do not get resolved quickly or within the time frame we expect. We have to maintain patience and resist the urge to fast-track the decision. Actively explore for a suitable time, engage in a two-way conversation, listen to the other party and express our views. Focus more on the points where we share common ground.
Find the Root Cause
Finding the root cause of the conflict is key to attacking the problem, and not the person. Often the reasons that appear on the surface are different than the real problems at root.
Quite often people cannot express what they really want. We often call this a hidden agenda. Many times, this hidden agenda is not as bad as it appears. For instance, some people do not openly say that they are looking for a promotion, but that’s what they really want. We have to figure out the real need by establishing a two-way conversation.
We also have to look into whether the outcome the other party seeks is a need or interest. Interests are more aspirational, and we can put them on the table. Needs, on the other hand, are basic and therefore nonnegotiable.
Allow Others to Save Face
If the other party comes out clearly on the wrong side or starts losing face, it is not the time to slap. Instead, offer opportunities to save face. Allow the other person a safe way to exit with respect.
Use the Law of Reciprocity
Reciprocity is the foundation of living together. What we give is what we get. Empathizing and showing acceptance creates an environment of acceptance. If we make a concession, quite possibly the other party also responds. When we realize that the other party has made a concession, we should reciprocate it.
Create an Emotional Link
Emotions are at the core of conflict resolution. Create an emotional link with the other party. We must foster positive emotions such as trust, empathy and acceptance by showing these emotions. Also, we should reduce negative emotions such as anger, fear and frustration. We must balance logic and emotions.
We can find conflicts almost everywhere. The good news is that they can bring more inclusiveness and cohesion in the project team if settled by confronting and not by withdrawing or forcing.
Confronting means: Let’s talk, let me understand you first, let’s find out the root cause, respect others and create an emotional connection. I believe any type of conflict can be resolved by confronting, bringing a win to both the parties.
What’s your experience? Please share your views.
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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