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.

About this Blog

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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
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rebecca Braglio
Rex Holmlin
Christian Bisson
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina

Recent Posts

When Project Benefits Erode

What Do Next-Gen Project Leaders Look Like?

How to Avoid Useless Meetings

Future-Proof Projects — and Careers — With a Little Engineered Serendipity

I, Project: A Peek Into a Machine-Powered Future

Are You an Imposter or a Crackerjack?

By Conrado Morlan

Do you know an experienced project manager assigned to a high-visibility project who keeps asking himself and others why he was selected? Colleagues and managers believe this individual is the ideal candidate. He brings strong industry knowledge, leadership skills and relationships across the organization that will lead to a successful project.

Yet he still doubts himself. In fact, it’s estimated that 70 percent of people feel they don’t deserve their station in life.

In the late 1970s, psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the term “Imposter Syndrome” to refer to the idea that capable individuals find it hard to believe in their own capabilities or internalize their own accomplishments. These people see evidence of their competence as mere luck and sometimes feel they are not actually qualified for the position they hold.

For a while, I suffered from the Impostor Syndrome. Then I had two wake-up calls. The first came at the PMI Global Congress 2008—Latin America in São Paulo, Brazil. I met two members of the PMI Mexico Chapter who found out that I had recently achieved the Program Management Professional (PgMP) credential. They were more excited than I was about the achievement. I didn’t realize that I had not made the PgMP credential an important part of me.

The second wake-up call was at the workplace. I was part of a 360-degree evaluation process, and I discovered that the scores I provided to describe my performance were quite a bit lower than the feedback provided by my peers.

In my mind for many years, I was an imposter. In the eyes of others, I was crackerjack.

Have you suffered from the Imposter Syndrome? What was your wake-up call?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: April 14, 2016 07:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Want to be a Strategic Project Manager? Communicate Better!

by Dave Wakeman

In recent months, I’ve been talking about how to become a more strategic project manager on this blog (see here, here and here). I thought it would be a good idea to circle back and talk about how being an effective communicator will help you be more strategic.

Here are three tips to remember:

1. Communications is at the base of performance.

Never lose sight of the fact that as a project manager, you are basically a paid communicator. And, as a communicator, you have certain responsibilities: being clear, keeping your message concise and making sure you are understood.

If you aren’t meeting these requirements, you are likely going to struggle to achieve success in your projects. In addition, poor communicating may mean you miss the message about why this project is important to the organization. You also may miss information from the team on the ground that would shape the organization’s deliberations about the project.

So always focus on making sure that your communications up and down the organization are clear, concise and understood.

2. A free flow of communications delivers new ideas.

Managing a lot of communications and information is challenging—I get that. But by the same token, if you aren’t exposing yourself to information from many different sources (both inside and outside the organization), you’re likely missing out on ideas that can transform your opinions and open you up to new ways of looking at things.

While being a strong project manager is about having a good, solid framework for decision-making, you aren’t going to have all the technical expertise yourself. In addition, your team may be only focused on the one area that they are in charge of. So it’s important that someone is open to the flow of ideas that can come from any direction and that may have the power to reshape your project in unimaginable ways.

You can achieve this by making sure you have conversations up and down the organization and pay attention to things outside of your scope of work. You never know where a good idea is going to come from.

3. Relationships are the key to project success—and they’re built through communication.

If we aren’t careful, we can forget that our project teams are groups of people with wants and needs. Remember: at the heart of our work are real people whom our projects impact.

That’s why it’s essential that you focus on the human aspect of being a project manager, especially if you want to become a top-notch, strategic project manager. Our human interactions and relationships are the key to our success as project managers.

This is something you should be taking action on all the time. Maybe you start by pulling someone on your team aside for a conversation about what’s going on. Maybe you find out a little more about the person’s home life. Or, you just make sure you have an open-door policy when it comes to information on your projects.

The key is to make sure you give your personal relationships an opportunity to thrive in the project setting.

Let me know what you think in a comment below! 

By the way, I write a weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: April 10, 2016 02:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

3 Lessons From My First Project Manager Job

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.

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: January 23, 2016 07:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

4 Tips for Delivering the Desired Business Results  

When I started as a project manager, the focus of my attention was on the mechanics of project management. This involved becoming very involved in work plans, risk/issue trackers, status reports, progress metrics and all those artifacts that form the means by which one manages a project.

What I realized after a number of years (as well as after a few hard learning experiences) was that while the mechanics of project management are important, they are merely enablers for the core activities that truly create a successful project.

I needed to think more about the successful direct and indirect business outcomes that could be created from a project. The attainment of successful business outcomes was what my stakeholders were really looking for, not necessarily the most impressive work plan or status report. This shift in focus become one of the turning points in my project management career.

So how does a project manager, in particular one early in his or her career, make the transition from executing the linear mechanics of project management to producing desired business outcomes? Well, they need to acquire the skills and behaviors that enable business success from projects— hopefully without harmful learning experiences along the way.

Here are four tips for making this transition.

1. Don’t Be Afraid of Business Processes

When I was a relatively new project manager, I spent a lot of time at my desk. This desk time was occupied with working on project management artifacts that if created perfectly would, in my mind, automatically lead to a successful project.   

A senior project manager noticed this and encouraged me to spend a fixed amount of time creating project management artifacts, with the remainder of my workweek interacting with stakeholders in the business areas. In fact, this senior project manager arranged for me to work for a few days with some of the employees that were actually executing the business processes that were to be impacted by my project. Those few days of immersion were a great learning experience that it completely changed my outlook on how to run the project.

Today, I still employ the same technique for both myself as well as fellow project managers and team members. Whether it’s working in a retail outlet helping to stock shelves, processing billing exceptions in a call center or spending time in an airliner simulator, the immersion experience is essential to understanding what makes for successful business outcomes from projects.

2.  Define Business Success Criteria

Very early in my career, I took what my stakeholders initially shared with me as business success criteria without any subsequent qualification. No surprise that some of the success criteria entailed—“just make it easy to use,” “finish testing by the end of the year” or “do whatever the senior vice president says”—didn’t really indicate a clear path to business success. 

As I grew as a project manager, I began to spend more time in the beginning of projects articulating in detail with stakeholders clear criteria for business success. This involved not only understanding current processes by immersion, but also challenging stakeholders on the methods we would use to objectively measure business success. If something cannot be objectively measured, it would be difficult to determine the success of the project.

I also allocated time in the project to build and execute the processes to measure success. By doing so, I had the capacity to create evidence of how the project benefited the business.  

3. Understand Your Industry

In my first few years as a project manager at an insurance company, I took every course on project management I could find (this pre-dated the creation of PMP certification). While I became adept at the mechanics of project management, I had no real foundation of business knowledge for the projects I was leading. 

On a recommendation of a senior project manager, I took a course on the principles of the insurance business. This course covered the terminology, core business processes and emerging industry trends. I left the course wondering how all of this was going to apply to running projects.

Within two weeks of taking this course, my supervisor passed along a compliment from my stakeholders how much more effective and efficient I was in running their project. This newfound productivity came from the ability to more easily understand the challenges that the project was intended to address. Little did I know that the industry training was a form of business process immersion.

4.  Get Comfortable With ‘Design Thinking’    

The concept of “design thinking” originated with companies finding out that while project managers thought they were achieving the desired delivery success criteria of being on time and budget, they were not really producing the desired level of business success from projects. These companies began to explore ways of changing the approach in determining business success for a project. 

Design thinking gives project managers several approaches to fully qualify the path to business success by techniques such as charting a customer journey, business process brainstorming, business case creation and creative reframing.

All of this opened my mind to going beyond the traditional boundaries of a project to ensure I was going to both define and execute to true business success.

I sometimes long for the days when I ran smaller, simpler and shorter projects whose goal was typically to finish on time and budget. I could afford to relax a bit and strive to achieve a high professional standard in the mechanics of running a project.

But as our projects become larger, more complex and longer in duration, we as project managers have to delegate some of these activities to other people, so we can get on with the business at hand of producing successful business results from projects.

These four things helped me make the transition to achieving business results on projects. What are some of the things that allow you to do the same? 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: December 26, 2015 08:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Why I Became A Project Manager

By Kevin Korterud

 

After many years of challenges and successes as a project manager, I took a moment to reflect on what made me leave my functional role and embrace project management. While I enjoyed working as an individual contributor with a particular function, project managers seemed to have a unique set of skills that I both respected and envied. 

Here are four factors that set me off down the project management road. Hopefully, these insights will prove helpful to people considering project management roles and project managers who might need to re-energize themselves.

 

1. Projects Allow You To Build Things  

When I was growing up, I loved to build models of aircraft, ships and cars. The process of making something interesting out of a disparate set of parts, selection of paints and sometimes vague instructions appealed to me. While sometimes the final product did not look exactly as I hoped, the journey helped build cognitive and visualization skills that made the next model turn out better.

Projects are not unlike model building. You have a set of parts (people, process and technologies), paint colors to select (requirements, communications) and quite often limited instructions from stakeholders on how to achieve success.

However, projects have additional complexities. You need to create the instructions (a project plan), determine who helps with what parts (project work activities) and coordinate when the parts are assembled.

 

2. The “People Factor” of Projects   

As a functional specialist, I began to observe how effectively selecting, engaging and guiding people had a great impact on the project’s outcome. Often, the ability to produce a good team had more of an impact than my individual contributions.

One of a project manager’s most powerful skills is the ability to form and lead a team. While processes and technologies tend to behave in a somewhat predictable manner, people often do not.

As I grew as a project manager, I found that in addition to core project management skills, I needed to also build soft skills. These included: verbal communications, presentation skills, clarity in written communications and more. 

In retrospect, working with people on project teams to achieve successful outcomes as well as helping them grow professionally has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my project management career.

 

3. Projects Yield Visible Results

When I was a functional specialist, I was most commonly tasked with creating and implementing a set of project deliverables. I was rarely on a project long enough to see the complete implementation and final results.   

When I became a project manager, I began to see how I was responsible for the outcomes that created visible results. The project’s desired outcomes were more than the successful installation of a process or technology. It had to create a benefit once adopted by the project stakeholders. 

The notion of producing visible results from a project can be very exciting. I was once involved in leading several projects that touched on the health and safety of employees. There was no greater professional and personal satisfaction than to complete a project that someday might save someone’s life.

 

4. Projects Build Personal and Professional Character

We all have days where things go so bad, we think, “If I could only return to my former role before becoming a project manager.” Project managers have to deal with constant uncertainty, a wide range of emotions, a lack of resources, schedule conflicts, missed milestones and more. However, all of these challenges have unintended positive consequences.

 I once worked for a project manager who had been assigned to more failed or failing projects than anyone else in her group. It was a source of pride for her that these challenging projects strengthened her professional abilities and her character. By constantly having to work through adversities, she quickly built advanced skills and rapidly developed her confidence level.    

 

In many ways, projects mirror situations we face in everyday life. By learning to adapt to ever-changing conditions, we grow in our ability to deal with difficulties, be they in a project plan or missing the train to work. I found that when I became a project manager, my professional and personal skills grew at an accelerated pace.   

 

So what got you to become a project manager? 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: September 24, 2015 02:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)
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