Project Management

Eye on the Workforce

Workforce management is a key part of project success, but project managers often find it difficult to get trustworthy information on what really works. From interpersonal interactions to big workforce issues we'll look the latest research and proven techniques to find the most effective solutions for your projects.

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Recent Posts

RPA, Organizational Change and Managing the Skills Gap

Leading Questions with Focus on Project Team

Stay Confident for Awkward Communications

Leading by Listening (Part 2)

Leading by Listening (Part 1)

Be Ready for Power Dynamics in Tollgates, Major Issue Escalation

Categories: Learning, Manage People

There are many situations you have to be prepared for when you are a project manager. One of these is when those with the most power are going to meet to make a decision on your project, as when you are in a tollgate or a major issue resolution.

New research at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business helps you do better in your preparation. You see, they documented a problem in meetings where high level leaders do not collaborate well on a solution. Power dynamics between the individuals get in the way. Unlike other stakeholders you may be used to, the most powerful have to spend time determining who has what authority when they work together.  

You do not want to have this problem interfere with your project, of course, so you have to know successful tactics to avoid the decision being delayed.

Say that you are preparing for a tollgate. Generally, you have to show you are ready for the next phase of activities considering financials, scope and schedule. There are some significant risks you have identified in your presentation. High level leaders are present representing compliance, finance, line of businesses, PMO, Technology, legal and more. They all have a large stake in the status and potential outcome of your project and most are sensitive to the risks you are highlighting. And they are used to getting their way in their own areas.

At this moment the powerful leaders may have to spend time figuring out their relationship before getting to the decision, according to the study. This makes getting a positive decision, even any decision, at this meeting more difficult.

Want to avoid this problem? Try the tactic used in the multinational negotiations. When world leaders get into the same room, you can imagine how they can spend time seeing who has the advantage. To avoid this, lower-level managers agree on details of any agreement in advance.

In your project, you can ensure your workforce gets agreement on your readiness from those who report to the powerful leaders who will be decisioning your tollgate. This will inoculate your project from a surprise denial. Get your presentation drafted in advance and socialize that presentation to direct reports of high-level leaders. They will help you identify and include justification information that is relevant to the leader. Mention in your presentation that your team worked with their representatives so that the decision-making leaders will trust that you have prepared for the next phase carefully, and have considered the issues.

This may be more than what is normally required in your tollgate presentation, but when your project is evaluated by high-level leaders that see your project's status and issues for the first time in the tollgate, this tactic can make the difference between success and delay.

Have you experienced delays due to high-level leaders not making a decision? Let me know.

Posted on: August 17, 2016 08:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

My PMP Recertification Story (Warn Your PMs)

Categories: Learning, Manage People

I recently re-certified for my PMP, and I learned some lessons for next time. Still, I’m glad I did it and learned a lot to become more skillful for the future.


There are just too many points needed to fill them in at the last minute, even in the last months. I was lucky in that I had a continuous way to make points over time, but the rationalization that comes from procrastination made me think that I had more PDUs than I thought. Look at the number of PDUs you need and plan to space them out over the three years. It’s just like an intermediate milestone in a project plan. Tracking your progress will let you know whether you are falling behind or not.

PDU Caps

What made procrastination worse was that the PDU category caps limited the number PDUs I could get from certain activities. I mismanaged this.

Granted, you can do all the PDU classes and local PMI continuing education you want to meet 100% of your goal and this is a good thing. You even get to meet great people.

But if you choose to get PDUs through other means, there are limits. That’s where I went wrong. I thought I could get more points in one category than was actually true. Don’t do as I do, do as I say.

  • Don’t think Self-Directed Learning is the same as continuing education or other types of courses. You are limited to 30 self-directed learning PDUs per cycle, for example, if you are maintaining a PMP.
  • The same goes for Creating New PM Knowledge. There is a 45 PDU cap there. And by the way, check the three categories of Creating New PM Knowledge to make sure what you think qualifies actually qualifies. Ditto this for Volunteer Service.
  • Next, you might think that you can get a large number of PDUs from Work as a Practitioner. Here you are limited to 5 PDUs per year.

So clearly you need a decent plan where you think about how and when you will best obtain the most PDUs for the activities you will actually complete and enjoy. You like taking classes? Then take classes. You like a mix of classes, continuing education at PMI meetings, but you also enjoy create new knowledge? Plan to do all of those things and document it during the 3-year cycle on your PDU meter on the PMI site.

If you don’t have a plan, then you could be left scrambling in the final months, when work load happens to be at its peak and when employer-provided online courses are switching over to the new PMBOK versions and then you find that you have completed the wrong mix of PDUs in categories.

Believe me, it can happen. Don’t ask me how I know.

If you lead PMs who are also re-certifying, tell them the same thing.

Posted on: November 20, 2013 11:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Using Projects as Your Personal Development Goals

I recently completed an article on Better Annual Performance Goal Planning but was not really finished. There is more advice to pass on. 

You can read the article first, but it's not necessary. But definitely read it. Really. 

The point of the article is that small process improvement projects can be great to use as goals in your annual personal/career development plan - if you do it right and take advantage of your project management skills. Here's an example scenario to help you understand how to apply the steps to yourself.

  • You see a problem with recent project selection where IT infrastructure improvements have been the norm and business processes updates have not  been given adequate attention.  You want to show that you can fix this to add to the efficiency of the organization while improving your skills.  
  • Your plan is to define your skill improvement as leading a short-term project updating business processes to correspond to recent IT infrastructure improvements.  
  • You put that project into your annual development plan, after obtaining approval from the boss. You are not finished, however.

This project is a little different than you are used to in that there will have to be a closer collaboration with more business stakeholders. Of course, that is how you are developing new skills. You determine that you need, in addition to your existing project management skills, training in certain business details, and that this training should be included in your development plan.  

You can be general about the training required, because considerations get a little complicated. For example, once you get into the project in this scenario...

  • You will likely need business organizational information (who reports to whom, which departments do what activities, etc.). This may or may not require formal training.
  • You will likely need to know current business process workflows. These should be documented somewhere. If up-to-date business process workflows do not exist, too often the case, you may have to develop or update them in your project. To be successful in this activity, you may have to take some kind of legal/compliance training or obtain knowledge specific to the business. That would be documentable.

Finally, keep track of your deliverables and development in association with the project so that you can document all that you did for your periodic development review. 

Posted on: February 03, 2013 09:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Talking the Talk – For Learning & Performance (Part 4)

Continuing from my last post…

 When you are successful at getting project workers to participate in an authentic conversation, most likely in some kind of corporate social media, you will naturally get incidents of unconstructive posts. To maintain Inclusion you must take quick, clear action to correct the violation. Be active in this effort because there is a difficult transition from regular social posting to corporate posting.

  • Enforce the etiquette rules established earlier by searching for posts that are not constructive, make personal attacks, or even indirectly question the skills of someone who posts.
  • Refer to etiquette rules to explain why there was a specific problem and why this will not be tolerated.
  • Especially in the early weeks and months, send general reminders around to remind participants of the etiquette rules.
  • To avoid appearing to be a school marm with a ruler, "like" those posts that are constructive, even if they challenge sacred cows.


Now it's time to look at the fourth of four factors contributing to real, honest and constructive project communications:  Intentionality .

This seems a little vague at first, but it is actually good practical advice. Your project has a charter, a direction, an objective. It supports a business strategy. You should make sure that the project communications align to all of this.

  • When posts get off track from the project, make posts or comment to these posts to bring the topic back to support of the project. For example, when a discussion degrades into complaining about the state of IT education in regional universities, you or your designee posts a re-directing post perhaps asking a question like, "OK, we can't fix that problem, but can we resolve the issue which started this discussion of having to wait for contingent workers to be hired for testing? As stated in a previous comment, we are trying to improve quality of our deliverables this year."

  • Allow interactions to proceed that are resolving complex issues by bring up outside-of-project solutions. These are not necessarily off-track and may be just be the authentic conversations that you are trying to support. For example, when a discussion post blames a project problem on lack of management attention to the project, don't shrink away. Pursue this further to get details. You want an open and honest conversation.

So it turns out that, for your project, there's not an "I" in team. There are four I's: Intimacy, Interactivity, Inclusion and Intentionality. You need to manage them all for ongoing effective communications and workforce just-in-time learning. You should utilize modern corporate social media and use the correct tactics. It's a new set of problems, but if you master the solutions, you will be setting yourself up for the new era in project management.

If you think abut it, this is not too much more than what a great project manager should be doing already: Setting the tone, laying the groundwork for good communications, enabling people to perform better, ensuring appropriate learning gets done.

But doing this using your new knowledge of tactics based on Intimacy, Interactivity, Inclusion and Intentionality, will allow you to surpass those who, for whatever reason, choose not to embrace the inevitable. You will set yourself apart as a leader in communication and workforce learning and performance. You will be appreciated by project participants and enable those who are gatekeepers for your next career move to see that you should motor through.

Posted on: December 20, 2012 08:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Talking the Talk – For Learning & Performance (Part 3)

This is the third post in a series, translating concepts in this Harvard Business School article about the book Talk, Inc into tactics usable in your project. That article stated that there are four key factors necessary to create a constructive, authentic continuing conversation. The reason why there are so few organizations that have this vital type of conversation is that four factors must be managed properly.

Previously, I have described how you can set an environment where Intimacy exists so that workers are comfortable in honest and open conversation . You have also seen how to maximize Interactivity.

According to the book, the third of four critical factors to improve the corporate conversation is Inclusion. You will have to be inclusive of all project participants in your communications to ensure  that

  • the information transferred is authentic, constructive and continual
  • participants learn efficiently
  • teams perform efficiently

The more the merrier. Getting everyone involved in the conversation is very important to maintaining that communication, but this will take special effort, even after you deal with the passive-aggressive individuals. You have to set the tone from the beginning that you desire all to participate. Then you have make that goal a reality.

Once you get the lines of communication open, make starting the conversation easier.

  • Train everyone on any relatively new communication technology to the organization, especially if it is corporate social media. While those of certain generations enjoy social media as a part of their daily lives, others do not use it much in their personal lives. They just need a little help learning how to use it at work.
  • Explain what kind of communication "turns off" others. Focus on interaction etiquette. This will reduce problems. For example, explain that opposing arguments should be against an idea, not an individual. Everyone must maintain a professionalism and respect while they get work done and issues resolved.
  • Send a message to everyone that it is time to begin the conversation.
  • Actively and publically bring in others from groups who usually do not have constant involvement, such as certain stakeholders. They can easily use the same discussions everyone else is using, so there is some egalitarianism.
  • Actively request input from passive-aggressive participants.
  •  Explain how the project leaders understand the importance of everyone having a voice prior to decisions being made and to avoid and resolve issues.
  • Have the project leaders individually explain their value of everyone being involved. Say what a value it will be to get honest input in real time to make the project work better.

To get project participants to keep on communicating,

  • Respond to their comments quickly.
  • Use hash tags to respond, so that the acknowledgement gets to the individual and can be captured in trending statistics.

How does this bring benefits to project learning and performance? Because learning is social, everyone involved in the ongoing project conversation will be able to get a fast transfer of information in a compelling format that can be used to get work done. This is real, practical sharing unlike what has been possible before. There has never been a better way to maintain a feeling of togetherness and collaboration in your project or organization.

In my next post, I will finish up Inclusion by explaining how to deal with communication problems  when they arise. We can't wear rose-colored glasses here!  To solve obstacles to effective conversation, you have to know the fourth and final critical factor. Can you guess what letter it starts with?

Posted on: December 17, 2012 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The purpose of art: to make the unconscious conscious."

- Richard Wagner