What is the difference between management and leadership? Alert reader Luis Branco suggested this question in a comment to an article I wrote and it is a good question to ponder. In my experience there is less a binary definition than a continuum. On one extreme there is being a beacon for people to follow as they struggle through a dark, uncertain period to get to a brighter future. On the other extreme is driving efficient task management.
In this post and my previous article on "leading questions", I focus more on the leadership side for common situations in the PM world where skills should be built up. It may be a while before you are able to be an executive communicator, but you do have opportunities now to rise above common project management task wrangling and do leadership-side preparation and communications. If you are a newer project manager, this type of leadership skill can help you move into more complex projects and be recognized as a more advanced project manager. Many of us have done the same. If you have more experience, but need more focus to improve, there are tactics below to help.
Know Your Targets: Project Team
For your leadership-side communications to your project team members, you need to help them prepare for the future (medium-term to long-term), to understand the environment in which they work, and to see the larger context of their efforts. This context is beyond managing to a task list, no matter how sophisticated it is. Note also how this communication is parallel to an executive providing the context of the marketplace and "direction" for the organization.
Ask yourself these "leading questions". Add more questions for your situation. Not all questions are relevant to all situations, but you should have at the ready a broad list to make sure you to stay ahead of emerging problems with your communications and actions.
Now apply the questioning technique to a particular example:
Situation: Your project is approaching the design phase. You ask leading questions of yourself (#1 and #2) and determine that there is a risk from some key stakeholders not receiving recent leadership communication of organizational priority on customer-centric design. Alternately, if they did receive the recent communication, they may not agree with the ramifications. As a consequence, these stakeholders may not make themselves available for the amount of time needed in work sessions to understand the design and give feedback to improve its effectiveness with customers.
Notice how these tactics, built by asking leading questions, keep you ahead of the risks and engaging your project workforce to manage the situation in a more sophisticated manner. If you were only focused on project task management, you would run the risk of not starting to address the problem until much later and in a much less-effective reactive manner. Don't be that project manager.
In the previous post and an article, Improve Stakeholder Relations by Adding a Social Component, we have been exploring how a web share site for stakeholders is a good way to keep them in communication and involved, but you have to use the correct tactics to make it all work. There were a couple of topics requested from readers that were left to cover: building the site itself and using a push email to make it easier for stakeholders to get involved.
Building the Site
Just how to build such a site depends on the applications and tools you have at your disposal. Some of these are listed at the bottom of this post. If you have an enterprise platform to build a cover page and link to files and a discussion area, that is all you need. If you are not sure at all how to proceed, try these steps:
As stated in the article and previous post, the cover page is the most important. The first page can be and probably should be your only developed page in most situations. Why? Because any additional pages will take more time to administer and update over time. If you have a project coordinator or other person who can make updates to the site in a timely fashion, then feel free to build out additional pages within reason.
Beyond your initial page, additional pages might do the following:
Combining the "Push" Email Effectively with Project Site and Discussion Area
The push email is the email sent out with the intent to provide info and draw stakeholders to the discussion area. Here's an example.
The situation is that a complex issue has arisen that may affect the scope and schedule of the project. You, as project manager, plan to send out an ad hoc push email to summarize the issue and connect stakeholders to additional details and to a related online discussion to answer stakeholder's initial questions prior to a decision meeting that must be scheduled two to three weeks out.
In this case, you do not want to overwhelm stakeholders with a complex email. You would rather send them to a space where you can start gathering their input prior to the future decision meeting and avoid inadequate communication or miscommunication.
With building the site and the push email covered, questions from readers have now been answered. Thanks for reading my articles, posts and for your active involvement in projectmanagement.com!
A Variety of Possible Tools
Here are examples of platforms or applications that are designed to provide information and interaction that can be used in a project environment. You want the ability to create a customized page for your project, to post project files and to create a discussion area.
In a pinch, just a shared drive can be manipulated to meet the design objectives, the "Home" page being a single file.
How many times have you read an article with manager or supervisor techniques and come away disappointed that you could not use them as a project manager? They are meant for entrepreneurs, those with direct reports in operations or just make assumptions that are not true for you.
It's frustrating because no manager could use help more than a project manager with temporary teams, temporary efforts and a rotating list of skeptical stakeholders. Luckily, you are able to use many of the same tactics, certainly those that focus on influencing and motivating rather than those leveraging your authority over salary and career advancement.
This blog has covered many of these techniques over the years. The techniques below allow you to get the most out of a project team even if it is temporary, and not burn the individuals out or misuse them or abuse them. The best techniques allow you to end up with project team members who would be glad to join your team again.
Help project team members with their personal advancement
You may not be able to promote workers or give them new roles in the organization, but you can help them meet their career development goals.
Help the changing team work together better
You may know tactics related to helping individuals work better. For example, you may be able to recognize ways to set up an individual for success in their role. What you may not have practiced previously is techniques used to help the entire team work together better. This is more important in projects where workers enter and exit the project work at different times. When new members enter a team, act to minimize the “bond” that the existing team members have.
Make sure your employees feel a sense of accomplishment
We often talk about motivating workers by giving them positive reinforcement publicly. But we do not always focus on a related technique of helping them feel a sense of accomplishment. This turns out to be important – especially important in environments where a feeling of accomplishment is more rare. Examples of such environments are those that commonly have long projects, or where resources move quickly from project to project without having a chance to think about their impact.
These tactics will not only motivate your project workers, they will help make you stand out as a more sophisticated project manager. When you get results and have a motivated team, you are a valuable resource in any organization.
Ah, the luxury of having an active task with an end date that is far away. You can concentrate on the tasks that are more urgent, making sure the team focuses on getting those done on time. There will be plenty of time to bring attention to that non-urgent task later.
That is, until the day when you think, "Is that task due already? Last check it was only 25% done and now there is only 10% time remaining!"
A long-duration task could be a task that takes many weeks to complete in a project where tasks typically last a week or two. There's been no mistake. It has been scheduled that way. A long design task, for example, to complete a single critical, difficult display for stakeholders. Or a long development task that takes the effort of many specialists who are working part time on the project, increasing the duration, but not the total effort. The key characteristic is that the task has been set a long duration by the team or owner (or you!) and now it is in progress in your project along with many other tasks that have due dates much sooner.
Consider this situation an opportunity, a way to exhibit your more advanced execution skills and maintain focus on active tasks with long durations. Build or strengthen this habit by using certain tactics and staying "above the fray" in your meetings
Stay Above the Fray . . . Inexperienced practitioners can wait too long to start checking on tasks that start weeks or months before they end. You can probably remember meetings where you allowed task reviews in meetings to be all about the urgent. That's what people want to talk about. But long-duration tasks have long durations for a reason. Effort needs to be expended the whole time. If inadequate effort is expended because of overconfidence, distractions or too much time allocated to urgent tasks, then the group completing the task will have lost the opportunity to do needed work.
Use Effective Task Management Tactics . . . Manage long-duration activities to set up task owners and yourself for success. If you wait until too close to the end of the task to start checking in, then you lose the opportunity to intervene.
A big part of keeping project execution on track is keeping long-duration tasks on track. The ability to get these type of tasks completed is a routinely useful skill that you can improve to increase your success and that of the teams who make up your project workforce. And if those who can possibly pay you the big bucks happen to notice, all the better.
At some point, you have certainly thought about the importance of trust in project management. Did you happen to think of a lot of ideas to build trust? Probably not. This is a difficult topic.
Lucky for you, researcher Paul Zach looked carefully at workplace trust for 8 years and has developed 8 building blocks you can use to develop your own tactics to improve trust in your project. Some of these tactics have been discussed before elsewhere especially in this blog, but there are a couple that have not been discussed often related to project management. These will be the topics of this and the next post.
Facilitate Team to Craft Their Own Jobs
The first of Zak's building blocks to consider is called "Transfer." The term "transfer" for our purposes represents job crafting, which includes allowing people to use their own techniques to complete their work. That is, they determine how they meet the quality expected of their work.
This tactic is typically presented in training for managers and will always be easier for managers to implement. But that should not let you as a project manager miss out on a tactic to build trust.
Here are specific examples of how you can use the transfer/job crafting technique in your projects.
Look for other barriers to flexible work that you can eliminate or reduce.
Once you have team leads crafting more of their own work to fit their circumstances, you will have built more of your foundation for a trusting work environment. Do even more by helping them provide the same flexibility to their own workers.
Giving control like this is a key part of maintaining trust. Wresting control away from workers, by forcing restrictions and requirements for whatever reason, serves to break down trust. Be aware of obstacles to flexibility as well.
Next month, my post will be about openness, another one of Zak's building blocks that can be applied to your projects.
In the meantime, have you had success with job crafting?