Eye on the Workforce

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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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Planning Around Scarce Expertise (RPA & OCM)

Beware Haloes & Courtesy Copies

Communicating the Vision (RPA & OCM)

Communicate the Schedule Early (RPA & OCM)

Worth Hiding: Valuable Stakeholder Analysis

Beware Haloes & Courtesy Copies

As a project manager, managing people is a large component of your work. So it's worth Think about how you learn the techniques you use. Do some come from experience? From books, seminars or training courses? Did you learn some from watching others? Do you do things because everyone else does them?

Some of the techniques you use may be unproven. That is , they may not have been through rigorous testing to ensure they work. And if they have not, then you cannot be sure they work or even if they have the opposite effect than you want them to have.

Next, for your edification, are a couple of examples of what you can learn when people management techniques are studied.

Beware of the halo effect.

Imagine you are selecting between three candidates for a project analyst. You follow the common practice of interviewing the top candidates in order to choose the best one for the job in your project. The first comes recommended by people you have worked with and trust. They are in a different line of business with a very different culture, but tell you that the analyst has worked very well there. You talked to this candidate very briefly on the phone and liked her positive energy. She does not know much about your business, however.

The second candidate is from outside your company, but from the same line of business and a similar culture. He has plenty of experience. But, really…who cares?  You have a decent recommended candidate that can be quickly transferred into your project. She's one of those great performers who do well in any situation.

Hold it right there! You are under influence of the halo effect! This syndrome causes you to think that an individual who has been found to excel at one job, will be good at almost anything. This is not true. Many studies over the years have shown that the halo effect appears in many situations and that it can lead to problems for the worker and the business.

Typically candidate selection follows a standard process, but I have never seen one that is specifically designed to avoid the halo effect. You have to do that yourself.

  • When you are given candidates with high performance recommendations, check the circumstances under which that performance was achieved (job responsibilities, organizational complexity, culture).
  • If the circumstances  of your project are different, then give that recommendation less weight.

Beware the effects of the courtesy copy.

The second example is about the importance of knowing how to courtesy copy ("CC") people in emails. You probably have gotten the idea by now that communication and transparency can be improved easily by copying anyone involved on your emails. That way everyone is in the loop and cannot come back and say that they did not know what was going on. What did people ever do without email at work?

David De Cremer says his research indicates that courtesy copying can actually reduce trust, just the opposite effect that you want. Here's how you could be surprised in your project by the implications of your "courtesy":

  • You write an email to the QA lead with some planning questions. You copy the lead's boss because he is a very interested and participative business stakeholder to the project. But soon after you send the email, the QA lead comes to you asking why you copied his boss. Don't you think he was going to respond quickly enough? Has there been a problem in the past with his partnership?
  • When you write a request for participation in a series of meetings to a team lead in your project, you copy the team lead's boss in case the lead's boss had a problem with the amount of time, or other input. Right after you send the email, the lead calls you and asks if you have been asked by her boss to send updates on what you and her are doing.

These two examples show how workers can get the idea, whether true or not, that they are being monitored or micromanaged in some way. They get suspicious, especially in cultures where no clear policies in this area have been created. An undercurrent of mistrust leads to just the opposite culture than what was desired from this type of transparency.

What can you do in your project?

  • When developing your communication plan, discuss with team leads and stakeholders what information they want, and what is unnecessary. Generally, no leader or partner wants to sift through dozens of emails where project teams are working routinely, even if problem-solving. That's a productivity sink.
  • Create a project policy that sticks to this communication plan and lets teams work out problems on their own, without communicating "up". Specify that escalations will be used when teams cannot make progress without higher level participation, intervention or approval.
  • Watch for evidence of mistrust and intervene.

If you have experience with or other ideas on these topics, please comment.

The series on Organizational Change Management using Robotic Process Automation examples will return in my next post.

Posted on: August 22, 2017 08:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Communicating the Vision (RPA & OCM)

This is the second post in a series related to Robotic Process Automation*, begun in association with PMI's Information Systems and Technology Symposium, June 14, 2017, where I presented Becoming an RPA-Ready Project Manager. You can filter posts in this blog to find all related to "Robotic Process Automation".

Another component of organizational change management that you will need to monitor as a project manager is that the vision for the change has been communicated. Generally, you do not have to personally manage vision communication. It is the job of senior leaders to define and sometimes a special group helps to formalize the actual message into emails and intranet web pages. Still. it is wise for you to make sure it is going to be done properly or the tasks you are accountable for will not likely be successful as planned. You just have to love those out-of-project dependencies!

How do you know the vision of organizational change? It is a clear description of the target future state of the organization and the benefits that will be expected. Don't settle for anything less. For organization-wide RPA efforts, where the vision includes software robots doing some of the work previously done by most human resources, the description must include a more satisfactory workplace where workers complete less tedious, more valuable work.

If the vision is not communicated to everyone, your project gets run off the rails by

  • Conflicting interpretations of what the end point is leading to
  • Differing senses of impact by individuals or groups, differing senses of urgency
  • Ability of groups or individuals to promote their own agenda or pressure for certain changes
  • Changes occur, but not exactly what is needed to meet the vision. Interpretations change over time, or other factors.

Don't wait for these symptoms to occur, unless you are a masochist. Treat proper organizational communication as an Assumption, Dependency or something else formal and reportable. My paramour Amelia was wisecracking at lunch the other day that if you publicize a dependency for vision communication, then you might spur "someone" into action to do it!

What about the rollout of that vision? You will know effective, broad communication of the RPA effort vision is occurring when great practices for organization-wide communications are implemented. That includes:

  • Multiple channels used, such as email, dedicated intranet area, town hall sessions
  • Initial communications and ongoing updates
  • Executive participation
  • Q&A sessions with leaders

Make a note to look for these great practices to monitor your Assumption or Dependency. Don't see them? Consider managing as a Risk.

The communication should be continual and take many perspectives, such as

  • The importance of the organization's ability to succeed or avoid failure in marketplace, improve customer satisfaction. This addresses concerns of those who always ask the question "Why are we doing this in the first place? Everything was fine before."
  • The new structure to support better employee satisfaction
  • The new more productive and profitable business processes

Per member Philippe Schuler responding to the first OCM post, success stories are also important in organizational change management communications. In RPA projects, workers (users) will be expected to be skeptical of the changes, but evidence that it has worked well previously will help calm fears. Especially useful stories for RPA will include any that show the workers who have robots working for them are more productive and happy with their now more valuable work - and thus making the vision manifest.

If you start to see a lot of push-back to your RPA projects, it may not be your teams' fault, it could be inadequate organizational readiness for your projects. Consider escalating with that as a potential cause. The solution to that problem should be different than having you just push harder yet again. It could be resolved as a management problem beyond your role. 

 

* Robotic Process Automation:  For our purposes, configuring a software robot, using one of the relatively new tools available, to complete a certain part of a work process formerly completed by FTEs. RPA is not Artificial Intelligence, but simply a way of automating the execution of well-defined business rules. Projects are short and bring quick benefits to the organization.

 

Posted on: July 27, 2017 08:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

The Trick to Persuasion 2

We continue with the important topic of persuasion, giving you more and better ways to use the "persuasion tool.".

Here's a situation for you and a question:

You have to ask one of your team leads for an updated work schedule after a requirement was adjusted. Because of the decision meeting schedule, you need the update more quickly than will be comfortable for the team lead. You recall that the same team lead has rejected your requests the last couple of times. So should you expect better treatment this time or the same treatment as last time?

It's better to know in advance so that you can customize your approach. You don't want to take the wrong tone or say something that will make getting the information in a timely fashion less likely.

 

Use Previous Rejection to Your Advantage

Research was actually done related to this and the verdict is: Someone who has rejected you previously is more likely to grant your request. Perhaps it is because they are guilty from turning you down the first time. Doesn't really matter to you, actually. Make your request confidently, even if you have been rejected multiple times before, because the odds are in your favor.

 

Remind Target of Their Control

Unfortunately for us project managers, like the situation above, we are often in the situation where we can request that a task be done, but the individual we are requesting from does not have to grant our exact  request. Maybe they will grant the request eventually, but later than we need. Maybe they meet our timeline for providing information, but the quality of the information does not meet what we really need. We need all the persuasion tactics we can master to drive work to completion.

Ironically, you can be better off if you remind your target of their control when you frame your request. As part of your initial request, not later, you affirm the target's control in the situation by saying something like:

  • "You are certainly free to ignore this message. "  or
  • "I realize you do not have to do this..."  or
  • "Of course, you are not bound by the deadline mentioned."

There was a study done to confirm this was true looking across 42 separate previous studies. The tactic worked in most contexts, so definitely try it out when you make one of your more difficult requests.

 

Express Confidence in Worker Ability to Complete

If you are trying to persuade one or more people to complete a task, not necessarily make a decision, two points are important to get across:  your confidence that they can do it and that you are there to support the effort.

 

Assuming that you have defined what you want, a key motivator is that you have confidence that the worker or team can do the work. Say it clearly using words you are comfortable with. This statement reduces an unspoken concern over potential problems or failure that will result in negative consequences for those completing the task. This concern is always present, and more pronounced in certain environments, some of which you may have worked in. With this tactic, you can be the positive force that helps teams complete tasks in any environment.

 

For more on persuasion, check out where Christina DesMarais interviewed Clinical Psychologist Jeptha Tausig-Edwards.

What are tactics you use to persuade in difficult circumstances?

Posted on: February 04, 2017 07:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

The Trick to Persuasion

When was the last time you had to be persuasive? Maybe it was to convince someone to start  something right away. Maye it was to overcome resistance to doing something at all. Whatever the case, it was a time when you had to use a "tool" project managers need: The ability to persuade.

I'll also wager that you used a tactic to persuade that you are comfortable with, maybe even out of habit, without considering whether it was the most effective method. You may have used a tactic that is common in your workplace. We mimic what we see in the workplace. We may even use a persuasion technique that would work on us.

The problem is that none of these reasons for choosing a method of persuasion are good. They do not guarantee that the most effective method is chose. If persuasion is an important project management tool, then care must be taken how it is used.

Researchers actually do studies to determine what techniques are effective. You should pay attention to what has been learned to make yourself a better project manager, able to get work done through others.   Today's post is the start of a series called "Friendly Persuasion" that will cover many aspects of persuasion relevant to project managers. It's actually a broad topic!

Recently in Inc.com, Christina DesMarais talked to Clinical Psychologist Jeptha Tausig-Edwards about what research has shown actually works when persuading others. There are particular points that apply to project managers.

Don't Bury the Headline In Your Request

This was in a topic in a previous post in this blog. When you are in a conversation where you are going to make your request, state request first. This generally increases your chance of being accepted.

This tactic can be applied to stakeholder interactions, where, for example, you need the individual's approval or you need to use the individual's resources for a period of time to keep your project on track.

  • Get your pitch ready in advance of the conversation. Start with an effective concise request that includes a benefit or avoidance of a problem.
  • Be ready with bullet points for the rationale.

This tactic works because studies found the reality is that those who you target with your request have other things on their mind or may simply be worn out. They appreciate you getting to the point.

Be Beneficial

In your pitch, be specific as to benefits of the made of your target. For example, you can say:

  • "I'm requesting that you approve a change request that will add one month to the schedule due to resources being temporarily assigned to other work. The advantage for you is that this will allow us to be able to keep system function you desired rather than putting it at risk."

Have a Back-up Plan

OK, so even if you have a good pitch, you may get rejected. Don't take "No" for an answer all the time, though. Be ready with a particular response tactic that may keep your options open so that you are not dead in the water.

Researchers have determined that the words you use in your reaction to "No" are critical to success. You have to use the alternative option format as shown in these examples:

  • If the sponsor cannot give you a decision by the deadline you have in mind, respond with "OK, can you get to it to me by Friday next week?"
  • If a stakeholder cannot release resources to your project as planned, respond with an option you have previously found to be the next best thing: "I understand the problem. So will you approve our project using contractors instead of your resources?"

The reason is to keep the individual from responding based on their preference and get them to respond based on their character. The work has to get done, you are asking your target decision-maker to help you with how the work is going to get done. 

As you can see, when you know what works, you can prepare for the interaction. You can even grab success from the jaws of failure. Perhaps more importantly, the tactic may be different in tone and content than a less effective method that you would have used without knowledge of research.

This topic is so important that I'll post additional proven tactics this month (and in the future) to start you off in the new year with better interaction skills.

Until then…Where have you had to apply your powers of persuasion? How did it go? Have you experienced bad attempts at persuading you?

Posted on: January 05, 2017 08:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Turning Stress Into Success

Teams are more successful dealing with stress when they have a shared purpose. That was the conclusion reached by studies and reported in my last post. So the question remaining is: How can this information be translated into success tactics for you as a project manager? You have to continuously foster a particular line of communication related to challenges. Here are tactics you can use:

From the beginning of the project, promote its business benefits. The shared purpose will be to complete the project so those benefits are realized.

  • Don't just focus on the deliverables in your communications. Communicate key points from the project charter or equivalent document.
  • Promote who will appreciate the benefits:  executives, user groups, stakeholders, customers.
  • Put a number on the amount of users and financial improvements. Communicate these data points early and often to enable the project workforce to rally around these as a shared, higher purpose.

When hiring workers, start building a high-performance team by selecting people who see project obstacles and challenges as opportunities.

Later in the project, as obstacles appear and work teams are put under stress, remind the team that the benefits depend on successfully completing the project together.

  • Be focused on quality of deliverables, but keep everyone mindful of the higher purpose, the benefits of the project.

Discuss the challenges the project team is facing. Bring the conversation around to what the project team can do to meet the challenge. Determine how to work together to meet challenges, surmount obstacles and reduce stress. For example:

  • Be better at handing-off work from one team to another
  • Create a vacation schedule to help team members work together better
  • Adjust standard meeting times to better accommodate one group so that the entire project benefits
  • Improve quality of completed deliverables so that the team who receives it can also do better work
  • Communicate a controversial risk to the schedule that affects the entire team
  • Work together across functional (work) teams to resolve an issue
  • Attend a meeting together as a cohesive project team to deal with a challenge

Do not mistakenly communicate an attitude that appears you want to avoid stress during the project. And don't imply that stress is something individuals will have endure on their own. This does not work. The team must expect to work to meet challenges together, and that will reduce stress overall.

Set up new deliverables like the requirements document as a key part of getting business benefits. Make sure the deliverables mention or link back to the business benefits desired. This not only good practice but helps to link team members together throughout the project.

If key points from the project charter change at any time, use that as a trigger to update the project team on adjustments to the shared purpose.

At the end of the project, as part of Closing, communicate to everyone who participated  that the benefits will be achieved because of their participation to complete. This will cement in their minds that working together as a team is superior to other methods. And you will be remembered as the project manager who runs projects this way.

Notice how all these tactics lead to regular discussions about obstacles and challenges. Build up a habit to think in this way. Project managers regularly talk about risks and issues, so this is not a foreign concept. The trick is to communicate that project challenges are not stressful threats, but opportunities for the team to succeed.

Posted on: November 27, 2016 09:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
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