OK, it’s been a while since the summer holidays for us here in the northern hemisphere, and for a while, I’ve been musing on some things I noticed while we were away.
During the school holidays, we took our children to a holiday park – one with a swimming pool, mass catering options, and evening entertainment. During the entertainment portions of the trip, guest services reps – what’s the proper name for those? – milled around before the show started. They managed the queue, checked tickets, and then talked to us while we were waiting for the event to begin.
They were excellent at customer service and making the time feel like it was going faster. Here are a few things I took away from the holiday that I think we could be implementing in project management.
It’s all about the merch
Get your guests in for one thing and then cross-sell them something else. “While you’re here, would you like a hat?”
No, I don’t want a dinosaur hat, but plenty of people in the audience must have bought them for their kids.
The merch stands were obviously secondary money-spinners. The shows themselves were included in the cost of the holiday, but things to wave in the crowd, books, soft toys, and more were on sale at every show we went to.
Takeaway for project managers: “While you’re here, can I also ask you about…?”
Think about who is coming to your meetings and what else you need from them that is beyond the scope of the meeting. Can you ask about an upcoming project? Secure some support for a different initiative?
What can you showcase to a captive audience in a team meeting or even a one-to-one conversation with a stakeholder?
You could even ask them if they need any help with anything else if you are looking to build your network or take on different projects in their area.
Warm people up
Ten minutes before a show started, we’d get a warm up. “Who’s excited to see the show?” Plus lots of reminders about photography, how to order drinks, signposting guests to various social media accounts to follow, or even pointing out the merch stands by the side of the stage in case you had changed your mind about that dinosaur hat after all.
Takeaway for project managers: Build excitement and let people know what is going on.
Let people know how long they have to wait or to do something. Repeat the basic instructions several times. Engage across large groups with broadcast updates and keep reminding people about the benefits, tasks, and activities.
We did enjoy our time, and we decided during the stay to book again to a different park in the same chain for next year. They encourage people to do that, as you would imagine, by having an on-site shop that discounts holiday bookings for people who book again before they leave.
When I went to book again, I got pitched the most expensive accommodation at the other park, almost £1,000 more than I wanted to spend. We then reviewed all the options and found different ways to bring the cost down to our budget.
Takeaway for project managers: Ask for what you’d like and then work down from there.
When you ask for time, resources, budget, or another type of contingency, be generous with yourself. Start from the position you’d feel most safe in, and then negotiate from there.
Note: this approach might not work so well for risk appetite! You’d want to do it the other way round. Start low and increase the risk as you feel more confident.
The main thing I took from all of this is that there are useful tips and lessons from other management disciplines that are applicable to how we work on projects. While we focus on learning about project management as part of our career journeys, actually, the role of project manager can be far broader as it involves liaising with lots of different business areas, and they all have something to teach us.
You hear it all the time: “We want our project managers to add value.” “How are you adding value to the organisation?” “I want to spend more time on valued-added activities.”
But what does adding value actually mean?
I’m not a great fan of buzzwords that I can’t explain and turn into practical actions, so I’ve given this topic quite a lot of thought over the years. Here are 5 things I think you can do to add value (in a meaningful way) as a project manager.
1. Team building
Projects are done by people. People make up teams. Groups of people don’t have the same impact as a well-functioning team. Therefore, spending time on team building is worthwhile and will create value for the organisation because you’ll be better at delivering whatever it is you are delivering.
Focus on creating a positive work environment. Think about what people need to get their tasks done. Look for roadblocks you can remove, processes you can streamline. Talk about the blockers and why they are a problem.
And get some fun in there too.
Being committed to the team and the job, and the project, is a sure way to add value because it increases the chance the project will actually get done. How many projects do you know of that started but didn’t have the momentum to get across the line? That’s what tenacity will help you avoid.
Assuming you are working on the right projects, the ability to follow through and get the work done is important for making sure your time pays off for the company.
This is such a large topic, which includes resolving conflict, smoothing over awkwardness, being diplomatic while speaking truth to power, respectful challenge and knowing who to connect and when. There’s a whole bunch of soft skills (or power skills, as it is trendy to call them now) that fall into this bucket.
They are important because this is what helps you get work done even when the environment is tricky. The more you listen, the more you understand and the easier it is to get your projects done. You’ll understand more of the business context that lets you make the right decisions that – you guessed it – lead to delivering a higher-value result.
4. Control the process
Governance might not seem like a particularly value-added thing to do, but when you understand and use the processes of project management, you can structure, standardise, save time, automate, compare and improve so much more easily.
If you have a standard approach, however informal, everyone knows what to do and what to expect and that takes some of the uncertainty out of what is normally a pretty uncertain time for people – projects deliver change and that comes with an overhead of having to live with not knowing exactly what the future will look like. That can be an added source of anxiety and stress for the team and wider stakeholder community.
5. Change management
Projects start to feel out of control when change is not managed appropriately, and that’s when stakeholders start to get nervous. You can help your projects be more successful and ‘land’ better with the receiving organisation, if you manage change properly.
That goes for both the process-led effort of receiving and handling change requests as part of your project management work, and also integrating what you are delivering into the business in a way that makes it possible for the benefits to be received as soon as possible, with the least disruption. Benefits = value.
How do you interpret ‘adding value’ as a project manager? I think it could go much further than what I’ve written here. I’m sure there are many other ways of looking at our role and how we can serve our stakeholder communities in the most value-adding way. Let me know by leaving a comment below!
My last few videos have looked at the procurement lifecycle, and today I want to dive into the third step: negotiating and contracting. This is a really important part of working with suppliers and it takes us to the point of saying yes to the work (hopefully).
Here’s a quick overview of what you need to know:
You can read more about this part of the procurement lifecycle in this article.
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