Project Management

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PM Network is the award-winning magazine for members of the Project Management Institute. This blog will highlight some of the publication's valuable information and insights, keeping you up to date on industry trends.

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Jill Diffendal

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Managing in the Workplace of Tomorrow

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Viewing Posts by Jill Diffendal

Managing in the Workplace of Tomorrow

Categories: Leadership, Teams

The ways in which we work have changed drastically in the last decade, accelerated by the Covid pandemic as well as by technology that has allowed workers and organizations to break free of the limitations of geography.

One of the positive results of the sudden shift to remote work is that “managers have discovered that in fact people can work remotely and they are still productive,” said Nancy Dixon, PhD, during an episode of PMI’s Center Stage podcast. Dixon is a speaker, author, consultant, executive advisor, faculty at Columbia University’s Information and Knowledge Strategy Program, and a thought leader in the field of knowledge management. “That has been a great fear for managers. They really have been concerned that, if I can’t see them, are they really doing anything? So this has proven that point to them.”

Not everything is a simple transition to virtual work, however, especially when it comes to how managers run their teams. New approaches can help compensate for the lack of face-to-face interaction. Dixon offered several examples.

  • Managers should have a weekly one-on-one with each remote team member. In these meetings, managers should adopt more of a coaching approach. “The questions are not, ‘What have you done for me today?’” Dixon explained. “The questions are more about, ‘What are you thinking about your long-term goals? What do you need? What can I do for you that will help you? Who do you need to get connected to?’”
  • Teams can use the agile practice of holding daily 15-minute stand-up meetings each morning to bring everyone together and ensure all team members are on the same page.
  • It’s harder to stay engaged in virtual meetings, so keep them moving by changing things up. “Change what you’re doing on a virtual meeting every five to seven minutes because otherwise you’re not going to hold the attention of people at all,” Dixon advised.
  • Virtual meeting tools have functionality that can keep team members engaged and solicit input from those who might not want to verbally speak up. In large meetings, use breakout rooms to facilitate conversation among smaller groups of 4-5 people. Encourage the use of polling features and the chat function to solicit input.
  • Flipped meetings can be particularly successful in a virtual world. Instead of presenting something in a meeting, send the content – maybe a short video or a document – ahead of time. Then lay out several questions about the content that you want to discuss in the meeting. “That helps two things,” Dixon explained. “One, it keeps us from dying from PowerPoint, but it also means that when people come together, what they’re coming together for is to hear, listen to and think together with each other online. So the meeting is more about their building a sense of understanding than it is about hearing the instructions.”

Listen to the full podcast on Center Stage.

Posted by Jill Diffendal on: December 16, 2021 11:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Leading the NASA Team Behind the James Webb Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in December 2021, is the largest space science telescope ever developed. It is one of the most technically complex projects ever undertaken and will fundamentally change our understanding of how the universe works – and it all depends on people. PMI Strategic Advisor Dr. Ed Hoffman recently spoke with Greg Robinson, the Program Director of Webb at NASA, on the Center Stage podcast about leading the teams that made this futuristic endeavor a reality.

Hoffman: What are the biggest challenges that you have and your team faces in ensuring value delivery for Webb?

Robinson: Some of the larger challenges over the years were around performance. And with projects, it's all about performance, doing really good planning, getting your requirements right, setting your team during development, and getting it done within your constraints.

With that performance, the team is so important. Do we have the right team, the right team makeup? Are we communicating properly, not just talking but communicating? I took over Webb about three and a half years ago, and that was one of the largest glaring weaknesses, that communication was not good at all.

The biggest challenge was really getting the team focused not on the technical, but stepping it up a notch to make sure we were operating as one machine throughout the agency and with our stakeholders.

Hoffman: What are your principles in a leadership position or when you're part of a team? What do you look for to create a team that's high performing and successful?

Robinson: You want a good leader. That means a lot of things to different people. Someone who can look at the technical skills based on the work breakdown structure of the project. Do I have good technical prowess, technical leaders, good integrators, people who are not afraid of being challenged.

The great thing about NASA's history, internally, we've always been able to challenge each other. And we tend to end up with a better product. And that challenge has to occur with performance in mind, not taking too long to get it done. So recognizing people who have that skill, or can go deep technically, who are not afraid of being challenged, and often communicate.

In communications also we tend to talk technical language. And when we're communicating up and out, we have to talk layman's terms - that's not an easy skill. Those are the things I look for in my teams.

Hoffman: How did you develop into such a successful leader?

Robinson: Mentoring is a really big deal. A lot of a lot of people mentored me. We didn't even call it that at the time, but I reached out to other senior leaders, and basically saying, sure in different words, “I want to be like you one day when I grow up.”

Another area that came along a little bit later, the soft skills, which I did not appreciate early in my career at all. Then I took some class that was put together at NASA, and I was sold from that class on. I made sure I continued to develop my social skills through training and other types of development, kept the mentoring going, built networks within the agency.

So a combination of apprenticeship with senior leaders, mentoring, and training and development and networking. I think those were the key. And I continue to work on social skills today, believe it or not.

Listen to the full podcast on Center Stage.

Posted by Jill Diffendal on: October 15, 2021 03:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Servant Leadership in Project Teams

Categories: Leadership, Teams

Are you a manager who is responsible for a team, or a leader who is responsible to a team? Johanna Rothman, author and coach known for her Modern Management Made Easy book series, talked with PMI CCO Joe Cahill on a recent episode of the Center Stage podcast about the difference, and how managers can make the transition to serving their teams.

Cahill: You talk about being responsible to a team versus being responsible for a team. Can you explain the difference?

Rothman: ‘Responsible for a team’ means the team reports to you, the team tells you what's going on. You, however, are going to take that information and you will filter it, and report it out to the other people and up to your managers.

However, what if you're ‘responsible to a team’? That stops at their achievements. You are then responsible to help them find the environment that they need, right? Do they need more equipment, do they need access to other people?

So ‘responsible to a team’ is much more about servant leadership than ‘responsible for a team’.

Cahill: It's a small distinction in language, but there's a big difference in what people actually do with that mindset, right? How does that actually impact the team?

Rothman: The team is much more responsible, because you're there to support them. When a manager of any stripe is responsible to a team, the team can actually create its own self organization.

With that change in mindset, they are much more likely to take on responsibility for themselves, not be helpless. That totally changes how the team works. And in my experience, it's a really positive thing for how the team works.

Cahill: So if you're advising a project or program manager how to take this on, how would you suggest that they approach this reframing?

Rothman: You will need to start at several levels. First, with the team - start slowly, and say, what is the first thing I should delegate to the team? Which decisions can they make all by themselves without me, where they just tell me the result of those decisions?

Now, you will have to say, I see what you want. Let me go work that issue. So you work those issues on behalf of the team. It's all about being responsible to the team.

Now, the next piece is, what do you do about your rewards? You will have to start the conversation with your manager and HR to talk about how do I get rewarded for my support of this project or program instead of my deliverable, right?

And if you say to them, “My job is to serve the people I work with, so that they become more capable,” then it cannot be my achievement, it has to be their achievement.

So it's several conversations about agility, several conversations about what we reward, what we can discuss, who gets to make the decisions. It's a slow and steady set of conversations, and the more you start with small wins in the team, the more likely you will be successful over the long term.

Listen to the full podcast on Center Stage.

Posted by Jill Diffendal on: September 20, 2021 11:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Emotional Intelligence for Leaders

Good teams become great teams under great leaders. One skill great leaders need is emotional intelligence. Dr. Rodolfo De Acutis, Executive Leader for Nestlé in Research and Development, Dr. Rodolfo De Acutis, Executive Leader for NestlĂ© in Research and Development recently spoke with PMI CCO Joe Cahill on the Center Stage podcast about the subject of leadership and emotional intelligence. Dr. De Acutis, who is responsible for implementing the Project Management Office for Nestlé R&D, shared his perspective on how leaders can harness the power of emotions to drive results.  

Cahill: Can you describe the importance of emotions in the workplace, and help us understand the importance of that?

De Acutis: Often a project manager is facing situations where emotion can come alive. Usually there is a very simple sequence of events - there is a trigger and there is an act. In between the trigger and the act, often there is an emotion.

But in between the emotion and the act, we have a moment of choice... If we pause, step back, reflect, shift perspective, then we will be more in a situation of choosing wisely what will be the act to do.

Cahill: Emotional intelligence sounds critically important to leading, not only at the project level but at the company level.

De Acutis: When you run a project, the interaction with others is extremely high. Having the ability of understanding the mood of the room is extremely important. When you go into a room, is there is an emotion of excitement or is there is an emotion of de-motivation?

That’s when the empathy, that you can flex the style of responding to the emotion appropriately, is extremely important. And to do that, you need to create an environment of trust. 
To build the trust, the team needs to feel that the leader or the project manager is credible, reliable, has got that connection on empathy. 

Cahill: You indicate project leaders must be really comfortable in asking the question “why?” day to day. So let me ask you - why is this important?

De Acutis: I can give you a very simple example. Because we [Nestlé] produce food, and sometimes we need to provide samples, it can happen that we go to our project team and we say can you please just do another 50 samples for the head office? Now the explanation of the why is on giving the samples to the office. That actually doesn’t motivate or encourage a team to really do it. 

Could we explain the why in a more compelling way? What if we say, look, we are meeting with the markets, and if we have these 50 samples that will add more presence in every market and it could become one of our priority projects. 

Very likely the team will feel much more engaged, but this is not necessarily enough. What if then we give also something that is more individual? What if we say, look, I know that you are busy but you don’t have to worry because I will speak with your manager and I will make sure that you can focus on this. And by the way, I am asking you because I know that you delivered for me in the past. 

You see how if we explain the why in a much more compelling way with the rational and emotional and individual aspect, then there is much more of a potential for success.

Listen to the full podcast on Center Stage. 

Posted by Jill Diffendal on: August 18, 2021 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Locking in Learning from Remote Work

Organizations are facing the challenge of what work should look like now that restrictions from Covid-19 are beginning to lift. Cali Williams Yost is the founder and CEO of Flex + Strategy Group, a firm that helps organizations unlock performance and engagement by reimagining how, when, and where work gets done. During a recent episode of the Center Stage podcast, Yost shared insights with PMI CCO Joe Cahill on how organizations can lock in the benefits of what they learned about flexible work strategies during COVID-19.

Cahill: Polls show that more than half workers want to keep working from home after the pandemic. Are employers ready and willing to embrace this much of a shift away from the office culture of the past?

Yost: The flexible work ship has sailed. The argument that it can’t be done is not going to hold. But people also want to go back and be with the people they work with. Most are going to want a hybrid remote/on-site reality.

The real goal is to now look at a holistic, strategic approach around rethinking work. There is an awareness that it’s not going to go back. So how do you make it happen?

Cahill: What are forward-thinking organizations doing right now to plan this future of work?

Yost: They’re really stepping back and they’re trying to understand how work has been transformed by the pandemic. They are taking the time to say, what have we learned that we’re going to keep? How can we then add that back into the things about the way we worked before that still are important?

Then from that baseline learning, they are now saying, how do we have to redesign our workspaces? How do we have to re-align the ecosystem of our enterprise around this new way of working? Does our performance management system support the competencies that people need? How are we going to attract and retain our talent?

Cahill: We see a lot of potential for new projects to design this new reality. What will some of these projects look like?

Yost: One size is not going to fit all. So, different organizations are going to approach this redesign based on what they do and their business and what the needs are.

But in terms of the approach, it should be cross functional. You want to have HR working with facilities, working with technology, working with leadership from the business, so that they are able to be involved in terms of determining how, when and where work is done best within their particular businesses and what that innovation can look like. And you want to make sure that you are cascading and pulling in the input of your employees into that decision-making process.

Listen to the full podcast on Center Stage.

Posted by Jill Diffendal on: July 16, 2021 01:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
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