An Open Question During the 2015 PMI Congress
The Blank Chalk Board
During the 2015 PMI Congress in Orlando, the ProjectManagment.com Community Engagement folks wheeled out a blank blackboard. NOT what I expected them to do! Then, someone with a steadier hand than I have carefully drew the PMI logo (good job too!) and then the simple statement – “Why I became a Project Manager.” Then…. They walked away leaving various pieces of colored chalk there. I had a ringside seat in the “Ask an Expert” area so I just watched it.
Not a Well-Stated Problem to solve!
My first thought was: “It’s not finished!” There’s only one of the famous W’s up there! What about: “Who? Where? What? When? and How?” That’s CRAZY! I didn’t do anything about my concerns -- I watched and was quiet. But of course, the engagement folks are 100% more socially adept than I am, so I figured this must make sense somehow. But it’s just a statement! No guidance, no rules, no method of grading answers! A chill crept into my engineering brain.
WAIT! Perhaps someone from PMI GOC would walk out and chalk in the answer based upon some expensive scientific study. But, no, they left it blank. No expensive answers. Soon, some random Project Manager wandered by and boldly chalked up a response to the statement. (Clearly, Project Managers aren’t shy.) Within the two days of the congress, the board filled up and there was a very interesting collection of answers left on it. Also, I didn’t see anyone erasing their answer. Project managers, it seems - once they have an answer, have no need of an eraser.
Why I became a Project Manager
It took me a while, but I decided to study a photograph of the board (thank you Marjorie), to see if I could make sense of the complete randomness of the answers. To attempt that, I created categories and mind mapped it.
And the answers are…
NUMBER 1: IT WAS AN ACCIDENT!
It seems that most of us probably didn’t plan to become a project manager, but fell into it, so to speak. You weren’t originally employed to do (or manage) project work, but with time you were asked to look after a couple of projects in addition to your regular responsibilities. You haven’t received much training—if any—and your company may not have a unified method for managing projects. These people suddenly found they were responsible for managing a project but are unfamiliar with the “art and science” of project management. It happened to me, and it seems it was the number one response to the chalkboard’s statement
NUMBER 2: TO FUTHER ORGANIZATIONAL GOALS
It’s not clear if these are “accidental” project managers that perceive the organizations goals and wanted to lend their skills to help achieve them, or if they were directly chosen to be a PM by the big bosses to forward the organization’s goals. Notable in these answers is: “Change the world and me too.” I like that!
NUMBER 3: A FUNNY ANSWER (JOLLY JOKER!)
Project Managers are people with a good sense of humor! I really like the first one: “I wanted to predict the future and figure out how to control it.” If’ they’ve figured that out – they’re the world’s best PM! I’d recommend they move to Las Vegas and start gambling! “Work Release” is also very funny (I hope). And, I’m just a tad worried about number 5 – I’m hoping I correctly put it in the “funny” category: “I’d rather tell than be told.” I’ve had managers like that, I’m sure we all have.
NUMBER 4: TO BE A LEADER
People want to be a leader in their organizations and saw Project Management as the way to achieve that goal. Number 2 is my favorite: “It’s what I was born to do.” And none of us could ignore number 4 – “Because I love the profession”
NUMBER 5: TO USE SOFT SKILLS
These are great! People with soft-skill-ability decided to be a Project Manager to use their soft skills to help their organizations and themselves. Perhaps number 4: “I think” isn’t really a soft skill but this seemed like a good place to put it.
NUMBER 6: MONEY
A few of these are clear to me. But, who is Charles? Maybe the PMO manager? The one that stopped me dead in my tracks was number 3. When I closely looked it seemed to say "Because PMPs bark!” I didn’t “grep” that. Maybe it belonged in the “FUNNY” category? Then it looked like it wasn’t really bark, but bank. I put it in the money category, but was still clueless. Maybe this was a financial PM?
It bugged me enough that, I decided to rely on the (100% more socially adept) PMI engagement folks. My question to them was: “What does PMPs Bark mean?” The answer (thanks Kristin!) was that’s “modern talk” for PMPs make money – it's not that they "BARK" it's that they “BANK!” Oooooh.
NUMBER 7: PLANNING
We all plan. These people became PMs because they LOVE planning. I’m not sure I LOVE it, but I do a lot of it. And I would probably fit into the first answer: “I think in plans.”
NUMBER 8: THE WORLD IS A PROJECT
These seem like people that have been a PM a long time and probably are PMPs. After a while EVERYTHING becomes a project. Typing up this blog is a project. Uploading it to ProjectManagement.com is a project.
People that have a good sense of humor and are concerned with their organization’s objectives are picked to become PMs and leaders.
This is the fifth blog in a series dealing with the challenges and excitement managing “informationally diverse teams” of experts. My goal is to communicate the challenges, fun and “things that have worked” in managing projects team that has widely different backgrounds, experiences, education, and understandings. Informational diversity is based on different functional, educational and industry backgrounds that constitute information and knowledge resources upon which the team draws
THE FIRST FOUR CROSS-FUNCTIONAL TEAM BLOGS:
1. Herding a group of cats, cows, sheep, goats, dogs and llamas…. http://bit.ly/2cr0ddH
2. How hard is it to herd a group of cats, cows, sheep, goats, dogs and llamas? http://bit.ly/2c6n3Gv
3. Cats, cows, sheep, goats, dogs and llamas *CAN* be herded. - http://bit.ly/2cLpS2w
4. Things that have worked leading Informationally Diverse Teams - http://bit.ly/2cfkKka
“Projects are the means by which NASA explores space, expands scientific knowledge, and performs research on behalf of the nation” - from the NASA Project and Program Management handbook. NASA/SP-2014-3405 which can be downloaded (free) http://go.nasa.gov/2chNXuO
While the NASA project management handbook is very closely aligned with the PMBOK guide, there are some important exceptions. One being the absolute requirement for monthly status reviews (more on this in a later blog)
PROBLEMS WITH CROSS FUNCTIONAL TEAMS
Managing a cross-functional team can be very difficult. People are certain they are right, they KNOW they are right and everyone else just can’t see the truth. There are many well-documented studies showing some of these frustrations. When I give a talk on this topic, I ask people to raise their hands if they’ve experienced any of these issues. A lot of hands get raised!
THINGS I’VE TRIED THAT HAVE WORKED
Again, I didn’t start off knowing these things – I had a lot of mentoring (formalized), plus I failed a lot. So these tips come from years of “falling forward.”
Number 1: Establish a sense of Mission (blog 4)
Number 2: Establish a Communications Framework That Works
Neville Chamberlain famously established a set of war rooms in 1939. Churchill visited the Cabinet Room in May 1940 and declared: 'This is the room from which I will direct the war'. In total 115 Cabinet meetings were held at the Cabinet War Rooms. What were the advantages of a war room? COMMUNICATION. Everyone saw the same maps, the same schedules, the same plans and could talk about them. It was “total emersion” into the project problem.
Today there are many electronic, internet-based versions of war rooms, and they can work well. But the physical war rooms still exist. Google has used its war rooms for over 80 startups!
Not matter what technology you use - do it – CREATE A WAR ROOM. A central repository of information where everyone can see the same material at the same time.
Here’s a corner of one of my own war rooms from a $46-million-dollar project. What you are seeing is actually the network diagram of the project – along with a LOT of notes, photographs of the progress to date, completed “nodes” of our network.
MEET ME IN SAN DIEGO NEAR THE PROJECTMANAGEMENT.COM BOOTH.
This is the fourth in a series of blogs on the challenges and fun related to managing a diverse team with widely different backgrounds, experiences, education, and understandings. (Or herding Cats, Cows, Sheep, Goats, Dogs and Llamas) This type of team has a high degree of “informational diversity.”
The first three blogs:
Those set up the problem that makes it sound impossible to manage. But it’s clearly not impossible.
THINGS I’VE TRIED THAT HAVE WORKED
First off, I didn’t get this anywhere *near* correct for the first ‘zillion’ times. That’s right, I failed as a Project Manager (in varying degrees) for years. The project may not have failed, and the product of the project never failed, but I clearly didn’t do as good a job managing a cross-functional team as I should have. I did improve my skills and after continually trying and learning, I developed a cookbook of techniques that worked for me with a team of experts and a difficult technical project. I’ll write about all 7 of my recipes for leading a cross-functional team or project. The first one is the most important.
Number 1: Establish a sense of mission
There’s a popular story that exemplifies what I mean by “Project Mission.” During a visit to the NASA space center in 1961, President John F. Kennedy noticed a janitor mopping the floor. The President stopped, shook his hand, and asked what he did at NASA. The janitor replied: “Sir, I’m helping to put a man on the moon!” This is awe-inspiring to me.
The sense of mission is the undeniable knowledge that everyone is working towards the end goal and that the goal will be useful. There’s a PURPOSE to what the project team is doing. My advice is to identify the mission of your project, in as few words as possible. Believe it, say it, and do it.
Project Mission questions – everyone on the team must be able to answer these, and the answer to the last two is “YES.”
Remember the President Kennedy story? The janitor had a strong sense of the project’s mission. EVERYONE should have the same mission concept. In 1973, Peter Drucker said:
“That business purpose and business mission are so rarely given adequate thought is perhaps the most important cause of business frustration and failure.”
So, say the project mission, believe in the project mission, live the project mission – all the time.
MEET ME IN SAN DIEGO NEAR THE PROJECTMANAGEMENT.COM BOOTH.