I noticed that there is a bit of a theme happening in these blogs posted by my fellow expert cohort. And that is, "What makes an Expert" and "How Meeting with Experts might Help You Learn!" And so I thought I'd contribute to this chain of thought.
I liked some of the qualifiers my friend Dave had, particularly when he mentioned PM's should have "survived failures" and be "observational." Dave also demonstrated the power of collaboration when it comes to problem solving, from his own experiences at NASA.
Larry wrote a couple of excellent articles both discussing the need to gain an ability to learn, as well as leading us through the way he learned...and learned...and learned -always on the job. I couldn't agree more with continuous learning, and so, if I were to choose qualifiers on becoming an expert PM, I would add having experiences with:
For me, all three of these are complementary, particularly when it comes to problem solving - which is essentially what we PM's tend to lead, on every project - hence their importance.
However, when it comes to the last qualifier, I believe that, essential to growth, we should look for every opportunity to learn - and that doesn't always need to come from someone with years of experience in the field you are aiming to grow in.
No, instead, it means learning from multiple perspectives, from every stakeholder who might be involved with your project, or similar projects, during its extended lifecycle - especially from those end-users and operators.
THEY will tell you what went wrong with past systems designs.
THEY will tell you what field conditions are going to kick your project in the behind, and throw it off course.
THEY will tell you when your estimates on time and cost are completely unachievable.
Throughout my career, I have survived many failures. And I have avoided many failures too - because I learned early, and quickly, that I can learn many things from listening to others - other people who are not experts in my field, but experienced in what they do. Maybe they were considered experts by their juniors too, or maybe not.
The point is - they knew a LOT more about that particular aspect of a proposed project than I did. (And sometimes they only knew just a little bit more, or had different views on things - and that all helped too!)
Talk to many different people with that sort of knowledge, and you can quickly see why engaging your stakeholders, and better yet, bringing them together, can bring huge advantages to your projects!
After his first article, Larry asked me to share who I am, and what knowledge I can bring for you. And so I will try to summarize 20 years of varied experiences into a few distinct insights I might offer to support your growth.
My expert profile indicates: risk management, sustainability, program and portfolio management, change management, stakeholder management and talent management. It seems a lot, but honestly it could have included a lot more!
But, really, what is behind all of these knowledge areas of mine, and what particular aspects might be most important?
Let's start with risk and sustainability.
You might say that these two things are ingrained into my psyche. Why?
Because I am a geological engineer who has spent the past 20 years working in the mining sector.
If you haven't been exposed to either, let me tell you that risk awareness and risk avoidance are drilled into you from day one - on both fronts. As a geological engineer, we are taught about every type of risk that the environment might pose on any construction or development type of project.
It is our JOB to identify these risks and find solutions to prevent the impacts to and/or failure of infrastructure at its foundational level - topography, subsurface rock and soil conditions, influences of water, and any sort of impact that climatic elements might have on any of these are all part of our body of knowledge.
Ever find something buried in the ground that you weren't expecting? Soft or loose soils? Water flowing into your excavations? A geo should have, and still can, help you out. The earlier you engage one, the better off you are!
In mining, we are constantly on the look out for how the ground and environment around it, might impact our projects. AND we are also looking at how our projects might impact said environment! Because there are just so many ways that mining can be detrimental to the environment - a view I'm sure no one would disagree with.
So on this front, being a geo also provides plenty of insight on how projects can be improved on the sustainability front - prevention of impacts, correction of impacts, and ways to go above and beyond "simple" compliance requirements and make things most resource-efficient and safe. And I have plenty of stories to back this up.
Now, I will say that not all geo's are created equal and toot my own horn too - to add to the training and experience that I have in these realms, I have a preferential characteristic of being a holistic, big picture thinker and observer.
For whatever reason, my brain developed with the capacity to be able to rapidly see the interconnections between many different requirements and potential influences as I learn more from different stakeholders, and I will often spot holistic risks and opportunities long before others do. It truly was something that completely frustrated one of my first bosses and mentors - I'd jump to issues that he was not yet thinking about all the time, but that in the long run, he learned to trust and let me go with it.
On the flip side, while I have the knowledge, and can do the detailed process-oriented analyses, it drains my energy and nearly kills me to do so. Blessed? Cursed? I'll let you be the judge, but it forced me to learn how to rapidly develop trust with those who LOVE to deal with this level of detail, and work with them to accomplish those things.
At any rate, I love the ways in which I can help teams out to spot the potential challenges and guide the development of plans to work through solutions to maximize success!
Next, let's explore program, portfolio and change management.
About 9-10 years ago, I began to be recognized for my strategic, holistic thinking and capabilities for spotting risks and opportunities, let alone the internal drive I had for making positive change.
For a company that was kicking off an organizational change initiative focused on sustainability and becoming recognized as a leader in environmental performance, I was selected to join the change management team.
Now, I will say that the role I was offered was not posed in this frame. I joined the team as a specialist to look for opportunities to improve waste management within the organization - to start. This role took me completely out of my geo-box to explore many more challenges than I'd ever been exposed to, as well as the potential technologies and practices that might resolve them. It was an exciting time of learning, diving into the details and performing all kinds of data analyses, field investigations, feasibility studies and more.
As I mentioned already, I quickly realized how much faster it was to get through the front end of projects such as these, if I just engaged the stakeholders involved with those processes I was investigating. My joy of learning flourished - from both the technical exploration I was able to do, as well as through the engagement with so many diverse people.
Over and over again, people would bring up their headaches, and make suggestions of alternatives - sometimes things they'd already investigated - but hadn't the authority or language to show its business case and strategy for implementation. I was happy to be the one to facilitate moving some things along, as well as to find even better solutions addressing multiple challenges in one go, using their combined input.
Within this team, I gradually advanced from specialist to senior specialist, and to manager, assisting the director with strategic process changes, and then taking over when organizational restructuring eliminated his role - I had to train a new director on all of our existing processes and future plans.
You can come and hear more about the transitions I helped teams moved through over the years that I was in this team at my talk on October 29th. What I won't be covering, however, is the fact that I engaged and coached teams, and facilitated the integration of sustainability measures and the requirements of environmental assessment and community engagement processes into organizational and departmental strategic planning, as well as the PMO planning, stage-gate and decision-making processes.
To give a gauge on time and effort, I spent nearly 6 years with this team before all these changes were implemented and I decided to move on. These weren't quick initiatives, and they required ongoing and extended stakeholder engagement of internal personnel at many different levels of the organization. They required learning how best to connect with people, and with trialling and testing what might work for gaining buy-in to change, for rapid implementation - without authority.
Which leads into my ties with stakeholder management and talent management.
I hope that you can already and clearly see why stakeholder engagement is on my list. What I will add is that I have played the role of nearly every type of stakeholder throughout my career, at least for the types of things I was influencing.
I've been the field tech, the engineer, the environmental specialist and performance monitor, and the liaison with the environmental regulators (and regulatory report author). I've been the quality control and construction manager for large-scale earthen construction projects, the project manager, and the business analyst collecting all the requirements, and justifying the business case for organizational change projects. And I've been the formal manager and coach of technical teams, and informal leader of change with absolutely no formal authority to make things happen.
Oh, and did I mention that much of this engagement had to be done remotely? I'll remind that mining operations tend NOT to be located anywhere near the head-quartering corporate teams.
I've been on both sides of the fence - in the field with not even access to a cell phone or the ability to "send" pictures of critical, impossible situations we were dealing with (aka, before that time...), AND working from those cushy HQ offices hoping to relate to those in the field who think corporate folks have no idea of what they are dealing with... ; )
So, aside from my engagement with people at all levels and disciplines within the organization to facilitate change, I also have my own perspectives gained through these varied experiences. All of these things guide me when it comes to reviewing projects, processes and just general issues presented to me.
They guide me to ask a lot of questions, to help people such as yourselves, think about what you might not yet have thought of. To point you towards asking your own questions, and to engaging the right people to make your own initiatives stronger. To help you find the right solutions.
Not on your own, but with the help and through collaboration with others.
If you can't yet tell, I'm all about engagement and collaboration. And bringing silo'd people together to realize the best outcomes for ANY type of project or initiative we might be working on.
If you think that any of this might help you along your journey, please come find me at the conference. Book a time to begin to work through your challenges, or to just connect with me to investigate more in-depth options for later.
I believe you can book your time along with your conference registration, actually. And I recommend booking early - to make sure you get a spot that works for you! (And if you miss this chance, or won't be there? Book a time with me anyways...)
The times I will be formally available at PMI Global, are:
Saturday, Oct 28th: 3:00 to 4:30
Sunday, Oct 29th: 10:00 to 12:00
Monday, Oct 30th: 9:00 to 12:00
Looking forward to meeting you there!
An Engagement Challenge!
Engagement can be such a tricky thing, don’t you think?
In most cases, there are several common objectives to engagement:
So, when it comes to engaging people, how do you do it?
Last year, leading up to the PMI North American Congress, I was asked, along with a number of other people, to help engage our project management community. We were asked if we could blog on topics within our various areas of expertise to help people see the potential for support one could gain from attending the conference, and most specifically, by engaging with specialists at the “Ask the Experts” booth.
What ensued was a bit of a backroom battle around who could issue the most posts – before, during, and after the event. It started out without intent – no challenge had actually been issued by anyone. It just seemed to happen of its own accord. And I don’t know who ended up winning because that wasn’t what mattered.
What mattered was that it was all in good fun, we got to know each other a bit, we all learned from each other, and a lot of valuable content was shared. But I don't know how successful we were in ENGAGING all of you!
So for the reasons above,
I am throwing a gauntlet down!
I hereby challenge all our past conference bloggers to raise the bar – how will you engage our community this year?
Did you see last year’s battle? Will you support us this year, through reading, liking, sharing and, gasp! – commenting?? I hope so…
Did you see what I did there?
The first step in any sort of engagement exercise, of course, is to gain some attention. What is the topic? Does it have appeal? Will it draw everyone in, or will only one “side” (i.e. for or against) participate?
As a potential participant, we need first to have a reason to engage. In the case of a proposed organizational change, the development of a project plan you might be involved with, or perhaps just a decision within a project, there is definitely a reason to listen in, and to fully engage.
If it were me, I’d want to know what my role might be, how my work might be impacted, and who’s work I might impact as well. And I’d want to be able to maximize my efficiencies, and minimize any potential upsets to getting said work done.
But what if the purpose of engagement is just for an opinion about something?
Like a conference theme or focus area. A discussion on common challenges in your industry? Or even to inform a survey or poll.
Maybe it starts with thinking about your own preferences. What draws you in, and how best do you like to be engaged? Do you prefer anonymity? Online vs. face to face? Private conversations or group dialogue? There are many considerations.
For this post, I purposely threw a challenge out there to engage people as an attempted gain of attention…but all in good fun. If you’re still reading, well, I guess it worked just a smidge.
We’ll see who the winner ends up being!
I have been exploring different avenues for engaging people, particularly in the online world. It seems that this is often a way to engage a much broader group of people, it takes less time, and the engagement can be done from anywhere – at your desk, at home, on your phone, etc. Some offer anonymity, some do not.
I prefer that anonymity is avoided – people can be abusive when they are anonymous, and this can detract from the engagement significantly.
Two of my favourites tools right now include Twitter chats (Facebook chats exist too, I guess, but I don’t “reside” there…), and virtual coffees (hosted on a platform like Zoom).
A chat format typically involves an hour timeframe over which to discuss a particular topic, and these chats are scheduled on a regular weekly interval, always at the same time of the day so that people know when to attend, if they want to engage.
Throughout the hour, anywhere from 6-10 questions may be posted by the host. They ask their questions with a Q1, Q2, etc., and everyone who has joined the chat respectively answers with A1, A2, etc. until all thoughts are posed.
There is no established order for attendees to provide their opinions – in fact, there is no requirement to answer any question at all! And, best part – if you can’t make the whole thing (or the topic isn’t keeping your attention), you can just join in and duck out as you wish. No hurt feelings by anyone, honest.
Anyone is free to respond to answers provided by others, like and share comments, and add their own quotes to others’ answers as well. And with this, sometimes it can get difficult to follow all the different chains of conversation that might be occurring at once! But really, that is more an issue for a host than it is for anyone else.
All questions and answers should include the corresponding and associated hashtag for the chat, so that anyone who chooses can follow the question and answer sequence – even if they could not attend live. A note that adding the hashtag to every question and answer is a learning curve – not everyone remembers, as you can see by snippets of conversation coming and going between participants!
One Twitter chat I have found useful for this community in particular is the #PMChat every Friday at 12:00 EST. I try to attend regularly, and I have hosted a couple times now – here's a link for you to scroll through a chat around sustainability, if you want to see what it might look like.
Maybe you’ll join one of our conversations soon?! Or better yet, maybe you'll host a topic?
This is just as it sounds.
Create a meeting on a particular topic, invite people to it, and host it online. Several platforms are available, and I choose to use Zoom because it allows me to see everyone on camera and chat with them live – as if we were in the same room. This encourages active participation and discourages behaviours like checking phones or performing other work during the meeting!
The way I have best managed these sessions is by having a particular topic or agenda to follow, and then having a roundtable on each question or discussion point. Setting an expected time boundary for either the entire meeting, or per subtopic, can help to ensure people stay on topic and bring forward key points. Having a bit of flexibility allows for the dialogue to occur on points that require it. And on that note, there is a bit of facilitation that does need to occur, just like any other meeting, so be aware of that going in.
I am involved with some individuals right now, using the Zoom platform to support a Study Action Team exercise. The SAT concept includes picking a book relating to an area of learning that you’d like to target within your team. Each chat session is based around one or two chapters of the book. The questions we are asking during each virtual meeting include:
After the second session, we also added another to start each session off:
What action did I take and how did it go?
This is a great method of learning because you:
So, this provided a couple of tools and strategies to engage people.
Perhaps you have recommendations of your own that you might suggest in the comments below?...
(Psst! Your comments below support ME as the future winner on engagement! Ha ha!)