by Kevin Korterud
I always enjoy hearing about the early careers of the project managers I meet. In almost every conversation, the subject turns to when they were team members being led by a highly capable senior project manager who provided guidance in starting up, executing and sometimes turning around projects.
It’s also not uncommon to hear stories of the worst project manager they ever worked for. These stories, while not as glowing, also influenced their careers around what not to do. By probing a bit deeper, they offered up observations of certain behaviors that created havoc, dissatisfaction and quite often failed projects.
From these observations of the worst-ever project manager, I started to put together my own thoughts on who I would select for this inglorious label. After careful consideration, I arrived at the only logical choice: me. In my early years as a project manager I managed to consistently demonstrate all of the behaviors of poor project managers.
Here are my votes for the most significant behaviors that led to consistently poor performance as a project manager early in my career:
When I was a project team member I relished the thought of one day having a business card with an impressive title of project manager. My thought being once I received that lofty title, it would allow me to be successful at whatever project I was assigned to lead. In addition, the acquisition of that title would instantly garner respect from other project managers.
I failed to realize that most project managers are already quite proficient at leading teams and producing results. The title comes with a heavy burden of responsibility that was exponentially greater than what I had as a project team member. As a team member, I didn’t realize how much my project manager shielded me from the sometimes unpleasant realities of projects.
The satisfaction of acquiring the title of project manager can be very short-lived if you’re not adequately prepared. My goal became to perform at the level at or above what the title that project manager reflected.
2. I Talked Too Much
Perhaps I was wrongly influenced by theater or movies where great leaders are often portrayed in time of need as delivering impressive speeches that motivate people to outstanding results. I remember quite clearly some of the meetings I led as a new project manager that quite honestly should have won me an award for impersonating a project manager.
Meetings were dominated by my overconfident and ill-formed views on what was going right and wrong. In addition, I also had the false notion that I had the best approach to all of the risks and issues on the project. No surprise that this mode of interaction greatly limited the size of projects I could effectively lead. Essentially, it was a project team of one.
After a while, I started to observe that senior project managers spent a fair portion of the time in their meetings practicing active listening. In addition, they would pause, ponder the dialogue and pose simple but effective probing questions. When I started to emulate some of these practices, it resulted in better performance that created opportunities to lead larger projects. “Less is more” became a theme that allowed me to understand the true problems and work with the team to arrive at effective mitigations.
One of the most critical components of any project is the people that comprise the team members and stakeholders. As a new project manager, I tended to over-engage with stakeholders and team members by attempting to instantly resolve every issue, whether real or perceived. My logic was that if I removed any opportunity for dissatisfaction then project success would be assured.
I failed to realize this desire to completely please everyone quite often resulted in pleasing nobody. In addition, I also managed to pay insufficient attention to the key operational facets of a project: estimates, forecasts, metrics and other essentials needed to keep a project on track. Furthermore, the business case for the project gathered almost no consideration as I was busy trying to make everyone happy as a path to results.
Over time I began to adopt a more balanced approach that allowed me to spend the proper level of engagement with people, processes and the project business case. This balanced approach allowed me to have a broader span of control for factors that could adversely affect a project.
For all the things we have learned over the years as project managers, it sometimes causes me to wish for a time machine to go back and avoid all of the mistakes we made. But then, we would not have had the benefit of the sometimes-traumatic learning experiences that have made us the project managers that we are today.
Did you ever consider yourself to be the worst project manager you ever worked for? I think we all were at one point in our careers.
by Jen Skrabak, PfMP, PMP
Project management offices (PMOs) have gained wide acceptance thanks to their ability to ensure the success of projects and programs. More than 80 percent of organizations have PMOs.
But, there is still some confusion with PMOs, as the “P” in PMO can refer to project, program or portfolio. At the same time, PMOs have been thought of as one of three categories:
The Next-Gen PMO, however, is disrupting these traditional categories. In the Next-Gen PMO, the focus is on ensuring the successful delivery of organization-wide strategic initiatives. In addition to traditional PMO functions, such as providing project management tools, templates and training, the Next-Gen PMO is responsible for organizational results. They also report directly to a C-suite executive within the organization.
I see the four critical functions of the Next-Gen PMO as:
Is your organization embracing the Next-Gen PMO?
Knowledge Is Creative
by Lynda Bourne
In my last post, Information Is Subjective, I outlined the way data is gathered and transformed into information by the subjective application of personal knowledge. Now, let’s look at how knowledge is created and shared (the gold connections in the diagram above).
People know things: Knowledge is organic, adaptive and created. It exists in the minds of people. Some of each person’s knowledge is explicit—they can explain the rules that apply to it. But much is tacit: intuition, gut feelings and other ill-defined but invaluable insights, grounded in the person’s experience.
Therefore, managing knowledge means managing people.
The fact that knowledge exists in people’s minds does not preclude joint activities to create knowledge, share knowledge and refine knowledge. But the people involved need to be in communication with each other.
Some of the structured ways this can be accomplished include:
Structured approaches work well if the information that needs to be transferred or created is understood, and the people involved focus on creating or acquiring the required new knowledge.
Less formal approaches are better for generating completely new information or insights that people did not know they were about to create.
Spontaneity and serendipity are encouraged through social interactions, such as:
Knowledge will never be uniform in its distribution or in the way people interpret what they know. The function of a creative knowledge management system is to smooth out the differences as much as is practical and to facilitate the creation of new knowledge through the synthesis of different people’s ideas and insights.
So as you venture forth to share knowledge, remember:
by Dave Wakeman
I try to start each post with some sort of hypothesis. In some cases, the hypothesis is clear to me, and, hopefully, you. Other times, however, the hypothesis doesn’t become clear until I’m done writing.
This month, I’m on the side of a clear hypothesis built around much of what I have written about the last few years: The ultimate consideration project professionals need to keep in mind is that we’re in a people business. In the long run, the person with the best people skills often has an advantage.
But what does that really mean?
Communication is the key skill of a project manager.
I’m sure this falls into the trite, clichéd area of project management advice. But as I’ve witnessed time and again over the last few months, we often need a refresher on the basics of our profession.
Being an effective communicator starts with having an expectation of what clear communication looks like, having a schedule that highlights what communication will look like and following through on your communication ideas.
No matter what, remember your number-one job is to be a communicator.
Communication is a people skill.
Decisions are emotional, not rational.
Spoiler alert: No matter what the decision is, emotion drives it.
People like to think of themselves as rational. But that in and of itself is a nod to the emotion necessary to take action on an idea.
You see, by trying to remove all emotion from a decision, you are often slowing yourself down because you are afraid of making a mistake.
Being afraid is an emotion.
Being excited is an emotional response.
Whatever action you take is driven by emotion.
Even if you don’t take any action, that’s an emotional response. Apathy occurs when the idea that you are being asked to take action on isn’t interesting enough for you to care about.
People have emotions. Project managers deal with people.
Projects are driven by ideas. People have ideas, processes don’t.
This is true.
But, if we’re only process driven, we’re likely not doing our best work. Because even though we have processes in place to help guide a project and deliver it effectively, we still have a lot of discretion in our actions — or we should.
Let’s think about this. If you have a certain amount of experience, I hope that you’ve had the opportunity to make mistakes and have successes. In the course of these experiences, you should have learned how to do things effectively or differently than the standardized process might suggest.
Here is a dirty secret: In most cases, by the time a process has been established, there might be a better way of doing it that hasn’t had the time to be incorporated into the process yet.
That’s why discretion is so important. It can save you time, money and trouble on your project.
Processes don’t have discretion, but people do.
While these are only three examples—and they’re likely obvious to most of us—I think it is important to hit refresh about the role of project managers from time to time.
What are other examples of project management being a people business?
By Christian Bisson, PMP
Machine learning is one of today’s hottest tech topics.
It’s essentially a type of artificial intelligence (AI) in which you give your software the ability to “learn” based on data. For example, you probably notice how YouTube, Netflix, Amazon and many other companies suggests videos or products you should check out. These suggestions are based on your previous online actions, or those of other people deemed “similar” to you.
For some time now I’ve been working on projects that involve this technology. We often have clients who want machine learning even though they do not know if it’s even relevant to them. Since “everyone is doing it,” they want to do it too.
Calibrating a project sponsor’s expectations is often a good idea. While the automated services generated through machine learning may seem magical, getting to that point involves challenges—and a lot of work.
The machine will learn using the data it has being given—that data is the crucial starting point. The data that’s available is what drives how the machine will evolve and what added value machine learning can bring to your project/product. For example, if you are trying to teach the machine to recognize vehicles on images it scans, and all you can teach it with are images of small cars, you are not set up for success. You need a better variety of images.
The machine’s ability to learn is directly tied to the quality of the data it encounters.
Once you have quality data, you need it in high quantities. If you can only provide the machine with the website behaviors of, say, hundreds of users per month, don’t expect it to have enough information to be able to recommend the best products based on user trends. Its sample will be too little to be able to be accurate.
Once you have the necessary data, the journey is not over. The machine may learn on its own, but it’s learning based on how it was built and with the data it’s being fed. There is always room for improvement.
As amazing as machine learning is, it is not cheap. So keep an eye on your project’s budget. Machine learning experts can command high salaries, and there is a lot of effort involved with researching the best approach—creating the models, training them, testing them, etc. Make sure the ROI is worth it.
Have you had a chance to work on a project involving machine learning? What challenges have you faced?