Project Management

Voices on Project Management

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with--or even disagree with--leave a comment.

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Cameron McGaughy
Lynda Bourne
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Wanda Curlee
Christian Bisson
Ramiro Rodrigues
Soma Bhattacharya
Emily Luijbregts
Sree Rao
Yasmina Khelifi
Marat Oyvetsky
Lenka Pincot
Jorge Martin Valdes Garciatorres
cyndee miller

Past Contributors:

Rex Holmlin
Vivek Prakash
Dan Goldfischer
Linda Agyapong
Jim De Piante
Siti Hajar Abdul Hamid
Bernadine Douglas
Michael Hatfield
Deanna Landers
Kelley Hunsberger
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Alfonso Bucero Torres
Marian Haus
Shobhna Raghupathy
Peter Taylor
Joanna Newman
Saira Karim
Jess Tayel
Lung-Hung Chou
Rebecca Braglio
Roberto Toledo
Geoff Mattie

Recent Posts

6 Steps for Rational Decision Making

The Dangers of Perfectionism for You and Your Team

Leading Your Team Through Tough Times

The Evolution of Project Management

Are You a Mentor…or a Micromanager?

6 Steps for Rational Decision Making

By Sree Rao, PMP, PgMP, PMI-ACP

Decision making

Have you ever made a program or project decision that did not turn out to be the right one? As program managers, we not only need to make several decisions over the course of a project or program, but we also need to guide our teams with decision making.

Here is a framework to help you make decisions based on data and objective criteria. I heard about the RICIE model in a strategic management course, and found it to be really helpful to internalize the steps needed for rational decision making. Here I am proposing the RISCIE model, which is a minor modification to that model.

The RISCIE framework has six steps:

1. Recognize the problem/opportunity: In this phase, identify an opportunity or a problem that you want to solve. If it is a problem, identify the root cause of the problem. Do not mistake symptoms for problems. Example: Team members are consistently missing deadlines. This is a symptom that is a result of either bad planning, unclear requirements or team members’ lack of experience.

2. Identify solution criteria: Most of the time, we jump to solutions instead of identifying the solution criteria. To choose the best solution, come up with a list of criteria that the solution must meet. Example: The solution must be implemented in three months to meet the launch date, or should cost below a certain amount. Prioritize the criteria.

3. Solutions exploration: Analyze possible solutions that would fit the solution criteria. Do not stop with just one solution—explore multiple ones.

4. Choose a preferred course of action: In this step, evaluate all the solutions against each of the criteria that were identified in Step 2. Choose the solution that meets the most criteria. If there are multiple solutions that meet all the criteria, evaluate if there is a possibility to do a quick prototype or proof of concept of each of the solutions. This would uncover any pros/cons of the solutions that were missed in Step 3.

5. Implement the preferred course of action: The next step is to implement the chosen action. Ensure that any solution criteria that were defined upfront are indeed being met with this solution.

6. Evaluate the results and follow up as necessary: Lastly, evaluate the results. Ensure all the KPIs are being measured, and operationalize the solution. Do a lessons-learned or a retrospective session to use them for subsequent decisions.

Ensure everything is documented and that all the key stakeholders are involved in every step of this process. While this process does not guarantee successful outcomes, it does guarantee that your decisions are based on data and objective criteria. Do not measure the success of a decision based on the outcome (outcome bias). I plan to write my next post around this topic. Stay tuned!

What tips do you have for rational decision making in your projects and programs? What mistakes have you made, and what are your lessons learned?

Posted by Sree Rao on: September 15, 2022 11:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Dangers of Perfectionism for You and Your Team

By Yasmina Khelifi, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, PMP

At school in France, we were primarily evaluated by the number of mistakes we made and less by our progress. What was importance was to attain excellence and perfection.

Fast forward to my professional career, I have worked in many teams with many people—and some of them have proudly said of themselves, "I'm a perfectionist.”

I recently thought about all of the different project managers I have worked with over the years, and how I managed teams. Being in a technical environment, I have worked with technical experts and many demanding people. I used to think I was a perfectionist…until I worked with many of them. I now see how damaging it can be.

Here are some things to keep in mind with perfectionism…

1. It results in an individual mental burden.
On the individual level, being a perfectionist forces you to redo and rework (documents, slides, speeches, etc.). It is exhausting because your mind is not at peace until everything is done exactly as you want it to be done. You wrestle with your inner critic. And when you get a negative comment, your self-confidence takes a hit and you work even harder to reach so-called perfectionism. The cycle continues.

In the long term, it can damage your mental and physical health. In some cases, perfectionism stems from a stress reaction. It can serve as a wake-up call that you need to alleviate your stress.

Think back to the last moment you were a perfectionist in your activities. How did you feel? Was it worth it? Next time, can you try to let it go and see what happens?

2. It’s a teamwork killer.
When you work alone, being a self-perfectionist can damage your mental health. But if you work in teams and apply the same level of so-called perfectionism (or is it mania?) to them, you can trigger an even more damaging reaction. (I had some colleagues who worked with perfectionists, and they had to rework the slide deck a hundred times because the slides were not quite perfect.)

You must recognize the bigger responsibility here. “I’m a perfectionist” is a refrain you can use to explain your requirements. Don't fall into the trap of this easy excuse! Find an accountability buddy who can help you refrain from this burning desire for perfectionism. Working on changing habits and behaviors is an essential skill for leaders.

Unfortunately, when collaborating with some colleagues, you can also foster impostor syndrome. For example, take Mike—a new project manager in a new field. He doesn't have strong self-confidence. If you are a perfectionist for the work he delivers to you, it may foster impostor syndrome for him. It can also demotivate him, which will be counterproductive. (For more, read my entries Fighting Imposter Syndrome as a Project Manager and Do You Foster Imposter Syndrome in Your Team?.)

Ultimately, the expected impacts are that your coworkers will try to avoid working with you or become numb to your feedback.

3. Adopt a continuous learning mindset.
What is important is to balance the value of perfectionism with the expected outcomes. If you’re giving a presentation in front of a multimillion-dollar client, of course you'll need to polish it and have it reviewed repeatedly. But in general, accepting mistakes from yourself and your team members is the first step in acknowledging that we are humans and that we are learning every day.

Paving the way to improve step by step will be more beneficial and less stressful for you—and your team. In addition, you’ll become a role model as a leader.

If you work with perfectionists in your projects and you’d like to help curb the trend, perhaps you can follow a few tips:

  • Send regular surveys to all stakeholders about the organization, content and format of whatever you are working on (you can even make feedback anonymous). This provides an opportunity to see an external view and helps to illuminate the perfectionist about their behavior.
  • Debrief the team (including the perfectionists) on the results.

In doing so, you also instill a continuous learning mindset.

What are the acceptable boundaries you set up for yourself and your team in your projects? When can you squander? How has perfectionism helped or hindered you as a project manager?

Posted by Yasmina Khelifi on: September 07, 2022 11:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (18)

Leading Your Team Through Tough Times

by Dave Wakeman

I was reading an article the other day about understanding the signs of burnout. The list was pretty much representative of what most people share when I talk with them about it these days: It included things like trouble focusing, missing deadlines, not feeling like they know what they’re doing, and struggling for motivation.

Then I saw a reminder of how we are in the third year of the pandemic—and that’s when I realized that we are all likely dealing with some level of burnout. So let’s take a step back and figure out how to help our people during tough times…

1. Be aware of what is going on.

I’ve had to slap myself upside the head a few times to remind folks that we are currently dealing with a situation that can rightly be referred to as “toxic stress.” We are still struggling as a society to get COVID under control, many of our economies are showing signs of recession, people have new routines, there are climate issues…I could go on.

I won’t because that would be too depressing. But the starting point of addressing stress and burnout is recognizing what is going on. You can’t solve a problem you can’t see.

If you are feeling a little stressed or under pressure, you can imagine that most people around you are feeling something similar.

2. Be open about these challenges.

In working with my clients, I try to give them room to talk with me—even about things that aren’t related to our projects. Sometimes, just getting things off your chest can just help you cope with challenging times.

Unfortunately, many of our organizations (and our culture) try to reinforce a feeling of stoicism around troubling times and encourage us to keep our issues pent up inside.

As a leader, you have to recognize that the default is unfortunately to not mention anything and to not seek help or a sympathetic ear. So, you may have to force this issue a little bit; that’s okay. The payoff for your team will be huge, and your ability to help people will make you a better leader in the long run.

3. Look for ways to release the pressure valve for folks.

Everyone has deadlines, meetings, internal and external pressures, and much more. We can’t control everything for our teams, just like they can’t control everything around them. But we can often find solutions to help relieve some of the pressure.

In North America, I see a lot of businesses letting their teams have Summer Fridays off. I also see team get-togethers at ballparks, picnics and other places where they can be outside together in an informal way (as mentioned above, anything simple where we can just provide an ear). You might encourage this by setting up “bull” sessions where there is no agenda.

Going even further, you might be able to relieve some of the deadline pressure or the feeling of endless connectivity by setting expectations around turning off devices, response times, or turning on your out-of-office notifications to get a break. The big idea here is that you have to actively engage in this process with your team.

In my world, I think I find that this is the key to everything when you are dealing with people, especially in an environment where everything can feel like a struggle. Put on the brakes and take a step back. Then, be deliberate in finding ways to give people an ear to bend, a feeling of support, and a little space to catch their breath.

Maybe I’m crazy, but we all need that right now.

What signs of burnout have you noticed in yourself and your co-workers, and how have you dealt with it? Share your thoughts in the comments below. And for more on this topic, read The Danger of Project Manager Burnout.

           

Posted by David Wakeman on: August 10, 2022 10:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

The Evolution of Project Management

By Lynda Bourne.

Over the last few months, I have been part of a group working on a series of papers looking at the history of project management and project controls. This required the classification of the various stages in the development of the practice of project management. However, almost every author of project management history has a different view of the major change points.

Our take on the major phases of development of project management is driven by changes in the project control tools and processes being used. Better control processes provide new insights, allowing improved or changed management approaches. Based on this framework, the major phases in the development of project management seem to be:

  1. From early times through to the 1960s – the traditional management of projects
  2. From the 1960s through to the present – modern project management
  3. Future interactive and intelligent systems – to be determined

Prior to the 1950s, the primary control tools showed static representations of cost and other deterministic data. The sophistication of both the management data and its representation in reports improved over the centuries, but the controls processes focused on reactive management actions to correct observed deviations from the plan. The people managing projects were priests, builders, engineers or other authority figures.

The current phase of development of project controls uses largely deterministic information to predict future outcomes. This phase of development started in the late 1950s with the creation of PERT and CPM schedules, and has progressed through to the point where there is general acceptance that earned value and earned schedule are among the best of the predictive control tools.

This phase saw the creation of “modern project management” as the pioneers of computer-assisted project controls worked together to form the various project management institutes (including PMI in October 1969), and the institutes in turn defined and codified the practice of “modern project management.”

As a result, the people managing projects were increasingly identified as project managers. Various styles of project management are emerging (this was discussed in my post on The Entropy at the Heart of Project Management), but regardless of the approach, the concept of a project—run by a project manager, to create value for a client—is consistent. Project management is now expected to be proactive, working to minimize the negative effect of future problems identified using predictive tools, as well as dealing with any current negative variances.

The next generation of project controls is starting to emerge. These tools are predicted to be integrated, adaptive and intelligent, with a focus on maximizing the efficient use of the project’s resources. They will use machine learning, and be integrated into the systems used to design and develop the project’s outputs rather than operating as standalone processes.

One example is the emergence of 5D BIM (five-dimensional building information modeling) in the construction/engineering industries. A three-dimensional design is integrated with the schedule (4D) and cost information (5D) to provide a single system accessed and used by everyone involved in the design, construction and future maintenance of a building or facility. Project control tools with embedded intelligence are also emerging.

These developments are too new to have much impact on the nature of project management today, but by the end of the 2020s we are likely to see as much change in the way projects are managed as occurred in the 1960s.

Do you think these phases in the development of project management are reasonable, or are there other major inflexion points?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: July 25, 2022 02:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Are You a Mentor…or a Micromanager?

 

By Yasmina Khelifi, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, PMP

A few years ago, I joined a new team and took over some projects from the team’s manager (let’s call him Alex). Alex was helpful: He participated in all of the meetings I conducted, was available to give me advice, explained former issues he faced to help me anticipate problems, and supported me during meetings when my answers were not correct. In this new role, I lacked self-confidence—and it was a great relief to feel helped and supported.

The conflicts came a few months later when Alex didn’t change his behavior after I had gained knowledge and confidence. He wanted to take part in all of the meetings; I told him I wanted to manage by myself and contact him when I needed help. “Why?” he answered. “What is the problem if I take part?”

I didn’t know how to reply. I felt like he wanted to deliver projects with me (which is what he did most of his life before becoming a manager). He also wanted to learn and see how I handled things. When he was in the meetings with me, even if he didn’t say much, I felt like I didn’t have any wiggle room.

On the other side, he complained a lot of being overloaded, and he was late with managing administrative tasks.

As a manager, as a mentor, as a mentee and as a project manager, how do you find the right balance between mentoring and micromanaging? Here are some simple strategies I’ve observed—and am trying to practice myself:

1. Set ground rules. Talk with your manager or your mentor about the ground rules. You can ask: Are there weekly check-ins? Shadowing opportunities? What’s the frequency? What if I think you’re too intrusive?

If your mentor is also your leader, you can also enquire about how he/she usually onboards people.

You also need to clarify your needs…

  • As a mentee and team member: When there is a technical issue, do you need the leader to jump in, or do you prefer some time to think and find paths you can share and discuss?
  • As a mentor and a leader: If you love mentoring, perhaps you can have several mentees or be part of corporate or external programs. If you love keeping your fingers on the projects, perhaps you can volunteer for other projects. Do you really need to have all the technical details?

I always remember an excellent manager I had—when there was an issue, he asked general questions to help me step back and see the big picture. It was a very helpful strategy.

Mentoring is a gift—but can become a burden if the mentor’s help overlaps your responsibilities.

2. Agree about the volume of information to share. I love helping and sharing information. When there is a new team member or mentee, I send several emails with a lot of information to pave the path—well, that is what I think, anyway.

But I sometimes got feedback like this: Which email should I look at? There is too much information. I prefer receiving information when I need it.

It reveals a blind spot for me: Not all people work like me, and some colleagues need information on a different cadence—and not all at once.  People can feel stressed when they receive too much information, like they’re unable to keep up with the onslaught of emails. Some perceive me as invasive.

When I remember Alex, I try to refrain from guiding too much. I need to let people decide what to do with the informationand get back to me when they want to. I need to talk openly about how and when to share information; provide information when it’s required; and not inundate people without discussing it.

3. Know your boundaries—and accept the boundaries of others. As a leader and mentor, you must acknowledge the needs of your teams. If you love explaining and helping, perhaps you can invest this energy into volunteering or blogging.

You also must accept your team members' needs to explore first, to make up their own minds and make mistakes, which is all part of the learning process. Have an open mind; listen to their worries and issues, and be ready to help when needed.

By doing so, you will encourage your team members not to hide or downplay problems—and to learn from their mistakes. You also carve out your position as a role model. This is not a one-off exercise, but it’s worth the effort.

Mentors and micromanagers encompass two different behaviors, but can overlap when we don’t realize it. By mentoring too closely—even through goodwill—you can undermine a person’s performance, their well-being and, ultimately, their growth.

Have you been—or experienced—a micromanaging mentor? Share your comments below.

 

Posted by Yasmina Khelifi on: July 08, 2022 07:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)
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