I recently wrote about the nature of artificial intelligence in project management, and I think people might have been confused that I’d put the highlight so heavily on the person managing the project.
My take has nothing to do with not believing that AI can be a powerful tool, if used well. Nor should my take imply that you should ignore AI.
As always, my take is about the people involved in managing a project. The things that only us humans can do.
With that in mind, I wanted to revisit some of the foundations of the human skills that we need to be successful PMs, no matter what kind of project we are working on.
1. Presence: You need to be there when you are working on a project. You need to listen to the stakeholders and team members you are talking with. You need to be aware of the situation you are involved in. You need to not try and juggle many things at once.
Great project managers are in the moment, working through the task at hand, even when there are tons of other tasks demanding their attention.
2. People Skills: People manage projects. People work on projects. Without people, there are no projects.
To be successful as a PM, you have to be successful in dealing with people. This doesn’t call for over-the-top extroversion, but it does require that you be able to build coalitions, negotiate and get people to take actions.
One of the challenges we all struggle with from time to time is our individual area of responsibility, but the best PMs recognize that everything is connected.
3. Perception: Another name for this is business acumen. I’ve written about business acumen in the past. I’ve even hinted at it in the point above. The key for PMs is that you need to know the context of your project and be able to actually take action on what’s going to deliver the most value for your organization and the stakeholders you serve.
Perception requires you to bring context to every encounter with team members, stakeholders and sponsors. It isn’t enough to look at the scope of work; to be truly successful, you have to go beyond the first level and look deeper to the core value that the project is creating in your world—and the world around the project.
4. Proficiency: You have to be able to deliver. As a PM, proficiency might come in the form of great negotiation skills. You might need the ability to get people to see their responsibilities and roles from a different situation, a more expansive POV.
Proficiency is also likely to change from moment to moment because one of the biggest skills we all need is managing change and uncertainty. Being proficient at that is likely the most important skill we can all develop, now and into the future.
Let me ask you: What are the core skills that you feel need to be in the tool kit of the modern PM?
Let me know in the comments below.
By Yasmina Khelifi, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, PMP
Questions can help move your project forward and solve issues. Sometimes, questions allow you to discover common ground or interest that will strengthen work relationships. But we need to be mindful with them.
I’ve recently thought about some of my experiences as a project manager. I’ve contributed to different teams, and I’ve led other teams. In both instances, I have the same doubt: Do I ask too many questions of them? I want to share some things I’ve learned about this over the years. If you’ve ever faced the same concern, keep these tips in mind.
1. Explain what motivates you to ask questions. You need to understand what motivates you to ask questions. Is it out of curiosity? Is it a way to build rapport with your teams? Is it because you anticipate questions other stakeholders will ask you? Is it part of your routine to check in with the team? Is it to solve a problem?
Each of these reasons is valid, but you need to explain it to the team.
2. Keep the answers. In the rush, you may ask a question and get the needed answer—and then not document it. Then, one week later, you ask the same question. That can be interpreted as a lack of interest. If you have the answers, document them.
In uncertain environments, the same question can result in a different answer because some elements have changed. So you can say something like this: “I remember you told me that feature was going to be delivered Week X. Is that still the case?” You will show that you listened properly to the answer. If you don’t remember it, be honest about that.
And even if you explain your reasons for asking questions to your team members, don’t expect everyone to react similarly.
3. Observe behaviors and tailor your reaction. There are many reasons you might face difficulty with a line of questioning:
On the other spectrum, some team members will view it as a lack of interest if you don’t ask them questions about their work. Don’t neglect the intercultural aspect, and the power dynamic you are in.
Responses will also depend on the number of questions you ask. Do you ask open or closed-ended questions? If each meeting comes across like a police interrogation, it will be unpleasant for team members.
And if you ask questions, do you allow people to ask them in return? You should allow some time for this, as they may be curious about what you’re doing. I once contributed to a project where I had many questions. I would have loved to ask the project manager, but I didn’t dare. To help make them feel more at ease, you can end your questions with an invitation: “Do you have any questions you’d like to ask me?”
And be careful that no question you ask comes across as hurtful. Even if a question is asked with good intent, it can still come across the wrong way (“That was with good intent” isn’t an excuse). Be careful with your words and tone.
What kind of experiences have you had with questions (on both sides)?
Life is full of surprises…they always seem to show up unexpectedly. As project managers, we rely on our PMI certification training—as well as our experiences—to both detect and mitigate the effects from surprises, such as missed milestones, new regulatory requirements and quality issues.
But what happens when the surprise turns out to be a short-term outage of the project manager? This can come about for a variety of reasons, including family, health and other personal matters. A recent health issue that took me away from a project for a few weeks got me thinking about how to address this special type of surprise.
In my early career days on projects, the short-term loss of a project manager meant the project was typically put on hold until the PM returned. In today’s complex, high-speed technology delivery environment, stopping a project is less viable due to market needs, dependencies, specialized domain knowledge, engaged suppliers and many other factors.
So, in addition to all of the usual risk factors, one has to consider a risk mitigation plan for the project manager should a surprise occur (this plan also applies to other key roles such as the delivery, test and PMO leads).
Let’s look at a few questions to help you prepare for surprises when they occur to the PM role:
1. Who could be a backup PM? The process of finding a backup project manager usually falls into two categories: easy…and not so easy. If there are project track leads with prior PM experience, rank order them as to the size and complexity of the prior projects they have managed. Discuss the project(s) with them and create a plan for the areas that you look to build out as part of their duties in being a backup.
If nobody on your project has any prior PM experience, another option could be to consider an existing program management office lead. With today’s complex program office operations, it’s common to have program management office leaders with prior project management experience. They could assist as a backup PM.
2. When should you have a backup PM? As one never knows when surprises will occur, the best time to identify a backup project manager is during mobilization of the project. By having a person identified early in the project life cycle, it better positions the backup PM to be successful should a surprise occur.
If it’s not possible to identify and develop a backup at the start of a project, consider an approach that takes advantage of the upcoming or current phase of the project. For example, if the project is headed into the design phase, consider your functional lead as a potential backup. Just be cognizant of the additional burden the backup PM role places on an existing team member; consider additional program office resources to help with the execution of project operational processes.
3. How do you make someone a backup PM? After selecting a backup, create a list of topics to educate them in the many facets of the project. This can start with operational topics such as risk/issue reporting, status report and work planning, and cross-training. From there, they can start to be immersed in domain-related topics with the project (e.g., how does a month-end financial close work?). The domain-related topics may require some specialized training if they have not been exposed to them before.
Keep in mind that the backup PM still has their core project duties to execute, so they should not be overburdened with immersion activities. Keep the window for these activities to a few hours each week, and continue them through the life of the project. It is also helpful to bring the backup PM along to attend key project meetings to make them aware—as well as to make other project team members aware of their provisional role in the event of the unexpected.
The days of having a project being placed on hold due to the short-term loss of a project manager are long behind us. In particular, with the highly integrated technology project ecosystem that exists today, the stoppage of one project can impact several others—thus affecting the overall progress of a company portfolio.
Knowing who your backup project manager is offers a mitigation path when surprises occur. In addition, it’s also an essential form of career building by exposing the backup PM to the next level of delivery stewardship.
How have you selected and groomed a backup project manager for your delivery efforts?
By Sree Rao, PMP, PgMP, PMI-ACP
During my initial phases as a technical program manager, I was heavily focused on the execution of programs and didn’t bother much with strategy. As I gained more experience, I realized the importance of understanding strategy and how it can uplevel us as program managers.
Based on my experience, there is a common misconception that TPMs only play a role in program execution once a strategy has been determined. Strategy plays a crucial role in determining the success of any program, so in this post I will discuss why being plugged into strategy is essential for TPMs.
Strategy vs Plan: Understanding the Differences
What is Strategic Management?
One of the key benefits of strategic management is its ability to provide a clear roadmap for achieving project/program goals. Strategy involves conducting market research, analyzing competitive landscapes, identifying customer needs, and developing long-term plans that align with business objectives. By having a well-defined strategy in place, we can ensure that our projects are focused on delivering value to stakeholders—while also contributing toward the organization's overall success.
Product managers usually create the strategy, but TPMs play a significant part in putting it into action.
Why is Strategic Management Important for TPMs?
Disclaimer: My experience has been only in the tech industry, and I am not sure if this is prevalent in other industries. I would love to know if you have experienced something similar.
3 Ways to Think About Risk
Categories: Risk Management
Andy Jordan wrote an interesting article recently on rebranding risk. That got me thinking about people’s relationship to risk, especially since any decision we make has a certain amount of risk involved.
Here I share a few ways that I suggest you think about risk….
1. Know that every decision carries risk.
There is no such thing as a risk-free decision.
Acting on something carries risk.
Not acting on something carries risk.
Recognizing that any action requires a certain comfort with the unknown allows you to move to a more productive posture. One focused on the opportunity at hand.
Instead of thinking you’ll eliminate risk, this type of thinking can enable you to focus on risk management.
It is unlikely that you’ll find a risk-free solution, but you can probably find a course of action where the potential reward is greater than the perceived danger in taking action.
2. Understand that if risk wasn’t involved, there would be no change.
The twin to the first point is that risk comes with change. Every action carries a certain amount of risk, certainly. There is also no guarantee that your risk will succeed.
At the same time, there is often risk because you need to create change in a project or an organization. Understanding the necessity of risk to change helps people take action.
As Tottenham Hotspur manager Ange Postecoglou observed, “If you want change, you have to do something differently.”
That’s at the heart of risk management: You can’t expect things to be different if you don’t do things differently.
Risk is a prerequisite of change.
3. Move your focus to the opportunities at hand.
It could be that the opportunity in front of you will improve your processes in a way that will enable you to save time, money and other resources in a project with a tight budget.
The opportunity could be in building out a new product or service that opens your business up to new chances.
The opportunity could come in the form of learning and development of your team members or yourself.
Opportunity is all over. But it often comes because of the change that new solutions or new processes create.
Learning a new skill/process or creating a new product is all risky stuff, but risk is the partner of opportunity. Again, without change, nothing new happens—and that requires risk.
I appreciate Andy thinking about risk in a new way. For me, I always look at the opportunity first. Then, think about risk later. That is sometimes risky as well—because there have been occasions where I could have used a bit more patience before action.
Of course, some of these risky actions paid off incredibly. And that’s the point: Risk and reward go hand in hand. Nothing changes without change, and that is risky.
How do you think about risk in your own projects…and life?