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.

About this Blog


View Posts By:

Cameron McGaughy
Marian Haus
Lynda Bourne
Lung-Hung Chou
Bernadine Douglas
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Vivek Prakash
Christian Bisson
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Rex Holmlin
Roberto Toledo
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Wanda Curlee

Recent Posts

Are You a Decisive or Divisive Decision Maker?

Managing Your First Strategic Initiative? Here’s What You Need to Know

Risk Priority vs. Risk Urgency

Facing Generational Needs

There’s No I in PMO

How to Influence Others

Categories: Stakeholder

by Lynda Bourne

I recently wrote a post about influencing without authority, which looked at building credibility and “currency” to trade for the support you need. Those ideas buy you a seat at the table. This post looks at ways you can influence situations to move everyone to a satisfactory outcome once you’re at that table.

Smart influencers recognise it is often futile to work against powerful resistance. Rather than fighting the situation (and making it worse) they look for subtle ways to influence the outcome. Key methods of smart influencers include:

  • Being open and aware. In stressful situations, effective influencers slow down, take a breath and observe before taking action. When we focus on our breathing we relax, which increases our perception, can provide a new perspective and heightens empathy.
  • Using movement to trigger an attitude change. Suggest, for example, going downstairs for a coffee. It may open up other ways of “moving together.”
  • Using the space around you to influence attitudes—both in formal meetings and in your own office. Creating the right ambience will help you influence others. Things to consider include:
    • A meeting table is divided into personal zones. These zones are maintained zealously. Make sure you don’t inadvertently cross the lines.
    • Be aware of personal space and seating hierarchies. Rather than confronting the “opposition” across a rectangular meeting table, consider setting up a round table where everyone can work together.
  • Using collective language. “We” is almost always better than “you.”
  • Avoiding closed questions. It is easier to avoid getting a “no” in the first place than to change a “no” into a “yes” later. Consider these three examples:
    • “Do you like my suggestion?” This is a closed question and if the answer is “no” you have nowhere to go.
    • “You do not appear to like my suggestion, why?” This is better. You now have a conversation starter but the ‘why’ has negative implications. It may seem as though you are blaming the other person for disagreeing with you.
    • “How could my suggestion be improved to make it acceptable to you?” This opens up a whole new paradigm. If the person makes some suggestions that are incorporated into the overall proposal, the proposal becomes “our suggestion.”
  • Focusing on what you want to achieve. By openly stating what you want to achieve, you lead by example and create an opportunity for others to do the same.
  • Keeping body language in mind. For most people, the reaction to body language is subconscious. It can help or hinder your attempts to influence. Focus on:
    • Paying attention. This makes the other person feel valued and is likely to enhance your ability to influence the situation.
    • Your hands. Gestures can have very different interpretations in different cultures.
    • Not overreacting to body language. It is a complex language and generally reacting to superficial signs can cause more harm than good. But paradoxically, your subconscious reading of the whole situation will often be accurate.
    • Not faking body language (unless you are a professional actor). To get yours right you need to have the right attitude first and then let nature do its bit. For more information on this, read Influence: Body Language Silent Influencing by Michael Nir.

The ability to influence people is a key leadership skill. One way to acquire the skill is to watch others in a group situation and see how the people who are influencing attitudes and actions are behaving. Then try emulating their behaviours in your next meeting.

How effective are you at influencing others?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: September 13, 2016 08:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

3 Steps to Outsourcing Success

By Peter Tarhanidis

When leaders use outsourcing it is often in an effort to enhance the organization’s value proposition to its stakeholders.

Outsourcing allows leaders to focus on and invest in the firm’s core services while using cost effective alternative sources of expertise for support services.

When services are outsourced, management and employees need to prepare for a transformation in organizational operations—and project managers must establish a strategy to guide that change.


Creating an Outsourcing Strategy

Project managers can help to create an effective outsourcing strategy based on a three-part structure:

1. Assess the current state

This assessment should define the firm’s:

  • Labor expertise and associated labor costs
  • Value versus non-value support services
  • Baseline of operational measures and service levels


2. Consider the “to-be” state

The to-be state should be designed based on a comprehensive evaluation and request for proposal, including a good list of best alternatives to negotiated agreement items.

The to-be state must consider:

  • Access to low cost, high expertise labor and the marketplace arbitrage. This may evaluate onshore, right-shore, offshore and hybrid labor models.
  • Whether the firm should invest to “fix and ship” its processes or to “ship and fix” and adopt the providers processes.
  • Productivity gains that may be measured via the labor arbitrage, process capability improvements, speed to software application and deployment, automation of processes and IT management services, robotics, etc.


3. Consider the governance required to sustain the future state

A new internal operating model needs to be formed. This includes establishing teams to manage the contract, such as senior sponsorship, an operational management team or a vendor management team.

Then the outsourcer and the outsourcing organization should focus on continuous improvements that can be made to the process.


Avoiding Outsourcing Pitfalls

Project managers can avoid a few common pitfalls in their outsourcing projects:

  1. Add procurement and legal outsourcing experts on the project team to construct the agreement.
  2. Engage senior leaders to steer the initiative and align it to the business mission.
  3. Garner senior leadership support with change management actions to help guide the organization across this journey.

Overall, if done with a defined end in mind, leaders can capitalize on outsourcing by reducing operational costs, reinvesting those savings in core services, and providing access to expertise and IT systems that would normally not have been funded via capital appropriation.

Have you been a part of any outsourcing efforts? What advice would you offer to project managers involved in similar projects?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: August 26, 2016 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Here’s How to Make Sure Digital Projects Boost Customer Experience

By Peter Tarhanidis


Happy customers are better customers. Savvy organizations develop a customer experience strategy to make them happy, and savvy project managers understand that the customer experience should drive digital projects forward. Smart digital practices should enable a better customer experience by re-evaluating the customer value of processes and the performance of operational teams.

Here are three tips for project managers delivering digital projects tied to a customer experience strategy:

1. Align the attributes that drive customer experience across projects. Once identified, chart these attributes back to customer journey maps, processes and service level measurements, and integrate them into technology investment decisions. This will ensure funding for digital projects.

2. Automate customer experiences to simplify the journey maps. Analyze the pain points across the customer journey map. Empathize with how they interact with the channels to obtain your product or service. Hone in on the negative areas that drive the experience and create a portfolio of improvement opportunities. These improvements should have a complementary operational cost reduction. Moving away from intense labor-driven activities to automated customer self-service approaches achieves operational excellence.

3. Create a service culture in your organization. While transitioning a project into operations, train teams on providing superior customer service, recognize service representatives who model best practices, and integrate customer experience measures into performance compensation systems to drive behavior changes and reinforce the new culture.  


Thankfully, technology advancements in customer relationship management have created measurement tools that make it easier than ever to understand what customers are thinking and want changed. Look to these three categories to help target improvement efforts:

Net Promoter Score defines the voice of the customer and an overall satisfaction rating.

Tools that scan social media platforms (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to gather brand feedback.

Channel content management tools that highlight the performance and value of various types of customer interactions—whether via email, websites, or phone, for example.


The bottom line: Let the customer experience guide the selection and execution of customer-facing digital projects—and then look for boosts to customer experience scores.

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: July 19, 2016 08:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Every Project Disrupts the Status Quo. So Show Stakeholders Why Change Is Worth It.

By Mario Trentim

Ever heard this joke? “You don’t need superpowers to change an organization. You only need one project manager—but the stakeholders must want to change.”

In this post, I want to remind you to put yourself in your stakeholders’ shoes. As you think about the changes to be delivered by your project, take their different perspectives seriously.

If you ask most people about their attitude toward change, they give answers trying to show how flexible and adaptable they are. After all, nobody wants to play the naysayer role. We don't want to be seen as resistors.

For example, I once asked my MBA students if they like change. They cheerfully answered "Yes!", to which I promptly answered "Fine, let's extend our class by five hours. Moreover, I want you to read seven papers and two books by the end of next week so that you can take a four-hour exam."

It’s easy to prove the point that we don't like bad changes. But what about good changes, the ones that benefit us? Do we really even want a change that’s good for us?

In reality, our behavior and attitudes often contradict what we believe. Why? Because we are afraid, and our expectations and interests are different and changing. Our relationship to specific changes isn’t static.

The biggest issue is that organizations (and project leaders) don’t always present planned changes in ways that makes it easy for people to answer the most important question: “What’s in it for me?”

I sometimes hear project managers complaining about their stakeholders. They say, “stakeholder X always changes his mind,” or “stakeholder Y creates obstacles to my project,” and so on.

Wake up! Stakeholders are not the problem. The truth is that your project is the problem. After all, what is a project?

From its definition, a project is a temporary endeavor to create a unique result. So, your project will create something that didn't exist before, something that wasn't there.

A project is a disturbance in the environment.

As a functional manager, for example, I will have to give up my status quo. I would be “forced” by your project to learn how to use the new enterprise resource planning system that you want to install. Do you really think I would help you? Is the functional manager the problem? No.

As a project manageryour job is to convince stakeholders they are going to benefit from the outcome. Show them what they will earn. If you fail, they won't help. As long as your stakeholders are not happy, your project is doomed to fail.

Want to learn more? Check out the webinar Managing Stakeholders as Clients. And, please, leave your comments!

Posted by Mario Trentim on: June 15, 2016 07:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

How to Motivate Your Team

Categories: Stakeholder, Teams

By Lynda Bourne

In my last post, “Is a Happy Team a Motivated Team?,” I suggested a happy project team was likely to be an outcome of a motivated team, rather than something you achieve in isolation. So this post looks at some of the key elements a project manager can use to develop a motivated team. That, in turn, should lead to a happy group of people who enjoy their work. My next post will examine even more ways to achieve this.

In his book Your Brain at Work, Dr. David Rock defines the “SCARF” model of what happens in the brain during social situations. This model can provide useful insight into the way motivation works. While it may seem odd to some, every team, every project and every workplace is primarily a social situation. People are interacting with other people to achieve something for their stakeholders—who are also people!

The SCARF model defines five elements that can be a motivational reward, or a threat to an individual:

  • Status
  • Certainty
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness
  • Fairness

A leader who establishes the right foundation for each of these factors will help build a successful and happy group.

The challenge for a leader is that each of these factors can trigger a threat or a reward experience. Insufficient levels will cause resentment (pain). The right levels will cause pleasure. But too much of any (with the possible exception of fairness) can lead to fear or the feeling of repression (pain). The challenge for every leader is to know enough about your team members to hit the sweet spot of “just right.”


Everyone has a deep human drive for self-esteem or competence, but this is almost never assessed on its own. We are social beings, so our sense of competence appears to be deeply connected to others. What we actually measure is status.

Status means where we are positioned in relation to those around us—the pecking order. A person’s perception of status, and any changes in it, will be experienced as a reward or a threat. A sense of increasing status can be more rewarding than money, and a sense of decreasing status can make you feel like your life is in danger.  

There’s no universal scale for status. When you meet someone new and size up your relative importance, you might do so based on who is older, richer, stronger, smarter or funnier. Whatever framework you think is important, when your perceived sense of status goes up or down, an intense emotional response results.

Because of this, people—and teams—go to tremendous extremes to increase or protect their status. As Dr. Rock says, “The desire to increase status is behind many of society’s greatest achievements and some of our darker hours of destruction.” The challenge for every leader is to respect the status of all of the team members and minimize negative movements.

Conversely, thrusting someone into a high-status role they are not prepared for can be equally destructive. This is why public speaking ranks as one of the biggest fears. The spotlight is on the speaker, it is a high status position, and the person is terrified of failing.


A sense of uncertainty about the future generates a strong threat response. Your brain detects something is wrong, and your ability to focus on other issues diminishes. Your brain doesn’t like uncertainty—it’s like a type of pain. Certainty, on the other hand, feels rewarding, and we tend to steer toward it, even when it might be better for us to remain uncertain.

Effective leaders provide enough certainty for their followers to experience the feeling or reward, but not so much as to stifle creativity and innovation. Again, this is a balancing act aimed at hitting the sweet spot and needs to be tailored to the characteristics of each individual. Some people crave stability and certainty; others like a degree of challenge (but not too much).

In my next post, I’ll dive into the rest of the SCARF model to finish my discussion of how to motivate people.

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: April 18, 2016 12:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

One word sums up probably the responsibility of any vice president, and that one word is 'to be prepared'.

- Dan Quayle

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