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

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Playing the Right Leadership Role

Leadership Role

By Peter Tarhanidis

It is not unusual for project leaders to fill a variety of leadership roles over the course of the many unique initiatives we take on.

As I transition from one client, program, employer or team to another, my personal challenge is to quickly work out the best leadership role to play in my new environment. Therefore, I find it helpful to have some knowledge of leadership theory and research.

Leaders must understand the role they fill in relation to staff and management. That typically falls into three categories, as defined by Henry Mintzberg, Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at the Desautels Faculty of Management of McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada:

Interpersonal: A leader who is either organizing the firm or a department, or acting as an intermediary. He or she is the figurehead, leader or liaison.

Informational: A leader that gathers, communicates and shares information with internal and external stakeholders. He or she is the mentor, disseminator, and spokesman.

Decisional: A leader that governs and has to make decisions, manage conflict and negotiate accords. He or she is the entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator and negotiator.

During one of my recent transitions, I thought I was a decisional leader, but I was expected to play an informational role. When I acted on information rather than sharing it and gaining consensus toward a common goal, my team was very confused. That’s why it’s so important to know the role you’re expected to fill.

When you start a new effort, how do you determine what role you’re expected to play? How has that contributed to your success?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: March 17, 2017 09:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Do You Really Need a Project Steering Committee?

Categories: Facilitation

By Lynda Bourne

Far too many sponsors, executives and project managers waste far too much time in ineffective steering committee meetings or project/program control board meetings (both referred to as PCB in this post).

The first key question for the organization’s governance team to consider is whether there is any need for a PCB. In most cases, provided the organization has well-trained and effective sponsors, there is no need for a PCB.

When deciding if the costs of a PCB are warranted, consider the following questions:

  • Is the project/program large by the standards of the organization?
  • Is the project/program more complicated or more complex (these concepts are different) than the normal projects undertaken by the organization?
  • Are the risks associated with the project/program higher than normal?

If the answer to any two of the above questions is affirmative, a PCB is probably warranted. If only one answer is affirmative, it is probably sufficient to appoint an experienced and committed sponsor, but the risks, costs and stakeholder attitudes need to be considered.

If the project is business-as-usual, there should be no need for a PCB. The organization’s normal governance, surveillance, project management and stakeholder engagement processes should be sufficient. The most cost-effective PCBs are the ones you don’t have!

 

Making the PCB Efficient

If a PCB is needed, no meeting should take longer than 30 minutes. The costs of running a PCB are in the range of $2,000 to $5,000 per hour (sometimes more), and the organization needs to recoup value from each meeting.

This objective is achievable, but the PCB needs designing and managing so that it is cost- and process-efficient. The design and management functions are best assigned to either the portfolio management office or an executive level project management office (PMO). 

The key elements in designing the PCB are:

  • Every member of the PCB is appointed for a specific reason and the members know why they are appointed, what is expected of them and what to expect from the PCB processes.
  • The relationship between the PCB and the change management processes is clearly defined.
  • The relationship between the PCB and the key project stakeholders is understood. The primary function of the PCB is to champion the project and help maximize its value to the organization.
  • PCB meetings only occur when decisions are required or a formal discussion is necessary; there are no time-wasting monthly meetings. Routine communication between the project manager, the sponsor and the PCB members is designed to deal with business-as-usual information flows and general oversight. There should be no surprises for anyone, ever!
  • Communication with each PCB member is timely and effective. Each member receives clear, concise and informative briefing packs in a timely manner prior to the meeting.
  • Questions or additional information requests are communicated to the project/program manager and the sponsor in adequate time to allow proper responses to be developed and circulated to all of the PCB prior to the meeting. (It’s not the job of a PCB to test the project manager with left field questions during the meeting.)
  • Meetings finish on time and have minutes circulated promptly. All decisions are logged, referenced and promptly communicated to all affected parties. The key responsibility of the PCB is to make timely decisions on matters that affect the organization (not the day-to-day running of the project).

Developing PCBs that work efficiently does require the PMO responsible for the process to develop coaching and advocacy skills in addition to the PCB processes and procedures.

New PCB members will need coaching in their roles. Project managers will need supervising to ensure effective, timely and complete information is made available to the PCB, to ensure proper governance processes are followed, and to ensure there are no surprises in either direction by connecting the executive decision-makers on the PCB to the project/program delivery teams.

None of this is rocket science. But if implemented effectively, this advice will lead to projects and programs that keep progressing with open communication and efficient decision-making. This will make both the project sponsor and the project manager’s life easier and more productive, generating increased value for the organization.

How effective are your steering committees or project control boards?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: July 09, 2016 10:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Are Your Communication Habits Good Enough?

By Marian Haus

About 75-90 percent of a project manager’s time is spent formally or informally communicating, according to PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (aka, PMBOK). No surprise, then, how much communication is linked to project success.

PMI’s latest Pulse of the Profession report, published this month, reveals that up to a third of surveyed project managers identify inadequate or poor communication as a cause of project failure. A Towers Watson survey conducted in 2012 showed that companies emphasizing effective communication practices are 1.7 times more likely to succeed financially than their peers.

So what can project managers and organizations do to improve communication and hence drive success? Here are six good habits.

  1. Acknowledge and accept the need for active, clear and transparent communication as a key ingredient for project success.
  1. Establish a simple and transparent communication framework. This means agreeing on who communicates what, to whom, when and how. For instance, a team member might communicate the project’s internal and external technical matters (the “what”), while the project manager will communicate the project status (the “what” again) for various audiences (“whom”).

    The communication time frame and frequency (“when”) will depend on the communicated message and the targeted audience. The communication tools (“how”) could range from project status slides delivered via email to status updates exchanged on the project’s internal websites.

  1. Invest in communication, presentation and other related soft skills. Above all, the project manager has to be a confident communicator. Strengthening communication skills might be especially required if the project manager grew into the role from a more technical position.
  1. Encourage project managers and teams to communicate openly and proactively regardless of whether the message is positive or negative. Especially when things go wrong, communicating issues early and transparently can mean more for the organization than solving the issues itself.
  1. Put emphasis on the quality and effectiveness of communications. Communicating frequently and with the appropriate tools is not enough. Effective and high-quality communication means delivering the appropriate message in a simple and articulate manner and to the right stakeholders. For instance, within the project team you might use a detailed and technical communication approach. But when communicating (to management and sponsors), you will have to simplify your message.
  1. Last but not least, communication isn’t only about speaking, reporting and asking. Communication also means time spent listening to what others have to say.  

How much time do you estimate you spend communicating? What best practices can you share?

 

 

Posted by Marian Haus on: February 25, 2016 02:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Project Leaders as Ethical Role Models

 

By Peter Tarhanidis            

This month’s theme at projectmanagement.com is ethics.  Project leaders are in a great position to be role models of ethical behavior. They can apply a system of values to drive the whole team’s ethical behavior.

First: What is ethics, exactly? It’s a branch of knowledge exploring the tension between the values one holds and how one acts in terms of right or wrong. This tension creates a complex system of moral principles that a particular group follows, which defines its culture. The complexity stems from how much value each person places on his or her principles, which can lead to conflict with other individuals.

Professional ethics can come from three sources:

  1. Your organization. It can share its values and conduct compliance training on acceptable company policy.
  2. Regulated industries. These have defined ethical standards to certify organizations.
  3. Certifying organizations. These expect certified individuals to comply with the certifying group’s ethical standards.

In project management, project leaders have a great opportunity to be seen as setting ethical leadership in an organization. Those project leaders who can align an organization’s values and integrate PMI’s ethics into each project will increase the team’s ethical behavior. 

PMI defines ethics as the moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior. The values include honesty, responsibility, respect and fairness.

For example, a project leader who uses the PMI® Code of Ethics to increase a team’s ethical behavior might:

  • Create an environment that reviews ethical standards with the project team
  • Consider that some individuals bring different systems of moral values that project leaders may need to navigate if they conflict with their own ethics. Conflicting values can include professional organizations’ values as well as financial, legislative, religious, cultural and other values.
  • Communicate to the team the approach to be taken to resolve ethical dilemmas.

Please share any other ideas for elevating the ethical standards of project leaders and teams, and/or your own experiences!

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: February 22, 2016 09:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (22)

The 3 Things That Transcend All Project Approaches

by Dave Wakeman

Recently I had the chance to engage with Microsoft’s social media team about some of the issues I have been covering here. Their team brought up a question you may have asked as well: How do you differentiate between “digital” project management and project management?

It’s an interesting question, because I firmly believe all projects should be delivered within a very similar framework. The framework enables you to make wise decisions and understand the project’s goals and objectives.

I understand that there are many types of project management philosophies: waterfall, agile, etc. Each of these methods has pros and cons. Of course, you should use the method you are most comfortable with and that gives you the greatest likelihood of success.

But regardless of which project management approach you employ, there are three things all practitioners should remember at the outset of every project to move forward with confidence.

Every project needs a clear objective. Even if you aren’t 100-percent certain what the “completed” project is going to look like, you can still have an idea of what you want the project’s initial iteration to achieve. This allows you to begin work with a direction and not just a group of tasks.

So, even if you only have one potential outcome you want to achieve, starting there is better than just saying, “Let’s do these activities and hope something comes out of it.”

Frameworks enable valuable conversations. I love talking about decision-making frameworks for both organizations and teams. They’re valuable not because they limit thought processes, but because they enable you to make decisions based on what you’re attempting to achieve.

Instead of looking at the framework as a checklist, think of it as a conversation you’re having with your project and your team. This conversation enables you to keep moving your project toward its goal.

During the execution phase, it can give you the chance to check the deliverable against your original goals and the current state of the project within the organization. Just never allow the framework to put you in a position where you feel like you absolutely have to do something that doesn’t make sense.

Strong communication is the bedrock. To go back to the question from Microsoft’s social media team about digital vs. regular project management: the key concept isn’t the field or areas that a project takes place in.

No matter what kind of project you’re working on and in which sector you’re in, the critical skill for project success is your ability to communicate effectively with all the project stakeholders.

This skill transcends any specific industry. As many of us have learned, it may constitute about 90 percent of a project manager’s job. You can put this into practice in any project by taking a moment to write down your key stakeholders and the information you need to get across to them. Then put time in your calendar to help make sure you are effective in delivering your communications.

In the end, I don’t think there should be much differentiation between “digital” projects or any other kind of projects. All projects benefit from having a set of goals and ideas that guide them. By trying to distinguish between different project classifications, we lose sight of the real key to success in project management: teamwork and communication.

What do you think? 

By the way, I've started a brand new weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: August 30, 2015 09:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)
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