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
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Roberto Toledo
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rex Holmlin
Christian Bisson
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Jess Tayel
Ramiro Rodrigues
Linda Agyapong
Joanna Newman

Past Contributers:

Jorge Vald├ęs Garciatorres
Hajar Hamid
Dan Goldfischer
Saira Karim
Jim De Piante
Geoff Mattie
sanjay saini
Judy Umlas
Abdiel Ledesma
Michael Hatfield
Deanna Landers
Alfonso Bucero
Kelley Hunsberger
William Krebs
Peter Taylor
Rebecca Braglio
Dmitri Ivanenko PMP ITIL

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The Knowledge Management Paradox

by Ramiro Rodrigues

 

Years ago, I was invited to speak on project management trends to a group of entrepreneurs and businesspeople from small and medium-sized companies. When the subject of knowledge management in a project setting came up, I asked if people agreed that it was important for companies to retain the knowledge acquired for future projects. As expected, there was unanimous agreement.

 

I then asked people if they had already implemented some kind of system for lessons learned within their company. Only 15 percent of participants raised their hands.

 

This reflects a common corporate weakness.

 

Civil, architectural, marketing, research and development, and IT projects, among others, deliver products that rely on the intelligence and experience of those working on them. For these segments, the maintenance of this knowledge, or intellectual capital, offers a competitive advantage. After all, it’s this intellectual capital that allows the recurrence of new business transactions.

 

Imagine the case of a Brazilian construction company that has been awarded a contract for work in the Middle East. Geography, labor legislation and culture are complete unknowns for the company. The project is expected to experience a high number of challenges and errors. Even so, the project will be delivered. Now imagine that, years after the completion of that project, the same construction company is awarded another contract of similar size in a neighboring country in the region. Even though every project is unique, the knowledge acquired in the first project has immense financial value in helping avoid the same mistakes.

 

What we witness today is that the knowledgable worker is highly valuable. Imagine that, between the construction company's first and second project, its key leaders leave the company. If the organization has not implemented some kind of mechanism to retain the knowledge acquired during the first project, all the errors (and financial losses) that marked it are highly likely to be repeated in the second project.

 

And this, in some cases, can be fatal for the survival of the company.  

 

This brings us to a corporate paradox. Most executives are likely to agree that it’s important to develop some kind of knowledge transfer structure. But at the same time, there is clear lethargy in freeing up resources to implement knowledge management systems for projects.

 

Not that it's simple — initiating any knowledge management process is inherently difficult. There is veiled resistance among workers to explain the knowledge acquired during projects. Either they don’t agree with its importance, find the process annoying or even fear it will make them less essential.

 

Leaders have to overcome this resistance. Neglecting the issue can put them at risk of being exposed to market volatility.

 

What challenges have you encountered with knowledge management? How do you make it work within your organization?

Posted by Ramiro Rodrigues on: March 27, 2018 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Communicating in Conflict

Categories: Communication

by Lynda Bourne

One of the realities of project life is every once in a while you are going to become embroiled in a dispute that is emotional and personal. It does not matter how cool and professional you are, you cannot control the other party’s emotions and perceptions — and very often you also need to win the dispute.

In my post Fight or Flight?, I looked at the power of emotions, which can escalate a disagreement into a fight. Now, I want to cover some of the ways to minimize conflict so you can reach a successful outcome. 

When dealing with someone who’s upset and emotional, the first thing to remember is they are not acting rationally and are not interested in optimizing their outcome. It is not uncommon for someone to be far more interested in hurting you than in achieving a mutually acceptable outcome, even if this hurts them as well.

There are a number of tactics you can use to stop the dispute from getting worse. From there, you can hopefully move forward to an outcome you can live with.

Watch What You Say

Always remember: You cannot un-say something or un-send an email. If in doubt: Don’t say or send it! Every communication needs to be crafted from a minimalist viewpoint, conveying nothing more than the necessary information. And you should not respond to provocation. Making statements that can be interpreted as threats will be highly counterproductive.

At the same time, your demeanor needs to remain strong and assertive rather than being too aggressive or too passive.  An aggressive stance simply adds to the fight. If you are too passive, the other side may not feel any need to respect you and break into a bullying mode.

It’s a hard balance to strike. The best practice is to find an impartial mentor who can help you stay calm, collected and review every communication before you send it. The time lag needed to allow the mentor’s review helps you stay in control of your feelings. If you cannot find someone willing to help postpone any action, literally sleep on it — come back to any message in the morning and see if you really need to send it. Very often, a deliberate strategy of doing nothing or saying nothing can break a tit-for-tat cycle of escalation.

Use Time to Your Advantage

When dealing with someone who’s really upset, it may seem like a natural response to offer practical or helpful advice. That will often backfire, however. They will automatically assume you are in the same place they are, and everything you do or say will be interpreted as an attack or a ploy to gain an advantage over them.

The only way around this impasse is to find a third party, who is trusted by the other party, to act as a messenger. But even then, any communication has to be carefully thought through — never in the entire course of human history has anyone ever calmed down and become reasonable just because someone has told them to. You need options that may be rejected in the short term but allow the person ways to move forward once they have calmed down enough to start working toward an outcome. 

Time is a valuable ally. It takes a lot of energy for someone to remain really upset for an extended period of time. Consider Napoleon Bonaparte’s advice to one of his generals: Never interrupt your enemy while he is making a mistake.” As much as possible, control the tempo of the dispute and reduce pressure. If you can identify the other person’s hot buttons — the things that will instantly reignite the full intensity of the dispute — look for ways to avoid them. 

Have an Exit Strategy

Regardless of the other party’s approach, you still need to focus on outcomes and your real requirements rather than positional bargaining and winning at all costs. You need to clearly understand what’s in it for you and when to walk away.

As strange as it seems, really bitter disputes often become the center of the other person’s existence and they cannot see anything else. Therefore, having a number of exit strategies is critically important — your time and energy are valuable resources, and there is no point in fighting a dispute if there’s nothing in it for you. 

Ideally, the exit strategy will allow you to walk away and block the other person’s attempts to keep the fight going. If this is impossible, look for ways to lose elegantly — allow the other side to feel like they’ve won while you haven’t lost too badly. It’s far easier to get into a dispute than it is to get out of one once it is in full swing. Smart negotiators always understand their Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). In the type of dispute we are discussing in this post, your BATNA should be the trigger for your exit strategy and every move you make should be planned to keep these strategies open.

Remember, when Napoleon invaded Russia, he won every major battle and still lost his Grande Armée’ and the war — the Russians simply reframed the rules of 18th century warfare.

How do you reframe the rules to help manage this type of emotional dispute? 

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: March 22, 2018 05:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (30)

Tips For Leading an Effective Taskforce

Categories: Taskforce

By Marian Haus, PMP

We’ve all heard about those projects in crises—the ones that required a quick and firm intervention with the help of a taskforce to bring it back on track.

No project manager wants to be in such a difficult situation, especially not with her or his own project.

But how do we, as the hero of the day, handle being tasked with saving a troubled project?

First let us examine what a project taskforce is and what it is good for.

A project taskforce is a mandate allotted by the project sponsors or the upper management of the project organization to a senior project manager or a senior leader. The goal is to find the best option for resolving a particular problem in a very short timeframe.

A taskforce is a management mechanism that should be only used in exceptional situations. It generally requires disrupting other project activities and deploying the best people to solve a particular problem under possibly highly stressful and energy-depleting conditions.

So how do we handle this? Here are some tips on what an effective taskforce needs:

  • One experienced lead: It can either be a senior project manager or a leader experienced with crisis situations. I put the emphasis on one, since single leadership is the key to getting the job done! The last thing you’d want in a taskforce is having two or more leads debating how to drive the taskforce. One person has to call the shots.
  • An elite team: The taskforce lead will need to quickly assemble an expert team, formed with the best people who have the required field expertise to quickly understand and resolve the problem. The smaller the team, the easier it is for the taskforce lead to motivate and steer the team to finding the right solution.
  • A sharp focus: The particular problem the taskforce is working on has to be clearly articulated and known to the entire taskforce team. The objectives the team will be working on also have to be clear to everyone involved. Secondly, several other project issues may come up along the way. But to be effective, the taskforce must remain focused on the main problem.
  • A short timeframe: Given the urgency, plus the high level of the deployed team’s energy, a taskforce is only effective if conducted in a short timeframe (matter of hours or a few days). If efforts go on for longer, it’s likely not a taskforce, since the energy and effectiveness dissipate over time.
  • The appropriate logistics: Due to the intensity and possibly a stressful situation, taskforces require an isolated project space—or war room. That entails a space that provides appropriate office materials (whiteboard, note cards, etc.) to facilitate brainstorming and for capturing the results (notes, action items, assumptions, decisions, solutions, etc.) of the taskforce.
  • Options for a solution: The taskforce’s outcome should include one or more options that lead to a resolution, with a recommendation for the best option. This option, even if it is technically the best the expert team can recommend, might not satisfy the risk appetite of the person or organization that has mandated the taskforce. Therefore, every option should also provide the related pros and cons.  
  • Qualified assumptions: Beware of unqualified assumptions. If the identified options are building up on assumptions that are not fully validated, highlight the risks or need for confirmation before making a final decision.
     
  • Plain outcome communication: To terminate the taskforce, its lead and the expert team will have to reduce the complexity and sum up the outcome of the conducted work (options with pros and cons, along with assumptions and their risks or opportunities). Ultimately the taskforce lead will communicate the outcome, confirm the decided solution and conclude the mandate of the taskforce.

If set up and executed properly, a taskforce can be an effective tool to resolving crisis situations in projects.

Have you ever worked on a project taskforce? What tips would you share?

Posted by Marian Haus on: March 06, 2018 02:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

The Project Manager-Powered Management Model

By Wanda Curlee

In my last post, I discussed the project manager-powered management model that centers on neuroscience and people. Many models that discuss project management forget that people are the center of a project team. It is the people that have the power within the project.

Below is the model—let’s look at it in more detail.

By keeping the triangle in balance, the project success rate increases to 60 percent.

Time is the anchor as it can’t be managed. After all, time is constant — a person can’t make it go faster or slower.

Variables are on another side. They incorporate all those items that affect the project or program, including environment, politics, lack of resources, risks, opportunities and more. The effects of the project or program can be positive or negative. Hence, a powerful sponsor can increase the project’s success rate.

Finance is the final side. The word finance was chosen deliberately. Today, there are many ways to support a project or program. It may be normal currency. But financial support could also come in the form of bitcoin, credit cards, loans, various apps used to exchange money and even bartering. Each type is no better or worse than the other. In the future, there may even be something different that has not even be envisioned today.

Project or program managers and their teams have to keep the triangle in balance. If one side falters, the triangle collapses — hence the red bolt in the middle.

The project manager should lead efforts to keep the triangle in balance and drive results; the project team has the power to accomplish tasks.

The entire model is based on human emphasis, which is predicated on neuroscience. And once project or program managers understand the foundation of what drives human behavior, they can then motivate and drive projects to success.

However, the project/program manager has to have a sense of pAcuity: The “p” is project, program, or portfolio, while acuity means keenness. The leader, along with the team, has to have the keenness to take the project/program/portfolio in the right direction by understanding how to harness individuals’ power. Individuals, then, need to have the keenness to assess what is going on around them to drive the tasks to completion. This is done through neuroscience or understanding how we as humans think.

Stay tuned for my next post to understand the brain and how it drives us to perform on the project or program.   

 

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: February 28, 2018 07:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Standing Out as a Project Manager

by Dave Wakeman

Not all project managers are created equal.

The challenge for many of us is how to stand out in a marketplace where people are constantly talking about being a brand. Also, how do you stand out in culture where selling your importance to the project is often more important than actually getting things accomplished on the project? 

Here are a few ideas that can help you build your presence as a key part of your organization’s success and put you in line to be rewarded for the contributions you make.

Make sure you communicate up and down the organization.

Communication plans are a key part of what you do as a project manager. But have you ever thought about making sure that you communicate your teams’ accomplishments up and down the organization?

If you are anything like me, you’re likely falling into the trap that your work should speak for itself.

This isn’t always true.

In far too many instances, the person with the best results isn’t the one that is rewarded. That’s why it is essential that you communicate successes up and down the line on your projects.

This will not only help you stand out as a project manager, it will also give you a chance to show off the successes of your team and reward those efforts.

To more regularly celebrate results, you can build acknowledgement into the communications that are already scheduled. For example, you might start your next meeting off with “three things we did that really moved the project forward” or something along those lines.

Share your ideas inside the organization and with the project management community.

It’s easy for me to say this because I’ve been writing about project management for years, but one of the key ways that you can make sure you’re respected as a project manager is to share your ideas —inside and outside the organization.

One thing that is great about having a PMI Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification is that you’re rewarded for continuous learning and teaching with PDUs. Sharing also enables you to stand out because you’re the one offering up new approaches and ideas about what is challenging project managers and their organizations.

You can easily do that by starting a blog here. This website offers all of us in the project management community the chance to share our ideas.

Plus, blogging is a low barrier to entry.

On top of that, most local PMI chapters are always looking for speakers.

Push yourself to continually grow.

I mean this in a business sense as much as for project management.

Project managers really stand out when they go beyond technical proficiency. They should spend time learning about the larger environment that their organization is competing in and how that will impact what goes into the strategic decision-making process.

If you’re constantly working on improving your business acumen, you will set yourself apart from other project managers and become a go-to resource in your organization much more easily.

You can do this by reading the news a little bit every day. I use Flipboard to learn about new ideas and stories in the business world. The key isn’t to try and do everything. Instead, it’s to have an understanding of the business market that your organization is competing in.

The big key to standing out as a project manager is to never stand still. There isn’t one magic idea that will make you a world-famous project manager. But if you are constantly learning, communicating and sharing, you have a good chance at being a leader in your organization and in the project management field as well.

How do you stand out as a project manager in your organization?

By the way, I write a weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

 

Posted by David Wakeman on: February 22, 2018 08:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)
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