I don’t have a classic project management background, so I spend a lot of time thinking about ways non-traditional project managers can offer up great ideas to people with more traditional backgrounds.
Sometimes I find that easy.
Sometimes I find that rather difficult.
I also spend a great deal of time trying to push people past conventional wisdom.
Again, sometimes that is easy, but most of the time it is incredibly difficult.
This got me thinking about what I wanted to talk to you about this month: While the truth remains the same, the interpretation of the truth can change.
What does that mean to project managers? A lot, actually.
Here are a couple of the things we have always felt were true and how they can be interpreted differently.
1. Project management is about implementation. As my 8-year-old son might say, “True! True!”
The reality is that project management is about implementation of a project plan with a desired outcome in mind.
Yet, as we have seen general business matters change, we have also seen that project managers aren’t just involved in implementation — they’re also involved in strategy.
How is this possible?
Because we don’t just do things, we also have to be in touch with the skills and desires of the organization and our teams.
This means we do need to implement. But as much as we implement things, we also have to have business acumen that will allow us to offer up ideas, be confident in our ability to think strategically and drive our team toward the results.
Like improv comedy, a project manager is all about the “yes, and…”
2. A project manager’s most important skill is communication.
Communication is likely the most important skill for anyone today. But, for project managers, it’s not simply about communication, but communication that enables people to set priorities and take action..
Let me explain.
Poor communication has stopped more projects from being effective than any other thing in project history.
But good communication alone won’t fix every issue. Sometimes communication isn’t the real issue — instead it’s about also doing the right things.
That’s why we need great communication in service of doing the right things and getting things done. Communication is key, but communication without commitment to the right things is the real issue.
The idea that communication and implementation are super important is still true, but why they are true is up for debate.
What do you think?
BTW, if you like this blog, why don't you get my Sunday newsletter. There I focus on business acumen, value, and leadership...along with under ideas. If you'd like to get it, drop me a line at Dave@davewakeman.com with "newsletter" in the subject line.
by Lynda Bourne
Do really good ideas pop into your mind at the most inconvenient moments, like when you’re in the middle of taking a shower? This flash of bathroom brilliance presents two problems:
And typically, that flash of brilliance fades quickly and can be very difficult to reconstruct even a few minutes later. That may explain why Archimedes went running naked down the street shouting “Eureka!” following his flash of bathroom brilliance. This occurred when he discovered the relationship between volume and mass (density/buoyancy) by observing the change in water level as he entered his bath.
How can we unleash this kind of innate creativity on a regular basis and not just in the bathroom?
While everyone is different, there seems to be three key elements to being creative:
Now, think about your teams and how you work with them to develop creative solutions. Do you call them into a room, dump the problem on them, demand a brainstorming session right there and then wonder why it doesn’t work? Or, do you socialize the problem first, ask people to think about it and discuss it with each other offline, and then call the meeting to see what’s been developed?
Creativity needs space, time and freedom from pressure. This is the antithesis of most modern work environments where people work in a high-pressure job and are constantly inundated with a stream of “stuff” via technology.
How can you make the time to be relaxed, creative and successful?
by Linda Agyapong
"Who" really is a stakeholder?
I enjoy breaking down some of the buzzwords in project management.
In my previous post, we looked at “project success” vs. “project management success.”
Today I’d like to focus on “stakeholder”—one of the most buzzworthy terms.
For this discussion, let’s check in with our three favorite project managers: Jim, Mary and Alex. They have been tasked with a major construction project in Europe. On the first day of their kickoff meeting, as they were documenting their project charter, they got stuck because the three of them could not agree on identifying all the stakeholders for the project.
Turns out the targeted site for the construction project had a natural habitat for a specific kind of protected species—the moor frog.
Jim and Mary jointly agreed that moor frogs should never be considered as stakeholders of the project—after all, they were not humans. But Alex maintained that they should be considered as stakeholders because the frogs would either be significantly affected by the project, or they would significantly affect the project.
Alex then explained that the classic definition of a stakeholder—from the legendary business theorist R. Edward Freeman—did not segregate animals from humans, nor living things from non-living things. In his award-winning book, Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, Mr. Freeman defined a stakeholder as “any group or individual who can affect, or is affected by the achievement of the organization's objectives.” He subsequently clarified that this definition can be expanded further to cover anything that the organization significantly affects, or is significantly affected by it.
Alex added that the very issue had been argued in the journal article Project Temporalities: How Frogs Can Become Stakeholders by Kjell Tryggestad, Lise Justesen and Jan Mouritsen. These authors took the stance that the natural habitat of the frogs provided some benefits to people in the community, such as via food, recreation or entertainment. Because of that value, the moor frogs should be classified as stakeholders.
Robert A. Phillips and Joel Reichart argued the opposite in their article, The Environment as a Stakeholder? A Fairness-Based Approach. They said that this natural habitat cannot be classified as a stakeholder because, “only humans are capable of generating the necessary obligations for generating stakeholder status.” Their basis was that stakeholders can only impact a project when they “make themselves known as part of the empirical process to develop the project.”
Tryggestad, Justesen and Mouritsen, however, advised that non-living things could be actors of the project if they make a visible difference within the project, such as significantly impacting any of the triple constraints of the project (namely time, cost and scope). Their rationale was that “an actor does not act alone. It acts in relation to other actors, linked up with them.” The frogs were then considered to be “an entity entangled in a larger assemblage consisting of both humans and non-humans.” At the end of their research, the frogs were classified as actors or stakeholders of the construction project.
To bring it home, Alex calmly advised his colleagues that the frogs have peacefully lived in that part of the community for several years. To avoid incurring the residents’ wrath, they should classify frogs as stakeholders and subsequently make the necessary arrangements to appease the community accordingly.
In the end, Jim and Mary unanimously agreed to this great suggestion.
I encourage you to think outside the box to identify all the potential stakeholders for your upcoming projects. Good luck!
by Wanda Curlee
Not long ago, neuroscience was considered something akin to science fiction. In recent years, however, it has crawled out of that genre and into practical reality. By identifying ways people can reason, it’s even making major contributions to the project management profession.
Take the functional MRI (fMRI).
The fMRI creates an image of what a person’s brain is doing when they’re working. If you’re doing math, let’s say, the fMRI shows what areas of the brain are functioning.
Through these studies, neuroscientists have said that there are three ways a person can reason:
1. The detailed-oriented person. This is someone comfortable with schedule management, risk management, budget management, issues tracking, etc. Normally, this would be someone from the project management office (PMO) or a junior project manager.
2. The person who can see the forest for the trees. This is the seasoned project manager or a junior program manager. They are savvy with integration and can see the strategy that is needed for decision making.
3. The strategic-minded individual. Think senior program managers and portfolio managers. These individuals are focused on delivering the organization’s strategic objectives. They can see what the landscape needs to be into the future.
So how does this help you as a project leader? Studies show that if you provide the opportunity for a detailed-oriented person to work in the role of seeing the forest for the trees or putting a strategic person into a detail-oriented role, these individuals become more creative and innovative.
Think about it: By putting individuals in radically different positions—with some guidance and mentorship, of course—you are forcing that person to see problems from different perspectives.
When CEOs claim they do not have creative and innovative people in their organization, I would contend that the CEO is wrong. The CEO just doesn’t nurture the creativity and innovation.
Imagine a brainstorming session where you have individuals who have switched roles. These employees can take an idea presented at the brainstorm and now see it from different perspectives. You no longer have people trapped in thinking from only their own worlds.
Are you as a project leader willing to push your team to experience the world from a different perspective? Are you willing to take a detail-oriented person and cajole him or her into seeing the forest for the trees? Will you mentor and guide the person? You will need to help with the anxiety of doing something totally foreign.
If you are willing, then you have created a more innovative and creative team!
By Cyndee Miller
Like most people, I am equally super excited and super terrified by technology. I do enjoy the idea of some adorable robotic creature handling all my mundane tasks. Yet I really don’t care for the idea of Alexa tracking my moves and monitoring my conversations.
But between chatbots and self-driving cars, this is the year where there’s no turning back on tech disruption. Why?
“Everything is data, data is everywhere,” said tech pioneer Inma Martinez, the closing keynoter at EMEA Global Congress.
And that comes alongside the rise of deep learning, the terrifying tech that aims to mimic the human brain. Again, equal parts super exciting, super terrifying.
So will project and program managers be replaced by a supercomputer? Will the machines eventually turn against us?
Machines will never be able to beat humans at understanding right from wrong.
“This is where deep learning fails and fails and fails,” Ms. Martinez said. “It goes into bias and bias and bias. And this is why people in the scientific community like myself are willing to say please stop doing this. You still want the humans to use their wonderful brain to make that decision.”
Instead, we should use data to tackle the big issues, like mental health and the mass migration to cities. “We’re all going to end up living in massive urban centers,” says Ms. Martinez, and data can transform them into truly smart cities.
Ms. Martinez called out Boston, Massachusetts, USA as a prime example. Why? Because the mayor decided a few years ago to make city data accessible to all—allowing any user to check out how services in Boston are faring.
“Because the data is shared across the board, citizens are engaged,” Ms. Martinez said. And armed with that data, the mayor could force companies like Uber to treat all the city’s denizens equally.
“They started to analyze how long you have to wait in a low-income area—and sometimes it’s like 20 to 25 minutes,” Ms. Martinez said. “So the mayor said, ‘You want to operate in Boston? You need to send Ubers to the people, all types of people.’ This is data in service of the people.”
That change will also drive a shift to humans acting, like, well, humans.
“Human life will seek sensorial stimuli, information disclosure and self-empowerment.”
Hmmm. Maybe I need to rethink—that doesn’t sound even vaguely terrifying.
It's auf wiedersehen for now. This human is off to explore more of the city's projects (and sneak in a David Bowie walking tour). But then I suppose I'll have my voice assistant friend book time for next year's congress in Dublin on 13 to 15 May.
What about you? How are you feeling about the robot revolution?