By Conrado Morlan
As a project management practitioner, I’ve been lucky enough to deploy programs and projects across the Americas, supported by teams in South Asia and Europe.
Working on those assignments enriched my multicultural background and helped me learn and become proficient in Portuguese. But as I’ve learned throughout my career, language is just the tip of the iceberg.
Based on my personal experiences, here are three key areas of focus I recommend that practitioners consider before, during and even after their next global assignment:
It is imperative that global project management professionals understand an individual's personal, national and organizational cultures, so they can better align the team and gain greater influence.
Learn about the country’s culture—do your research and find out similarities and differences. Include cultural differences as one of the topics on the agenda of the kick-off meeting. Use that time as an open forum for everyone to share and record their cultural experiences. Keep those cultural experiences in a repository with documents and useful video clips that can be later used to induct new team members.
Cultural awareness is a skill that should be developed and mastered. Incorporating a cultural differences exercise establishes respect and empathy for diverse values and behaviors, which in turn creates an open and accepting team environment.
As a global project management professional, you may worry about resource planning. Resources may not be your direct reports, meaning you don’t have control over their schedules.
Instead of struggling, apply the Chinese army approach: Imagine you have unlimited resources available. Assume you have resources with the right skills who can be assigned to the different roles in your project. Do not worry yet about assigning names to the roles.
You may find that the roles can’t be filled with internal resources because of a lack of required skills or capacity, so your solution may be to outsource resources.
To complement the approach, you’ll need to adapt and remaster communication and negotiation skills, which will help you get the best resources.
The project management profession now goes beyond just managing projects. The profession helps to achieve business objectives and explore new ways to lead, execute and deliver. Technical expertise in project management is not enough; global project management practitioners must adopt a business-oriented approach.
My suggestion is to become SMART. The SMART concept includes a portfolio of skills the global project management practitioner must master to meet the needs of the organization in the coming years.
Being SMART means you are:
To become SMARTer, global project management professionals need to continually strive for excellence and master new skills to support professional growth and help the organization achieve its business strategy.
If you’ve been exposed to global programs or projects, what advice would you offer to other practitioners?
By Christian Bisson
When I was asked to write about a project that inspired me in the last 50 years, I didn’t have to look back further than last year. That’s when I had the chance to act as scrum master for a newly formed team.
We had seven weeks to build software from scratch that would be demonstrated at a conference and used by hundreds of people. Since the conference was centered on artificial intelligence, it was mandatory that our demo used AI. Our idea was a game where the player spelled words using real sign language. The game was displayed on a television hooked up to a camera, which filmed the player’s hand.
The hand’s position was then recognized and matched to a letter of the alphabet. The player received points based on the speed at which he was spelling the words displayed on the screen.
We had a great team composed of two developers, a designer, two AI researchers, a product owner and me (scrum master). Our small, dedicated team would empower us to deliver the software we needed to build from A to Z.
Although concerned about the short time available, everyone was motivated and excited to build this amazing software, knowing the visibility it would get.
Since the scope wasn’t fully defined and the user experience was key, we needed to deliver usable increments to test. We needed a framework that would allow us to deliver quickly and adjust to the requirements as they were refined. Scrum was the obvious choice, even though most of the team was completely new to it. The majority of the team came from a software background, so they knew what it was on paper. However, for the AI researchers, it was completely unknown.
Many start off with the team they need, but then obstacles come their way and prevent them from moving forward. These could be anything from unavailable stakeholders to people being pulled off the team to poor requirements.
However, in this case, it was everything you would want from agility/scrum:
It was amazing to see the collaboration when we needed users to test; after a quick Slack message to everyone in the company, we would suddenly have a lineup of people available to play the game.
When I think back on our success, all I remember are the people working together to create something great. It wasn’t even about being “agile.” For the team it was, “Let’s get this done!” and for everyone who supported us, it was “Let’s help our colleagues!” There was nothing more, nothing less—exactly how it should be.
I’d love to hear about the most inspiring project you’ve worked on in your career. Please share below!
By Kevin Korterud
It’s quite possible that, if asked to remember every project I led over the years, I would be hard-pressed to do so. Our typical project management journey takes us down a new road when we complete a project, so we’re never really stopping to take a retrospective on how each one shaped who we are today.
A much easier exercise for me is to recollect which projects played a significant part in shaping my journey as a project manager. These projects, not unlike silver polish, brighten our skills and capabilities to a shine that allows us to undertake even larger and more complex projects.
Here are three projects that had a profound impact on my capabilities, and what I learned from each:
Up till a certain time in my project management career, I felt that my work included some rather large projects in terms of team members and scope. However, nothing prepared me for the massive construct that is a transformation program involving almost 2,000 people.
Transformation programs extend well beyond the realm of what project managers normally lead. They involve significant changes to business processes and technology, as well as altering what people do on a day-to-day basis. In addition, there are many project and team members involved with multiple, parallel tracks of work. All of this makes a project manager feel as small as the tiny people in Gulliver’s Travels.
Transformation programs pushed me to think and engage externally beyond my assigned project, especially when it came to dependencies between projects. I also realized it was essential that project managers collaborate and cooperate in order to maintain progress for the overall transformation program.
2. Technology Is in Everything
Over the years, I have followed with great interest the increase in the proportion of a project that involves technology. On my first projects many years ago, the level of technology was quite modest, relying mostly on data inputs, online screens and reports that augmented existing business processes. Today, technology permeates nearly all facets of a project.
When asked to assist with the estimation and implementation of a new type of airliner, my initial assumption was that there would be some form of enabling technology and the airliner would still operate as before. For example, there would be some technology support required, but the fundamental functions would not really change.
After reviews and discussions, I was astounded at the depth of technology that was found in this new model. The flight deck had provisions for laptops to be used by pilots to both prepare and operate the airliner. Flight operations and integration tasks that were once managed manually were now conducted automatically and at high speed, all of which reduced pilot and ground crew workloads. The technology found in this new airliner caused me to dramatically re-think the level of rigor required to estimate and plan its implementation. In addition, it raised my expectations of the effort required to estimate and plan today’s projects in order to ensure quality delivery.
As we consistently execute project delivery over and over across a number of projects, our growing confidence can sometimes cause us to view project delivery as commonplace. We can begin to lose our sensitivity towards project outcomes as we proceed through a seemingly endless stream of phases, sprints, tasks, activities and artifacts of project management.
A big wake-up call for me occurred when I led a project to process calls from customers of infant nutritional products. Customers would call in on a variety of topics ranging from inquiries about the right product to use as well as potential infant health issues. Before I formally began the project, the sponsor reviewed with me existing customer cases showing both simple inquiries as well as potential emergency health issues. I realized then that my efforts on this project could potentially save the life of an infant.
It’s easy to think about projects as two-dimensional entities that refine business processes and technical capability. From the dialogue with the project sponsor, I came to appreciate how this project could improve both the time and quality of response on an inquiry related to the health of an infant. This motivated me and the team to always be thinking about how this project would interact with the customers in the most effective and efficient manner, especially when the life of an infant could be at stake.
As we all proceed through our project management careers, we tend to remember the distinct impact these projects had on us. Some of the projects affect how we plan projects, others influence project execution and still others will be remembered for how they served as key waypoints in our project management journey. In addition, these “waypoint” projects are well-suited as experiences to share with the next generation of project managers following in our footsteps.
What projects on your project management journey have shaped who you are today?
by Jen Skrabak, PfMP, PMP
Most people leave organizational cultures, not managers.
Organizational culture is defined as the collective behaviors, thoughts, norms and language of the people in the organization that signifies the "way of working." It represents the overall support system and resources of the organization.
For example, if employees regularly start meetings late, then the culture of the organization may be to begin meetings late ("it's just the way things are"). Newcomers quickly learn this unwritten norm, and adapt to the late meetings, further propelling the status quo.
It's important to understand that people leave organizational cultures because portfolios and programs can represent significant change to the organization—requiring new ways of working, behaviors and new operating agreements defined to support the change. However, if the organization is resistant to change—and the traditional ways of working remain—how do you change the culture?
First, let us understand why people leave the organizational culture and what we can do to model the right behaviors as leaders:
1. Misaligned Vision and Leadership
A common complaint is that there is "no perspective of where the organization is headed and not being able to see how my role fits into the bigger picture."
Leaders, starting at the top, must role model the behaviors they expect. Rather than simply talk about the vision or the strategy, they must roll up their sleeves to translate the vision very specifically and tangibly into everyone's work.
This is typically done through the strategic portfolio—employees identify with a stack ranking of strategic initiatives that communicate the most essential programs and projects of the organization. Each executive sponsor must then clearly translate the vision into day-to-day actions that the program or project is implementing.
The strategic portfolio represents the "better state" of the targeted culture— what are the behaviors, ways of working, thinking and norms that need to be in the future. This is codified typically through team charters, operating agreements, and ground rules so that everyone on a team follows the same rules and ways of working.
2. Compromised Values, Beliefs and Increased Toxicity
When employees feel they are being coerced into doing things that don't align with their values, they will find other places to use their talents. Behaviors that result during large scale change may be burnout, rumors, and change fatigue.
Mediocrity may have been accepted as good enough, resulting in high performers, leaving the organization due to lack of challenge and opportunities. However, for those that remain, it may be difficult to absorb change since they never had to.
As a portfolio or program leader, you don't need permission, budget or authority to start acting in ways that model high performance. Recognize and reward the right behaviors and call out the wrong behaviors.
Growth needs to be the focus—desire is a powerful emotion—more than the fear/doubt that is often the first reaction when encountering change. The first emotion is Fear/Doubt. Left unmanaged, this can spiral into water cooler conversations, negativity and constant churn.
However, having a growth mindset means that there are opportunities created from changing and learning new skills that can propel that organization to embrace new ways of working.
3. Organizational Structures and Processes that Create Stagnation
Not having structured processes that support high performance creates an environment that people leave. No one wants to stand out when something new is introduced—it's almost like a virus where the antibodies (the current organizational culture) start attacking it. There needs to be a core group of high performers that embrace and spread the targeted organizational culture across the organization.
High performers can't stand waste—wasted time in meetings, wasted use of resources, and wasted opportunities. Is the strategic portfolio management or program management office reporting to the executive leadership team level, or is it buried somewhere within the organization under a functional organization?
Growing organizations embrace change as a constant and adopt a growth mindset.
A growth mindset means that the organization is continually learning and sees change as an opportunity to learn new skills and gain new experiences. Rather than sit back and accept the status quo, we seek out how to design and build the change rather than be just the recipient of the change. Thoughts and mindset ultimately translate into behavior. Motivation and attitude are skills that are just as important as the technical portfolio or program management skills and can be developed over time.
How are you developing your growth mindset?
By Conrado Morlan
I’ve been running for eight-plus years—ever since my son suggested I do a half marathon in San Antonio, Texas, USA. So when a friend suggested I try a triathlon, I was ready for it. At that point, three years ago, I had 10 full marathons and 15 half marathons under my belt.
The triathlon includes three disciplines in a single event: swimming, cycling and running. It was the athletic challenge I needed, similar to the professional challenge I encountered when I moved across industries to keep leading and managing projects.
To get ready for the triathlon, I had to go back to the pool and start swimming after a long time away. I borrowed a road bike from a friend to start the formal training. We worked out on our own on weekdays and as a team on weekends.
That first experience transformed me into a triathlete enthusiast, which led me eventually to the Ironman 70.3. The "70.3" refers to the total distance in miles covered in the race, consisting of a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run.
The short distance triathlons helped prepare me for the Ironman 70.3. And as I’ve come to realize, learnings I’ve made along the way also apply to project management. These are my three main findings:
1. Expertise and Experimentation
Mastering all three disciplines in a triathlon can be difficult. My background is in running, but I was new to swimming and cycling. My coach gave good tips and workouts that helped me manage my bicycle on hills, navigate sharp turns and use all of my leg muscles to have a better stroke.
For swimming, I followed my instinct and experimented with the breaststroke. I soon felt confident in the pool and gradually in open waters. My experiment worked out, as I finished my swim in the Ironman 70.3 about 20 minutes ahead of the cut-off time.
As a project management practitioner, you may have mastered an industry-standard methodology and need to catch up with the new trends. In the triathlon, you may not transfer skills from swimming to cycling or running, but in project management, you can.
Communication, time management, and people management are required regardless of the methodology or best practice that will be used in the project. This gives you room to experiment. At project checkpoints, you can inspect, adapt and make the required changes to improve your project and be successful.
2. Transition Is Key
The transition is where the triathlete moves from one discipline to another, changing equipment. The area should be prepared in advance, with the gear set up in a way that helps the athlete have a smooth and fast transition. The time spent there may define the winner of the competition.
I would compare the transition area with the risk registry. The more prepared the project manager is, the less impact there will be to the project. The “gear” in your risk register will include the most impacting risk(s), the risk owner and the actions required to mitigate the risk if it arises. It’s a working registry, so the project manager should keep adding risks during the project as required.
3. Anybody Can Help You
A triathlon is not a team event, but that does not restrict the triathlete from getting support from others. Before the competition, the athlete may have followed a training plan supported by a coach, they might have been mentored by fellow triathletes and, last but not least, they likely benefited from family support.
It’s common for some triathletes to have a race sherpa on the competition day. The athlete and sherpa will discuss beforehand what tasks each will take on during the race. In short, a race sherpa will lend a hand whenever necessary and cheer for the athlete during the competition.
As a project manager, you have your project team, stakeholders and sponsor(s), but that does not restrict you from getting help from people outside the project. You may have an internal or external mentor, somebody in your organization who can be influential and help you address issues. I used to have a list of people in the organization I contacted in advance. I let them know about the project and asked them if I could ask for support if needed. That simple action helped me on several occasions when I faced a challenge.
If you are an athlete and a project manager, what lessons have you learned from practicing your favorite sport? Please share your thoughts below.