By Ramiro Rodrigues
Recently, an acquaintance pointed out to me that the projects environment is susceptible to chaos. In his view, all it takes is a lack of effective leadership. If leaders aren’t constantly focused on solving the problems that occur in an environment of resistance and change, chaos will take place. After 20 years of professional work on corporate projects, I couldn’t disagree.
Obviously, the forces that pave the path to chaos in projects are not exact, but rather derived from human factors. Without adequate leadership, distinct interests, personalities and priorities will drive any corporate enterprise to disorder and, consequently, failure.
But if chaos has already taken hold, is there a way to reverse it?
In order to determine an effective solution, you’ll need to research and analyze the environment. Here, I present a practical and relevant framework for projects in this situation:
Step 1: Investigate carefully and critically all the variables that are exerting power in the project. These could include the political context, governance, financial and operational applications, organizational models, skills and the human characteristics of those involved.
Step 2: Based on these investigations, develop a list of items that are bringing negative interferences to the success of the project and seek to prioritize them with the support of the project sponsor. Consider all the layers of issues that are creating turmoil on the project.
Step 3: With the list in your hands, develop a proposal of actions aimed at the effective recovery of the items. The tip here is that one should be attentive so that the proposed actions to recover the specific items do not divert at any time from the ultimate goals of the project.
Step 4: Validate whether the project sponsor is truly engaged and committed to making the proposed recovery plan viable. Without their engagement, the effort will be worthless.
Step 5: Execute the recovery plan as a parallel project, albeit one related to the original project. In this stage, it is important to implement best practices of project management, such as status meetings with the analysis of obtained results and clear communication with those involved.
It’s obvious this process will require more effort from the leadership, but if the sponsoring organization is committed and interested in project recovery, the investment is justified. And in this context, the project manager will have a great opportunity to demonstrate his or her resilience and ability to overcome challenges.
Have you turned around a project in chaos? Share your experiences below.
by Cyndee Miller
The rogue monkey gets the banana. Researchers first made the discovery in the late 1970s, but the lesson remains for project leaders looking to keep pace with disruption.
Let’s peel this one back: In Jamil Qureshi’s opening keynote at PMI EMEA Congress in Dublin, Ireland, he told the tale of one monkey that chose not to believe the evidence put forth by its monkey colleagues that came before. It questioned the bias of its environment, adjusted its mindset—and was rewarded for its defiance. Seeing any parallels?
“I cannot tell you the value of a rogue monkey in your organization,” said Mr. Qureshi, a psychologist and performance coach. “Every single thing worth having on this earth has come from rogue monkey thinking.”
The greatest inhibitor to human performance, Mr. Qureshi said, is a steadfast adherence to our belief systems. (We all have them. Trust me, you’re no magical exception.) “We prove ourselves right even when we’re wrong, and that’s the problem.”
We must be willing to change the way we think. It’s the foundation of our decision-making process. “We think, we feel and then we act,” he said.
Hold off on the grand gestures, though.
“Proving ourselves as leaders is not about doing something dramatic. It’s about doing something a little bit more, more consistently,” said Mr. Qureshi. True leaders look inward, find what they already do well—and do more of it.
None of this will go very far without proper motivation, however. We’re drawn toward our most dominant thoughts, he says. And if those thoughts sound like “don’t fail” …? Um, we’re in trouble—our subconscious will only hear “fail.”
“People who are truly disruptive are motivated by what they seek to achieve, not by what they seek to avoid,” he said.
That’s how you move teams “from transactional to transformational.” The really bold ideas come from making the connection between two previously unconnected things. Look at PayPal, Spotify or Skype. “It took someone outside the sectors to give us what we wanted,” said Mr. Qureshi. Too often, companies and project teams are bad at being different—but the future demands it. “The only way to stay future relevant and future literate is to think about what the customer is valuing all the time, not what we wish to sell.”
So, are you ready to go rogue?
By Peter Tarhanidis, MBA, Ph.D.
In project management, your presence as a leader is vital to your success. But how do you begin to refine this skill set? Start by considering what kind of presence you convey, and how that presence impacts your influence with teams.
Underlying a leader’s presence are sets of behaviors and actions directed toward team members in various situations. A leader must distinguish between the two prevailing behavioral approaches. In the task approach, leaders accomplish their goals by setting structures, organizing work, and defining roles and responsibilities. The relationship approach, on the other hand, employs behaviors to help teams feel at ease within a variety of situations.
In other words: Is the leader driven to treat team members as valued individuals and attend to their needs, or do they see team members as a means to achieving a goal? This approach will affect a leader and their team’s performance.
Project managers are constantly combining these two approaches to influence teams and attain a goal. Clearly, there are certain behaviors that emerge in one’s presence which increase one’s influence over teams. Examples include humility, honesty, confidence, composure and emotional intelligence. But the truth is, influencing teams takes a great deal of time and energy. There is only a certain amount of time and energy one dedicates in every moment. For many project managers this creates a challenge: What can a leader do to be present in every moment?
The opportunity does exist for leaders to train themselves to be present. By applying a certain regimen of actions, a leader can apply a thoughtful approach to increasing their presence. Dedicating yourself to increasing your energy and presence will result in positively influencing teams. Below is a list of four actions to help unleash one’s performance through increased energy, focus and presence:
Let me know how you unleash your performance. Please share your top behavior picks, why they define your presence, and how you successfully increased your influence with teams!
As a project manager, there’s perhaps nothing better than starting a new project. With it comes a fresh start and the promise of a successful conclusion. To me, it’s akin to starting a new year in school with new notebooks, where nothing has been written to spoil the fresh sheets of paper.
However, as we become more experienced as project managers, we’re called on more and more to assume control of a project already in motion. This might be triggered by a happy event, such as a promotion for the existing project manager, or a less-than-happy situation, such as a lack of progress on the project.
Assuming responsibility for a project that has already launched is a lot different than starting from the beginning. You won’t have the benefit of starting with a clean sheet of paper, and there will be things you need to do—and undo.
Here are three tips I always follow when assuming control of an existing project:
1. Assume Nothing
When starting a new project, you have the opportunity to perform mobilization and initiation activities to effectively set the project on a path to success. In addition, there are some early checkpoints where you can perform structured control actions to further assure the proper trajectory of the project.
While the existing project status reports can show the assumed disposition of a project, they may not reveal essential missing activities needed for project success. For example, an existing project might not have had the benefit of a thorough mobilization and initiation effort to properly set its course. In addition, there may be hidden or under-mitigated risks, emerging issues, stakeholder challenges and hidden dependencies that have not yet come to light.
When taking over an existing project, the first thing I do is review it in the same way I would a new project. Introducing a pause in project activities to perform a “soft reset” allows both confirmation of assumptions and validation of project progress.
In addition, this activity can reveal unseen factors that put the current project position in doubt. This is a good time to reforecast the remaining work. By assuming nothing about the project, the “soft reset” serves as a basis to properly transition the project towards success.
2. Match the Team to the Realistic Remaining Work
One of the most important facets of a soft reset is reforecasting the amount of remaining work. Use the existing forecast as a foundation for considering other factors that may influence the future progress of the project. These may include effort, scheduling conflicts (e.g., year-end holidays), upcoming business process changes and technology-readiness dependencies.
From the reforecast, compare these factors against the capacity and capabilities of the existing project team. Review whether you have the requisite skills and team members available for each phase of the project. In addition, consider the availability of key resources who cannot be readily substituted in case they are not able to work on the project. This examination of project resources by phase should include not only individual team members, but also team leads and third-party suppliers.
3. Engage More Frequently With the Most Accountable Stakeholder
While there are many inorganic components of a project, such as deliverables and status reports, often the most critical components revolve around the organic nature of people. Having strong executive sponsorship, a structured governance engagement model and open communication all enable project success.
When you are introduced as the new project manager on an existing effort, some change management work will need to be done to ensure a smooth transition.
Given the myriad stakeholders involved in a project, who should you start with? The typical consideration is to start with the most senior leadership stakeholder, who is typically also the project sponsor.
I think, however, a better place to start is with the most accountable stakeholder. This would be the person who after the project is implemented would manage the new solution to achieve the project objectives. In addition, this person would likely have the greatest knowledge of requirements and implementation considerations, which would be valuable to your soft reset.
Set Your Team Up for Success
Assuming control of an existing project should have that same level of attention to detail and precision. Now that you are leading this existing project, be sure to consider the factors shared above that confidently allow you to say, “I have the controls.”
When assuming existing projects, what sort of activities do you perform as part of a transition? I’d welcome other thoughts to help make us all better project managers.
By Ramiro Rodrigues
Is risk management just an exercise in paranoia?
That’s the question I’m often asked. I like to respond by saying there are both negative and positive risks.
A risk is a situation in which it cannot be certain whether a specific result will happen. That potential cannot be discounted. Thus, any risk hypothesis—whether for small or large risks—is subject to some sort of management strategy. While we often think of negative risks, positive risks present opportunities for organizational or project gains.
Risk management strategies can be applied to our daily lives. Take, for example, my own experience.
A few years ago, I was invited to hold a workshop on project management best practices for a service company. Concerned about the event, I decided to invite a colleague whom I trust to share the work (strategy: share) and increase the chances of the workshop being successful (strategy: improve). When checking his schedule, my colleague realized that he would be returning from a trip at 6 a.m. on the day of the workshop, which was scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Even knowing that flight delays are more common than we would like, we decided to take the risk (strategy: accept).
In the weeks leading up to the event the preparation flowed well. We met with the client and tested the presentation dozens of times (strategy: explore), but the possible flight delay did not leave my mind. For this reason, I studied not only my part of the presentation, but also that of my colleague (strategy: eliminate).
When the day arrived, I woke at 6 a.m. to find two messages from my colleague on my phone. The first one said, "I've landed?” This gave me a sigh of relief. The second said, "I'm really ill. I'm going to a hospital.” I called my colleague and verified the illness.
What a great irony! All my fears arising from my colleague's risk of a delayed flight were realized, but not because of that event.
Some changes were necessary. First, I had to substitute the car journey with a taxi (strategy: transfer). Second, I had to remove specific parts from the presentation to reduce the impact of my colleague’s absence (strategy: mitigate). Even without doing so through a documented plan, I had used all of the recognized risk response strategies.
For me, it became clear that the great gain from risk management is in the exercise of thinking beforehand and being able to choose the best options available.
The outcome of the workshop? I imagine it would have been better if my colleague had been able to attend. But judging from the applause and words of praise, I believe that it was a success.