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

Recent Posts

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Promoting Project Management In Conversation

The Strategic Alignment of the Project Portfolio (Part 2)

The Strategic Alignment of the Project Portfolio (Part 1)

5 Steps to Manage Project Dependencies

Viewing Posts by Lynda Bourne

The Project Manager’s Influence, Part 2

Categories: Stakeholder, Teams

by Lynda Bourne

In my last post, I discussed one of the more effective approaches for understanding team interaction: the McKinsey 7-S framework. The basic premise of framework is that there are seven internal aspects of an organization that need to be aligned for a company to succeed:  

  • Strategy: The agreed-upon approach to accomplishing the project’s objectives
  • Structure: The way the project team is organized, including who reports to whom
  • Systems: The tools, techniques, and processes used by the team to execute the strategy
  • Shared Values: The core values of the team that are evidenced in its culture and general work ethic.
  • Style: The behavior patterns of the team, how people interact, and their approaches to leadership and authority
  • Staff: The makeup of the team — “having the right people on the bus,” as Jim Collins writes in his book Good to Great
  • Skills: The existing skills and competencies of team members

Project managers can have the most impact on style and shared values. These elements are typically set at the beginning of a project and new team members tend to adapt based on what they see from their colleagues.

Changing these elements mid-project is difficult. If you start right, the tendency will be to perpetuate the good behaviors as the team grows.

However, if you need to spur a shift, I suggest taking these steps:

  • Start with shared values. Are they consistent with your structure, strategy, and systems? If not, what needs to change and how can those changes be implemented?
  • Examine the hard elements next. How well does each one support the others? Identify where changes need to be made. The project’s objectives don’t change but everything else can be adapted (including the strategic approach) to maximize the chance of a successful delivery.
  • Finally, look at the soft elements. Do they support the desired shared values? Do they support the desired hard elements? Do they support one another? If not, what needs to change?

As you adjust and align the elements, you'll need to use an iterative approach. Make adjustments, then analyze how those changes have impacted other elements and their alignment. This may sound like hard work, but the end result of better performance will be worth it.

What are your tips for shifting your team’s style and shared?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: March 29, 2017 04:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

The Elements of Team Interaction, Part 1

by Lynda Bourne

I’ve always thought the McKinsey 7-S framework is one of the most effective approaches for understanding team interaction. Originally focused on large organizations, the concepts are equally valid for smaller groups, such as project teams. Let’s take a look.

Developed in the early 1990s by McKinsey & Co. consultants Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman, the basic premise of the McKinsey 7-S framework is that there are seven internal aspects of an organization that need to be aligned for a company to succeed.

These elements are considered either “hard” or “soft”. The hard elements are easier to define, and management can directly influence them. They are:

  • Strategy: The agreed-upon approach to accomplishing the project’s objectives
  • Structure: The way the project team is organized, including who reports to whom
  • Systems: The tools, techniques, and processes used by the team to execute the strategy

The project’s strategy shapes the other hard elements, as the systems and structures used by the team need to support the implementation of the strategy — not work against it. The optimum structures and systems used in an agile project will be quite different, for example, than those used in a more traditional project.

The soft elements are more difficult to define, measure and document because they are influenced by personalities and company culture. They are:

  • Style: The behavior patterns of the team, how people interact, and their approaches to leadership and authority
  • Staff: The makeup of the team — “having the right people on the bus,” as Jim Collins writes in his book Good to Great
  • Skills: The existing skills and competencies of team members

The soft elements are probably more important than the hard elements. When you have a team made up of the “right people” (staff) with the “right skills” working in the “right way” (style) to achieve a shared vision, deficiencies in strategy, structure and systems can be mitigated.

At the center of both the hard and soft elements are Shared Values — the core values of the team that are evidenced in its culture and general work ethic.

As shared values change, so will all the other elements. But when all seven elements are aligned they have enormous power to generate project success.

Have you used the McKinsey 7-S model or something similar on your projects? How can this type of approach help drive team performance improvements?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: March 24, 2017 06:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

The Importance of ACCURATE Communication

Categories: Ethics

by Lynda Bourne

 

A number of recent examples from the corporate arena illustrate that being oblivious to unethical or illegal behaviour happening within an organization is not an acceptable excuse for allowing it to occur. Leaders will be held responsible—even when they claim to have no knowledge of the situation.

In a recently reported case, a very senior director was found to be in breach of his duties by the Federal Court of Australia because he didn’t make appropriate inquiries when alerted to the possibility of illegal actions taking place within his organization.

This is far from a unique example. The people governing your organization are coming under increasing pressure to know what is going on at every level — and to take appropriate actions as necessary.

What does this mean for the average person working in a project management office (PMO) or on a project team? Because projects and programs are becoming increasingly important to the development and growth of organizations, information about the performance of projects and programs now plays a critical role in the governance of the organization. This means you are responsible for ensuring the information delivered to executives is accurate.

But you cannot fulfil this obligation alone. It takes a team effort.

Ensuring the right information reaches the right levels of the organization involves creating the right governance systems and structures. These systems operate best in a culture of openness and accountability — and require leadership from the highest levels of the organization to operate well.

Project professionals can support these systems, but we cannot do a lot to create the necessary culture. We can, however, have a major influence on how information is created and disseminated in the governance system.

The key facets we can control are interlinked and interdependent, and are summed up in the acronym ACCURATE:

Available: The project information has to be accessible in various appropriate formats to all levels of management.

Complete: The project information needs to provide a full picture of the current and forecasted situation.

Concise: Executives are busy people—excessive detail does not help. They need to understand the bottom line.

Understandable: Project management is full of technical jargon. While we may understand the difference between EAC and VAC, executives will not. Communicate in business language.

Relevant: Just because it’s important to the project team doesn’t mean it’s important to the overall organization. Communicate information that is relevant to the achievement of business objectives.

Auditable: If asked, you need to be able to provide the source of the information and the processing steps taken to consolidate and communicate the information.

Timely: Markets operate in a 24-hour news cycle. Important information needs to be communicated immediately (you cannot wait for the monthly report).

Explainable: Project professionals need to be available to explain the information and help executives understand the consequences (typically this is a key role of an effective PMO).

Just as witnesses in court promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, project professionals have an ethical responsibility to make sure the information they are communicating meets this standard and is also ACCURATE.

How can you work toward ACCURATE communication in the New Year?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: January 11, 2017 07:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

From Data to Wisdom: Creating & Managing Knowledge

Categories: Communication

By Lynda Bourne

The effective management of knowledge has received some extra attention in PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Sixth Edition (to be published in 2017).

And it should—it’s an important area.

While there are many aspects to effective knowledge management, in this post, I want to take a look at the foundation: transforming data into wisdom from a project controls perspective.

As astronomer Clifford Stoll once said, Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.”

He had a point—information changes in character as it is processed. Consider work performance data, the raw observations and measurements made during the execution of project work. For example, knowing that an activity is 25 percent complete on its own has little direct value.

Basic information starts to be created out of this data when it is analysed and assessed. For example, an analysis of this data might reveal the activity should be 75 percent complete and, as a consequence, is running three days late.

This information then becomes useful when it is placed in context and integrated with other relevant bits of information. For example, a report might explain that the activity is on the critical path and the delay has a direct effect on the predicted project completion date.

Converting that useful information into knowledge means communicating it to the right people. For example, when someone reads the report, he or she becomes aware that the activity is running late.

Understanding that knowledge requires the person to interpret and appreciate the consequences of the delay. Interpreting one piece of information to create understanding can happen in many different people’s minds (lots of people may read the report) and each will derive very different insights from the same set of facts. One person may see the delay as relatively minor, while another may think it’s critically important. Understanding is based on the frame through which each person views the fact.

Finally, using the person’s understanding of the situation to inform wise decisions and actions is completely dependent on the capabilities, attitude and experience of the individual.

 

Who Controls that Conversion of Data?

PMBOK® Guide Fig. 3.5

As shown in the extract from the PMBOK® Guide Fifth Edition above, project controls professionals drive the conversion of data into useful information. By using work performance reports to communicate effectively, they can actively encourage the transition of information into knowledge in key people’s minds, and by providing context and advice they can positively influence the development of that person’s understanding to support wise decision making (manifested in the “project management plan updates”).

But achieving this effect requires more than simply collecting and processing data. It requires analysis, insight and effective communication skills.

How effectively do you transform raw data into useful information that helps your key stakeholders make wise decisions?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: December 05, 2016 05:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Are You a Decisive or Divisive Decision Maker?

Categories: Communication

By Lynda Bourne

The way decisions are made can lead to division and discord—or to understanding and commitment. What’s your style?

The Divisive Decision Maker

Divisive decision makers give the appearance of strength and speed.  Every issue is quickly reviewed by the manager (even when they don’t necessarily need to be involved) and a decision is decreed. The manager then expects everyone to comply with the outcome; dissent and alternatives are not tolerated (to do so would be a sign of weakness).

The problems with divisive decision-making include:

  • The assumption that, in all things, the leader knows best.
  • There is a lack of consensus—people are expected to do what they’re told.
  • There is no commitment from the rest of the team to implement the decision.
  • There is a high likelihood the decision will stop being implemented when the manager looks away to focus on the next important decision.

Unfortunately, in many situations, being seen as an assertive decision maker is confused with being an effective decision-maker.

The Decisive Decision Maker

Decisive decision makers recognize that making a decision is only one step along the road to a good outcome. They know they need others to collaborate if the decision is going to achieve the intended result and actually stick. Rather than rushing, they spend time thinking through the decision-making process.

Considerations for the decisive decision maker include:

  1. How urgent is the decision? As with the divisive decision maker, decisive decision makers know that a prompt decision is better than a delayed decision. And, in an emergency, the best option is for the decision maker to issue an order and use his or her authority to enforce the decision. However, the vast majority of decisions do not need an immediate answer (even if a senior manager is asking for one “NOW!”). And in those instances, the decisive decision maker spends time thinking through the best options to achieve the outcome he or she would like.
  2. Does the leader need to make the decision or does the leader need to facilitate a decision-making process? Unlike divisive decision makers, decisive decision makers do not need to be the fountain of all decisions. They let the right people make the decision and let those people take credit for the work. They use their authority to support an effective process, taking the actual decision-making role only when needed to get the best outcome.
  3. What type of decision is being made? Decisive decision-makers understand there are various types of decisions (ranging from simple problems to dilemmas and beyond) and use this knowledge to determine the best decision-making process for each situation.

Decisive decision making allows the leader to use the decision-making process to reinforce the team and build commitment to the overall project and to making the specific decision stick.

 

Also, because the decisive decision maker focuses on achieving the best outcomes, they are better positioned to review and adapt any decision if later or better information shows that an improvement or change is desirable. (At the same time, however, decisive decision makers know the difference between dithering—the hallmark of people who cannot make decisions—and making prudent changes to a decision based on new circumstances.)

A divisive decision maker, on the other hand, tends to see any change to a decision they have made as a threat to their credibility as a decision maker.

What tips do you have for dealing with divisive decision makers?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: November 30, 2016 03:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)
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