Viewing Posts by Jen Skrabak
By Jen L. Skrabak, PfMP, PMP
“It is not the strongest that survive, but those most adaptable to change.” —Charles Darwin
It seemed as if everything changed overnight when the news of the COVID-19 pandemic broke. In California, where I am located, we went from the hustle and bustle of going to work every day and an abundance of options in travel, restaurants, entertainment and events to self-isolation, mandatory family time and the shuttering of many businesses.
We adapted quickly to schools and workplaces being closed. And most project managers, who are fortunate to fit into the small percentage of the workforce able to work remotely, are working from home.
So, what can we learn from all this change? It’s important to reflect on the leadership lessons that will carry us through this crisis—and beyond:
1. Welcome change.
I think the area that reflects the greatest change to everyday life is the grocery store. As essential businesses, grocery retailers were forced to change their business model and how they operate while staying open and serving customers. Each day, stores implemented new procedures to adapt to rapidly shifting federal, state and local requirements.
I was at a grocery store recently and noticed how, in a span of days, the business had changed its hours, hired thousands of new workers to stock shelves, implemented hourly cleaning procedures, installed new systems for checkout, managed a surge in online orders and even adjusted how groceries were bagged. California typically charges a fee for plastic bags to encourage shoppers to bring their own. That’s changed. Many stores no longer want you to bring your own bags, and now they are giving away bags for free. During a recent visit to my local grocer, the cashier told me they were running out of bags, and I said I could just take the larger items without having them bagged. I commented on the shifting dynamic I witnessed.
The cashier replied: “It will change again.”
It’s a great sentiment and true demonstration of leadership from someone who is experiencing a great amount of change every day at work. It’s not just the changes that are forced upon us, but more importantly, how we adapt to those changes with agility. It starts with us.
2. Master agility.
When this crisis is over (and it will be), take the time to understand what distinct behaviors work well rather than just going back to the way things were. I have found that turning on the video in conference calls is a more effective way to engage with teams vs. just having audio. In fact, research shows that 80 percent of people on audio-only conference calls are multi-tasking. And people rely on body language to help understand the message. The most important takeaway is to approach new things with curiosity and a desire to learn. Don’t just return to your comfort zone.
3. Work with what you’ve got.
It seems that every day, we hear new information that conflicts with the old information. First, the experts told us not to wear masks. Or that only N95 masks are effective. Then, we were told to wear masks when we went outside and that any cloth or scarf would be fine.
When dealing with complex issues, there is a constant stream of new information that we must digest and react to. The ability to keep working well and moving forward, despite the ambiguity, means that we don’t wait for the perfect information in order to start developing and executing plans.
4. Embrace the now.
If you took it for granted that you could get a haircut, go to that restaurant you’ve always wanted to try or travel to a dream destination anytime, we now know that things can change in an instant. Procrastination may result in objectives not getting met at all or a delay that may last months or years.
The lesson here is to prioritize what’s important—and do it now. Good time management practices show that handling something (like an email) once and making a decision on it right away is more effective than putting it aside or making a task list to deal with it later.
5. Be thankful.
While this is a stressful and difficult time, there’s also a lot to be grateful for, such as more time with family, no commute, less pollution and a focus on simplicity. Take a moment at the start of each day to remind yourself of three things that you’re thankful for—and why they are really important to you. It will make you happier and more focused for the day ahead.
What leadership lessons has the pandemic taught you? Sound off in the comments below.
By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP
The future is female—but it appears project management is behind the times.
An estimated 30 percent of project managers are women, dominating administrative (project coordinator) roles instead of taking on managerial responsibilities.
As we look at income, women working in project management around the world rake in a fraction of what their male counterparts earn:
Source: Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey—Eleventh Edition, PMI, 2020. Originally published in the March/April 2020 issue of PM Network.
Gender inequality in project management is inescapable—but it’s not irreversible.
In a male-dominated field, how do we start carving out an equal playing field for all? Here are seven challenges we as project professionals should tackle to change that narrative:
Earlier this month, we celebrated International Women’s Day and honored the women leading project management into the future. How are you empowering women to grow within the project management field and in your organization?
By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP, MBA
As we close out 2019 at work, wrap up projects, and plan to spend time with our families for the holidays, sometimes we forget this is the best time to prepare for the year to come. Here are my five tips to get you in the mindset:
1. 2020 starts now.
The traditional thinking is that nothing happens from Thanksgiving to New Year’s since hiring managers and companies are preparing for the holidays.
The real situation is that everything happens at the end of the year. Companies are busy preparing for next year, and, from personal experience, November/December has been the busiest time for recruiting senior-level portfolio/program executives. Hitting the ground running starting Jan. 1 means that 2020 starts now.
Key questions for you to start your 2020 planning:
2. Ladder up your experiences and skills.
The traditional thinking is that a career ladder is about getting a new title at the next level with a higher salary.
The real situation is that building your career is about learning agility and building a repertoire of experiences and micro roles. If you’ve been in program or portfolio management for seven years or more, it may start to feel that you’ve “been there, done that.” To get to the next level of experiences, ask yourself: In 2020, how will you learn a new skill, gain a new experience or learn from someone?
3. Transformation must be visible.
The traditional thinking is that transformation is about organizational change management, which is mainly instituted through a variety of communication methods and channels (memos, town halls, workshops, staff meetings, etc.). In a recent viral stationary bike ad, the woman depicted before and after the transformation looked the same—many people had issues with the cognitive dissonance where she said that her life changed so much, but the change was not visible.
The real situation is that transformation is more than just communication. Instead of telling people what the change is, the approach should be to actively demonstrate the change so people can experience it. Transformation at the organizational level is about behavior change.
When I implement a large-scale organizational change, I personally lead up interactive training sessions to teach people about the change, as well as follow-up sessions where I’m hands-on in mentoring and coaching people on the new skills. It’s a great way to get real-time feedback about the change, and most importantly, to be seen as the expert coach within the organization enabling the change. This has been very effective in building trust and credibility in the organization.
4. Create space.
The traditional thinking is that when you see a good idea for a program, go implement it—quickly—to take advantage of speed to market.
The real situation is, just like a cluttered drawer that you keep adding to, a portfolio can be cluttered if not systematically managed. From a personal standpoint, I had to move recently, and I was surprised at how many things I found in the back of the drawer that I forgot existed. When I emptied it out and scrutinized every item, I discovered that 30-40 percent of the items were not needed or were no longer useful since they were damaged, broken or just plain outdated. By getting rid of items, I created space for new items and technology, just like in an organization.
The steps to portfolio management in an organization are:
5. Volunteer for your next role.
The traditional thinking is that your manager assigns you the next program or role.
The real situation is you are responsible for actively managing your next role. You should tell the right managers and other leaders what you would like your next program or role to be.
Don’t wait: What is your plan for starting 2020 now?
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 Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP
Over nearly two decades in project management, I’ve learned a number of strategies to make my voice heard and advance in my career. Much of that success has come by “leaning in,” as Sheryl Sandberg advocates.
As a woman in project management, I believe the following are key:
International Women’s Day is March 8, and this year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter. Please share your thoughts on how we celebrate the achievement of women while we continue to strive for balance for women socially, economically and culturally around the world.