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
Vivek Prakash
Christian Bisson
Cyndee Miller
David Wakeman
Jen Skrabak
Mario Trentim
Shobhna Raghupathy
Rex Holmlin
Roberto Toledo
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Wanda Curlee
Joanna Newman
Linda Agyapong
Jess Tayel
Ramiro Rodrigues
Soma Bhattacharya

Past Contributers:

Jorge Valdés Garciatorres
Hajar Hamid
Dan Goldfischer
Saira Karim
Jim De Piante
sanjay saini
Judy Umlas
Abdiel Ledesma
Michael Hatfield
Deanna Landers
Alfonso Bucero
Kelley Hunsberger
William Krebs
Peter Taylor
Rebecca Braglio
Geoff Mattie
Dmitri Ivanenko PMP ITIL

Recent Posts

3 Reasons Project Managers Are Like Jugglers

PMI + TED: Possibility Speaks

Adventures in Leadership

Disruption? No Prob for a Rogue Monkey Like You

Separating Standards and Knowledge Management

Viewing Posts by Cyndee Miller

PMI + TED: Possibility Speaks

by Cyndee Miller

There’s something about TED Talks that suck you in. Those big red letters on a stage signal this isn’t just another presentation. And TED’s 18-minute rule is genius. The videos are long enough to provide real substance—while feeling zero guilt about forwarding them on and building a veritable viral sensation—and short enough to keep you from checking your social feed. So I was wildly curious about what to expect walking into the closing session of this year’s EMEA Congress: As part of PMI joining forces with TED, attendees got a specially curated series of five live talks around the power of possibility.

“What’s possible in the world is really bound by two things if you think about it,” said Sally Kohh, a political pundit and TED speaker who hosted the event. “There’s what’s literally possible—what we can actually, tangibly, scientifically, physically do—and then there’s what we think is possible. And often we don’t try things—we don’t even think things—not because we can’t do them, but because we don’t think we can. We circumscribe our own aspirations and sense of the possible, and therefore actually constrict what’s possible before we even start.”

That all sounds lovely. But it also conjures up images of sunshine, kittens and unicorns. Then in walks Mona Chalabi, data editor at The Guardian, with her take on the possibility of information. Aside from my own personal addiction to news and numbers, I spend a lot of time wading through research reports. So I was instantly intrigued by what Ms. Chalabi had to say: “When it comes to numbers, especially now, you should be skeptical.”

Instead of blindly accepting (or rejecting) data, she challenged attendees to ask three questions—our very own sniff test of sorts:

  1. Can you see uncertainty?  
  2. Can you see yourself in the data?
  3. How was the data collected?

Data can be powerful, but it can also be used to drive division. Boston Consulting Group’s Julia Dhar discussed ways to find common ground by reshaping the way we talk to each other. It starts by separating a person’s identity from the idea—letting us ”open up to the idea that we might be wrong.” One tip from Ms. Dhar that project and program managers can immediately put to use: Devote 10 minutes of your meeting to real debate.

Anab Jain tackled another topic familiar to almost anyone in business, including most project professionals: trying to predict the future. Her advice? Stop being so passive.

“Today it can feel like things are happening too fast—so fast that it becomes really difficult to form an understanding of our place in history,” said Ms. Jain, co-founder of design and innovation studio Superflux. It can be so overwhelming that “we let the future just happen to us,” she adds. “We think of our future selves as strangers and the future as a foreign land.”

As you might suspect based on the sunshine, kittens and unicorns comment, I don’t exactly ooze optimism. So my ears perked up once again when human rights lawyer Simone George and Mark Pollock spoke about the dance between optimism and realism—or something else. “The realists have managed to resolve the tension between acceptance and hope by running them in parallel,” he said. Mr. Pollock had lost his vision at age 22, but was still running marathons around the world when he met Ms. George. After an accident left him paralyzed, the now-married couple went on a new quest, exploring the outer edges of spinal cord injury recovery with exoskeletons.

The final talk came from Ingrid Fetell Lee, who dug into the science behind joy. Sure, sometimes it’s just a superfluous extra driven by the inconsequential—ice cream cones, fireworks, bubbles—but Ms. Lee argues it helps create lifetime of happiness. “What we should be doing is embracing joy, and finding ways to put ourselves in the path of it more often.”

Check out more insights and info at PMI @ TEDSummit 2019 on 21-35 July in Edinburgh, Scotland and at the big PMI Global Conference on 5-7 October in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

And see you at next year’s EMEA Congress, happening 4-6 May in Prague, Czech Republic. Brzy se uvidíme

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: May 16, 2019 09:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Adventures in Leadership

By Cyndee Miller

Going to PMI EMEA Congress is a little bit like going back to school. You pick your sessions, learn a ton and (hopefully) come out with some new ideas on how you want to do things. But sometimes it’s good to be in on the action, too.

I personally was ready to bust out for some real-world adventure, so I headed over to One Microsoft Place. Part of Dublin’s burgeoning tech scene, Microsoft’s European HQ in Leopardstown, Dublin is still relatively new—it only made its grand debut last year. Home to some 2,000 staff members of roughly 70 nationalities, it was specifically designed to be a physical manifestation of the company’s digital transformation. So along with a rooftop garden with some pretty sweet views, the 34,000 square-meter (365,973 square-foot) digs include a “digital lake” comprised of 125,000 LEDs, a DreamSpace for teaching school kids all about tech—and plenty of collaborative spaces aimed at uniting the company under a common vision.

I wasn’t the only one checking out Dublin’s project scene. Some other adventurers headed over to the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. That one had to be interesting. I was there last summer to film a video case study about how the 235-year-old school revolutionized its training program—winning a 2018 PMI Award for Project Excellence along the way. Yet another group of congress attendees ventured over to Teeling Distillery to get all the technical details on how the upstart makes a whiskey good enough to take on local stalwarts like Jameson. (Probably best I left that one to others.)

Back at the convention center, my fellow attendees engaged in some more immersive sessions.

Opening keynoter Jamil Qureshi kicked off his interactive workshop with quite the question: If everyone in the world were to suddenly change genders, how would that transform how we act? How we lead? The decisions we make? Would there be more parity for women? Would there be less war? The workshop put into practice one of the key concepts from his Monday presentation: To act differently, you must first think differently.

Mr. Qureshi wasn’t the only one pushing attendees to change the way they think. Karin Hurt and David Dye of Let’s Grow Leaders challenged attendees to root out what incites a fear of speaking up at their organizations. Project managers drew those fears on index cards, then looked for commonalities among their fellow attendees. One thing that doesn’t work? An open-door policy, said Mr. Dye. Instead, leaders should get out there and ask questions—not wait for answers to come to them.

In another workshop, attendees faced a whole other kind of adventure with Mission Possible: Escape from Earth—Agile Edition. Santi Alcaide, PMP, of Play To Growth, and Alfred Maeso Aztarain, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, PMP, of Netmind, used the game to spark new ways of leading virtual teams.

And Maria Fafard, PMP, of Capital One introduced role-playing scenarios to teach project professionals how to be better facilitators, especially when conflict or tensions arise. “Before you facilitate any meeting, consider and mitigate any risks that may take your discussion off track,” she said.

The common denominator in all this immersion therapy? Project leaders are faced with a barrage of change, forcing fundamental shifts in how we think, work, play—and lead. How have you changed your leadership style?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: May 15, 2019 07:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Disruption? No Prob for a Rogue Monkey Like You

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?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: May 14, 2019 03:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Recognition That Goes Beyond International Women’s Day

 

by Cyndee Miller

There’s no denying the buzz around gender diversity and parity in the workplace over the last couple of years. Last May, when PM Network ran a cover story about the state of women in project management, we saw the issue taking on an “extraordinary and undeniable urgency, with demands for gender equality rising to a roar heard around the world.” From Washington, D.C., USA to Sydney, Australia, millions of people marched for the cause. In Spain alone, more than 5 million workers took part in a “feminist strike." And it looks this year will be the same.

So after all the protests, after all the articles about equal pay in the workplace, after all the calls for female representation in the C-suite, how is it that the world has made so little progress?

Indeed, by some measures, we’ve even slid back: Last year, proportionately fewer women participated in the labor force, according to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) latest Global Gender Gap Report. And the situation may get even worse in a workplace increasingly driven by rapidly changing technology. Working with LinkedIn, WEF found women represent only 22 percent of the artificial intelligence (AI) workforce and that they’re less likely to be in senior roles or signal expertise in high-profile, emerging AI skills.

At the current rate of change, WEF predicts it will take 202 years to achieve economic parity. Two centuries? That’s spectacularly depressing.

In some ways, the project management profession may serve as a blueprint for achieving greater workforce inclusivity. Women are now a fixture in the profession, often leading prominent or priority projects. Check out that picture above. Those are just some of the powerful female project and program managers featured in PM Network in the past year alone. These women delivered results, from rebuilding a veterans’ healthcare facility decimated by Hurricane Katrina to testing a viticulture robot on an Italian winery. They got it done. They made strategy a reality.

The project management profession isn’t perfect, though. As in many other fields, wage disparities persist. There’s an approximately US$11,000 gap between average male and female project manager salaries in the United States, according to the latest edition of PMI’s Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey. China follows a similar pattern: CNY220,036 for men versus CNY193,502 for women, on average.

So what needs to change? A big part of the problem comes down to actually recognizing there’s a problem. PMI 2019 Pulse of the Profession data show 65 percent of male respondents say women face “no major obstacles” in project management today. Only 39 percent of women agreed with that.

The blinders have to come off if organizations are going to attract the best project talent and capitalize on the full value women bring to the management ranks. And that’s going to take some real effort.

“Diversity, gender equality, it’s not something that changes overnight—because people’s opinions don’t change overnight, unfortunately,” says Kush Dhillon, engagement manager at Capgemini in London, England. “It’s a learning process.”

It’s also a process that must be fully supported by senior leaders committed to making it an ongoing conversation.

“And through that, I absolutely fundamentally believe—and it’s been proven—that the business will do better, the people in your business will be happier,” she says.

Ms. Dhillon is part of the upcoming episode, “Empowering Women and Girls” on Projectified™ With PMI. I got a sneak preview and strongly recommend you download it next Wednesday (13 March). After all, the discussion should go on long after we mark International Women’s Day today. (And while you’re at it, you should also check out “Women in Project Leadership — Gaining Ground” from last June.) You can also head over to fellow Voices blogger Jen Skrabak, PfMP, PMP, who recently took a look at three cognitive biases holding women back.

Get this right and the effects would be massive. According to the Women in Work Index 2019 from PwC, if Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries matched their female workforces to that of Sweden—which has a 69 percent female employment rate—the total GDP boost could be as much as US$6 trillion.

In the meantime, the reporter in me wants to hear about your experiences. Do women in project management still face significant obstacles? Are you seeing improvement?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: March 08, 2019 02:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Get Out of the Way

by Cyndee Miller

Project leaders aren’t exactly known as rebels.

And Luke Williams pulled no punches on why that needs to change, calling out project and program managers as frequent barriers to anything beyond incremental change. Too often, he said, they stick to established systems.

“Project management can exacerbate this path dependence,” the New York University professor said in his closing keynote at PMO Symposium. “You’re the ones enforcing this path.”

There’s far too little emphasis on delivering discontinuity, he said, which puts most organizations in a bad spot: Complacency is literally the most dangerous attitude in business.

So go ahead, chuck the best practices and traditional success measures and embrace your inner rebel. Forget reasonable predictions. Go for unreasonable provocations‪, Mr. Williams told attendees.

In his eyes, that’s the biggie: The most important thing a project leader does is manage the organization’s ideas. 

Not every idea is going to work—there are bound to be some spectacular flameouts. So he encouraged project leaders to give themselves and their teams permission to be wrong.

That mindset can admittedly be a wee bit unsettling. But if you're going to commit to disruptive change, he said, your job is not to make everyone happy—it’s to make everyone uncomfortable.

The upside, according to Mr. Williams: Truly unexpected ideas have less competition—which means a longer lead time for execution and a stronger chance of success.

Who’s ready to embrace their inner rebel?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: November 16, 2018 03:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)
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