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
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Jorge Valdés Garciatorres
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Jim De Piante
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Abdiel Ledesma
Michael Hatfield
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Viewing Posts by Jim De Piante

Want a Career Edge in 2013? Carpe Diem

Categories: Career Help

In my last post, I promised some pointers for what to do after you've identified your career goals.

My suggestion is to toss them aside. It may seem to defy career logic, but here's why it works: While our definition of success evolves slowly, the specific steps and goals that get us there can and should change with the circumstances. And circumstances are changing ever more rapidly.

For example, a meaningful goal can quickly turn into a waste of time with a corresponding opportunity cost.

I remember sitting down for my first career-planning session when I got into line management at IBM in the late 1980s. My manager and I carefully mapped out a plan that included various entry-level positions, followed by roles in middle management and then executive management. It all looked pretty good. Then along came the great upheavals of the late '80s and early '90s that stripped away entire layers of middle management.

I found myself with a plan that led to a place that no longer existed. I was trapped in career limbo, until finally I was forced into a role as a system architect. Frankly, that didn't work out very well. But in that role, I attended a conference on software development and learned about project management as a profession. It intrigued me, so I sought out more information about it. 

You see, the system architects on my team were brilliant technologists. But they weren't good at planning their own work. Opportunity! I suggested that perhaps I could add more value in the role of project manager. The rest, is history.

Had I relentlessly pursued the goals outlined in my career plan, I probably wouldn't have survived past 1992. But when serendipity and opportunity intersected, I seized the moment. As a result, I've had a rewarding career, one in which I see myself as successful. (In this regard, my perspective is the only one that counts.)

The moral of the story? Where you will end up in your career 25 years from now may have nothing to do with your grand visions of today.

Here are a few other suggestions to keep you on course but flexible:

  • Keep a short horizon. The further out you plan, the less your actual future will look like your vision of it.
  • Seize the moment. Anticipate serendipity. Plan for it. 
  • Stay aware of what's going on around you and inside of you. Revise your goals accordingly.

Systematically pursuing relevant goals and adopting new ones as others become irrelevant is a delicate balance. But the resulting career agility is well worth the effort.

Posted by Jim De Piante on: January 08, 2013 10:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

What Are Your Project Management Career Goals?

People with clear, written goals, accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could ever imagine.
- Brian Tracy, CEO of Bryan Tracy International, a leadership development firm

What are your career goals? Have you examined them recently? Do they still make sense given that you or your position may have changed since setting them? Do they still make sense given that the world around you has no doubt changed since you set them?

If you're having a hard time deciding what your career goals are, remember this: Every goal you choose should be based on how it will or will not contribute to your career success.

I learned from both my own career, and from having spoken to hundreds of people about theirs, that difficulties in setting career goals are almost invariably tied to not having a clear and internally derived definition of career success.

Some possible goals you might have, though you will certainly have others to add to this list, include:

•    Flexibility in your career
•    Self-employment
•    Employment (if unemployed or self-employed)
•    Greater or lesser responsibility
•    Better clientele
•    More fun projects
•    Promotion
•    Early retirement
•    Better work-life balance
•    Skills improvement
•    A credential or certification

Before you set your career goals, think about what constitutes success for you. Does this definition come from you or is it something you got from someone else? Have you documented this definition? Once you know your own definition of success, choosing goals becomes much easier.

In my opinion, if you want to achieve greater success in your project management career, these steps can help:

1.    Define and understand what success means to you personally
2.    Articulate it in writing
3.    Identify the goals that will move you closer to success
4.    Document your goals so as to activate your Reticular Activating System (RAS)
5.    Share them with your network so as to activate its RAS
6.    Make a plan to implement your goals
7.    Reevaluate your goals periodically
8.    Adjust them accordingly
9.    Go back to step one

In my next post, I'll give some pointers for what to do after you've identified your goals.

In the meantime, I would be interested to know what success means to you personally. Which goals would you add to my list of possibilities? Which goals have you  identified for yourself?


Posted by Jim De Piante on: November 02, 2012 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Help Your Network Pay Attention to Your Career

Categories: Career Help

Our careers exist in the context of that intricate web of family, friends and colleagues that we call our network.

I've often drawn an analogy between that network, as an organism of sorts, and our own brains. For example, when our brains make more robust connections, our network of cells becomes "smarter." Likewise, we become more adept at things that we use our brain connections for and our network becomes more adept as we use the connections we've created.

In the same way that we as project professionals are bombarded by an overwhelming number of stimuli, so too is our professional network. And likewise, the network can only take notice of a very small number of things. The majority of what it encounters simply has to be ignored.

I previously wrote about how we can sensitize the part of our brains called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) to help us achieve career objectives. If the above the analogy holds up (and I think it does), we should be able to sensitize our network to help us advance our project management careers in the same way that we can sensitize our own minds.

Simply setting a goal mentally sensitizes the mind to events that can help us achieve that goal. Similarly, articulating a goal to our network, especially in writing, sensitizes our peers' minds, creating spots of sensitivity within the network. The network becomes sensitized and can attribute new meaning to the same stuff that has been happening all around it. All of a sudden, everything seems to become aligned to your purpose.

For example, if you tell your professional network that you are looking for job, it becomes something your peers are aware of. When they see an open project management position, rather than skip over it, they think of your job search.

As a participating member of this network, you can work with others to sensitize your mind to their purpose. You will pay attention to things that you otherwise would have ignored that will help you to help them achieve their career goals.

As I have often said, networking is a generous activity. When you give without thinking of getting, you will find that the network gives back more than what you put in. Don't doubt it! Not for a moment.

How have you benefitted from your network?

Posted by Jim De Piante on: August 24, 2012 11:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Stick to Project Management Basics

The importance of fundamentals in project management is obvious, but easy to lose sight of.

As professionals who constantly strive to improve, we study, read, take courses, attend seminars, listen to podcasts and more -- all to become better project managers. Ironically, sometimes this desire to learn causes us to lose focus on the fundamentals.

Instead, we look to novelty, the latest trends and perhaps even the latest fads in the interest of improving.

Likewise, we might embrace sophisticated techniques without ensuring that we've properly implemented the basic things on which the sophisticated techniques depend.

I've often heard great sports figures and musicians emphasize the importance of fundamentals in their success. Project managers would do well to place similar emphasis on the basics of our profession. I'd go even further to suggest that before we embrace any new or sophisticated technique, we should first look at how well we are implementing the fundamentals.

For example, what good does it do us to implement the latest agile techniques on a project where we haven't adequately implemented rudimentary change management disciplines? Similarly, what good would it do to implement Monte Carlo simulations in a context where we haven't adequately identified basic risks?

In my estimation, our success depends almost entirely on how well we have implemented fundamental risk and change management processes.

Things go wrong and plans change -- yet we often charge ahead without adequately planning and preparing for those realities. Certainly, our intuition tells us this is true, and our experience validates our intuition. Yet it still often happens that we lose sight of the obvious fact that the basics matter and matter most.

If you should ever waiver in your conviction, look no further than PMI's 2012 Pulse of the Profession. The report notes that change management and project management basics are among the most critical project success factors.

New and sophisticated techniques have their place, but the best thing to do in any profession is to go back to basics. Don't let the allure of the sophisticated or the novel, distract us from the value of fundamentals.

To discuss Pulse of the Profession on Twitter, please use #pmipulse.

See more on the Pulse of the Profession.

Posted by Jim De Piante on: July 19, 2012 11:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Pay Attention to Your Project Management Career

Categories: Career Help

Throughout the workday, project professionals are bombarded by an overwhelming number of stimuli. And yet we can only take notice of a very small number of things.

The majority of what we encounter simply has to be ignored. At a subconscious level, our brains constantly sift through all of the inputs, deciding what can be ignored and what warrants consideration at a conscious level. This process is managed by the Reticular Activating System (RAS).

When we learn a new word, for example, the RAS sensitizes the unconscious mind to that word. When we encounter the same word again (which we had ignored in the past), we will immediately take notice.

We can take advantage of this sensitization process to help us advance our project management careers by setting an explicit career goal.

In the same way that the "new" word we learned existed before we learned it, there are things taking place in our lives that could be enormously helpful to us in our careers -- but we are ignoring them. Setting a goal sensitizes the mind such that we will take notice of things that we would previously have ignored and we will assign meaning to things that were previously meaningless.

Simply setting the goal mentally does a lot to sensitize the mind to events that can help us achieve the goal. Articulating the goal in writing sensitizes it even further. Reviewing the goal periodically sensitizes the mind further still.

Know what you want to achieve in your career. Write it down. Review it periodically. These three steps will make you consciously aware of your goal and give new meaning to the same old stuff that has been happening all around you.

This "new" conscious awareness will further sensitize the mind to related and useful things. As you then pursue possibilities with such heightened awareness, the process accelerates. All of the sudden, everything seems to become aligned to your purpose.

It was all along. You just weren't paying attention!

Do you have any examples of how goal setting has heightened your awareness of events that have helped you fulfill your goals?
 
Posted by Jim De Piante on: May 10, 2012 12:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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- Douglas Adams