Viewing Posts by David Wakeman
Reflections on My Favorite Projects
Categories: Lessons Learned
by Dave Wakeman
Happy birthday, PMI! You gave us 50 years of projects, and all I’m giving you is this column with three of my favorite projects of all time? I kid. But reflecting on the impact of PMI and project management over the last 50 years got me thinking about how projects are at the core of so many improvements, big and small.
The three I want to highlight this month reflect the ambition that project managers can have, the global impact of a great project, and where the next huge project innovations may be. Let’s take a look at my three favorite projects:
Putting a Man on the Moon
Can I really start anywhere else? For my money this is the best example of what great project managers, an excellent PMO and strong leadership can create. While it isn’t just one project, I think putting a man on the moon highlights several things that PMI pioneered over the years—two I want to highlight specifically.
First, vision. When U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower first proposed the idea of Project Apollo, it was all about getting a three-man crew into space. By the time the project was complete, the United States had sent men to the moon seven times, successfully landing and completing their mission six of those times.
Second, innovation. The scope of Project Apollo changed over time, growing from the initial plan of putting a few men in space to putting man on the moon. That meant we needed new technologies and new ideas to get us there. One of the hallmarks of a successful project manager is the ability to create something out of nothing, knowing what the goal of the project is and having the framework to work within to achieve success.
Project Apollo showed us that with the right goals, vision and sponsorship, we can accomplish almost anything.
The Debut of the iPhone
I’m torn on this, probably like a lot of folks, because we’ve seen that as much as technology has helped us connect, learn and communicate, we have also seen the negatives. I’m going to keep the iPhone on my list of favorite projects for one simple reason that should be important to project managers: It had a clear and great project scope.
What was termed Project Purple 2 was Steve Jobs’ attempt to create a computer with a touchscreen that you could use to directly interact with your device. When he came up with the idea of building it into a phone, the technology was new and the capacity of achieving a phone that would work without a keyboard was untested.
But the ambition and scope of creating a computer that doubled as a phone that you could type on with your fingers won out, and our lives have never been the same.
Tesla and Electric Cars in General
I’ll claim bias here because I know there were electric cars before Tesla came along, but Tesla was the first electric car that made it cool to drive electric.
We can look at the original Tesla roadster as the project that launched it all. The concept was for Tesla founder, Martin Eberhard, to create a high-mileage sports car, solving a need for himself. When Elon Musk got involved in 2004, he helped move the company towards using the proceeds of the car to help fund the development of mass-market cars.
All of this is fine, but the real importance of the project shows up in the way that the company wasn’t happy with the way that the motor and transmission worked in the chassis, forcing Tesla to build its own engines and power sources.
What followed was the most advanced rechargeable battery for cars that the world has ever seen—revolutionizing what is possible from an electric car.
This final project highlights how things build off each other and how projects are the basis of all good things that come to us. Because if we hadn’t developed the technology to put a man on the moon, we may have never been able to uncover the components and the technologies needed to put a computer in our pocket. And if we didn’t have a computer in our pocket, how would I ever be able to use my phone as my car key!
While that last point is a reach, my final point is that the greatest gift PMI has given all of us as professionals over the last 50 years is a chance to learn, grow and repeat the process in a way that we can build off of all the people that came before us. For that we should all be grateful!
Happy 50th, PMI: Here’s to the next 50! Please share your thoughts on these impressive projects below.
By Dave Wakeman
How do we present ourselves to our teams? That’s something I didn’t think about deeply until recently, when I started hanging out with Harrison Monarth, author of Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO.
I had considered it, of course, but not as something I could focus on or change. And I never connected it to the effectiveness of our leadership.
But as I thought about executive presence more and more, I realized that everything we do is marketing. So why wouldn’t that bleed into the way we manage our teams? That’s why I wanted to take a moment to highlight how you can improve your presence and leadership.
Manage How People Perceive You
This became a big issue for me in January when I was at a conference in Texas. At least a dozen people came up to me, waving their phones in my face, practically yelling, “I listen to your podcast and I love it.”
First, I didn’t realize so many people heard my podcast, even though I knew the numbers said thousands of people a month were listening.
Second, I never thought about the way I presented myself to others because I didn’t realize people were paying attention to me.
I think many of us fall into that category. We take actions, live our lives and never realize we are being paid attention to. As leaders, we have to manage the way we are perceived.
This means that our tone of voice, our dress, the way we delegate and lead meetings—basically everything we do—impacts how our teams see us, judge us and react to us. Everything counts.
For all of you, this means you’d likely benefit from taking a few moments to jot down how you want to be perceived. Then ask yourself whether you are living up to those expectations. If you are, great! If you aren’t, what actions will you take to change that?
Get Into the Motivation Game
I like to think everyone has a certain level of self-motivation. I believe this is true, but I’d be lying if I said this means everyone is self-motivated in the way that I want them to be. As a project leader, you are likely confronting this same situation.
I recently read an interesting story about Pat Riley, the legendary coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and Miami Heat. He’s famous for throwing a bag of championship rings on the table when he was recruiting LeBron James to join Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in Miami.
Riley clearly knows a thing or two about motivation, but the story I read took this to another level. I learned that he would give a new 20-minute motivational speech to his team each day. From what I can gather, he never repeated them.
This alone is impressive, but what is relevant to our discussion here is that Riley used these stories to motivate his team and to instill the right mindset and values.
As we consider how we want to be reflected to our teams, it’s important to think about how we want them to act and behave. That doesn’t happen by chance. It is our job to motivate and inspire our teams to do their jobs in a way that reflects our shared values and goals.
I challenge you to spend a few moments thinking about how you can inspire and lead your team. Consider the following: What stories should you share, which examples should you use and what values do you want to instill?
Be Willing to Have Difficult Conversations
I don’t know anyone who has rushed headfirst into every difficult conversation. Everyone has struggled to begin a conversation at some point. Yet one of the keys to successful leadership is the ability to deliver difficult conversations when you don’t want to. Often, this ties into the idea of accountability.
If you bought into my idea about motivation, you probably recognize the importance of accountability. In many instances, accountability, motivation and difficult conversations go hand-in-hand.
If you aren’t holding people accountable with real deadlines, consequences and feedback, you aren’t really being a leader and your presence is suffering.
To maximize your presence, you have to be willing to have difficult conversations. You can make them easier by understanding exactly what you need to convey and sticking to your planned talking points to ensure you hit your key objectives. Couple this with meaningful accountability in the form of clearly spelled-out expectations, deadlines and consequences in case of non-performance. By doing so, you can achieve real accountability and ease some of the pressure of tough conversations.
This idea of presence is something I’m still working through, but I’m curious about what you think. Let me know in the comments.
by Dave Wakeman
I’ve been doing some reading on leadership. I don’t know exactly what brought the topic to mind, but I think it’s a combination of coaching my 9-year-old son’s soccer team and seeing institutions struggle to get people to take responsibility for their actions.
As project managers, you are leaders in your organization and your team. That’s why I wanted to highlight a few leadership lessons I learned coaching a bunch of 9-year-olds—lessons you can apply to your teams.
Simplify Your Message
When we were coaching our soccer team, the other parent coaching with me came up with the 3 Ps that symbolized what we wanted our kids to learn over the course of the season.
Those Ps were:
Each P represents a principle we wanted to teach the kids about life and soccer. Passing was about being a good teammate and recognizing that you have to work together.
Possession was about paying attention to what is going on around you and making the proper decision.
Pressure was about taking action and initiative.
You can see how much these things apply in life. What would happen if you broke your own message down into a simple format? Maybe even 3 Ps for your project?
In a lot of businesses and teams, people love responsibility but never want to make decisions. In coaching youth soccer, you learn pretty quickly that if you don’t have a plan and you don’t act with intention, the kids will run all over you. I think the same happens in projects without strong leadership.
If you aren’t acting quickly and decisively, your team can start taking actions that are inconsistent with your goals and ambitions. But how do you act decisively, especially when you are operating in situations with little clarity?
Four steps stand out to me:
Recognize the Buck Stops With You
The most important thing in coaching and project management is that you have to be responsible—win or lose, succeed or fail. You have to take ownership of the outcomes you produce, no matter what.
Why is this so important? Because when a team doesn’t have a strong talisman to identify with and look to for support, it can create a situation where the team underperforms, has a lot of disagreements and doesn’t meet its goals.
The best way to accomplish this is to be decisive, as mentioned earlier, be clear in your communications, and be consistent in your demands and expectations.
If you do all of that, you will hopefully find that you are not just a project manager, but a project leader.
Have you found a way to distill your leadership strategy into a simple message for your project teams? Please comment below.
By David Wakeman
I’ve got a hypothesis I want to drop on you: Being a project manager is a lot like being a juggler.
Many of you may be scratching your heads, asking the question: “What is Dave thinking?”
Hear me out. I’ve got three examples to support my hypothesis.
1. Project managers, like jugglers, are required to keep a lot of balls in the air. You have to manage your team, communicate to your stakeholders, run changes and a whole host of other things.
A great juggler, or a crazy one, might be juggling a chainsaw or a dozen balls. Although I never learned to be a good juggler, I do know that the key skill is focusing on one ball at a time.
The same can be said for a project manager. You may have 20 things on your to-do list, but you can’t do all 20 things at once. You can only do one thing at a time.
This is important because if you’re trying to send an email to a stakeholder at the same time you’re having an in-person conversation with another stakeholder, you probably aren’t giving either of them your full attention. And you could miss the opportunity to make a point, get information or create change.
Need I say what happens if you take your attention off a chainsaw?
2. Project managers, like jugglers, are manipulators. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but instead in that they change people’s perceptions of what is happening in front of them.
Yo-yo-ing is considered a form of juggling with tricks like “sleeping,” “looping” and “walking the dog.” All of these are ways to get the yo-yo to do what the juggler wants it to do.
How is that different than what project managers do?
As a project manager, your job is to get your team to do what you need them to do to bring your projects in on time, on schedule and within scope.
You achieve this by using the tools at your disposal to motivate, encourage and guide your stakeholders and team toward your goal. That’s juggling.
3. It all comes down to results. Finally, a bad juggler gives a bad performance, and a good juggler gives a good performance … and no one knows whether they are just having a bad or good day. Ultimately, the same applies to projects and their leaders. In the end, we are judged on performance.
Did our project meet specifications? Did it come through on schedule? Were we able to get the results we needed out of our team?
For a juggler, if they aren’t entertaining, they are failing. Which I guess means that project managers actually have an easier job than jugglers because we don’t always have to entertain, but we do have to produce results.
What do you think? Are project managers like jugglers—or have I gone crazy with this metaphor? Let me know below in the comments.
By Dave Wakeman
I’ve been thinking a lot about personal branding lately. When I consider how it applies to the world of project management, I come around to the idea that maybe we haven’t put enough emphasis on it.
Why? Well, I’m going to let you in on a secret.
Are you ready? You sure?
Not all project managers are created equal!
This might not be a surprise. But if I ask you to step back and think about how you position yourself t, are you doing enough to differentiate yourself from others around you?
This is important because differentiation can be the difference between working on awesome projects or not.
So, how do you differentiate yourself as a project manager? Here are a few ideas.
1. Focus on the outcomes you have produced.
Most of the time we think about spec, am I right? Unfortunately, that doesn’t do us the most good because just doing our job often isn’t enough to stand out from the competition. We need to know how delivering spec or going beyond spec leads to improved business outcomes for our organization, our partners, our team.
Just think about the ways your work made your business money, saved money or sped up a project. All of those can be expressed as outcomes that will make you stand out in comparison to others.
To turbocharge a focus on outcomes, answer the all-important question: “Why did my work matter?”
2. Emphasize and highlight opportunities created and risks protected against.
Risk mitigation is a core skill of every project manager, or it should be. On the other hand, how often do we think about our ability to create opportunities?
Here’s how you can put your opportunity creation into words that highlight your importance and differentiate you from other project managers. Focus once again on the outcomes and the way the opportunities repositioned your organization or your partners. Maybe you saved a lot of money due to spotting an opportunity to streamline a process.
It could be that you recognized an opportunity to add to a current project in a way that was impactful for your partners and created new revenue. The “how” isn’t so important—focus on how you are impacting the projects you work on or investigate by your PM skills.
3. Toot your own horn.
Humility seems like a high calling. It may have been in the past, but in today’s world—where everyone is sharing their best life on social media—humility is a career defeater.
When I first started out as a consultant a number of years ago, I had the same feeling…people will buy from me due to the quality of my work. Wrong! You have to tell people how you help them and how you can create value for them.
You don’t have to be a blowhard to do it well. Just focus on some of the ideas we discussed above, like your ability to generate positive outcomes for your projects and partners. Show the ways that your skills have increased the profitability of your business. Share some ideas that you have developed through your experience that can help other people do their jobs better.
The most important thing is to make certain you are letting people know that you are not just a project manager, but an excellent project manager who focuses on the right things and gets results. That’s really all differentiation is.
How have you differentiated yourself? Please share your experiences below.