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
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Recent Posts

Project Management Is a People Business

Machine Learning Isn’t Magic

Please Read (Urgent)!

Information Is Subjective

This Much I Know Is True

Viewing Posts by David Wakeman

Project Management Is a People Business

Categories: Human Aspects of PM

by Dave Wakeman

I try to start each post with some sort of hypothesis. In some cases, the hypothesis is clear to me, and, hopefully, you. Other times, however, the hypothesis doesn’t become clear until I’m done writing. 

This month, I’m on the side of a clear hypothesis built around much of what I have written about the last few years: The ultimate consideration project professionals need to keep in mind is that we’re in a people business. In the long run, the person with the best people skills often has an advantage. 

But what does that really mean? 

Communication is the key skill of a project manager.

I’m sure this falls into the trite, clichéd area of project management advice. But as I’ve witnessed time and again over the last few months, we often need a refresher on the basics of our profession. 

Being an effective communicator starts with having an expectation of what clear communication looks like, having a schedule that highlights what communication will look like and following through on your communication ideas. 

No matter what, remember your number-one job is to be a communicator. 

Communication is a people skill. 

Decisions are emotional, not rational. 

Spoiler alert: No matter what the decision is, emotion drives it. 

People like to think of themselves as rational. But that in and of itself is a nod to the emotion necessary to take action on an idea. 

You see, by trying to remove all emotion from a decision, you are often slowing yourself down because you are afraid of making a mistake. 

Being afraid is an emotion. 

Being excited is an emotional response. 

Whatever action you take is driven by emotion. 

Even if you don’t take any action, that’s an emotional response. Apathy occurs when the idea that you are being asked to take action on isn’t interesting enough for you to care about. 

People have emotions. Project managers deal with people. 

Projects are driven by ideas. People have ideas, processes don’t.
This one is likely to get the most action in the comments section because as project managers we think of ourselves as process driven. 

This is true. 

But, if we’re only process driven, we’re likely not doing our best work. Because even though we have processes in place to help guide a project and deliver it effectively, we still have a lot of discretion in our actions — or we should. 

Let’s think about this. If you have a certain amount of experience, I hope that you’ve had the opportunity to make mistakes and have successes. In the course of these experiences, you should have learned how to do things effectively or differently than the standardized process might suggest. 

Here is a dirty secret: In most cases, by the time a process has been established, there might be a better way of doing it that hasn’t had the time to be incorporated into the process yet. 

That’s why discretion is so important. It can save you time, money and trouble on your project. 

Processes don’t have discretion, but people do. 

While these are only three examples—and they’re likely obvious to most of us—I think it is important to hit refresh about the role of project managers from time to time. 

What are other examples of project management being a people business? 

 

 

Posted by David Wakeman on: July 20, 2018 12:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

This Much I Know Is True

I don’t have a classic project management background, so I spend a lot of time thinking about ways non-traditional project managers can offer up great ideas to people with more traditional backgrounds. 

Sometimes I find that easy. 

Sometimes I find that rather difficult.

I also spend a great deal of time trying to push people past conventional wisdom. 

Again, sometimes that is easy, but most of the time it is incredibly difficult. 

This got me thinking about what I wanted to talk to you about this month: While the truth remains the same, the interpretation of the truth can change. 

What does that mean to project managers? A lot, actually. 

Here are a couple of the things we have always felt were true and how they can be interpreted differently. 

1. Project management is about implementation. As my 8-year-old son might say, “True! True!”

The reality is that project management is about implementation of a project plan with a desired outcome in mind. 

Yet, as we have seen general business matters change, we have also seen that project managers aren’t just involved in implementation — they’re also involved in strategy. 

How is this possible?

Because we don’t just do things, we also have to be in touch with the skills and desires of the organization and our teams. 

This means we do need to implement. But as much as we implement things, we also have to have business acumen that will allow us to offer up ideas, be confident in our ability to think strategically and drive our team toward the results. 

Like improv comedy, a project manager is all about the “yes, and…” 

2. A project manager’s most important skill is communication.

Communication is likely the most important skill for anyone today. But, for project managers, it’s not simply about communication, but communication that enables people to set priorities and take action.. 

Let me explain. 

Poor communication has stopped more projects from being effective than any other thing in project history. 

But good communication alone won’t fix every issue. Sometimes communication isn’t the real issue — instead it’s about also doing the right things. 

That’s why we need great communication in service of doing the right things and getting things done. Communication is key, but communication without commitment to the right things is the real issue. 

The idea that communication and implementation are super important is still true, but why they are true is up for debate. 

What do you think? 

BTW, if you like this blog, why don't you get my Sunday newsletter. There I focus on business acumen, value, and leadership...along with under ideas. If you'd like to get it, drop me a line at Dave@davewakeman.com with "newsletter" in the subject line. 

Posted by David Wakeman on: June 25, 2018 12:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Lead With Value

Categories: Strategy

by Dave Wakeman

Where do you stand on the value vs. benefits debate? 

As someone who spends most of my time managing projects in marketing and revenue-generating roles, I likely see the idea in a much different way. 

To me, value is the most important thing that you can sell to your sponsors, stakeholders and your team.

Why? 

I think it’s pretty simple: If you are selling benefits, you have allowed yourself to slip into the world of commodity. 

As the need increases for project managers to advocate for resources and execution in projects, it’s important that we don’t give weight to commodity thinking. If we allow ourselves to become a commodity, it becomes much easier to ignore our project, cancel the project or not give the project the resources it needs to be successful. 

Value, on the other hand, allows you to explain your project in terms of impact. And if your stakeholders, sponsors and team see the impact and the improvement of what your project will mean to the organization, community or stakeholders, it becomes much easier to sell the importance of the project, the need for resources and the benefits. 

Here are a couple ideas on how you can prioritize value in your projects.

Lead with impact. Think about how the work you are doing is going to improve people’s lives, the success of an organization or some other high impact measure that will get people excited. 

Here’s an example: In working on the New Year’s Eve ball drop in New York’s Times Square for several years, I could have easily said my main job was to make sure that I expedited people’s access to the restricted areas, hastened the process of getting people in and out of Times Square and ensured that the primary entertainment events went off in a timely manner. 

That would be missing the point. The impact that I created was that I ensured that the logistics of the ball drop didn’t stand in the way of people having a safe, enjoyable New Year’s Eve experience. 

In the first example, those are just commodity activities. 

But if I do the job of selling the value the right way, it’s much more likely that the project is going to go through in a way that I hope for. 

Don’t just think of the tangible benefits; think of the intangible benefits too. The core of the benefits argument is that tasks are the only thing people value in business or project management. 

As someone that started out my career working in entertainment exclusively, I recognized pretty early on that what people view as a benefit often is independent of what they are actually getting from physical goods. 

For all of you thinking about value over benefits, this boils down to tangible versus intangible value.

If you are selling the value of your projects, and you want to increase the impact of your conversation, focus on impact. Think about it from both the tangible and intangible angles. 

The tangible value in your project might be how much more money they are going to earn, how much money they are going to save or how much more efficient something will be. 
Intangible values shouldn’t be discounted — they often carry a higher impact than tangible values. And the fulfillment of intangible needs often is the reason that people buy into the tangible values as goals. 

Your sponsor or stakeholders might really be much more excited by less stress from commuting, in the case of a mass transit or road project. They might find that the reduction in time allows them to spend more time at home with their family. 

Or, the intangible might be something else entirely. 

The key is to not allow your project to just become a checklist of activities. If you do, you are likely dealing with commodity status and no project team does their best work in that situation. 

 

 

 

Posted by David Wakeman on: April 19, 2018 09:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

Standing Out as a Project Manager

by Dave Wakeman

Not all project managers are created equal.

The challenge for many of us is how to stand out in a marketplace where people are constantly talking about being a brand. Also, how do you stand out in culture where selling your importance to the project is often more important than actually getting things accomplished on the project? 

Here are a few ideas that can help you build your presence as a key part of your organization’s success and put you in line to be rewarded for the contributions you make.

Make sure you communicate up and down the organization.

Communication plans are a key part of what you do as a project manager. But have you ever thought about making sure that you communicate your teams’ accomplishments up and down the organization?

If you are anything like me, you’re likely falling into the trap that your work should speak for itself.

This isn’t always true.

In far too many instances, the person with the best results isn’t the one that is rewarded. That’s why it is essential that you communicate successes up and down the line on your projects.

This will not only help you stand out as a project manager, it will also give you a chance to show off the successes of your team and reward those efforts.

To more regularly celebrate results, you can build acknowledgement into the communications that are already scheduled. For example, you might start your next meeting off with “three things we did that really moved the project forward” or something along those lines.

Share your ideas inside the organization and with the project management community.

It’s easy for me to say this because I’ve been writing about project management for years, but one of the key ways that you can make sure you’re respected as a project manager is to share your ideas —inside and outside the organization.

One thing that is great about having a PMI Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification is that you’re rewarded for continuous learning and teaching with PDUs. Sharing also enables you to stand out because you’re the one offering up new approaches and ideas about what is challenging project managers and their organizations.

You can easily do that by starting a blog here. This website offers all of us in the project management community the chance to share our ideas.

Plus, blogging is a low barrier to entry.

On top of that, most local PMI chapters are always looking for speakers.

Push yourself to continually grow.

I mean this in a business sense as much as for project management.

Project managers really stand out when they go beyond technical proficiency. They should spend time learning about the larger environment that their organization is competing in and how that will impact what goes into the strategic decision-making process.

If you’re constantly working on improving your business acumen, you will set yourself apart from other project managers and become a go-to resource in your organization much more easily.

You can do this by reading the news a little bit every day. I use Flipboard to learn about new ideas and stories in the business world. The key isn’t to try and do everything. Instead, it’s to have an understanding of the business market that your organization is competing in.

The big key to standing out as a project manager is to never stand still. There isn’t one magic idea that will make you a world-famous project manager. But if you are constantly learning, communicating and sharing, you have a good chance at being a leader in your organization and in the project management field as well.

How do you stand out as a project manager in your organization?

By the way, I write a weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

 

Posted by David Wakeman on: February 22, 2018 08:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

My 2018 Goals For All Project Managers

by Dave Wakeman

I’m sure this time of year has a lot of you thinking about what your goals are for the year.

I have a big one for all project managers to add to their list: Take the opportunity to be much more practical in your application of your project management principles.

What does that mean exactly?

Here are a few ideas:

Don’t get bogged down in arcane processes or needless activity.

It can be easy to get stuck in acronym hell. If we stick only to the book, we can lose all sense of forward motion because we allow our processes—and the arcane language that most of them are wrapped in—to steal away our impact.

Instead of getting sidetracked by these things, one of the ways that we can be really practical about our impact as project managers is to focus on the results we are trying to achieve.

Command and control project management doesn’t work often anymore because it is almost impossible for us to be experts in every activity.

Being practical doubles down on that idea because you have to allow your team members to do their best work. You do this by freeing them from micromanagement and the needless attachment to old processes and activities.

Make your role about impact, not activity.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we all would be best served by focusing on how we can add more value and less on how we can do more stuff.

I understand that many of us work in an environment defined by the old Peter Drucker maxim “what gets measured gets managed.” But in many instances, we’ve taken that principle to its ultimate conclusion where we don’t actually achieve anything. Instead, we do very well what need not be done.

In becoming a more practical project manager, a key idea would be to focus on your ability to make an impact. This likely entails having tougher conversations with stakeholders. It also likely means making tougher decisions. I never said being a project manager would be easy.

Rededicate yourself to communicating effectively.

The area we all have the greatest opportunity to create overwhelming impact is in our ability to communicate more effectively.

I’ve always lived by the idea that 90 percent of a project manager’s job is communicating. As digital tools have become more common and remote teams are a larger reality, it’s pretty easy to fall back on a crutch of allowing digital to do the work. But what I have found is that as we become more digital in our work, we need more humanity in our communication.

The high impact, practical project manager is going to be a great communicator. He or she will be able to juggle the different communication styles of key stakeholders and team members, and keep the project moving forward by having a grasp on all the project’s key ideas, timelines and potential sticking points.

After reviewing this list, perhaps a practical project manager means we need other people to help us achieve our success. Which isn’t really a new concept at all, is it?

If you like this kind of post, I write a weekly email about value, strategy, and opportunity. You can receive it by sending me an email at

dave @davewakeman.com 

 

 

Posted by David Wakeman on: January 16, 2018 12:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)
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