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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Viewing Posts by David Wakeman

3 Sources of Project Failure

by Dave Wakeman

In conversations with project managers I hear a lot about the causes of project failure. Here are three big ones that come up over and over again—and how to avoid these common traps.

1. Overpromising and under-delivering.

This will set you up for long-term failure because your sponsors and stakeholders will start to lose confidence in you.

While there are numerous reasons why you might go with this approach—from the inability to be truthful due to political pressure or a desire to please everyone—it almost always fails. When you make promises for the sake of not having to say no or wanting to please, you are just prolonging the pain.

Here’s how to avoid overpromising: When there’s pressure to come up with unrealistic promises, ask what is pushing these demands or why this timeline is important. Knowing the answer might help you prioritize parts of the project that can achieve those goals or help you reallocate resources in a more productive manner.

2. Micromanaging.

When pressures mount, it can be easy to think that we can or should step in to deal with any and every problem. But offering up ideas, thoughts, directions and other forms of advice meant to move the project along can often slow things down.

Micromanaging can feel good, but it is often destructive because it undermines the larger need to build trust and confidence in our subject matter experts (SME). If we don’t, we will find ourselves fighting a never-ending battle. We’ll try to stay on top of more and more as SMEs push back by not doing their best work because they feel we don’t trust them to do their jobs.

3. Withholding important information.

In my view, one of two things drives secrecy in projects: fear or lack of trust. Both often occur because you don’t have a good working relationship with your team, stakeholders or sponsors.

But as a project manager, your job is to manage the flow of communications into and out of a project so that smarter and wiser decisions can be made.

Set some guidelines and expectations for your communications with teams, stakeholders and sponsors. Then, as the project advances, judge your relationship against those expectations.

If you find that your information needs and expectations aren’t being met, you have to have a conversation with your team or stakeholders. Be clear with team members and/or stakeholders about how the information deficit is impacting the project.

The best project managers push themselves and their team to address uncomfortable situations before things get any worse. How have you built a project environment infused with trust and openness? 

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: March 01, 2017 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Project Managers As Persuaders

Categories: Communication

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by Dave Wakeman

I’ve heard unverified claims that some project managers spend up to 90 percent of their time focusing on communications. 

While I won’t dispute communications does tend to garner a lot of attention from project managers, I will say that calling the type of communications that project managers engage in straight up “communicating” is a bit of a disservice.

Why?

As project managers, we communicate less than we persuade. I’d offer up the idea that we spend far more time persuading stakeholders, sponsors and team members to see the project the way we do.

If we are persuaders instead of communicators, how can we do a much more effective job of influencing the decisions and thinking of our stakeholders?

Here are a few ideas: 

1. Think in terms of what the other person needs to know: We have so much information coming at us that we might feel like the best course of action is to just give everything to everyone. The problem with this is that it is ineffectual and overwhelming. And too much information usually causes people to punt decisions or fall back on previous decisions. 

That’s why it’s important to think about the people you are communicating with before you say a word. 

What do they need to know? 

What actions do you need them to take? 

What do they already know? 

Ask yourself questions like this and try to figure out what your audience needs to know to stay up to date, take action, or buy in. 

2. Ask yourself what is the next logical step you need someone to take: You should never go into a conversation without an understanding of what the next step should be.

If it is an action, make sure you state that action clearly with a deadline if possible. 

If you need the person on the other end to follow up by a certain time, set that expectation. 

If you are just trying to update people, make sure you spell out the next step you are going to take, if that is applicable.

3. Frame your conversation around the benefits: This is pretty important. People love when you are doing something for them. The key to being persuasive is often to shape your conversation in a way that makes the person on the receiving end feel like they are gaining the maximum benefit and that you are just there to serve.

What tips do you have for being a more persuasive communicator? 

Good luck out there. 

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: January 20, 2017 09:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

3 Project Management Resolutions For 2017

 

by Dave Wakeman

As we prepare to head into a new year, I’m getting on board with the host of resolution posts that are sure to inundate social media over the coming weeks.

I have two reasons for wanting to tackle this post. First, resolutions are fun! And second, I think we can use the turn of the year to challenge ourselves as leaders and professionals.

In that spirit, I offer up these three resolutions that I hope all project managers can make for 2017.

Resolution #1: Act more strategically

I’ve touched on this topic over and over in the last year, but I think it should be at the top of every project manager’s list of resolutions. It can be a huge accelerant to your career.

Why?

Because strategic thinking is the secret sauce of any organization—and too often it’s in short supply.

As a strategic project manager, you can help shape the direction of your organization and influence which projects are taken on. That should be good for you and your organization.

Resolution #2: Up your communications game

I had lunch with a project manager working in construction today and we talked about the biggest challenge he was dealing with.

You want to take a guess at what it was? You got it! Communication.

We can never be good enough at communicating up and down in our project teams. To drive your communication skills to the next level, focus more on consistency. Commit to setting schedules for when and how you will communicate. And don’t hesitate to reach out first when you think something needs to be said.

Let’s face it, the old saying that 90 percent of being a project manager is communication is still true—and that’s not likely to change any time soon.

Resolution #3: Build new skills

As our workplace becomes more diverse and remote, as project requirements change in the face of everything from disruptive technology to a shifting political climate, the challenges we face will require us to learn new skills in order to be effective.

Therefore, self-improvement and professional development should be an on-going and natural resolution.

What are your resolutions for becoming a better project manager in 2017? Let me know in the comments below!

Good luck out there and Happy New Year!  

Posted by David Wakeman on: December 23, 2016 09:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

3 Tips For Managing Organizational Growth

 

If you listen to business prognosticators, the concept of “mature economies” or “mature markets” comes up pretty regularly. Which means that it has become more and more difficult to squeeze growth out of larger, more mature organizations.

The funny thing is, this is actually a great opportunity for project managers and project leaders around the world to really step in and put their skills to use in a more strategic manner.

Why?         Because a great project leader is a strategic project leader. Strategic project leaders understand the business at a deeper level and can anticipate decisions. More importantly, they have access to the goals and vision for an organization’s growth, which enables them to contribute to that goal.

So what do strategic project leaders look for when they are attempting to manage growth in mature companies?

Here are three ideas:

1. Align thinking with the organization’s growth goals: You have to gain an understanding of where the organization is going, as a baseline for success. This isn’t as hard as it might seem. Many organizations, at the beginning of the fiscal year, quarter or calendar year, share goals for the coming year (or, if you are lucky, the next several years).

This information will provide you the groundwork for better discussions as certain projects move from concept to planning and beyond. 

2. Anticipate ways projects can or can’t create additional value: Here’s the challenge. It is easy to mail this stuff in. I’m just a project manager, right?

If you want to be a leader in your organization and manage for growth—growth for your company and your career—you can’t allow this thinking to infiltrate your mindset.

To manage for growth, especially in tough markets, you have to be able to anticipate where your business is going and where opportunity lies. Then you need to be able to take action to apply these ideas to your projects and advocate for them in a strong, reasoned manner.

 3. Frame your ideas in a context that fits executive and stakeholder goals: As project leaders, your goal is often to be the point from which information flows in and out of the project. To put it another way, you are the sounding board for people that have an interest in your project’s success.

This means that you have the unique position of knowing as much or more about the project than anyone in the organization.

This gives you tremendous power and provides an opportunity to push the project in ways that will help squeeze out the maximum benefit for you and your organization.

This requires you to advocate for an idea, present your ideas in a way that are relevant to the context of the goals of your business, and have a business case behind them so that they appear logical.

Are these conversations easy? No, but are they worthwhile? Absolutely!

If you are serious about managing for growth, you can start now from where you are, but the actions you take are going to have to be more business focused. Fortunately, many of you already have the tools to take action—no mandate necessary.

I look forward to your thoughts on managing growth.

Posted by David Wakeman on: October 31, 2016 02:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Empowering Your Team Members

by Dave Wakeman

Has your leadership style evolved to reflect the modern business environment?

Old leadership styles put a premium on command and control, which made sense when there weren’t so many specializations.

Now, our culture, and the way many of our projects are organized, requires that we are more collaborative and more focused on enabling our teams. Let’s call this “leadership by empowerment.”

Having fully engaged and empowered teams is now a key to project success.

If you are struggling with adopting this new leadership style, here are a few tips to help you build empowerment in your teams:

1. Focus on communication: With all of the tools at our disposal, you would think communication and information sharing would be easier than ever.

But it isn’t.

In most cases, it feels like our communications are hampered more than ever by all of the noise and demands from technology. But knowledge is empowerment and if you want to empower your team to maximize its impact, you need to renew your focus on communications and getting people the right information at the right time. You can do this by clearly spelling out the way that you will communicate with your team and how they should communicate back with you. You can create areas, tools and methods for accessing the most important information. A tool like Slack may be a way that you can better organize your information.

2. Allow your subject matter experts to be experts: In projects it is easy to lose focus on the fact that as the leader, you can’t know everything. This can cause project managers to want to dictate every action and every possible scenario to your team members, but that is a clear path to friction, delay and failure.

As the project manager, your job is to put your team of experts in a position to succeed. One way I do this is by setting outcome-based goals for my teams with clear check-in points so that I can understand the status of tasks and activities , but give my team members the power to do the work in a manner that they feel is best.

3. Provide continuous opportunities to learn and grow: We talk a lot about constant learning and development, but how much of that is just lip service? To help empower your teams, spend some time developing the skills that are truly going to help deliver better results for your organization (not just the ones that are going to help your team members learn something new).

You can do this by creating a training calendar or schedule that focuses on mission critical tasks, sharing best practices or interesting new ideas, or inviting in guest speakers.

Remember, your job is to use the tools you have at your disposal to make sure your leadership empowers your team to do the best work they can for you.

How do you empower your team members? 

If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. It is my most personal and strategic content delivered each Sunday morning to your inbox. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: September 21, 2016 12:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)
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