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
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Viewing Posts by David Wakeman

Move Beyond Herding Cats

by Dave Wakeman

Project managers are more than a bunch of cat herders. Yet, that’s frequently how I hear our role summed up, thanks to the team members, stakeholders, resources, deadlines and general chaos we’re often put in charge of wrangling.

But does it really need to be so difficult? I don’t think so.

Here are my methods for keeping control of the madness that sometimes ensues on projects:

Focus on communication: I had my Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification for about a week the first time someone told me: “90% of a project manager’s job is communicating.”

I don’t know if that stat is true or not, but over the years it has often felt about right. For many of us, getting the communication process correct is a challenge that stands in the way of actually getting people to work in a defined direction.

To maximize your ability to communicate effectively, I’ve long advocated for a communication schedule that lays out clear timelines for when you are going to communicate or expect to be communicated with.

For the top stakeholders, you may need to talk with them daily. For others, once a week may be all that you need.

The key is that you set the expectations and the processes early. This will help ensure that you have people on the same page.

Don’t micromanage: Our projects are so complex now that it is impossible for any one person to know and achieve every task in a project.

So don’t try.

If you have people that are great at their jobs, let them do the work. Trust them to make wise decisions. Set the objectives, not the actions.

If you have problematic people, help them set next steps, actions and get focused on where you need them to get to. But don’t try to do everything for them. That’s a recipe for failure and won’t help you stop “herding cats.” 

Be the positive example: I’ve been told on many occasions that when I’m involved with a project, even if things are going sideways, that everything “feels” under control.

I focus a lot of energy on being composed and pulled together. Leadership flows down from the top: If your team witnesses you always being out of control, flustered and in a state of panic, they will mimic that behavior as well.

This is why a lot of projects and new initiatives fail—the people at the top don’t live the actions that they want their teams and organizations to embody. 

To help maximize the leadership on your project, make sure you act as a positive example for your teams. This means communicating effectively and as necessary. This means approaching your projects with an eye to problem resolution and not just problem overwhelm.

While these concepts aren’t new or even revolutionary, they are things we have to consistently be focused on or we can easily slide back into a situation where we are struggling to keep our projects on track.

How do you ensure that your teams are focusing on the right things and moving in the same direction? Let me know below!

 

 

Posted by David Wakeman on: May 19, 2017 07:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Promoting Project Management In Conversation

by Dave Wakeman

Project management is a hot topic lately. In casual conversations, I’ve heard about the rise of project managers in legal, in sports and in government.

But this recent fame doesn’t mean we’ve gone mainstream. It’s likely that most people still don’t have a full grasp of what project managers do, why they are valuable and what they can really mean to an organization.

That’s why we have to continue promoting the role. I’ve pulled together a few talking points you can use the next time project management comes up in casual conversation.

1. Project managers are great at helping to solve the right problems.

This came up when I was talking about project managers in law. The question was, “How do we know we are doing this project management stuff correctly?” 

The answer is a little more complex because you can never be completely sure if you are solving the right problems. 

But, project managers who are very active in the planning and scope phases can frame the conversation in a manner that helps get to the root cause of the challenge. That helps organizations not just solve the loudest or most immediate challenge, but address the issue that is going to provide the most valuable long-term ROI.

2. Project managers aren’t just techies.

I’ve never led a technology project in my life. And, unfortunately, too many people equate project management with IT projects.

Ultimately, our best professionals—no matter what their industry—are often project managers without even knowing it.

This is a point you can highlight with your friends, colleagues and curiosity seekers by talking about the way that you communicate, plan, look for logical next steps and adapt to the situation.

In that way, project managers are just like everyone else.

3. Project management can take an organization from failure to success.

In startups, you hear “project management” thrown around pretty regularly. But, in truth, having solid project managers involved is the difference between success and failure.

In many startups, or new project situations, the whole framework of the project is based around an idea, a solution or a theme. This can often lead organizations down a road of throwing things at a wall and hoping something sticks. No rhyme or reason. Just action.

Fortunately for us, as project managers, planning is drilled into our psyche—and planning is the skill most crucial to success.

You don’t need more ideas for how to solve the problem, and you don’t need more people trying to figure out what will stick. 

You need a plan of attack with a process in place for collecting feedback and adjusting accordingly. This is basically the textbook definition of a project manager’s role.

To me, any attention to the project management role is great. But if we don’t talk about project management in the right way, I think we miss an opportunity to expand the profession’s impact across industries.

How do you talk about project management and promote the profession? 

Posted by David Wakeman on: April 24, 2017 08:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

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 (12)

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 (10)
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