Viewing Posts by David Wakeman
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.
by Dave Wakeman
I recently came across some of management guru Peter Drucker’s thoughts on project management.
As often happens with Drucker’s writing, the lessons he wrote about many years ago are still applicable today.
In his thinking about project management, Drucker came up with the idea that it really came down to three ideas: objectives, measurements and results.
Let’s take each of these areas and think about how we should approach them today.
Objectives: Many projects get stuck before they even begin, due to a poor framing of the project’s objectives. We should be undertaking our projects only when we have moved through the project-planning phase to such an extent that we have a strong grasp of what we are hoping to achieve.
These objectives shouldn’t be fuzzy or wishy-washy. They should be solid and rooted in the overall strategy of the organization you are performing the project for.
This means you have to ask the question: “Does this project move us toward our goals?”
If the answer is “yes,” it’s likely a project that should be launched.
If the answer is “no,” it’s likely a project that needs to be fleshed out more, rethought or not undertaken at all.
Measurements: Drucker is famous for this adage: What gets measured gets managed.
In thinking about project management, measurements aren’t just about being able to improve project delivery. They’re also essential to ensure the project is headed in the right direction.
To effectively measure our projects, we need to have laid out key measurements alongside the project’s objectives.
The measurements should be specific, with expected outputs and completion dates, so you can affirm whether you are on schedule, behind schedule or ahead of schedule.
At the same time, the measurements should inform you of your progress as it compares to your strategic goals.
Results: Ultimately, projects are about results.
To paraphrase another great thinker, Nick Saban: If you focus on doing your job right on each play, you’ll put yourself in a position to be successful at achieving your goals.
Saban coaches U.S. football, but this works just as well for all of us in project management.
If we are focusing our energy on tying our projects to our organization’s strategy, through this strategy we focus our project efforts on the correct objectives in line with our strategy. Then we use those objectives to measure our progress against the strategy. We should be putting ourselves in a position to get the results that we need from our projects.
These results should be measured as positive outcomes. In Saban’s case, that’s wins. In your case, it might be a new technology solution, a successful new ad campaign or a profitable fundraising effort.
To me, reviewing Drucker’s thoughts on project management is a reminder: Even though there is a constant pull of new technologies, never-ending demands on our attention and a world where change feels accelerated, sometimes the best course of action is to step back, slow down and get back to the basics.
Keep These 3 Priorities In Focus
by Dave Wakeman
In today’s project environment, it can be difficult for project managers to know where they should—or shouldn’t—focus their time and energy. Stakeholders, team members, and sponsors, all with their own agendas, pull project managers in different directions.
That said, I think all project managers can gain a great deal by focusing on the following:
1. Opportunities within the project. I’ve never seen a project that’s set in stone. In truth, almost every project I’ve worked on has changed so much throughout the course of its existence that it often becomes unidentifiable with the initial scope.
This can be frustrating, but to maximize your success as a project manager, you should embrace the change process because it allows you to search for and capture opportunities that will enable you to have the highest impact.
Think about this simplified example: Let’s say you are working on a web project. The scope of the project calls for you to build a responsive website that can handle a certain amount of traffic, and you have three months to do it. That’s pretty clear-cut, right?
It is. And, you could definitely go right through the project and deliver. But what if you discovered a more cost-effective way to host the site with a better load speed? Wouldn’t that be identifying an opportunity and creating a better outcome for you, your team and your client?
2. Development of your team. One challenge we often face is resource uncertainty. Essentially, will our human capital sufficiently meet the project’s demands?
This is an ongoing challenge in many organizations. Staff members are often overburdened, and they’re not always up to speed on the newest ideas, techniques, and tools.
To maximize your impact, it pays to spend time thinking about and developing your team. Consider ways you can help build up your team’s skills in a way that will make your life as the project manager easier. It may be as simple as identifying a skill crucial to your project and providing some type of consistent coaching, information or feedback each week that helps improve that specific area.
3. Testing as you work your way through a project. Does this part work the way it should? Did that segment of the project produce the outcome we needed? Are people reacting the way we thought they would or should?
Pay attention to each step in the project and spend time testing your assumptions and your results against the work produced. It’ll pay off in the end.
In some cases, things will work out exactly how you thought they would. But in the cases where that doesn’t happen, testing can be the difference between the success and failure of your project.
Is there anything else you consistently remain focused on during your projects?