Viewing Posts by David Wakeman
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?
By Dave Wakeman
As we head into the fourth quarter, our minds are likely focusing on finishing the year strong, hitting our goals and, maybe, thinking about what 2019 will bring.
For many, that line of thinking includes how we can better develop ourselves, make ourselves more valuable to our organization and make sure that we are always on the cutting edge with our skills.
Based on the business and project management landscape, I think the skills project managers will need are going to be different and faster changing than ever before. To me, these are the three key skills we all need to make sure we maintain our future relevance.
1. Strategy: More project managers are being asked to help set the strategic direction for their organization. This means they have to have an understanding of the organization’s big-picture goals and how the projects they are leading fit into those goals.
Project managers must be willing to make the tough decisions to halt projects or advocate for projects that will move the organization toward their goals.
You can develop a better strategic mindset by making certain you understand your organization’s core goals and asking yourself how the projects you are working on fit into those goals. And, when they don’t fit, you can train yourself to evaluate the action needed to rectify that.
2. Communications: I’ve spent a lot of time writing about the need to do a better job communicating with your team. And that need is only increasing.
You need to constantly work on improving your communications skills to keep up with the continuing demand of an always-on world.
This means you will need to understand how to communicate in-person and online, up and down the organizational chart, and inside and outside of your organization. The best communicators are always listening and processing information. The goal is that they are able to understand, translate and share that information with all their key stakeholders in a way that has the maximum impact.
3. Sales skills: In the future, selling is going to be a key part of the project manager’s toolkit.
Because we are going to have to get better at advocating for the resources we need, the tools we have access to and getting our ideas acted on. And that’s sales.
Getting project managers signed up for cold calling might seem like a stretch. But when you think about selling as the art of persuasion, it’s a much easier idea to get behind.
The days of command-and-control are over, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It just means that we have to change.
What do you think project managers are going to need to know in the future?
Driving Diversity of Perspective
Categories: Best Practices
by Dave Wakeman
It’s easy to assume that the people we work with have the same viewpoint as we do about the projects we’re working on and the jobs we’re doing.
That’s often not the case. In every instance, people are going to see the project differently than we do. And that’s not a bad thing.
This diversity of perspective can have a positive impact on our projects in several ways:
It can lead to new solutions.
In your projects, you might know the big picture, but your team doesn’t always know it. That’s great because they can give you a different perspective about what is going on inside a project and some ideas for solutions.
You can encourage them to bring these ideas to you by wandering around. According to business guru Tom Peters, leaders should work to create opportunities for conversations that are spontaneous and often insightful.
It can give rise to new experts.
The old days of command-and-control project management is over—dead and buried.
In today’s world, it is unlikely that you are going to be an expert in most areas of your project. This provides a tremendous opportunity because you can actually use your lack of expertise to encourage other people to share theirs.
Often team members don’t get to communicate their expertise because the communications systems that we have put in place don’t allow specific expertise to bubble up.
To make the most of the diversity of expertise on your project, spend some time consciously asking people for their opinions about the project, their tasks, milestones and things they have learned.
This can be during meetings or outside of any formal setting or process, but the key is to encourage as much sharing and communication as you can.
It can free project leaders from having to have all the answers.
The problem with leadership roles is that we often feel compelled to have an answer, even the answer.
The problem is that no one has all of the answers. The other problem is that all too often our egos get in the way and we feel like we have to give all the answers or give the final decision no matter what.
This can hold us back. To maximize the impact of the diversity of your teams, you have to recognize that you don’t need to be the know-it-all. You just have to be willing and able to understand various points of view, ideas and explanations. Then you must be able to take action and get people onboard.
So, how are you taking advantage of a diversity of perspective?
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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 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?