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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Project Management Is For Everyone

Viewing Posts by David Wakeman

Project Management Is For Everyone

By Dave Wakeman

The holiday season has arrived—meaning a lot of socializing with family and friends. We’ll be asked about our lives, families and work. Yet, many of us project professionals have a hard time explaining project management and its value.

That’s partly because project management principles and skills have been so heavily tied to IT projects for so long. But in truth, project management is for everyone. 

For many of us that have formal project management training, explaining the value of project management to every business or industry can sometimes feel complicated. It shouldn’t be–these principles are just wise business.

So here’s a cheat sheet to help explain the profession to anyone you encounter this holiday season.

Projects are built on the backs of planning and outcomes. Any successful holiday requires careful planning and preparation.

The same is true for any project. 

While the project planning stage can be something that all of us wish went more quickly, the truth is that careful planning and attention to outcomes is wise in every organization.

Every organization could do a better job of spending time clearly defining a project or initiative around the outcomes they want to achieve, the resources they have, how much time they want to invest and the people that will be impacted.

If you don’t communicate, you don’t succeed. On the U.S. sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live, there was once a character called “Drunk Uncle” who represented all the relatives you sought to avoid during the holidays.

We’ve probably all been there in some form:

  • A holiday mixer where we can’t get away from a colleague we don’t like.
  • A dinner party where the conversation was stagnant.
  • An awkward moment at the family gathering where someone said something inappropriate.

What gets us through these moments? Our communication skills, that’s what.

To be a successful project manager, you need to be a great communicator. I’ve always fallen back on the old saying that I heard when I started out: Project management is 90 percent communication. I still think that’s the truth.

You can show this skill off during the holidays. During an awkward conversation, redirect the topic or reframe the controversial subject matter to something better. Bonus points if you are in a big crowd.

Being adaptable is key to long-term success. No matter the industry or sector, we hear a lot about the need to adapt to the market around us.

The funny thing is, as people with project management backgrounds, change is nothing new to us. In truth, managing change and keeping change in some semblance of order is almost as much of a key skill as communicating effectively. As change is inevitable and occurs more quickly, this skill isn’t just nice to have—it’s a necessity.

To put it in terms your family can understand, think about when you are trying to buy a gift that’s sold out. You don’t have long enough to order it online, and stores are closing in a few moments. All of a sudden Plan B and C start looking pretty good. It’s difficult, but necessary.

Or, illustrate the point with an example of how weather can impact holiday travel plans or how a delay in a work deadline can have you working through the holiday.

All of it takes flexibility.

The truth is that project management is life and as we head into the holidays, all the keys that you use as a project manager can help you get through the season too.

 

BTW, if you like this stuff and the stuff I usually post, I do a Sunday email that talks all about value, connection, and humans. You can get that for free by sending me an email at dave @ davewakeman.com

 

Posted by David Wakeman on: November 28, 2017 10:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

3 Tips For Simplifying Complexity

By Dave Wakeman

Project managers have an essential—but sometimes thankless—job. They stand at the intersection of complex projects filled with countless stakeholders that don’t always see eye to eye.

This can lead to a great deal of frustration—but great communication skills can make the job easier.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about being a better listener. But over the last few weeks, I’ve come around to an even better goal for all of us: making things as simple as possible, even when the answer is complex.

Great communicators make the complex simple—and for project managers that can be the difference between success and failure.

The good news: With practice, we can all get better. Here are three ideas for turning the complex into something much simpler.

Focus on logical steps: When you’re working on a complex project, it can be easy to focus only on the finish line while all of the steps in between become weights hanging around your neck. This can lead to decision fatigue or analysis paralysis.

But, if you can train yourself to think about the project and how to simplify it for your teams, you can usually look to your milestones and see how the project might breakdown into micro-projects.

Within each micro-project there are likely a number of logical steps. Your job as a project manager is to make sure that your team sees those steps so that they can take action on them ASAP.

Thus, you’ve removed the roadblock of prioritization and simplified implementation.

Emphasize clear communication: Many of us communicate unintentionally. We don’t think about how we are saying things or that each audience might have a different understanding of our common language.

I tell my clients that it often helps to communicate like you are talking with a novice. That may be extreme, but you have to make sure that your communication is getting across clearly.

Over the years that I have been writing for PMI, I’ve written almost exclusively about the importance of soft skills. Communication is probably the most essential of these soft skills. And the most important rule of communication is that if someone doesn’t understand what you have instructed them to do or what you have shared with them, it’s your fault, not theirs.

To simplify your projects, I want you to think about how you can make communication clear to someone who may not be as deeply entrenched in the acronyms and jargon as you are.

And, if you aren’t sure that you are being clear, you can always ask: “Did that make sense, or did I make it sound like a foreign language?”

Always work to improve your processes: Logical steps and communication should teach you a lot about your project and your team. Over time, this should help you and your teams develop a high level of expertise and a number of best practices.

One great thing about best practices is that they can help simplify hard projects, communication and the amount of setup that goes into any project. The down side is that if you aren’t careful about capturing those best practices over time and working to spread these ideas across your organizations and teams, they become useless.

After all, without implementation, you have nothing but more knowledge. And knowledge without action is just noise.

As a leader, you must work to continuously improve the delivery processes that you and your teams use. The ultimate simplification is developed over time by improving processes, focuses and actions.

While improvement in this area isn’t necessarily a given, if you have been focusing on next logical steps and great, simple communications, it is likely that your processes will improve because the complex projects are likely to be slightly simpler.

With simplicity comes a greater awareness of what’s working and what isn’t. With that, you can be efficient. Something we should all hope to achieve.

How do you strive to simplify things for your teams?

 

BTW, if you like this stuff and the stuff I usually post, I do a Sunday email that talks all about value, connection, and humans. You can get that for free by sending me an email at dave @ davewakeman.com

 

Posted by David Wakeman on: September 25, 2017 09:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

3 Tips for Becoming a Better Listener—and a Better Project Manager

by Dave Wakeman

Project managers, first and foremast, are often considered as communicators. Early on, when I first received my Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification, I remember someone telling me that 90 percent of a project manager’s job was communicating.

The thing about communicating is that in too many instances we consider it to be about talking at or to people. But how much time do we really spend listening—far and away the most important part.

Listening should be one of your strongest strategic allies. It enables you to get on-the-ground information, allows you to tap into experts, and helps you to see the real role and value that the project can play in your organization.       

Here are a few ideas on how to make listening a bigger part of your communication strategy.

1. Be open and engaged to the feedback of your stakeholders. It’s easy to say that you are open to conversations and that feedback is something you want, but are you actually following through in a meaningful way with your stakeholders?

If we aren’t careful, it’s entirely possible that we say we want to hear from people. But in practice, we rush them, dismiss their concerns and quickly shuffle them off to something else.

You need to be present and open to conversations from your stakeholders and not attempt to end the conversations as quickly as possible. Your colleagues and stakeholders may not be able or willing to get to the point right away due to nerves, the need to come up with a new idea through conversation or some other underlying factor.

2. Ask questions. This goes along with being open and engaged. One of the key skills I have developed over the years as a consultant is the ability to use questions to uncover the real challenges at the heart of a situation. 

As a project manager, people will come to you with a conversation that is often built around pain.

“Our project is delayed.”

“Our teams aren’t working well together.”

“We don’t have the budget to complete this task.”

The real issue lies with one question: “Why?”

You must ask the questions that uncover the root causes of the pain that aren’t being spelled out in the conversation.

3. Keep an open mind. As a modern day project manager, you aren’t going to have all the answers. The beauty of the modern project is that everyone has a specialty that they are handling. They have unique experiences that they bring to the project and their point of view is going to be different than anyone else’s. 

Your job as a project manager is to harness that expertise and direct it in a manner that enables you and your project to receive the best possible benefit from all these experiences, experts and ideas.

To do that, you need to be open-minded, which means that you have to be careful not to allow your preconceptions overwhelm the information being presented in the conversation. You have to be open to the idea that new information will change the information you already have and the ideas that you have already formed.

If you keep these ideas in mind, you will be a better listener. If you are better at listening, you will likely be a better communicator—and this will make you a better project manager.

How have you developed your listening skills? 

BTW, if you like this stuff and the stuff I usually post, I do a Sunday email that talks all about value, connection, and humans. You can get that for free by sending me an email at dave @ davewakeman.com

Posted by David Wakeman on: September 06, 2017 11:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (21)

3 Tips For Embracing New Ideas

by Dave Wakeman

Back in the old days of command-and-control project management, ideas were mostly helpful at the front end of a project: during the planning phase. But as we’ve moved away from command and control into a world of specialization, ideas in projects and project management have taken on an entirely new role.

More than ever, ideas are what make the difference between success and failure.                           

For many project managers, however, it’s challenging to embrace and utilize new ideas and new ways of approaching problems.

Here are a few ideas on how to embrace new ideas more readily in your regular project work.

1. Understand that your team is full of experts.

Old-school project managers needed to have a high level of expertise in many areas, but today project managers’ key skill is really the ability to communicate. This means it’s likely the project manager doesn’t really know everything about every aspect of a project.

Which is actually good for embracing new ideas. Because as someone who has the key role of communicating and putting team members in the position to be successful, you have to understand that you are dealing with teams of experts. They’ll have ideas—be sure to listen to them.

2. Always focus on outcomes.

I know that the idea of focusing on the outcomes should be common sense by now. But in too many instances, project managers still focus on activities rather than outcomes.

So focus on the outcomes and allow your teams to have the flexibility to take the actions they think will lead to a positive result.

3. Find a new point of view.

Too many people become wed to one way of looking at things.

The problem with that mentality ties back to my first point: project managers can’t control every decision. We don’t have expertise on everything that is going on in our projects.

Get out of your own head and try to gain a different point of view. Think about a challenge from the viewpoint of the end user, the sponsor or the members of the team required to do the work. Thinking from another point of view will help you come up with a different set of ideas that you can bring to your project.

The old ways of doing things or a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work in every case any longer. The success or failure of your project is likely tied to the ability of you and your team to come up with and implement new ideas.

How do you ensure you’re noticing and taking advantage of new ideas on the projects you lead? 

Posted by David Wakeman on: July 24, 2017 10:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

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 (12)
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