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
Marian Haus
Lynda Bourne
Lung-Hung Chou
Bernadine Douglas
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Roberto Toledo
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rex Holmlin
Christian Bisson
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Jess Tayel
Ramiro Rodrigues
Linda Agyapong
Joanna Newman
Soma Bhattacharya

Past Contributers:

Jorge Valdés Garciatorres
Hajar Hamid
Dan Goldfischer
Saira Karim
Jim De Piante
sanjay saini
Judy Umlas
Abdiel Ledesma
Michael Hatfield
Deanna Landers
Alfonso Bucero
Kelley Hunsberger
William Krebs
Peter Taylor
Rebecca Braglio
Geoff Mattie
Dmitri Ivanenko PMP ITIL

Recent Posts

Beware the Dangers of Technical Debt

Business Transformation in Disguise

Tips for Project Success in a Functional Organization

Leadership Lessons From The Soccer Field

5 Steps to Reverse a Project in Chaos

Viewing Posts by Vivek Prakash

Tips for Project Success in a Functional Organization

Tips for Project Success in a Functional Organization

There are fundamentally two types of organizations: functional and projectized. Of course, between those there are various combinations of functional and projectized in the form of matrix and hybrid.

Every organization type has its own advantages and disadvantages, but from the project point of view, functional organizations are most challenging, due to their focus on individual functional work.

A typical functional organization has departments like R&D, operations, procurement, human resources, quality assurance and—on occasion—project management. Each department focuses on its own area.

The challenge is, projects are often multifunctional, crossing various functions and requiring contributions from all departments. In a typical functional organization, there is no one who looks after projects end to end and connects all the dots. A project manager has little authority over the resources of other departments. All told, this results in several challenges:

  1. The project manager has little or no authority over team members as they report to their respective functional managers.
  2. Team members may not give much importance to project work due to their loyalty towards their department.
  3. Team members may work in silos due to the loose coupling among departments and the missing connecting thread.
  4. Trust among team members may not be strong as they work in silos.
  5. Functional managers or resources may not have equal zeal to achieve project objectives as they don’t own the end results.
  6. Resources are not dedicated for a project as they support multiple projects at a time.
  7. The project manager may not have any say in selecting team members.
  8. Changing priorities of function groups independent of project priorities may bring changes in resource allocation and can impact project progress inversely.
  9. The project manager may not have functional managers’ buy-in.
  10. Various functional managers and the project manager may have conflicting opinions. They may take time to reach an agreement or do not achieve an agreement all together.

Despite all these challenges, a project manager still has the responsibility to make the project successful. How can they do this?

Let’s discuss some tools and techniques that a project manager can use:

  1. Stakeholder Analysis

Until you get to know the stakeholders and analyze their engagement, a project cannot be successful. The communication strategy is key to bind stakeholders, and any communication strategy without proper stakeholder analysis will be ineffective. Moreover, it will lead to chaos.

  1. Kickoff Meeting

A project launch, the kickoff meeting is an important event and may decide its fate. It helps in onboarding functional managers, securing their buy-in and building trust. Take time to ask each functional manager what they want from the project in order to support it.

  1. Trust-building

The project will become a struggle if trust is not built among stakeholders, especially in a functional organization. The kickoff is the starting point. Project managers need to build transparency and create opportunities for networking and exchanging ideas. Keep functional managers informed about project progress and seek their help when required. In turn, offer help when they need it. A helping mind set could be key to build trust.

  1. Networking

In a functional organization there is a fair possibility that people on the project work in silos. Therefore it is important for the project manager to create networking opportunities for greater interaction among contributors and supporters. Informal networking events could be more effective.

  1. Conflict Management

Due to the different goals of independent functions, varied personalities and the loosely coupled structure of functional organizations, different functional managers may have opinions that differ from the project manager’s. To get a functional manager’s buy-in, conflict management skills are essential. Please refer my post The Techniques That Don't Resolve Conflict. A project manager has to find a solution where both the functional manager and project manager feel they’re winning and achieving their goals.

  1. Communication

Communication is an underlying skill required to apply all the tools we’ve discussed so far. A project manager has to focus on two aspects: establishing an information system and ensuring effective interaction with team members and stakeholders. A project management information system keeps stakeholders informed and fosters collaboration. Effective interaction requires active listening skills. Here, refer to my posts Listen Up and 8 Steps for Better Listening. Listening skills help you understand others better, do stakeholder analysis, make up your mind and thereby communicate effectively.

I’d love to hear from you: How do you drive your projects to success in a functional organization? I look forward to reading your thoughts.

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: July 03, 2019 12:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Don’t Fear Organizational Politics — Master Them

Imagine you're a project manager reporting to a senior director of a subsidiary, with a dotted line to a group director in the HQ. In a meeting, you're caught in their crossfire. What would you do?

If you’re wondering whether getting involved in the politics is mandatory, the answer is yes. What if you wish to stay away? You can, but you’ll put your career at risk.

There’s no need to be afraid of organizational politics. Often the top performers are those who have mastered the art. In the organizational hierarchy, there is a level beyond which winning at politics is more important than mastering any technical skills.

What Are Organizational Politics?

Workplace politics are simply the differences between people at work—whether they’re contrasting opinions or conflicts of interest. They’re important, because you need these politics to:

  • Get your job done;
  • Get the resources you need to accomplish your goals;
  • Influence stakeholders to say yes and give you access to their resources;
  • Fetch critical information necessary for your success;
  • Get to know the facts—they are not offered on a platter;
  • Effectively deal with people around you; and
  • Read between the lines.

What Aren’t Organizational Politics?

Politics aren’t about cheating or taking advantage of other people. They are not about:

  • Defeating, abusing or dodging others for self-interest;
  • Getting too obsessed with yourself;
  • Playing mischievously;
  • Harming others for your own benefit.

It is not about me over you (win-lose), but both of us together (win-win).

Why Are Organizational Politics Inevitable?

You can’t avoid them, because the following are all sources of politics:

  • Organizational structure and culture
  • Competing objectives
  • Scarcity of resources
  • The fact that not everything can be told upfront in public
  • Everyone having an ego
  • Insecurity (fear of loss)
  • Competitive work environment (rat race)
  • Prejudice

Some of these factors are always present in an office, making politics inevitable.

How to Win in Organizational Politics

The most common reactions to politics at work are either fight or flight, which can have harmful consequences. Remember, we always have a choice to approach the situation and then hold on, understand or work out a viable solution.

Here are few steps you can take:

Know Enterprise Environmental Factors:

The first step is to understand the source. You can put together a winning solution if you understand factors influencing your project execution, such as organizational culture, organizational structure, various communication channels, organizational policies, individual behavior and risk tolerance of stakeholders.

Analyze Stakeholders:

Politics always come down to the people who are involved. Until we understand their interests, power, influence, buy-in and support, it may not be easy to prepare a strategy. There are various tools like the power/interest grid, buy-in/influence grid, stakeholder engagement matrix, etc. that help in stakeholder analysis and preparing strategies. There are tools like power/interest grid, buy-in/influence grid, stakeholder engagement matrix etc. that help in stakeholder analysis and preparing strategies. In fact, it is a good idea to always maintain a stakeholder register so you have information ready to quickly deal with a situation.

Discover Hidden Agendas:

Hidden agenda aren’t always as bad as they appear. Many times a personal objective is driving someone’s actions. Therefore, it is necessary to talk to the people and understand the driving factors behind their opinion and actions to strengthen your strategy.

Think Win-Win:

Somehow, we are encouraged to think that someone has to lose in order for us to win. We see our colleagues as rivals instead of as our team members. This may be because of the organization’s politics. We have to find a solution that not only makes you win, but others too. This may not be easy, but understanding other people’s point of view and putting your feet in their shoes will help you find a win-win solution.

Build your network:

One of the best ways to do this is through networking, which builds relationships. This will help you better understand other people’s viewpoints and get their support in facilitating a solution. Networking is also very effective in getting buy-in and reaching consensus.

By taking these steps, you can propose win-win solutions and steer your projects to success.

What ideas do you have for dealing with organizational politics? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I look forward to reading about your experiences.

 

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: March 04, 2019 07:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

A Guide to Perfect Planning

Categories: Project Planning, Strategy

A Guide to Perfect Planning

We are well aware that good planning leads to smooth execution and early delivery. Most of us, however, still fast track the planning phase and jump into execution. The result is often a downward spiral of issues, defects and rework.

So why do we do this?

I have observed that most project managers are not clear on what exactly needs to be planned. At the same time, we often lose patience because planning takes time with no quick tangible results.

Here is my road map for a successful planning process.

Step 1: Write down the business case.

If we don’t know what the problem is, we can’t solve it. As project managers, we must understand the problem that’s going to be solved through the project and what the expected benefit to the organization will be. Until we understand it, we may not achieve the solution despite meeting all stated requirements. Writing a business case is the foundation of the planning.

Step 2: Establish objectives.

A lot has been written already on setting objectives, so I will limit myself. Objectives should be driven by the business case. We should set objectives that, if achieved, ensure the complete problem is resolved.

Objectives should be:

  • Very specific so that they are easy to understand.
  • Quantifiable so that we can demonstrate the success at the end.
  • Time bound as our project has an end date. 

Step 3: Set expectations with stakeholders.

Identifying all stakeholders and understanding their requirements is important for project managers. However, this may not be enough. Stakeholders often have expectations that they may not explicitly lay out but use as part of their assessment process. My customer, for example, may set expectations based on his past experience with a previous vendor. He or she may not share it with me as these expectations are not firm and not backed by anything substantial.  The best way to reset these expectations is to set new expectations with the stakeholder. By setting these new expectations, I nullify expectations coming from my customer’s previous experience and set a fresh ground for performance assessment.

Step 4: Kick off your project.

The main purpose of the kickoff is to let everyone know about the project, what support the project needs from them, and when we will need that support. It’s also important to present our strategy, high-level plan and project needs to all stakeholders and ask them what inputs they need from us to provide required support.

Step 5: Prepare a project management plan.

What planning documents like schedule, risk register, communications plan etc. do for project executing team, project management plan does for project management team. It creates a roadmap for the project management team and provides clear guidance to prepare planning documents. For example, a risk management plan—a component of project management plan—describes a methodology for identifying risk, a system for monitoring those risk, a format for the risk register, and tools and techniques to prepare the risk register and risk response plan.

Step 6: Prepare a meticulous work breakdown structure (WBS).  

The WBS is the foundation of further project planning. And the better the WBS, the better the plan. All project team members must participate in developing a WBS with necessary and sufficient details.

Step 7: Prepare planning documents.

Now we have all the building blocks to prepare planning documents such as schedule, budget, resource plan, communication plan, procurement plan, quality plan, risk register etc. Planning documents will guide the project team throughout execution and, if meticulously prepared, guarantee project success.

Planning takes time, so consider a progressive approach. By planning the first phases and kicking it off, you may help your team produce early results and buy time for the meticulous planning required for subsequent phases.

What tips do you have for successful project planning? Please share your experience in the comments below. I look forward to reading about your experiences.

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: December 13, 2017 08:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (32)

Give Up Power to Lead the Team - Part 2

Give Up Power to Lead the Team - Part 2

In my last post, I discussed how powers of position—legitimate power, the power to penalize and the power to reward—don’t create a productive environment. To continue the discussion, I’d like to look at how to turn over powers to team members to create more productive environments.

1. Delegate work: This is the first step toward releasing power. Delegating creates opportunities for us to entrust powers to team members. However, be cautious of downloading—searching for candidates to do work simply because we’re overloaded. Delegating is more strategic. It involves identifying the right work to delegate, finding potential in the team, assessing skills gaps, preparing a plan, providing training and then sparing time to support.

2. Take risks: Even if we delegate, the accountability for work still lies with us and we are answerable to their faults. In fact, giving work and power to team members is filled with risks. However it has its own rewards. Taking risks is essential to provide opportunities to team members, grow their capabilities and create a productive environment. We can mitigate the risks with better planning, by assessing skills gaps and by preparing a response plan. Reviewing and supporting the team members during execution is an important part of risk mitigation.

3. Be an enabler: Acting as enabler is the most powerful practice to entrust our power to the team. It means we are no longer only an actor, doing the work, but also a resource to our team members. An enabler provides direction to team members, coaches them to take new steps, enhances team members’ skills and lets them face challenges. He or she helps teams find the solutions rather than providing a readymade one.

Enabling also means providing praise and constructive feedback regularly—or even sometimes in the moment.  

4. Empower: When we become a resource for our team we stop executing our formal powers because it was the manager who had these powers. One of those powers we are giving up is the power of making decisions. Empowering team members to make decisions requires patience. We shouldn’t panic and start acting like a manager to see quicker results. These moments are tests of our trust in our people. Instead, go back to the enabler mindset—explain the circumstances, suggest options and describe the benefits of finding a final or intermediate decision within a given timeframe.

By turning over these powers to our team members, we not only show our trust in their capabilities, but give them opportunities to enhance their career. This will surpass all the benefits of reward power. It will also generate a positive energy of ownership, collaboration and cooperation, leading to a productive environment that can never be achieved via the negative energy of legitimate or coercive powers.

I look forward to hearing your experience. 

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: October 14, 2016 09:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Give Up Power to Lead the Team

As project managers, we are entrusted with power. We assume three types of powers as soon as we become a project manager—legitimate power, the power to penalize and the power to reward. Also called powers of position. We often use these powers to get the job done, resolve conflicts among team members, pressure the team to fast-track, quickly make a decision, etc.

Yet the powers we use can come with a hefty price that we often ignore. In fact, that price can even outweigh the benefits we receive. Which raises the question: Why make this loss-making transaction?

One reason is that we pay the price either at a later date or we pay it gradually or indirectly. Therefore we don’t realize we are paying it at all, or we are just more interested in the short term.

For example, if a team member resigns, he may not give you the real reason behind his departure. We only realize there is a problem when several people quit! By then, too much damage may have been done to the organization or project.

Another reason we make this loss-making transaction has to with perception. Most managers think the power to penalize is bad. They believe using legitimate power is fine and using the power to reward is preferable. However, if you analyze carefully, you will find both of these powers have serious limitations.

Power Problems

You may find the only benefit of using these powers is saving time. What we sacrifice for quick results, then, are harmony, mutual understanding, unanimity, openness, fairness and justification.

By wielding power, we force decisions. If we penalize team members, we create fear. That makes people agree to what we want while putting their reservations aside. Openness is lost and communication breaks down.

When we use legitimate power, we tell people to do something because we are the project manager. Indirectly, we convey that we don’t have time to explain to you or convince you or respond to your reservations. The harmony and mutual understanding are lost.

The power to reward could be better than the other two, but it has several limitations and should be used very carefully. Rewards motivate people, but only if they are implemented with true honesty and transparency, which is not easy or common.

The risk is that people may agree with you in expectation of a reward, putting their legitimate doubts or questions aside. In addition, there may be more people who feel they are eligible for reward, but only one gets it, making others unhappy.

Our tendency to give rewards to excellent people does not allow us to recognize and reward average team members. They are not even getting motivated because they know they will not reach that league of excellence.

Or, people may be productive until they get what they are expecting. Then you have to continuously give something to everyone if you want them to be productive. It’s like keeping a carrot in front of a horse all the time—not as productive as it appears.

So what is to be done? The answer is simple: Give your powers to team members. In the end, this approach will be much more productive. It creates a healthy environment—healthier than what follows from deploying power in the traditional top-down ways.

In my next post, I‘ll discuss how we can give these powers to team members and how this will help create a productive atmosphere. Meanwhile, please share your experience and views on using powers below! 

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: July 04, 2016 02:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)
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