Viewing Posts by Yasmina Khelifi
By Yasmina Khelifi, PMI-ACP, PMP
“People reported to me that they had difficulties working with you.”
These were the words a manager spoke to me early in my career—and I haven’t forgotten them. I was very shocked to hear the feedback, as no one approached me about any grievances they had with me. Naturally, I wanted to know who said it and in what context. But the manager refused to give me many details. Was the feedback constructive? Not really. Was it useful? Absolutely not.
Giving better feedback helps you and your teams improve their collaboration and deliver better project outcomes. But all feedback is not created equally. You need to set the conditions for success.
First, feedback shouldn’t feel like top-down decision-making. There has to buy-in. So it’s important to talk through expectations with team members: How often will you gather feedback? How will you communicate it?
The conditions in which the message is conveyed also matters, especially for negative feedback. If it’s a face-to-face meeting, book a room to create a confidential and comfortable environment to engage in a conversation. The feedback must also be recent. Regular feedback lets team members apply lessons learned on the fly.
And there must be follow-up: If action items are outlined but no action is taken, credibility in the feedback process is lost and motivation decreases. As a leader, your role is to ensure constructive feedback is turned into reality.
Let’s explore ways to improve the feedback process:
1. Have a game plan.
One useful framework I’ve used is SBI:
Then finish with a proposal, knowing this is only the beginning of the conversation. Having a plan of action that remains consistent across all feedback creates a structure the team can adapt to and feel comfortable with.
2. Don’t escalate the situation unless it’s necessary.
When I delivered the first Samsung LTE device, I worked with a radio engineer with a reputation of being a difficult collaborator. Some colleagues recommended I escalate any issue that arose. But I preferred to meet him face-to-face in a closed room to seek out better ways to communicate. At the end of the project, he mentioned he appreciated my approach.
3. Speak up and don’t procrastinate.
A few years ago on a strategic project, I couldn’t get a hold of the expert. He was busy presenting to the top management and stakeholders in other countries. I organized some meetings with him, but I didn’t dare take up too much of his time asking questions. I also didn’t open myself up to provide feedback because I didn’t think it would bring about any improvement. When he left the team, I faced some long delays on the projects because I’d refused to make suggestions or start a meaningful dialog about what could be done better. The moral of the story: Don’t refrain from voicing your concerns or feedback when appropriate!
4. Don’t forget to provide positive feedback.
With 20 years of work experience behind me, I’ve learned the power of positive feedback and how it offers a self-confidence boost to team members and leaders. I now send spontaneous appreciation notes to recognize my team’s efforts.
I've also learned to accept positive feedback. Before, I would say “thank you” and quickly jumped to what I could have done better. One day, a colleague told me to stop, breathe and internalize the positive feedback.
Constructive feedback, whether it’s positive or negative, opens the door to a conversation. It sets you off on a rewarding path to self-discovery and self-improvement.
How do you give feedback on your project teams? Tell me in the comments.
By Yasmina Khelifi, PMI-ACP, PMP
There’s no “I” in project team—or volunteer.
While volunteering on a 2021 forum for an association, I was assigned to work with a new volunteer. At the outset, I had some reservations. Throughout the experience, however, I gained knowledge that I can now apply to collaborations with my other project teams.
I’ve outlined some lessons learned that will help you open yourself up to more collaboration in your volunteer efforts (and become better project leaders in the process):
Lesson 1: Get over yourself.
When the project manager first proposed to me that I find another volunteer to help manage the forum’s communications, I had to confess I was not particularly enthusiastic, despite the high workload ahead of me.
Why? I enjoyed hogging the spotlight, I took more pride in managing alone and I thought it would be extra work to synchronize my efforts with someone else.
But after I made the effort to connect with a fellow volunteer, I came to some realizations that showed me how wrong I was. I discovered she was a specialist in communications and marketing, which I am not. Because of her background, she was able to bring fresh perspectives and challenge my views. She also prevented me from being a bottleneck by sharing in the labor and compensating as needed. Finally, she forced me to look more closely at my delegation style in a safe, low-stakes environment, which helped me to grow as a better leader overall.
This collaboration revealed a rich tapestry of lessons learned—ones I wouldn’t have experienced had I not opened myself up to the idea of working with another volunteer.
Lesson 2: Embrace a different mindset.
During your volunteer experience, seize the opportunity to challenge yourself:
Sharing responsibilities does not mean micromanagement. It means learning to trust, learning to give autonomy and learning to oversee.
Conversely, giving team members space does not mean pushing them into the unknown without a safety net. Make yourself available and accessible to assist, encourage and explain, as needed.
Lesson 3: Think about the future.
By working with others, you can contribute to the growth of the next generation of leaders—and that’s rewarding. You will revel in helping them demonstrate their value.
I once was in a small language association where the president managed all alone, complaining he had too much to do. When he left, the association died with him. Do you want to be remembered in that way?
On a pragmatic side, motivated volunteers with increased responsibilities improve the retention rate, help the association avoid falling into a rut and, more importantly, cement stronger ties, strengthening the feeling of belonging and inclusion. Be a part of shaping that future.
Lesson 4: Work toward change in increments.
You can’t reshape the organizational culture overnight. But you can take small steps to make a difference:
Sharing responsibilities will bring unexpected benefits for yourself, your co-volunteers and the association.
What are some lessons learned you’ve taken from volunteer experiences? Share in the comments below.
By Yasmina Khelifi, PMP, PMI-ACP
I first experienced the transformational impact of diversity during a six-month internship in Japan in 2000. The experience made me question every action and learned behavior I had previously made without a thought: how to greet people, how to make a request, how to thank others, how to celebrate, how to apologize and, more importantly, how to collaborate. It opened the door to a stunning new world.
Since then, I’ve reveled in managing projects in an international environment. Diversity on project teams is an invaluable source of innovation and growth for individuals—as well as for projects.
Personal Benefits of Diversity
Throughout my career, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to work in diverse and inclusive environments. And I've learned so much as a result.
First, these experiences taught me humility: By delivering projects in the Middle East and Africa (MEA), I’ve worked with people who speak multiple languages and learned how to collaborate with people from different cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds. These experiences also helped me question the status quo: For example, in my technical field in France, few of my colleagues are female, while most of my Chinese colleagues are female engineers.
My sense of empathy was reinforced: Technical or political constraints can disrupt projects, but despite it all, the teams worked hard to meet their goals. These experiences also ignited my curiosity and encouraged me to broaden my views. I learned to ask open-ended (non-judgmental) questions and to fight against biases.
Surprisingly, interacting with people in other cultural environments also pushed me to better understand my own culture and myself. This introspective journey forced me to step back and grow into a more dynamic, informed and empathetic project leader.
Project Benefits of Diversity
Diversity isn’t just about ethnic or cultural differences—it also means embracing people with varying ages, gender identities, professional backgrounds and levels of experience.
For example, when I first began to work as a project manager, I had a team member close to retirement. His role was instrumental in the team: He calmly listened to our issues and acted like a mentor, sharing his experiences to help guide our decisions.
Conversely, I wanted to improve a project status, but I did not know how. I talked to a younger colleague, and he offered to review it. I surprisingly discovered he was proficient in designing documents.
A few years ago, I worked on a very diverse team, as far as background and experiences are concerned. They were not engineers; some had marketing backgrounds, others were not college graduates, one studied history and managed the supply chain.
During our working sessions, we often strongly disagreed and faced various misunderstandings. But I cherish these projects, because we worked collaboratively to reach a compromise, despite our differences. It also fostered a feeling of belonging and true team collaboration.
Diverse project teams force you to explore and adopt new ways of working. When I began to work in MEA, I discovered new digital communication tools that allowed me to forge a bond with my team and deliver project information to remote team members.
Being inclusive brings fresh perspectives that enhance creativity and spark innovation. It also keeps your project team from falling into a rut of the same old ideas and solutions.
Don’t Fall into the Diversity Trap
Let’s be clear about the diversity business case. Hiring someone only for the sake of diversity is counterproductive.
When I was hired as a SIM Delivery Manager for MEA, a new colleague assumed it was because I speak Arabic. Unbeknownst to them, I cannot speak Arabic. But I do understand project management. Reducing my experiences and knowledge to a cultural fit was demeaning and hurtful.
Undoubtedly, knowing a language and a culture helps to build trusting relationships and offers a competitive edge in our global environment. But this cannot make up for a lack of project management skills.
Inclusion must have a rational and objective basis:
The desire to boost public image or sway public opinion to appear open-minded and tolerant will not add value. Instead, work to embrace qualified individuals who bring something fresh to your team.
How do you foster and celebrate diversity within your project team?
By Yasmina Khelifi, PMP
Are you passionate about a cause? Do you want to lend a hand? Whether you’re interested in volunteering in the project management community or using your project skills to help a non-profit, you may be unsure where to start.
As a newcomer to the volunteer world myself, I had no idea what questions to ask or what to expect. So, to help other project managers, I’m sharing six of the biggest myths and misconceptions about volunteering I’ve encountered—and the key questions to ask to make the most of your experience.
Myth #1: Volunteering is easy.
Volunteering often means learning new skills and delivering projects alongside people you’ve never met before. That’s why building trusting relationships is key to successful engagement in volunteer opportunities—and it’s not as simple as it may sound.
As a volunteer, you’ll likely be entering into an organization with people who have already made connections and collaborated. You’ll have to prove your worth as a member of the team. Depending on the organization and your role, some specific skills are needed. As you pursue volunteer opportunities, take the time to understand the position by asking these questions:
Myth #2: Volunteering requires minimal time.
Many organizations run on volunteer work, which sometimes means a lot will be asked of you. You may even end up spending your weekends or evenings working for the organization, even if at the beginning you promised yourself you’d only work a few hours a week. Set boundaries early on to ensure that both you and the organization are getting your needs met. And ask yourself these questions first:
Myth #3: Commitment is flexible.
Even if it is a volunteer opportunity, you need to commit to deliver or not. Otherwise, your colleagues will be overloaded if you jump ship with short or no notice. For example, I volunteered as a community manager for the LinkedIn group of a local community and when I replaced the former admin, 500 member requests were pending! Not fulfilling your responsibilities as a volunteer damages the association’s reputation and creates added work for other parties involved. Step up or step back!
Myth #4: Communication is simple.
In many work environments, communication isn’t always valued. Volunteering adds another layer of complexity. Volunteers often communicate with teams via emails and instant messenger. Moreover, volunteers don’t always have access to the same team members that full-time staffers enjoy. This can create misunderstandings. Communication—verbal or virtual—must be clear to cut through the static. Ask yourself these questions first:
Myth #5: Only the organization will benefit.
When done well, volunteering should benefit both the organization and the volunteer. Before committing to a role, clarify your goals and how they align with the organization:
Myth #6: There’s no way out.
Life can change in an instant. Your motivation also evolves. Moving on is not a mark of shame, provided you plan your exit properly. Therefore, from the outset, you should enquire:
What are some lessons learned from your own volunteer experiences?
By Yasmina Khelifi, PMP
As the world works to return to some sense of normalcy, you, like many others, may find yourself spending more time on your digital devices than ever before. Whether it’s completing work tasks, communicating virtually with project teams or staying in touch with family and friends, we’re all relying on technology more than ever to stay connected.
But are you making the most of it?
If you find yourself with gaps of free time throughout the week, now is the time to consider taking an online course. Not only is it important to boost your project skillset during this crisis, but many organizations—including PMI—are now offering a number of courses and learning resources at no cost.
I know from personal experience how beneficial it can be. A few years ago, a friend of mine became a data scientist thanks to online lectures. I decided to try out online learning for myself, and it changed my life. I enjoyed the freedom of taking the helm of my professional development and the flexibility of having my learning at my fingertips. I also enjoyed challenging myself to learn something new, interacting with international cohorts and gaining a fresh perspective through peer reviews while developing my critical skills.
Online learning is a convenient way to build your knowledge and skills, but it’s not a cakewalk—you only get out what you put in.
Here are some lessons learned that I have gleaned from the experience:
1. Define your objectives
First, consider your goals. Are you dreaming of:
Setting clear and reasonable objectives will help guide you through the labyrinth of online learning choices. Think about what skills you want to learn and how they can be applied to your work in the future.
2. Choose your methodologies
The formats, length and duration of courses—as well as the personal and financial investment—vary across platforms. Before taking the plunge, ask yourself these crucial questions:
The answers to these questions will guide you to the most appropriate courses—and help avoid wasting time and money.
3. Stay the course
Now that you’ve enrolled, the real work begins. Here are some tips to keep you moving forward:
Organization and perseverance will help guide you to successful outcomes.
4. Practice what you’ve learned
As you progress through your coursework, jot down learnings you can apply to your projects. Take the time to consider how to turn new knowledge into actions.
Exploit any opportunity! For instance, I completed an online communications course from a business school on how to craft messages for presentations. I now rehearse more for any project presentation, taking into account that new knowledge.
Online learning can provide stunning benefits—if you’re willing to put in the work.
Leave a comment below sharing your experiences with online learning and how you’re taking charge of your professional development.