By Cyndee Miller
Like many of you, this year has pushed me into some serious darkness at times—and it’s not like I’m a sunshine-unicorns-and-fluffy-kittens kind of person to begin with. So as I logged into the latest PMI Virtual Experience Series—at 6 a.m. nonetheless—I wasn’t exactly exuding optimism and hope, even with the promise of a day devoted to discussions around “A New World View: Our Global Impact.”
But it was hard not to be moved by Malala Yousafzai. As a teen, she began advocating for girls’ education around the world, which made her a prime target in her homeland of Pakistan, and in 2012, she was shot in the head on the way home from school. Undeterred, she founded the Malala Fund from her new home in the U.K. The group’s first project, which sent 40 girls ages 5 to 12 back to school in Pakistan’s Swat Valley region, earned a slot on PMI’s list of the Most Influential Projects of the past 50 years. Now 23, she’s an icon—a global activist, a best-selling author, the subject of an award-winning documentary and a Nobel Laureate (the youngest ever, might I add). And even with all the problems facing the world, her message to project leaders was clear: Stay committed to your mission—you can make a difference and reimagine a new reality. “What favors the oppressors is when we give up on our activism,” she said.
The pandemic is no doubt a crisis, but it also allows us to pinpoint flaws in the system—and take action. “I want us to reset the world that we are living in,” Yousafzai said. And how do we do that? “Work together with ambition and optimism.”
She sees it already happening through next-gen activists, whether they’re working on the Black Lives Matter movement or climate change. “The voices of young people are echoing around the world,” she said. “We are inheriting this world, and we don’t want it the way it is. We want it to be cleaner, more peaceful and fairer for everyone.”
What many emerging young people lack in experience, they make up for in energy, enthusiasm and an eagerness to learn. Their work and roles on teams is not to be discounted, she said: “It’s important for our elders to listen to us, to listen to the younger generation. The people on the ground doing the actual work need to be on the stage.”
Throughout her quest to ensure access to free and safe education for girls, Yousafzai has realized the benefits extend far beyond the classroom. “We want more peace, we want to fight terrorism and reduce wars. We can’t solve these issues just by sending in weapons,” she said. “We have to invest in local communities and allow them to have opportunities.”
From this vantage point, hope is a byproduct of opportunity. Without opportunity and access, little can be achieved.
Author Sangu Delle sees a similar parallel while advocating for entrepreneurship in Africa. Creating a business-friendly environment and, in turn, opportunity on the world’s youngest continent—via infrastructure investment, sound policies and good governance—will reap exponential rewards, he said. “We need to empower entrepreneurs to go out there and create the businesses of the future that will create jobs."
He also encouraged people to look beyond some of the stereotypes that surround Africa.
“The Africa I know is one of extraordinary creativity, incredible innovation,” Delle said. “Yes, there are some struggles in certain places with poverty and with development and with infrastructure, but there are also lots of incredible opportunities going on.”
Like Yousafzai and Delle, PMI President and CEO Sunil Prashara sees an opportunity for self-assessment and change in this time of uncertainty. If organizations can maintain control and transparency, they can increase innovation and productivity, he said. One prime way of making that happen: citizen development. By introducing non-IT professionals to low- or no-code development platforms, more people can turn innovative ideas into reality. And given the global shortage of coders and developers, “the citizen development movement is going to be a major gamechanger,” said Prashara.
Opportunity opens doors—but it doesn’t replace hard work and perseverance. And it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of failure. Part of moving forward involves shaking off inevitable professional stumbles and believing in yourself. Failure is a necessary part of activism, said Yousafzai, but true defeat lies in giving up.
“Do not give up on your dream, as big as it is,” she said. “When your goals are big, the effort you put into it is also big. And the outcome is far bigger.”
Keep moving forward and get ready for the next Experience PMI event, “A Deep Dive in Business Analysis: Drawing a Map to the Future,” slated for 12 November: http://ow.ly/kydf50B8Vik
In the meantime, weigh in below on what people and projects are giving you hope—and helping you stay on mission.
My earliest experience with remote work came in around 2010. At the time, I believed it would enable me to connect with project teams from around the globe. What I considered a novelty has now become a new normal for myself and project professionals everywhere. With this shift comes the necessity to rethink leadership, collaboration and teams.
A high-performing team can be defined as a group of people with clearly defined roles and complementary talents and skills, aligned with and committed to a common goal to innovate and deliver results.
The importance of teams is not about to diminish as digital transformation reshapes the notion of the workplace and how work gets done. On the contrary, the (digital) leadership role becomes increasingly demanding as a diverse workforce, including freelancers and partners, works from home.
It’s time that we adapt the essential characteristics of high-performing teams in the digital age:
Open and clear communication
Maintaining an open-door policy can be a challenge in the modern workplace. Multiple notifications and meetings take a toll on productivity. High-performing virtual teams define ground rules for productive communication without abandoning social interactions. It’s possible to create water-cooler sessions, happy hours and the like to engage people on a personal level, while also keeping formal meetings focused on getting work done.
Solid team infrastructure
Virtual spaces enable people to connect with other teams, yet it’s necessary to have clear roles and responsibilities just like those that existed in physical work spaces. Many-to-many interactions cause distraction and waste. Leaders must clearly define team topologies, boundaries and interfaces.
Working from home isn’t easy—and some people don’t get used to it. Trust, motivation and well-being are all deeply affected by remote work. So be sure to give those issues your attention by establishing the right incentives and offering feedback.
In a way, digital transformation empowers people to do more, extending and expanding capabilities. But it means nothing without strong leadership and clear communication.
How have you adapted your leadership style to best manage your virtual teams? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
by Conrado Morlan
Not everyone is born a leader. Some must be groomed. This is where the vertical development comes in. In my previous post, I wrote about how it can lead to a better understanding of challenges, more innovative thinking, improved emotional intelligence, and increased ability to resolve conflicts constructively in the VUCA world.
As humans, we experience stages of development: infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Just as we progress through those stages as humans, we make similar progress moving through varying stages as project leaders.
David Rooke and William R. Torbert developed a model that outlines seven styles of leadership. Although it was introduced in 2005, I find it still relevant in today’s VUCA times:
When you started out as a project manager, you most likely were in the Diplomat or Expert groups.
Becoming a project manager jumpstarted your vertical development with an unprecedented experience. That should had been complemented with meeting new peers with different perspectives and consolidating your experiences and knowledge to start acquiring a new POV.
The natural path to follow next is to become an Achiever, turning yourself into an action- and goal-oriented individual. Evolving to Strategist or Alchemist requires you to explore disciplines that will create projects, teams, networks, and alliances on the basis of collaborative inquiry.
So go ahead and step out of your comfort zone: Look for a stretch assignment, start exchanging your perspectives with other people within your organization, and consolidate that knowledge. This will help your development—and prepare you to face the VUCA challenges that many individuals and organizations are already facing.
How are you using vertical development? Share in the comments.
By Yasmina Khelifi, PMI-ACP, PMP
“We miss the way you managed the project!”
After leaving my role as a project manager of a software development team, these words were the best gift I could’ve received.
It was a new team, a new innovative product development and a new experience for me. I was not a developer, I did not have any agile training and I did not know how to contribute to the project efficiently. But I observed and kept note of what worked and what didn’t—which helped me develop my skills as a servant leader.
Servant leaders are a different breed—they flip the traditional leadership model on its head. Their main goal is to be of service to their teams instead of simply focusing on the organization.
My past project work has given me firsthand experience on the benefits of servant leadership. Here are some ways to apply it:
1. Remove roadblocks.
Wherever I could, I tried to get rid of anything getting in the team’s way. Participating in meetings or writing documents was considered a waste of time by the team. So I decided to lend a hand, letting them concentrate on activities that added value.
To ease the tension between the development team and the head of marketing, I negotiated and proposed more streamlined options for implementation and brought the ideas back to the team.
I gave presentations on behalf of the team about the product and jotted down the questions I couldn’t answer. I documented and organized the information to be shared in a way it could be easily accessed. I concentrated on circulating the information within the team and tried to anticipate any issues or topics.
2. Set ground rules.
The development team complained to me after a marketing representative in the organization stepped on its toes. They needed a mutually beneficial and efficient way of working, so I stepped up as the main point of contact and set up weekly, in-person meetings.
Every Friday morning, we met with the development team. The representative loved technology and wanted to know more and engage in a knowledge exchange, but it used up a lot of our time. This person also gave some advice on topics he did not know, which didn’t always sit well with members of the development team and came to my desk and asked me questions I could not answer. Regular meetings and serving as a dedicated team liaison were not enough. At this point, it became clear that I needed to set specific ground rules, so that I didn’t diminish the trust I had built with my team or put them at risk by allowing someone outside the team to question or interfere with their work processes.
3. Reward the team.
Congratulating team members and giving them visibility keeps them motivated and builds trust. And there’s more than one way to create an environment in which your team feels appreciated. I initiated a weekly newsletter to shine a light on team achievements, even highlighting individual names. I also spoke with the functional manager about the good job done by the developers and pushed for a pay rise. I even advocated for a member to receive training on a test tool.
Looking back, the project was both a challenging and transformational growth journey. But I did learn a lot about servant leadership—trusting the team and supporting them whenever and however they need it.
How have your experiences with servant leadership shaped you?
by Conrado Morlan
The term VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world has been around for a while. But 2020 will be remembered as the year that forced every organization to deal with the VUCA world. And the most successful ones will be those that find ways to improve the capability of their leaders by acquiring new ways of thinking.
Yet even before COVID, PwC’s annual CEO survey found a majority of executives reporting they didn’t have the talent needed to grow their organizations and respond to increasing complexities.
Today’s VUCA world demands vertical development. What exactly does that mean? The acquisition of skills, certifications, and experience is essentially learning or horizontal development. Vertical development helps the individual change to become more sophisticated, mature, and capable.
Put simply: Horizontal development transforms what you know; vertical development transforms how you think.
Typically, vertical development involves the following:
Vertical development isn’t exclusive to leaders at the top of the organizational hierarchy. It’s for anybody in the organization, including project professionals.
If project managers and/or organizational leaders respond to the VUCA world simply through learning a few more skills, it’s not going to produce any significant benefit. They must develop their capabilities, adapt, and expand their ability to respond to the challenges. Vertical development involves a transformation of their consciousness.
To understand the difference between horizontal and vertical development, think of a cup of water. Individuals developing horizontally are pouring water into their cups. Individuals developing vertically need a bigger cup.
As project managers grow into their leadership roles, it becomes less about their mastery of frameworks, methodologies, tools, and techniques, and more about their container. The level of consciousness to navigate the complexity of the VUCA world requires a bigger cup.
One of the greatest benefits of vertical development is how it fosters increased mental complexity, innovation, emotional intelligence, and the ability to resolve conflicts constructively. This translates to an improved ability to interpret situations and make effective decisions—two essential skills needed to tackle problems in the VUCA world.
How are you and your team using vertical development to deal with today’s VUCA world?