Project Management

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
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Kevin Korterud
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Sree Rao
Soma Bhattacharya
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Viewing Posts by Sree Rao

7 Ways to Influence without Authority

Categories: Careers, Leadership

By Sree Rao, PMP, PgMP, PMI-ACP

 

 

The ability to influence is one of the most valuable—and
underrated—leadership traits. It’s particularly important for program
managers, since we must influence cross-functional team members over
whom we may have some positional authority—but not enough to get things
done.

Here are 7 ways to influence:

1. Identify your style

We all have our own ways of trying to impact other people’s thinking and
actions. Chris Musselwhite and Tammie Plouffe identified five different
styles:
Rationalizing: Using logic and reason to advocate for a solution
Asserting: Stating ideas confidently to directly drive action
Negotiating: Finding favorable compromises without sacrificing the long-
term goal
Inspiring: Drawing on passion to open people’s eyes to new possibilities
Bridging: Resonating with others by listening and building coalitions

We often try to influence the way we like to be influenced—but that doesn’t
always work. Instead, try to match the style of the person you’re trying to
influence.

2. Establish trust

Influence is based on a foundation of trust and credibility that’s been
solidified over time. We cannot build trust overnight. The best way is to
continually deliver on your promises and be transparent when there are
roadblocks. Encourage others to express their honest opinions, concerns and
doubts, and give open, honest and constructive feedback.

3. Build social capital

Look beyond your role and offer help: Volunteer to pitch in on mentoring or
other company initiatives that you’re passionate about. You’ll get to network
with people across various departments and build social capital. Give help—
and then ask for help.

4. Think like a hotshot

Consider this as a variation of what former Focus Brands COO Kat Cole calls
the hotshot rule: Think of a colleague that you admire for their influencing
skills—aka, a hotshot. Now imagine if that colleague took over your role.
What would they immediately change? How would they interact with the
person you’re trying to influence? This might not be feasible in all situations
because of personality differences, but you can gain some insights from the
hotshot’s style.

5. Influence the influencer

If you’re trying to influence a team, identify the person on that team with
the most sway and influence them. And they will in turn influence the team.

6. Unlearn what you know

Keep an open mind and don’t write anyone off. There might be ways to win
over even the biggest skeptics. Initiate a conversation, acknowledging that
your view is different from the other person’s and have them help you
understand their perspective.

7. Know your value

The Cohen-Bradford influence model recommends that you think of what you
can offer in exchange for what you’re asking for. That can be your technical,
organizational or process knowledge, a tool, an expression of gratitude or
recognition, or help with tasks you have expertise in. Be mindful to do
something the other person values, which may not be what you value. As an
example, some people don’t like public recognition. Knowing that and
respecting that will go a long way.


Let me know your favorite influencing technique in the comments.

Posted by Sree Rao on: May 17, 2021 12:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

3 Common Biases - And Smartcuts for Mitigating Them

Categories: Leadership

I’ve been trying to learn more about good decision-making and recently read Daniel Kahneman’s famous Thinking Fast and Slow. It’s very surprising to see the number of fallacies and biases that cloud our decision-making, with some impacting us more than others. Here are three of the most common fallacies that we encounter in project and program management, along with a few “smartcuts” (smarter way of doing things) to mitigate them. 

1. Planning fallacy: the tendency to underestimate the time, costs and risks of future actions, while overestimating the benefits of the same actions
Smartcuts:
•    Conduct a pre-mortem: Think of what could go wrong, work backwards and plan for those scenarios.
•    Use chunking: Break down the project into as small tasks as you and the team can.
•    Try consensus-based estimation: This method uses conversation and convergence to reduce individual cognitive biases—but it’s time-consuming. To strike a balance, I’d recommend using it only for complex features or projects in which there’s not much leeway in delivery time.
•    Add buffer: This decision depends on a lot of factors: type of project, whether there’s a need to have a definite deadline, complexity, dependencies etc. At a basic level, if you’ve been working with the team and have a history of how much the estimates are off by, you can plan to add that much buffer. If it’s a new team, and you don’t have any idea, look for similar projects use that data to gauge the buffer.

2. Sunk cost fallacy: an increased propensity to continue an endeavor once an investment in money, effort or time has been made 
Smartcuts:
•    Don’t just think about the time/money already spent. Instead, think of how much additional time/money is needed and if continuing the project will be a worthwhile investment.
•    Companies can help employees overcome loss aversion by putting greater values on gains and less penalties for losses. While this is something that happens at the enterprise level and might not be in our sphere of influence, you can influence it at a program and project level when framing wins and losses. For example, instead of saying, “We were over budget by 10 percent,” try framing it as, “We were within +10 percent of our initial estimates.”
•    Avoid perpetuating the stigma that stopping a project is a failure. Instead frame it as a lesson learned and incentivize people to make such decisions in the projects and programs they manage.
•    Consider opportunity costs. By sticking to the original plan, think of all the projects you’re giving up.

3. Status quo bias: sticking with the option you’re given even though the alternatives might be better
Smartcuts:
•    When you propose any change, be very clear and intentional about why you’re proposing it. Explain the problem statement you’re trying to solve and then detail the pros and cons of status quo versus the change.
•    Evaluate the opportunity cost of making the change versus sticking with the status quo.

While it’s not possible to eliminate all biases and fallacies, being cognizant of them and recognizing them will guide us in making better decisions.

What are some of the fallacies and biases you’ve held onto and how have you overcome them?


Here is a link to the unabridged version of this post.

Posted by Sree Rao on: March 12, 2021 01:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

The Introverted Program Manager: How to Harness Your Strengths

Categories: Careers

A program manager must work with several cross-functional teams, facilitate many meetings, and drive and motivate team members to achieve business outcomes.

While this sounds like a great fit for extroverts, introverts can also shine in this role by playing to their strengths. Introverts tend to be good thinkers, great listeners, observant and detail oriented. They are also generally skilled at forming meaningful connections and adept in small groups.

If you consider yourself to be an introverted program manager, here are some strategies you can employ to tap into your strengths as you execute your responsibilities.

1. Meetings: Program managers facilitate a lot of meetings, sometimes with a large group of participants, which can be daunting for introverts. These tips can help:

  • Keep the list of participants just large enough to achieve intended outcomes. If the list of participants is long, evaluate if there is an opportunity to break it down into multiple meetings with smaller groups. For example, if you currently have program status meetings with all the program tracks, divide it into multiple meetings with each of the tracks or a smaller group of related tracks.
  • Before large meetings, meet with a few key stakeholders in a one-on-one setting to gain an understanding of their perspective.
  • Introverts prefer to be well prepared before they speak up. So prep as much as you can in advance of the meeting, including sending the agenda and any reading material. This not only helps you as the meeting facilitator, but it will be appreciated by other introverts on the team, too.
  • When facilitating a meeting, be sure to amplify the voices of introverts in the meeting by calling out their names or by having a round-robin format of voicing opinions and asking questions.
  • Don’t schedule too many meetings. Block time on your calendar at regular intervals to be alone and recharge.

2. Self-promotion: Advocating for yourself can be one of the hardest things for introverts. Here are some ways to do it gracefully:

  • It is important to highlight your accomplishments to your manager. During one-on-ones, talk about the program challenges and how you overcame those challenges. Highlight these to other key stakeholders in smaller group settings.
  • Talk about team wins and give credit to the key team members who contributed. Lifting your team up is lifting yourself up, too.
  • In program updates or project closure reports, highlight the challenges the team had to face and what was done to overcome those challenges, such as creating a new process or streamlining an existing process.
  • Write a blog. This is a great way to share your knowledge, help others and promote yourself. This should be in an introvert’s wheelhouse, since you can do it with self-reflection and in solitude.

3. Networking: As program managers, we have to exert influence without authority. We need to work with different types of personalities and get things done. Networking is key. Here’s how to build and sustain meaningful connections as an introvert:

  • Form strong relationships with the key program stakeholders by scheduling regular one-on-one meetings with them.
  • Make it a point to meet with one new person on your program team, chosen at random, every two weeks. During these meetings, discuss their concerns and any opportunities for improvement with the program.
  • Organize reading clubs or brown bag sessions. Not only will you have a chance to network, but you’ll learn something new, too.
  • Volunteer to help with company-sponsored initiatives. You’ll get to network with people across various organizations and contribute to something you are passionate about.
  • Keep in touch with your connections at a cadence with which you are comfortable.

4. Communication: Introverts tend to speak up less often than others. If you are generally quiet in meetings or other situations, it tends to create a misconception that you are not assertive. Here’s how to communicate better as an introvert:

  • Thoroughly prepare for meetings so you feel confident in speaking up. Make it a point to ask at least one thoughtful question. This helps with getting visibility.
  • If you are uncomfortable sharing your views in meetings, make sure to send an email or talk to the relevant people after the meeting.
  • When someone does not deliver on their commitments, don’t let it slide. Have a one-on-one conversation with that person, understand why they missed the commitment and agree on recourse. Hold others accountable for their commitments.

5. Motivating teams: Motivating program teams is another key responsibility of a program manager. Here’s how to handle it as an introvert:

  • Recognition is key to motivating team members. Be compassionate about other introverts on the team, and ensure there are processes in place to recognize team members based on their contributions.
  • Team events are morale boosters. If your company budget allows, organize team events at a scale that you’re comfortable with. If you’re not comfortable organizing, find someone within the team who enjoys organizing events. Alternate between introvert- and extrovert-friendly type of events and attend them to show solidarity.

Lastly, if you are an introverted program manager, be authentic to your true self and stretch yourself in ways that are reasonable. Trying to be something you are not will only lead to burnout in the long run.

What tips have you found most helpful for yourself or for introverts on your team?

Posted by Sree Rao on: April 12, 2020 02:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)
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"All generalizations are dangerous, even this one."

- Alexandre Dumas