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
Joanna Newman
Christian Bisson
Linda Agyapong
Jess Tayel
Rex Holmlin
Ramiro Rodrigues
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Wanda Curlee

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Managing Stakeholder Attitudes

Categories: Communication, Stakeholder

by Lynda Bourne

A person’s attitude is derived from their perceptions of a person or situation. In the project context, it is often the stakeholder’s perception of your project and how its outcomes will affect the stakeholder’s interests.

Fortunately, perceptions — and therefore attitudes — are negotiable and can be changed by effective communication.

In my research, I’ve found two key dimensions to attitudes: 

  1. How supportive or opposed the stakeholder is toward the project. 
  2. How receptive the stakeholder is to communication from the project team. While receptiveness may seem less important, you can’t change a stakeholder’s level of support if they refuse to communicate with you.

 

Levels of Support

Support can range from active opposition to active support. The project team needs to understand the stakeholder’s current level of support and then determine what is a realistic optimum level to facilitate the project’s success.

However, what represents a realistic optimum level varies. For example, environmental activists can never be realistically expected to support a new road through a wilderness area. In this circumstance the realistic optimum may be passive opposition as opposed to active opposition. On the other hand, your project sponsor should be an active supporter.

 

Creating Open Communication

The key to achieving either of these objectives — and support in general — is open communication. If the stakeholder is unwilling to communicate (either because they don’t like you or they are just too busy), you need to devise ways to open channels.

This may involve using other stakeholders in the network, using someone else on your team as the messenger, changing the way you communicate or just plain persistence.

If you can’t gain credibility — one of the key factors within your control that will influence the effectiveness of your communication — with a particular person because of their perceptions of you or your project, make sure you find a credible messenger to carry your communication.

Communication is a two-way process. Only after communication channels are open can you start to listen to the other person and understand their needs, concerns or ambitions. Once these are known, you are then in a position to either explain how the current project meets those needs or consider risk mitigation strategies to modify the project to reduce issues and enhance opportunities.

 

Communicating for Effect

The whole point of stakeholder management is to optimize the overall attitude of the stakeholder community to allow the project to succeed.

This requires:

Communicating for effect means focusing your communication efforts where the need is greatest:

  • If people are at or above the optimum target attitudes, the purpose of your communication is to maintain the status quo.
  • If less important stakeholders are below your desired optimum, you devote as much effort as can be spared from your limited resources.
  • Important stakeholders who are below optimum need heroic communication efforts to change the situation and maximize the project’s chance of succeeding.

Remember, a very significant proportion of the risks around most projects are people-based. The only way to identify, manage and/or mitigate these risks is by effective two-way communication designed to effect changes in attitude.

How do you focus your communication effort for maximum effect?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: October 27, 2017 08:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Best Practices for Managing Project Escalations

By Marian Haus, PMP

Throughout any given initiative, project managers must deal with issues that are sure to arise. Some are solvable within the project organization, with or without the project manager’s influence. Others however — especially those that could affect the outcome of a project — go beyond a project manager’s range of influence and authority.

Such major issues and risks can lead to escalations, which require special handling and management.

Various project management guidelines and specialized literature insufficiently cover the escalation management domain.

Escalation means trouble — so it’s a word very few people want to hear about. It also means that a higher authority will need to be called up to take action before it is too late.

When necessary, and if done in a timely and appropriate manner, escalation management can help a project manager solve issues outside of their authority or influence.

Here are some tips and tricks for project managers to better deal with escalations.

1. Be Prepared

From the project outset, define a clear escalation path and mechanism. For instance, establish an escalation committee (e.g., your sponsors or upper management board) and agree on escalating major issues when necessary and bypassing certain hierarchy levels in order to escalate faster.

Don’t overdo it! You should not escalate every encountered issue—only escalate major issues that have considerable impacts.

2. Assess and Qualify the Risk

Is it serious enough to escalate? Is there anything else you can do to avoid an escalation? Is it the right time to escalate?

Certainly, in order to be effective, the escalation should be raised in a timely manner. Therefore, neither should you exaggerate with going through an elaborated risk assessment, nor should you wait too long until raising the escalation (e.g., do not wait until the next reporting period is due).

3. Communicate the Escalation

After you’ve done everything you could have to prevent the escalation (you raised awareness, you communicated, you have pushed and pulled), it is time to escalate!

To escalate effectively and efficiently, first keep a calm and clear head. Then, follow these tips:

  • Escalate via the channel that is most appropriate for your project context. Ideally, the escalation should be communicated in a face-to-face meeting or call. Emails can be the most ineffective escalation tools, because they can delay the resolution if the emails are not handled in a timely manner. Emails also can lead to misunderstandings if the context is not well understood. Additionally, they can lead to a deadlock if sent to multiple and unnecessary individuals or when it is unclear who the targeted person is for taking action. In short: Avoid escalations via email.
  • Avoid getting personal and refrain from finger pointing. Focus on the issue at hand. This should be communicated and addressed objectively.
  • Explain the major issue and its implications. Keep it short and simple, so that everyone requested to help you can understand.
  • Explain what you did to avoid the issue and escalation. Again, keep it short. Otherwise, you will end up in endless apologies.
  • If possible, make a proposal with two or three resolution options. Explain their potential effect on the issue at hand and ideally make a recommendation on which options to go for.

4. Follow Up

Generally, every escalation requires some resolution time for when the project manager and the project team will implement the decisions agreed upon by the escalation board.

You will need to regularly inform your escalation committee with status and progress updates until the risk and problem are completely resolved. And, after getting back on track, you should conduct a lessons-learned exercise with your project team to learn and grow from the encountered crisis situation.

Would you agree? How are you managing escalations in your projects?

 

Posted by Marian Haus on: October 06, 2017 12:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

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 to Enhance Your Leadership IQ

By Peter Tarhanidis

The boards I serve have common opportunities and challenges revolving around promoting a brand, balancing the operating budget and growing capital. Yet, while flawless leadership is expected, in actuality it is difficult to sustain.

As I reflected on why many organizations were challenged around execution, I realized that executives must improve their leadership intelligence around three key factors to enable success:

  1. Improve speed and quality. When leaders struggle to make quick or quality decisions, it’s often viewed as not having the right team in place, or not having enough intelligence on the matter or the specific responsibilities related to the decision. One can increase cognitive abilities through investing in formal education, training and access to subject matter experts to gain the necessary knowledge.
  2. Repair team alienation and restore loss of confidence. Building trust in teams can improve leadership intelligence. Commit to a path of restoring relationships by understanding yourself and others. Assess emotional intelligence techniques to gain self-awareness and rationale for team motivation.
  3. Become aware of stakeholders on social media. Thanks to social media, a large audience judges every executive decision. Expand stakeholder relationship management to include communication and change management via social media channels. Seek out team members who are knowledgeable in social media so that they can proactively engage stakeholders and integrate feedback to reduce blind spots.

In my experience as a mentor and leadership coach, these tips can help align decision-making, leader accountability and stakeholder engagement to the needs of the customers, and improve the overall culture of the organization. As a result, the brand will come to life.

How have you improved your leadership intelligence?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: September 06, 2017 10:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

A Checklist for Shared Outcomes

By Peter Tarhanidis

I was recently assigned to transform a procurement team into one that managed outsourcing partnerships. I realized the team was very disengaged, leaving the strategy up to me to define. There was no buy-in. The team and the partnerships were sure to fail.

But I was determined to make the team successful. For me, this meant it would be accountable for managing thriving partnerships and delivering superior outcomes.

To get things back on track, I had to first get alignment on goals. Setting shared goals can help to shape collaborative and accountable teams that produce desired outcomes.

Establishing goal alignment can be a difficult leadership challenge; however, leaders must gather the needs of all stakeholders and analyze their importance to achieve the desired organization outcome.

I often use this checklist to tackle this challenge:

  1. Set shared goals in consensus with teams to motivate them to achieve the desired outcome.
  2. Link shared goals to key performance indicators (KPIs) that lead to the desired outcome.
  3. Integrate goals into individual and project performance reviews to drive accountability.
  4. Measure KPIs to keep teams on track.

I used this checklist during the procurement team project and it helped to reset and reinvigorate the team. Once we aligned around shared goals, team collaboration increased and the organization started to achieve the targeted business benefits.

If you’ve used a checklist like this before, where have you stumbled and how did you turn it around?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: July 18, 2017 03:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)
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