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
Vivek Prakash
Christian Bisson
Cyndee Miller
David Wakeman
Jen Skrabak
Mario Trentim
Shobhna Raghupathy
Rex Holmlin
Roberto Toledo
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Wanda Curlee
Joanna Newman
Linda Agyapong
Jess Tayel
Ramiro Rodrigues

Recent Posts

My 2018 Goals For All Project Managers

Project Methodology: Help or Hindrance?

Every Project Is a Change

In the Rearview Mirror: The Year in Project Management

A Guide to Perfect Planning

My 2018 Goals For All Project Managers

by Dave Wakeman

I’m sure this time of year has a lot of you thinking about what your goals are for the year.

I have a big one for all project managers to add to their list: Take the opportunity to be much more practical in your application of your project management principles.

What does that mean exactly?

Here are a few ideas:

Don’t get bogged down in arcane processes or needless activity.

It can be easy to get stuck in acronym hell. If we stick only to the book, we can lose all sense of forward motion because we allow our processes—and the arcane language that most of them are wrapped in—to steal away our impact.

Instead of getting sidetracked by these things, one of the ways that we can be really practical about our impact as project managers is to focus on the results we are trying to achieve.

Command and control project management doesn’t work often anymore because it is almost impossible for us to be experts in every activity.

Being practical doubles down on that idea because you have to allow your team members to do their best work. You do this by freeing them from micromanagement and the needless attachment to old processes and activities.

Make your role about impact, not activity.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we all would be best served by focusing on how we can add more value and less on how we can do more stuff.

I understand that many of us work in an environment defined by the old Peter Drucker maxim “what gets measured gets managed.” But in many instances, we’ve taken that principle to its ultimate conclusion where we don’t actually achieve anything. Instead, we do very well what need not be done.

In becoming a more practical project manager, a key idea would be to focus on your ability to make an impact. This likely entails having tougher conversations with stakeholders. It also likely means making tougher decisions. I never said being a project manager would be easy.

Rededicate yourself to communicating effectively.

The area we all have the greatest opportunity to create overwhelming impact is in our ability to communicate more effectively.

I’ve always lived by the idea that 90 percent of a project manager’s job is communicating. As digital tools have become more common and remote teams are a larger reality, it’s pretty easy to fall back on a crutch of allowing digital to do the work. But what I have found is that as we become more digital in our work, we need more humanity in our communication.

The high impact, practical project manager is going to be a great communicator. He or she will be able to juggle the different communication styles of key stakeholders and team members, and keep the project moving forward by having a grasp on all the project’s key ideas, timelines and potential sticking points.

After reviewing this list, perhaps a practical project manager means we need other people to help us achieve our success. Which isn’t really a new concept at all, is it?

If you like this kind of post, I write a weekly email about value, strategy, and opportunity. You can receive it by sending me an email at

dave @davewakeman.com 

 

 

Posted by David Wakeman on: January 16, 2018 12:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Project Management Is For Everyone

By Dave Wakeman

The holiday season has arrived—meaning a lot of socializing with family and friends. We’ll be asked about our lives, families and work. Yet, many of us project professionals have a hard time explaining project management and its value.

That’s partly because project management principles and skills have been so heavily tied to IT projects for so long. But in truth, project management is for everyone. 

For many of us that have formal project management training, explaining the value of project management to every business or industry can sometimes feel complicated. It shouldn’t be–these principles are just wise business.

So here’s a cheat sheet to help explain the profession to anyone you encounter this holiday season.

Projects are built on the backs of planning and outcomes. Any successful holiday requires careful planning and preparation.

The same is true for any project. 

While the project planning stage can be something that all of us wish went more quickly, the truth is that careful planning and attention to outcomes is wise in every organization.

Every organization could do a better job of spending time clearly defining a project or initiative around the outcomes they want to achieve, the resources they have, how much time they want to invest and the people that will be impacted.

If you don’t communicate, you don’t succeed. On the U.S. sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live, there was once a character called “Drunk Uncle” who represented all the relatives you sought to avoid during the holidays.

We’ve probably all been there in some form:

  • A holiday mixer where we can’t get away from a colleague we don’t like.
  • A dinner party where the conversation was stagnant.
  • An awkward moment at the family gathering where someone said something inappropriate.

What gets us through these moments? Our communication skills, that’s what.

To be a successful project manager, you need to be a great communicator. I’ve always fallen back on the old saying that I heard when I started out: Project management is 90 percent communication. I still think that’s the truth.

You can show this skill off during the holidays. During an awkward conversation, redirect the topic or reframe the controversial subject matter to something better. Bonus points if you are in a big crowd.

Being adaptable is key to long-term success. No matter the industry or sector, we hear a lot about the need to adapt to the market around us.

The funny thing is, as people with project management backgrounds, change is nothing new to us. In truth, managing change and keeping change in some semblance of order is almost as much of a key skill as communicating effectively. As change is inevitable and occurs more quickly, this skill isn’t just nice to have—it’s a necessity.

To put it in terms your family can understand, think about when you are trying to buy a gift that’s sold out. You don’t have long enough to order it online, and stores are closing in a few moments. All of a sudden Plan B and C start looking pretty good. It’s difficult, but necessary.

Or, illustrate the point with an example of how weather can impact holiday travel plans or how a delay in a work deadline can have you working through the holiday.

All of it takes flexibility.

The truth is that project management is life and as we head into the holidays, all the keys that you use as a project manager can help you get through the season too.

 

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: November 28, 2017 10:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

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 (5)

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 (20)

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)
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