I don’t have a classic project management background, so I spend a lot of time thinking about ways non-traditional project managers can offer up great ideas to people with more traditional backgrounds.
Sometimes I find that easy.
Sometimes I find that rather difficult.
I also spend a great deal of time trying to push people past conventional wisdom.
Again, sometimes that is easy, but most of the time it is incredibly difficult.
This got me thinking about what I wanted to talk to you about this month: While the truth remains the same, the interpretation of the truth can change.
What does that mean to project managers? A lot, actually.
Here are a couple of the things we have always felt were true and how they can be interpreted differently.
1. Project management is about implementation. As my 8-year-old son might say, “True! True!”
The reality is that project management is about implementation of a project plan with a desired outcome in mind.
Yet, as we have seen general business matters change, we have also seen that project managers aren’t just involved in implementation — they’re also involved in strategy.
How is this possible?
Because we don’t just do things, we also have to be in touch with the skills and desires of the organization and our teams.
This means we do need to implement. But as much as we implement things, we also have to have business acumen that will allow us to offer up ideas, be confident in our ability to think strategically and drive our team toward the results.
Like improv comedy, a project manager is all about the “yes, and…”
2. A project manager’s most important skill is communication.
Communication is likely the most important skill for anyone today. But, for project managers, it’s not simply about communication, but communication that enables people to set priorities and take action..
Let me explain.
Poor communication has stopped more projects from being effective than any other thing in project history.
But good communication alone won’t fix every issue. Sometimes communication isn’t the real issue — instead it’s about also doing the right things.
That’s why we need great communication in service of doing the right things and getting things done. Communication is key, but communication without commitment to the right things is the real issue.
The idea that communication and implementation are super important is still true, but why they are true is up for debate.
What do you think?
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by Conrado Morlan
When I started working for a leading global logistics company, I had to wait about three months to get my first regional program assigned. The program, which is still in the works, includes the deployment of a new centralized billing system — including changes to processes and reporting — across 50 countries and territories.
I did not dread the wait. Instead, I made the most of my time and began networking. I started to meet — in person or via teleconference — with people across the regions in which the system would be deployed.
This helped me build a strong foundation with cross-functional stakeholders across the region. I also got information in advance that helped me to draft my stakeholder engagement plan.
When the billing system inevitably changed, I had to perform support for each individual country’s CEO, CFO, CIO and human resources team to help them understand the new features, the improved processes, the consolidated reports and ultimately the benefits.
The program plans and benefits were discussed and approved during an annual strategy meeting with all of the individual country CEOs, CFOs, CIOs and human resources teams in attendance. However, I still faced difficulties with the deployment in those first few countries.
In the pre-implementation meetings, I had to reiterate the benefits of the program and why it was needed. I had to answer questions and provide solid arguments to justify the tradeoffs between the new and old billing system.
But I used these difficulties to refine my stakeholder engagement plan as I moved to the next country. Understanding the source of change and the stakeholders’ motivations helped me become a better change agent and provide better support during the program implementation.
For the early adopters, it took about three to four months to mature their operation and fully adopt the new system. It was a rough start. But after two months of having the new billing system running, country executives have started to accept the new way of operating.
To build credibility and engage executives from the remaining countries, I asked early adopting executives to share their story and the benefits of the new system.
With this program, I learned how important it is to be an influencer and to build strong arguments that will convince stakeholders to accept projects and programs that change their business-as-usual practices.
What difficulties have you faced when implementing significant change? How did you get buy-in?
by Jen Skrabak, PfMP, PMP
Happy 2018! Make this year your best yet!
I know we’ve been hearing these phrases for several weeks now, but one thing still rings particularly true: There’s no denying the fresh-start effect of the new year.
And with another new year comes new resolutions.
Instead of resolution, I like goals better. Goals are things that we should strive toward — not just at the beginning of the year, but throughout.
Here are the career development goals I would challenge you to strive for this year:
1. As you progress through your career, it’s less about collecting a paycheck and more about making choices as to where you’ll do your best work. Don’t oversell yourself. Instead, spend time to really understand the company, roles/responsibilities, team(s) you’ll be working with and how you’ll fit.
Over the past year, I’ve interviewed a lot of people for senior level program and portfolio positions. I’ve noticed that many are focused on selling themselves for the job instead of thoughtfully understanding the role, assessing how their skills/experiences match up with the expectations and how they will be contributing. If it’s the right fit, then you should articulate why. If it’s not the right fit, acknowledge that as well. Not every role or company is right for every person.
2. We all know that your direct manager has a lot to do with your career success. As they say, people leave their managers, not the company. Although you may not have the ability to change your managers, there are some things you can do to develop your career even when you work with a less-than-ideal manager:
a. Instead of worrying about what you can’t control, focus on what you can control. Don’t try to change people (such as your manager or team members). Instead, focus on roles and responsibilities. Most companies encourage candid conversations with your manager — be clear about what you would like to see differently about your role. For example, would you like to stretch yourself and have the opportunity to develop your skills in managing programs? Negotiation and influence are key leadership traits, and negotiating your role is a key component of career development.
b. There is a common saying, “Dress for the job you want.” I say, “Manage yourself and your job for the next role.” When promotions happen, it typically means that you’ve already been doing the job for that next role. So, look at the job descriptions for the ideal role that you want (inside or outside of the company), and do an honest assessment of your gaps. Now that you know where you want to go (your ideal job), you need to know where you currently are (your current knowledge, skills and abilities). Then map out an action plan to get there.
3. Do some new year’s decluttering and cleaning. Over time, I’m sure you have accumulated a lot of files, activities, commitments and even habits that you’ve been carrying around. Rather than assuming those are still needed, scrutinize what you actually need going forward, and be a bit relentless in simplifying and focusing on what you actually need.
Do you remember Thomas Guides? These were the definitive maps, especially for a car culture like Southern California where I’m based. It was a big event when the new year arrived, a time that also ushered in the new edition of the Thomas Guides. Now, our phones and Google Maps have made those guides obsolete. How many of the Thomas Guides (metaphorically speaking) do you still have around? Take a good look and do some ruthless cleaning.
What goals would you add to this list?
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?
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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:
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