by Dave Wakeman
Project management is a hot topic lately. In casual conversations, I’ve heard about the rise of project managers in legal, in sports and in government.
But this recent fame doesn’t mean we’ve gone mainstream. It’s likely that most people still don’t have a full grasp of what project managers do, why they are valuable and what they can really mean to an organization.
That’s why we have to continue promoting the role. I’ve pulled together a few talking points you can use the next time project management comes up in casual conversation.
1. Project managers are great at helping to solve the right problems.
This came up when I was talking about project managers in law. The question was, “How do we know we are doing this project management stuff correctly?”
The answer is a little more complex because you can never be completely sure if you are solving the right problems.
But, project managers who are very active in the planning and scope phases can frame the conversation in a manner that helps get to the root cause of the challenge. That helps organizations not just solve the loudest or most immediate challenge, but address the issue that is going to provide the most valuable long-term ROI.
2. Project managers aren’t just techies.
I’ve never led a technology project in my life. And, unfortunately, too many people equate project management with IT projects.
Ultimately, our best professionals—no matter what their industry—are often project managers without even knowing it.
This is a point you can highlight with your friends, colleagues and curiosity seekers by talking about the way that you communicate, plan, look for logical next steps and adapt to the situation.
In that way, project managers are just like everyone else.
3. Project management can take an organization from failure to success.
In startups, you hear “project management” thrown around pretty regularly. But, in truth, having solid project managers involved is the difference between success and failure.
In many startups, or new project situations, the whole framework of the project is based around an idea, a solution or a theme. This can often lead organizations down a road of throwing things at a wall and hoping something sticks. No rhyme or reason. Just action.
Fortunately for us, as project managers, planning is drilled into our psyche—and planning is the skill most crucial to success.
You don’t need more ideas for how to solve the problem, and you don’t need more people trying to figure out what will stick.
You need a plan of attack with a process in place for collecting feedback and adjusting accordingly. This is basically the textbook definition of a project manager’s role.
To me, any attention to the project management role is great. But if we don’t talk about project management in the right way, I think we miss an opportunity to expand the profession’s impact across industries.
How do you talk about project management and promote the profession?
Playing the Right Leadership Role
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By Peter Tarhanidis
It is not unusual for project leaders to fill a variety of leadership roles over the course of the many unique initiatives we take on.
As I transition from one client, program, employer or team to another, my personal challenge is to quickly work out the best leadership role to play in my new environment. Therefore, I find it helpful to have some knowledge of leadership theory and research.
Leaders must understand the role they fill in relation to staff and management. That typically falls into three categories, as defined by Henry Mintzberg, Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at the Desautels Faculty of Management of McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada:
Interpersonal: A leader who is either organizing the firm or a department, or acting as an intermediary. He or she is the figurehead, leader or liaison.
Informational: A leader that gathers, communicates and shares information with internal and external stakeholders. He or she is the mentor, disseminator, and spokesman.
Decisional: A leader that governs and has to make decisions, manage conflict and negotiate accords. He or she is the entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator and negotiator.
During one of my recent transitions, I thought I was a decisional leader, but I was expected to play an informational role. When I acted on information rather than sharing it and gaining consensus toward a common goal, my team was very confused. That’s why it’s so important to know the role you’re expected to fill.
When you start a new effort, how do you determine what role you’re expected to play? How has that contributed to your success?
by Dave Wakeman
In conversations with project managers I hear a lot about the causes of project failure. Here are three big ones that come up over and over again—and how to avoid these common traps.
1. Overpromising and under-delivering.
This will set you up for long-term failure because your sponsors and stakeholders will start to lose confidence in you.
While there are numerous reasons why you might go with this approach—from the inability to be truthful due to political pressure or a desire to please everyone—it almost always fails. When you make promises for the sake of not having to say no or wanting to please, you are just prolonging the pain.
Here’s how to avoid overpromising: When there’s pressure to come up with unrealistic promises, ask what is pushing these demands or why this timeline is important. Knowing the answer might help you prioritize parts of the project that can achieve those goals or help you reallocate resources in a more productive manner.
When pressures mount, it can be easy to think that we can or should step in to deal with any and every problem. But offering up ideas, thoughts, directions and other forms of advice meant to move the project along can often slow things down.
Micromanaging can feel good, but it is often destructive because it undermines the larger need to build trust and confidence in our subject matter experts (SME). If we don’t, we will find ourselves fighting a never-ending battle. We’ll try to stay on top of more and more as SMEs push back by not doing their best work because they feel we don’t trust them to do their jobs.
3. Withholding important information.
In my view, one of two things drives secrecy in projects: fear or lack of trust. Both often occur because you don’t have a good working relationship with your team, stakeholders or sponsors.
But as a project manager, your job is to manage the flow of communications into and out of a project so that smarter and wiser decisions can be made.
Set some guidelines and expectations for your communications with teams, stakeholders and sponsors. Then, as the project advances, judge your relationship against those expectations.
If you find that your information needs and expectations aren’t being met, you have to have a conversation with your team or stakeholders. Be clear with team members and/or stakeholders about how the information deficit is impacting the project.
The best project managers push themselves and their team to address uncomfortable situations before things get any worse. How have you built a project environment infused with trust and openness?
By the way, I write a weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
by Peter Tarhanidis
I’ve served in various leadership roles throughout my career. In one role, I worked with engineers to build and deliver a technical roadmap of solutions. In another, I was charged with coordinating team efforts to ensure a post-merger integration would be successful.
All of my leadership roles ultimately taught me there’s no-one-size-fits-all style for how to head up a team. Instead, the situation and structure of the team determines the right approach.
Traditional teams are comprised of a sole leader in charge of several team members with set job descriptions and specialized skills, each with individual tasks and accountability. The leader in this environment serves as the chief motivator, the coach and mentor, and the culture enforcer. He or she is also the primary role model—and therefore expected to set a strong example.
But, this traditional team setup is not always the norm.
Take self-managed teams, for example. On these teams, the roles are interchangeable, the team is accountable as one unit, the work is interdependent, the job roles are flexible and the team is multi-skilled, according to Leadership: Theory, Application, & Skill Development, written by Robert M. Lussier, a professor of business management at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA.
On a self-managed team, each person’s capabilities support the team’s overall effectiveness. While these teams do need to have their efforts coordinated, they spread leadership accountability across the group.
Members each initiate and coordinate team efforts without relying on an individual leader’s direction, according to Expertise Coordination over Distance: Shared Leadership in Dispersed New Product Development Teams by Miriam Muethel and Martin Hoegl.
Effective leaders adjust their style to the needs of varied situations and the capability of their followers. Their styles are not automatic. Instead, they get to know their team members and ensure their teams are set up to succeed.
How do you pick the right leadership style to use with your teams?
In my last post, I discussed how powers of position—legitimate power, the power to penalize and the power to reward—don’t create a productive environment. To continue the discussion, I’d like to look at how to turn over powers to team members to create more productive environments.
1. Delegate work: This is the first step toward releasing power. Delegating creates opportunities for us to entrust powers to team members. However, be cautious of downloading—searching for candidates to do work simply because we’re overloaded. Delegating is more strategic. It involves identifying the right work to delegate, finding potential in the team, assessing skills gaps, preparing a plan, providing training and then sparing time to support.
2. Take risks: Even if we delegate, the accountability for work still lies with us and we are answerable to their faults. In fact, giving work and power to team members is filled with risks. However it has its own rewards. Taking risks is essential to provide opportunities to team members, grow their capabilities and create a productive environment. We can mitigate the risks with better planning, by assessing skills gaps and by preparing a response plan. Reviewing and supporting the team members during execution is an important part of risk mitigation.
3. Be an enabler: Acting as enabler is the most powerful practice to entrust our power to the team. It means we are no longer only an actor, doing the work, but also a resource to our team members. An enabler provides direction to team members, coaches them to take new steps, enhances team members’ skills and lets them face challenges. He or she helps teams find the solutions rather than providing a readymade one.
Enabling also means providing praise and constructive feedback regularly—or even sometimes in the moment.
4. Empower: When we become a resource for our team we stop executing our formal powers because it was the manager who had these powers. One of those powers we are giving up is the power of making decisions. Empowering team members to make decisions requires patience. We shouldn’t panic and start acting like a manager to see quicker results. These moments are tests of our trust in our people. Instead, go back to the enabler mindset—explain the circumstances, suggest options and describe the benefits of finding a final or intermediate decision within a given timeframe.
By turning over these powers to our team members, we not only show our trust in their capabilities, but give them opportunities to enhance their career. This will surpass all the benefits of reward power. It will also generate a positive energy of ownership, collaboration and cooperation, leading to a productive environment that can never be achieved via the negative energy of legitimate or coercive powers.
I look forward to hearing your experience.