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
Wanda Curlee
Rex Holmlin
Christian Bisson
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina

Recent Posts

Authoritarian vs. Participatory Project Management

4 Reasons I Love Portfolio Management

My Favorite Research Tools

The Impact of Unforeseen Risks

The Reality Behind a Deadline

Customizing Your Leadership Style

 

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?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: December 22, 2016 03:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Give Up Power to Lead the Team - Part 2

Give Up Power to Lead the Team - Part 2

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. 

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: October 14, 2016 09:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Want to be a Strategic Project Manager? Communicate Better!

by Dave Wakeman

In recent months, I’ve been talking about how to become a more strategic project manager on this blog (see here, here and here). I thought it would be a good idea to circle back and talk about how being an effective communicator will help you be more strategic.

Here are three tips to remember:

1. Communications is at the base of performance.

Never lose sight of the fact that as a project manager, you are basically a paid communicator. And, as a communicator, you have certain responsibilities: being clear, keeping your message concise and making sure you are understood.

If you aren’t meeting these requirements, you are likely going to struggle to achieve success in your projects. In addition, poor communicating may mean you miss the message about why this project is important to the organization. You also may miss information from the team on the ground that would shape the organization’s deliberations about the project.

So always focus on making sure that your communications up and down the organization are clear, concise and understood.

2. A free flow of communications delivers new ideas.

Managing a lot of communications and information is challenging—I get that. But by the same token, if you aren’t exposing yourself to information from many different sources (both inside and outside the organization), you’re likely missing out on ideas that can transform your opinions and open you up to new ways of looking at things.

While being a strong project manager is about having a good, solid framework for decision-making, you aren’t going to have all the technical expertise yourself. In addition, your team may be only focused on the one area that they are in charge of. So it’s important that someone is open to the flow of ideas that can come from any direction and that may have the power to reshape your project in unimaginable ways.

You can achieve this by making sure you have conversations up and down the organization and pay attention to things outside of your scope of work. You never know where a good idea is going to come from.

3. Relationships are the key to project success—and they’re built through communication.

If we aren’t careful, we can forget that our project teams are groups of people with wants and needs. Remember: at the heart of our work are real people whom our projects impact.

That’s why it’s essential that you focus on the human aspect of being a project manager, especially if you want to become a top-notch, strategic project manager. Our human interactions and relationships are the key to our success as project managers.

This is something you should be taking action on all the time. Maybe you start by pulling someone on your team aside for a conversation about what’s going on. Maybe you find out a little more about the person’s home life. Or, you just make sure you have an open-door policy when it comes to information on your projects.

The key is to make sure you give your personal relationships an opportunity to thrive in the project setting.

Let me know what you think in a comment below! 

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 dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: April 10, 2016 02:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Portfolio Governance—Ensuring Alignment to Strategy (Part 1)

By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP, MBA

Governance is an extremely broad and often times misunderstood area. It can span functions, domains and types, depending on the context of an organization and other factors. Even across the various standards and current body of knowledge and research, there’s no consistent definition of governance or approach to its implementation.

Yet as portfolio managers, we all recognize that governance is perhaps the single most important enabler of good portfolio, program and project management. It helps to guide the appropriate oversight and decision-making that ensures successful execution of strategic initiatives.

That’s why I’m so proud of PMI’s recently released Governance of Portfolios, Programs, and Projects: A Practice Guide. I was fortunate to chair a committee of leading experts around the world that developed the guide, which fills a critical gap in the profession today.

An important accomplishment of the committee was to formulate a definition of governance that can be applied to the portfolio, program and project context. Governance may exist at various levels of the organization. It’s important to distinguish among those levels:

Organizational (or corporate) governance. This is typically a board of directors’ level and defines principles, policies and procedures around how the organization as a whole is controlled and directed. It typically includes areas of oversight such as regulatory, compliance, cultural, ethical, environmental, social responsibility and community.

Portfolio (or program, or project) management governance. This typically may be how an enterprise portfolio (or program, or project) management office (EPMO) determines common policies and procedures. This may define the hierarchy and relationships of governing bodies—for example, whether programs and projects report to a portfolio governing body and the specific criteria.

In some organizations, the EPMO may define guidelines for a phase gate approach to programs and projects. It also may define methodology for technology projects, such as adhering to standard processes (ITIL, RUP, Scrum, agile, SDLC, etc.).

Portfolio (or program, or project) governance. This is the oversight and leadership on an individual portfolio. In many organizations, there may be a capital investment committee made up of the senior executives of the business and technology areas that oversee all capital expenditures over a certain amount (typically US$1 million or more).

On an individual program or project level, it’s important to define the relationships of the various governing bodies and ensure that it’s aligned to a functional or portfolio level. A project may be required to report to functional governing bodies (IT and/or the business area), as well as the portfolio manager. It’s important to ensure that the thresholds and authority of decision-making are defined at the right levels.

In my next blog post, I’ll define terms related to using portfolio governance to ensure alignment to strategy.

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: April 02, 2016 11:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

The First Big Lesson I Learned as a Project Manager

By Conrado Morlan

We’re all novices when we start out as project managers. That’s okay. The key is to learn from your missteps.

As a young project manager in Mexico, I used to struggle with resource planning. Like many other neophyte project managers, I wanted to make sure that all the tasks in my work breakdown structure would have the required resources assigned to them by name.

The challenge was that the resources were not my direct reports. I had no control over their schedules. 

My first approach at resolving this problem was to meet with the appropriate resource managers to review all the breakdown structure tasks and available resources, assign resources’ names, and reserve the resources for my project.

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? I would get the needed resources for my project, while helping managers keep their resources busy. Then I discovered I hadn’t considered all the other projects competing for the same resources. Not to mention all the project intra-dependencies.

I kept trying hard to build a perfect project plan (full of names attached to specific tasks) without success until I was assigned to a high-visibility project that was part of a strategic initiative. The initiative was led by an experienced project manager from the organization’s headquarters in the United States.

I didn’t want my struggles with resource planning to cause me to fail in such a high-visibility setting. So during my first meeting with the American project manager, I let him know about my struggle and asked for advice.

He was glad I brought my challenge to his attention, recalling that earlier in his career he faced the same challenge. His solution: the “Chinese army approach” to resource planning.

Because resource planning can pose such a huge roadblock to many project managers, the Chinese army approach assumes an abundance of resources.

Our conversation went like this:

American project manager: How many soldiers does the Chinese army have?

             Me: Millions.

American project manager: Right. The Chinese army has unlimited resources available to the commander in chief. Applying this approach, assume you have unlimited resources with the right skills that can be assigned to the different roles in your project. The resource planning stage is too early to be worrying about names.

 

Since then, I’ve followed the Chinese army approach, identifying the necessary resources for the early stages of the project—and their availability—during the project approval process.

On several occasions, I found that the roles could not be filled with internal resources because of a lack of required skills or because the resources with the right skills were in high demand. So I had to source from a contractor.

While working with resource managers and external sources, I found the need to acquire and master communication and negotiation skills. That helped me to get the best resources, while also sometimes allowing other projects to have the resource I was pursuing. All that truly mattered was that my projects were able to produce the expected results tied to organizational business goals.

What’s the most important thing about project management you now know that you didn’t know when you began your career?

 

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: March 13, 2016 11:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)
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