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
3 Tips to Enhance Your Leadership IQ
Education and Training,
Human Aspects of PM,
Reflections on the PM Life,
Categories: Benefits Realization, Best Practices, Career Help, Change Management, Communication, Communication, Complexity, Education and Training, Ethics, Facilitation, Human Aspects of PM, Human Resources, Innovation, Innovation, Leadership, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Lessons Learned, Mentoring, Program Management, Project Delivery, Project Failure, Project Planning, Project Requirements, Reflections on the PM Life, Risk Management, Roundtable, Social Responsibility, Stakeholder, Strategy, Talent Management, Teams
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:
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?
By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP
There’s great news for the profession: According to PMI’s latest Job Growth and Talent Gap report, there will be a need to fill 2.2 million jobs globally each year until 2027, growing to a total of 88 million project management jobs in all. Moreover, much of the growth is outside the United States—in places such as China, India, Brazil and Japan.
Project-related job growth is expected to be 33 percent overall, with health care (17 percent), manufacturing/construction (10 percent) and information services/publishing (6 percent) representing the top three industries.
How can you position yourself to take advantage of these trends? Here are three things to work on.
1. Get a Certification
Although certification by itself doesn’t guarantee that you will be hired, it does mean that you have demonstrated knowledge and experience in project, program or portfolio management. There aren’t many PMI Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)® credential holders out there, so obtaining this certification will help set you apart.
But, instead of viewing the PfMP certification as the goal, plan to take it as a journey. If you find that you don’t have the requisite experience, how can you position yourself by taking volunteer roles to gain the experience?
Career development should be a joint responsibility between you and your manager. You should express the desire and develop the knowledge to grow your experience in certain areas, and your manager can work to open up opportunities to help you practice your knowledge.
Work on delivering strategic initiatives, driving change and providing innovation consistently and reliably. It’s not experimenting, but actually delivering—first on a smaller scale, then on a larger scale.
For portfolio managers, for example, you may start by managing the portfolio of a department or product, then move to an entire business unit, segment or product line, and finally on to an enterprise level.
There are three key areas to grow the depth and breadth of your experience:
1. Strategic alignment: Go beyond understanding the strategy and proactively work to translate that strategy into specific initiatives. This can be done by defining the business cases, developing multi-year roadmaps or translating high-level concepts into specific projects that will deliver the result, benefit or transformation promised.
2. Benefits realization: This starts with validating the business case and ownership of the benefits, and is typically realized three to six months after the project/program delivery via operational budget savings, reductions or reallocations. Few organizations realize the benefits because they are often too optimistic in the upfront business case and fail to follow through by ensuring that operational budgets reflect the promised savings or headcount efficiencies.
3. Project/program delivery: The foundation of portfolio management is good project and program execution to deliver the product, service or result on time, on budget and per the scope. It doesn’t matter if it’s agile, waterfall or hybrid. Although the portfolio manager may not be responsible for the delivery, the delivery affects the portfolio value. Ensuring that the portfolio value is realized means ensuring the project or program was delivered effectively and efficiently regardless of the methodology.
3. Communicate Effectively
Working on the portfolio level means that you’re communicating a vast amount of information—anywhere from 15 to 50 projects and programs—in an actionable way to executives. I’ve had executives tell me, “Don’t tell me what’s going right, tell me what’s going wrong and how to fix it.” Your role is to remember the four “C”s—clear, concise, compelling and credible. Be to the point, tell the story and build trust with a clear plan of action to fix any potential issues proactively.
By Linda Agyapong, PMP
I received a lot of interesting feedback on my last post, “What Defines Project Success,” which has necessitated a follow up.
For those who missed the discussion, Aaron Shenhar et al. summarized it perfectly by saying there is no one-size-fits-all definition for project success. Instead, it’s based on the philosophy of “how different dimensions mean different things to different stakeholders at different times and for different projects.”
Every project is different and hence could have different success criteria. These were the exact same sentiments that folks shared in the discussion on my last post. This time we’ll dissect the concept of project success by breaking down some of the buzzwords surrounding it.
Project managers Jim, Mary and Alex (the same characters from our prior discussion), entered into a high profile kick-off meeting with some Fortune 500 clients regarding an upcoming million-dollar project. When the floor was opened for the clients to ask questions, they unanimously said that nearly 50 percent of the discussion went over their heads because all they could hear were buzzwords.
These buzzwords were “project success” vs. “project management success” and “project success factors” vs. “project success criteria.” The clients could not figure out if they meant the same or not. Let’s help Jim, Mary and Alex break down these buzzwords to their clients based on recent research I performed.
Project Success vs. Project Management Success
Terry Cooke-Davies embarked on an empirical study to identify the factors that are critical in obtaining successful projects after stakeholders had been disappointed with the project results that were being obtained. His study was to address the following three broad concerns:
· The factors that make project management successful
· The factors that make projects successful
· The factors that make projects successful on a consistent basis
Although his three concerns may appear to be intertwined, Anton de Wit provided a distinction: Project success identifies factors that help to attain the overall objectives of the project, whereas project management success focuses on addressing some of the project’s constraints (including time, cost and quality) within the project.
Based on this understanding, Mr. Cooke-Davies concluded that there is a cycle of individual success (such as an individual’s leadership style), which leads to corporate success that later transforms into corporate best practices. As such, once these best practices are consistently applied, it could lead to making projects successful on a consistent basis.
Project Success Factors vs. Project Success Criteria
In their research, Ralf Müller and Kam Jugdev argued that project success factors identify the specific elements within the project “which, when inﬂuenced, increase the likelihood of success.” They added that these are the independent variables that enhance the success of the project. And Mr. de Wit described them as “those inputs to the management system that” directly or indirectly lead to the project’s success. (Can you name some specific examples?)
Conversely, Dr. Müller and Dr. Jugdev explained that project success criteria are the measures (or acceptance criteria) by which the final outcome of the project will be judged, i.e., whether the project is successful, challenged or a failure. They added that the project’s success is measured by these dependent variables. (Can you name some examples?)
So there you have it! Are you enjoying this ride so far?
In my next post I’ll tie this concept of project success to the stakeholder. Until then, I’m interested to get your perspective on this topic.
Understanding Expert Judgment
By Lynda Bourne
A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) uses the concept of “expert judgment” in most of its processes, but only has a relatively brief description of the concept. It describes expert judgment as “judgment based on expertise appropriate for the activity being performed” and advises, “such expertise may be provided by any group or person with specialized education, knowledge, skills, experience or training.”
This description leaves three questions:
Obtaining the expertise necessary to arrive at a wise judgment is not the exclusive responsibility of the project manager—you do not have to be the expert! However, the project manager is undoubtedly responsible for the consequences of any judgments that are made.
Instead, project managers should focus on knowing how to obtain the necessary expert advice and how to use that advice to arrive at the best project decision.
Finding an Expert
The first challenge in applying expert judgment is identifying the right people with the right expertise to provide advice.
By definition, an expert is a person whose opinion—by virtue of education, training, certification, skills or experience—is recognized as holding authoritative knowledge. But this definition is subjective and different experts will frequently have very different opinions around the same question or set of facts.
Also, as the Dunning-Kruger effect explains, people with limited knowledge are often absolutely certain about the facts.
Experts, however, being more cognizant of what they don’t know and having the knowledge to appreciate the complexity and depth of a problem, will frequently only provide a probabilistic answer, such as, “I would suggest this option, but….”
The decision-maker must ensure that the information brought into the judgment process is the best information—not the information that is advocated most loudly.
The organization needs to make information available to its managers about the sources and types of expertise available, and the location of useful experts. This information needs to be updated on a regular basis and be accessible.
In the context of expert judgment, judgment is an action verb—it is the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions based on information and knowledge derived from the application of expertise. Consequently, while the project manager can, and frequently should, seek expert advice to help inform his or her judgment, ultimately the considered decision that comes out of the judgment process is the responsibility of the project manager.
The defining competence of every good manager, project managers included, is their ability to make effective and timely decisions. The challenge is balancing the decision’s importance, the timeframe in which the decision is required, the cost (including opportunity costs) accrued in reaching the decision and the availability of the resources used in the decision-making process.
The key elements of effective judgment are:
The judgment portion of expert judgment is part of the individual manager’s skill set. Their innate abilities should be supported with training and a culture that rewards a proactive approach to deciding.
Making an Expert Judgment
Bringing expertise and decision-making skills together to form an expert judgment works best in a structured process. PMI’s publication, Expert Judgment in Project Management: Narrowing the Theory-Practice Gap, outlines the framework:
When significant decisions are needed on a regular basis within the organization, standard operating processes should be defined to reinforce the practice of obtaining an expert judgment using the organizations knowledge resources.
How do you go about making expert judgments?