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

Recent Posts

Standing Out as a Project Manager

Award Winning Metrics For 2018

Project Leaders Are at the Forefront of Today’s Operating Models

Influencing for Results

3 Career Goals for 2018

Project Leaders Are at the Forefront of Today’s Operating Models

By Peter Tarhanidis, M.B.A, Ph.D.

Many organizations are shifting their traditional operating models to include new innovative collaborations and social networks to sustain economic growth. These new operating models, however, challenge the future of leadership.

Most operating models used today were designed in the industrial age. In these models, the division of labor is by specialization, which is hierarchical in nature. This approach has been analyzed and debated by philosophers including Plato and economists such as Adam Smith, whose analysis is incorporated in current organizational designs defining a company’s value chain. The advantage of this approach is that it drives increases in productivity and efficiency by allocating teams by their skillset.

Yet companies are boxed in today. They have become efficient and productive, but are at a disadvantage in sustaining innovation.

Companies are challenged to design and integrate innovative operating models to continue to drive economic growth. Some ways companies are leveraging new operating models to drive innovation include creating internal groups to access and fund startups and sharing resources with external research centers to drive external collaborations that drive new product pipelines.

These innovative operating models challenge leaders to work collaboratively across value chains and external business partners. To meet that challenge, there must be a shift in a leader and team skill sets.

The organizational design shifts from a division of labor and specialization to one that taps into knowledge workers and social networks. This shift—to forge new innovations and operating models—challenges leaders to define new behaviors, styles, skills and professional networks to sustain economic growth.

Project leaders and their teams have been at the forefront of working across these emerging models, navigating both internally as productivity experts, externally as innovation collaborators, and professionally to develop social networks to foster and sustain economic growth.

One’s future as a leader comes down to navigating your development against these current organizational trends. One approach I find helpful is to define personal 360-degree feedbacks. Start with three simple questions to determine where you need to develop and build from, such as:

  1. What do senior leaders want from their leaders to sustain the company?
  2. What do clients and customers want from their partners to build strategic and trusted relationships?
  3. What do teams expect from their leaders to meet strategic initiatives and how can leaders help them succeed professionally?

Having used this personal approach, I learned the following three themes to form my development opportunities:

  1. Senior leaders are expected to communicate in a variety of forums and formats. Leaders should have the courage to ask for help. One should be very knowledgeable about the business and build the professional relationships required to be successful.
  2. Clients and customers expect great experiences with a company’s product and services. They expect leaders to learn their business, marketplace, and challenges. Build trusting relationships and strategic alliances through a successful track record.
  3. Teams want better leaders to sponsor the initiative and provide clear guidance. Align teams to a common shared purpose. Influence members to share in the success of the initiative by linking the initiative to the strategy. Demonstrate how the strategy aligns to the business and how the individual team members help the business meet its goals. Advocate for professional development and provide a mentoring opportunity to advance one’s professional goals.

One must then consider what actions they should commit to developing — whether it is leadership behaviors and styles, business relationships or knowledge — to lead today’s organizations and sustain economic growth and relevance.  

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: February 08, 2018 11:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Influencing for Results

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?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: February 01, 2018 12:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

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 (18)

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 (16)

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 (13)
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