by Kevin Korterud
I always enjoy hearing about the early careers of the project managers I meet. In almost every conversation, the subject turns to when they were team members being led by a highly capable senior project manager who provided guidance in starting up, executing and sometimes turning around projects.
It’s also not uncommon to hear stories of the worst project manager they ever worked for. These stories, while not as glowing, also influenced their careers around what not to do. By probing a bit deeper, they offered up observations of certain behaviors that created havoc, dissatisfaction and quite often failed projects.
From these observations of the worst-ever project manager, I started to put together my own thoughts on who I would select for this inglorious label. After careful consideration, I arrived at the only logical choice: me. In my early years as a project manager I managed to consistently demonstrate all of the behaviors of poor project managers.
Here are my votes for the most significant behaviors that led to consistently poor performance as a project manager early in my career:
When I was a project team member I relished the thought of one day having a business card with an impressive title of project manager. My thought being once I received that lofty title, it would allow me to be successful at whatever project I was assigned to lead. In addition, the acquisition of that title would instantly garner respect from other project managers.
I failed to realize that most project managers are already quite proficient at leading teams and producing results. The title comes with a heavy burden of responsibility that was exponentially greater than what I had as a project team member. As a team member, I didn’t realize how much my project manager shielded me from the sometimes unpleasant realities of projects.
The satisfaction of acquiring the title of project manager can be very short-lived if you’re not adequately prepared. My goal became to perform at the level at or above what the title that project manager reflected.
2. I Talked Too Much
Perhaps I was wrongly influenced by theater or movies where great leaders are often portrayed in time of need as delivering impressive speeches that motivate people to outstanding results. I remember quite clearly some of the meetings I led as a new project manager that quite honestly should have won me an award for impersonating a project manager.
Meetings were dominated by my overconfident and ill-formed views on what was going right and wrong. In addition, I also had the false notion that I had the best approach to all of the risks and issues on the project. No surprise that this mode of interaction greatly limited the size of projects I could effectively lead. Essentially, it was a project team of one.
After a while, I started to observe that senior project managers spent a fair portion of the time in their meetings practicing active listening. In addition, they would pause, ponder the dialogue and pose simple but effective probing questions. When I started to emulate some of these practices, it resulted in better performance that created opportunities to lead larger projects. “Less is more” became a theme that allowed me to understand the true problems and work with the team to arrive at effective mitigations.
One of the most critical components of any project is the people that comprise the team members and stakeholders. As a new project manager, I tended to over-engage with stakeholders and team members by attempting to instantly resolve every issue, whether real or perceived. My logic was that if I removed any opportunity for dissatisfaction then project success would be assured.
I failed to realize this desire to completely please everyone quite often resulted in pleasing nobody. In addition, I also managed to pay insufficient attention to the key operational facets of a project: estimates, forecasts, metrics and other essentials needed to keep a project on track. Furthermore, the business case for the project gathered almost no consideration as I was busy trying to make everyone happy as a path to results.
Over time I began to adopt a more balanced approach that allowed me to spend the proper level of engagement with people, processes and the project business case. This balanced approach allowed me to have a broader span of control for factors that could adversely affect a project.
For all the things we have learned over the years as project managers, it sometimes causes me to wish for a time machine to go back and avoid all of the mistakes we made. But then, we would not have had the benefit of the sometimes-traumatic learning experiences that have made us the project managers that we are today.
Did you ever consider yourself to be the worst project manager you ever worked for? I think we all were at one point in our careers.
High-Performance Teams Are Purpose-Driven
Education and Training,
Human Aspects of PM,
New to Project Management,
Nontraditional Project Management,
Reflections on the PM Life,
Categories: Benefits Realization, Best Practices, Career Help, Change Management, Communication, Complexity, Education and Training, Facilitation, Generational PM, Human Aspects of PM, Human Resources, Innovation, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Mentoring, New to Project Management, Nontraditional Project Management, Program Management, Project Delivery, Project Failure, Reflections on the PM Life, Risk Management, Stakeholder, Strategy, Talent Management, Teams
By Peter Tarhanidis, Ph.D., M.B.A.
Program teams should collaborate like a world-class orchestra.
This ideal state of team engagement and performance requires the presence of several key elements, including an engaged sponsor, a governance committee, a project manager and a status dashboard to communicate performance.
However, maximizing this level of performance is especially challenging when working with cross-functional groups, external stakeholders and shareholders. This increases the complexity of the human performance aspects of team management.
I recall one assignment I worked on that required the team to design and build a new centralized model to bring together three different operations. The team was given two additional challenges. The first challenge was to consolidate disparate teams into two geographic centers. They also had to reduce the overall timeline from 18 months to 10 months.
These challenges exacerbated how teams were not working well with their counterparts. They quickly became dysfunctional and lost their purpose. The project was crashing.
Stepping into this situation I decided to conduct a stakeholder analysis. I used this approach as an intervention method to understand the underlying themes. The analysis revealed the team:
After reflecting on the team’s feedback, I realized that most members wanted to find meaning in their work. It seemed no one was developing their sense of shared purpose and putting their strengths to work toward this program.
I decided I needed to re-invest them as members of the team. To get the team back to performing well, I:
This approach strengthened the program and delivered on the challenges.
The lesson learned is, do not simply apply methods and approaches in complex program delivery. Manage the team’s purpose and establish shared values as an important driver of overall delivery.
How do you manage that purpose and invest in high-performing teams?
By Wanda Curlee
In my last post, I discussed the project manager-powered management model that centers on neuroscience and people. Many models that discuss project management forget that people are the center of a project team. It is the people that have the power within the project.
Below is the model—let’s look at it in more detail.
By keeping the triangle in balance, the project success rate increases to 60 percent.
Time is the anchor as it can’t be managed. After all, time is constant — a person can’t make it go faster or slower.
Variables are on another side. They incorporate all those items that affect the project or program, including environment, politics, lack of resources, risks, opportunities and more. The effects of the project or program can be positive or negative. Hence, a powerful sponsor can increase the project’s success rate.
Finance is the final side. The word finance was chosen deliberately. Today, there are many ways to support a project or program. It may be normal currency. But financial support could also come in the form of bitcoin, credit cards, loans, various apps used to exchange money and even bartering. Each type is no better or worse than the other. In the future, there may even be something different that has not even be envisioned today.
Project or program managers and their teams have to keep the triangle in balance. If one side falters, the triangle collapses — hence the red bolt in the middle.
The project manager should lead efforts to keep the triangle in balance and drive results; the project team has the power to accomplish tasks.
The entire model is based on human emphasis, which is predicated on neuroscience. And once project or program managers understand the foundation of what drives human behavior, they can then motivate and drive projects to success.
However, the project/program manager has to have a sense of pAcuity: The “p” is project, program, or portfolio, while acuity means keenness. The leader, along with the team, has to have the keenness to take the project/program/portfolio in the right direction by understanding how to harness individuals’ power. Individuals, then, need to have the keenness to assess what is going on around them to drive the tasks to completion. This is done through neuroscience or understanding how we as humans think.
Stay tuned for my next post to understand the brain and how it drives us to perform on the project or program.
Award-Winning Metrics For 2018
by Kevin Korterud
What are the best metrics for determining if a project is about to experience schedule, budget or quality slippages? These metrics are best categorized as delivery volatility metrics.
Executives already know when a project is in trouble — they are more concerned with those projects whose trajectory is on a currently unseen course to trouble.
PMI offers guidance on project metrics to help detect delivery volatility, such as the Cost Performance Indicator and Earned Value Management. While project reporting will likely have one or more of these metrics, I got to thinking what other metrics would indicate the potential of delivery volatility.
An additional complication is the various approaches used today, including agile, waterfall, company custom, software product, service supplier and regulatory. These can all generate their own set of metrics.
While pondering this question watching TV one evening, I noticed a multitude of movie, theater, television and music award shows that tend to occur this time of year. A characteristic of these shows is the numerous categories that are awarded to nominees — Best Supporting Actress, Best New Pop Group, Best Special Effects and so on.
As I was organizing my thoughts around metrics, I figured: Why not use award show categories to help shape an answer on which metrics would best suit early detection of delivery volatility?
As the Master Of Ceremonies for the 2018 Project Metrics Award show, here are a few of the winners:
As our projects become more complex and more numerous, the ability to deliver on a set schedule becomes more important. The SPI has the great benefit of comparing actual and planned progress in an objective manner: earned value/planned value.
The true power of SPI comes into play when selecting a method for earned value accumulation. Assuming work plans are at a level of granularity where task progress can be measured within a two to four week window, a conservative earned value scheme such as 0%/100%, 25%/75% based on task start and completion is a very objective means of calculating progress.
With these conservative schemes, you capture value when the tasks have started (when resources are truly free to work on tasks) and whether the task has been completed (usually with acceptance of completion by a project manager or stakeholder).
Given today’s tight delivery timeframes, as well as the need to coordinate delivery with other projects, SPI is a good indicator as to the schedule fitness of a project.
2. Best Supporting Emerging Metric: Functional Progress Metrics!
As I shared above, there are now a multitude of methods available to run projects. From these methods, all sorts of new metrics are available to project managers to identify delivery volatility. These metrics can include completed user stories, forecast backlog, project burndown, build objects, test case performance and many others.
In addition to these new metrics, a whole host of new waterfall, agile and other tools have come into play that capture functional progress outside of the traditional work plan tasks and milestones. In fact, work plan detail requirements can be relaxed when these tools are used to shed light on the functional progress of a project.
The power of these functional metrics is that they allow the next level of inspection underlying project phases, tasks and milestones to see delivery trajectory. For example, being able to see the detailed completion progress of requirements, build objects and test cases in automated tools allows project managers to catch underlying barriers to progress before it is revealed in a work plan.
As project managers, the universal outcome for our efforts is that we need to create value for our project executives and stakeholders. While activities can lead to creating value, our mission revolves around the production of deliverables in a timely manner to fulfill a project value proposition.
The inherent power in providing and approving deliverables in a timely manner is that they are completely objective means of progress. No matter what method, effort, dependencies, resources, tools or other constructs of project management are employed, deliverables are an indicator of whether you are making progress. The track of deliverables being created, reviewed and approved on schedule means you are making definitive progress toward value.
Creating a track of deliverables and their targeted completion dates with progress that can be monitored through other metrics allows a universally understood path to project completion. For example, if a deliverable has not yet been approved by stakeholders, you are making visible a potential schedule delay that would impair future work activities.
To host your own 2018 project metrics award show, one does not need a spotlight or trophies. You just need to think about what metrics can serve to detect early signs of delivery volatility beyond the self-declared green/yellow/red stoplights that are typically found in project status reports.
If you were handing out your very own 2018 project metrics awards, what categories would you select? What would win?
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?