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
Joanna Newman
Christian Bisson
Linda Agyapong
Soma Bhattacharya
Jess Tayel
Rex Holmlin
Ramiro Rodrigues
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Wanda Curlee

Past Contributers:

Jorge Valdés Garciatorres
Hajar Hamid
Dan Goldfischer
Saira Karim
Jim De Piante
sanjay saini
Judy Umlas
Abdiel Ledesma
Michael Hatfield
Deanna Landers
Alfonso Bucero
Kelley Hunsberger
William Krebs
Peter Taylor
Rebecca Braglio
Geoff Mattie
Dmitri Ivanenko PMP ITIL

Recent Posts

Lessons Learned From an Inspiring AI Project

The Project Initiatives That Influenced My Career

Seek Better Questions, Not Answers

A Home for Transformation: Lessons From Fannie Mae’s PMO

Indulge Your Audacious Curiosity—Even if It Means Failing

The Project Initiatives That Influenced My Career

By Peter Tarhanidis, PhD

I’ve been fortunate to have a career that constantly challenges me and my team to apply new approaches to achieve an organization’s mission. I believe that adapting these contemporary management practices and innovative operating models has helped me become the project leader I am today. 

Below are select project initiatives that have helped me develop my skills:

  1. I integrated process and technology to drive staff productivity. Customer centricity is at the heart of the experience. While working in a call center, my team and I initiated a training process improvement for onboarding new hires. I drafted process steps and key instructions for each one, and then connected the technology opportunities to automate non-value steps. This resulted in reduced training cycles and onboarding staff time from eight weeks to two weeks. It also increased customer satisfaction.
  1. I quantified assumptions with data and facts. I remember one instance where senior leaders did not have the data to explain consumer behavior and decided to stick with the status quo of the same services at the same rate—not realizing consumer segments had changed. By applying statistical analysis and regression theories, I was able to identify pricing elasticity levels that formed a new strategy to increase revenues and attract new consumers.
  1. I leveraged standards-based solutions to scale growth and introduce emerging technologies. Prior to standards adoption, I relied on international standards bodies to align on the highest operating performance of disparate systems. This helped to standardize new telecommunication technologies that architected new building designs with IT infrastructure to integrate disparate HVAC, security, green services, data centers, retail systems and real estate development opportunities across the U.S. This led to increased revenue and operating efficiencies by creating an online retail catalogue and also reduced the cost of managing business services.
  1. I extended expertise across the globe by managing vendor partnerships. I established a vendor management practice to oversee strategic partnerships, outsourcing and offshoring to improve from hybrid technical data centers to Global Business Shared Services across non-core services in organizations. This extended needed services in local countries in their time, language and at lower costs—and also enabled increased market share for commercial operations.
  1. I designed business operating models to align strategy across an organization. This included key projects to benchmark customer market space, work with senior leaders and define a gap analysis to address via business cases. This allowed me to transform departments, business units and re-engineer organizations.
  1. I worked across diverse geographies and industries. For example, I drove cultural and change management in R&D, operations and supply chain. This exposed me to business development and mergers and acquisitions, and allowed me to learn the latest in designing user experiences, advanced robotic automation and AI technologies to connect to deeper business insights.
     
  2. I led a nonprofit organization of volunteers to develop my leadership skills. When individuals give their time, it is important to be clear and align the volunteers to action. These interactions and relationships are truly based on a work-at-will agreement. If you treat everyone with dignity and a set of behaviors that empower purposeful action, you will achieve a great leadership style that supports many environments and solves social and business needs.

What themes have you identified in your career? How have you broadened your range?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: November 13, 2019 10:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Are You Neglecting Your Professional Development?

By Conrado Morlan

“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” ―Benjamin Franklin

I’ve heard from colleagues in project management that they don’t have access to professional development opportunities to help them improve and increase their capabilities. That led me to do some research. I found Training magazine's Training Industry Report, which is recognized as the training industry’s most trusted source of data on budgets, staffing and programs in the United States. It found that U.S. companies spent over US$90 billion on training and development activities in 2017, which represents a year-over-year increase of 32.5 percent. 

With that information on hand, I took the opportunity to ask my colleagues if the companies they work for are among the organizations spending money on training and professional development.

Some of them were fortunate to work for companies with professional development budgets, but they didn’t take the training due to their workload or personal reasons. In other words, the opportunity was there but it was neglected.

For those who worked for companies without professional development dollars, their main complaint was that the company did not appreciate them and the opportunities to develop more capabilities were so limited.

I asked them: Who takes charge of your professional development? You, or the company you work for? Many of them responded that the responsibility fell to the company they work for, because training would help create a more competitive workforce, increased employee retention and higher employee engagement. I agree on all the benefits the company would get, but ultimately the individual is responsible for their professional development.

I have worked for both types of companies. In the ones with development budgets, I saw former colleagues neglecting opportunities because “they did not have time,” they did not like to travel or simply because they felt it was not needed. In the ones without budgets, I heard the same claims mentioned above.

While working for the latter type of company, I took ownership of my professional development. Instead of seeing roadblocks, I saw opportunities, which led me to do the following:

  • Attend conferences. When I found out the company wouldn’t pay for the conferences I wanted to attend, I explored three options:
  1. Submit a paper. In many cases guest speakers do not have to pay the registration fee, or the fee might be reduced. This has to be done ahead of time during the call-for-papers period
  2. Volunteer to support the event. Volunteers are assigned to different tasks before, during or after the event, but they are allowed to attend the conference while they are not on duty.
  3. Find other ways to save. If options one and two did not work and I saw the value of attending the conference, I looked for early-bird registration or contacted sponsors to see if they would share a discount code to avoid paying the full registration fee.
  • Get stretch assignments. I was looking to learn more about the company and expand my knowledge outside project management, so I looked for an assignment on the business side that would challenge me.
  • Be a volunteer. This gave me the opportunity to give back to my community and support local chapters of professional organizations like PMI. I was able to attend chapter events, such as professional development days or chapter dinners, free of charge, and they helped me discover how to improve my project management capabilities. 

So do not solely hold the company you work for responsible for your growth. Take charge of your professional development. After all, if you do not invest in yourself, nobody will.

How do you take charge of your own professional development?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: February 20, 2019 09:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

How to Unleash Your Presence as a Leader

By Peter Tarhanidis, MBA, Ph.D. 

In project management, your presence as a leader is vital to your success. But how do you begin to refine this skill set? Start by considering what kind of presence you convey, and how that presence impacts your influence with teams.

Underlying a leader’s presence are sets of behaviors and actions directed toward team members in various situations. A leader must distinguish between the two prevailing behavioral approaches. In the task approach, leaders accomplish their goals by setting structures, organizing work, and defining roles and responsibilities. The relationship approach, on the other hand, employs behaviors to help teams feel at ease within a variety of situations.

In other words: Is the leader driven to treat team members as valued individuals and attend to their needs, or do they see team members as a means to achieving a goal? This approach will affect a leader and their team’s performance.

Project managers are constantly combining these two approaches to influence teams and attain a goal. Clearly, there are certain behaviors that emerge in one’s presence which increase one’s influence over teams. Examples include humility, honesty, confidence, composure and emotional intelligence. But the truth is, influencing teams takes a great deal of time and energy. There is only a certain amount of time and energy one dedicates in every moment. For many project managers this creates a challenge: What can a leader do to be present in every moment?

The opportunity does exist for leaders to train themselves to be present. By applying a certain regimen of actions, a leader can apply a thoughtful approach to increasing their presence. Dedicating yourself to increasing your energy and presence will result in positively influencing teams. Below is a list of four actions to help unleash one’s performance through increased energy, focus and presence:

  1. Define your purpose to engage your passion and goals. Write down an easy and memorable statement that you can use as your personal branding message.
  2. Identify the key relationships that require your energy and balance their needs.
  3. Stay physically and emotionally healthy, which will increase your energy levels.
  4. Take time daily to meditate to recognize your feelings and the consequences of the decisions you need to make to attain your goals.

Let me know how you unleash your performance. Please share your top behavior picks, why they define your presence, and how you successfully increased your influence with teams!

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: February 06, 2019 10:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

The Worst Project Manager I Ever Worked For Was Me

 

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:

 

 

  1. I Wanted the Title of “Project Manager”

 

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.

 

  1. I Tried to Make Everyone Happy  

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.

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: August 10, 2018 06:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (33)

Can Frogs Be Stakeholders?

by Linda Agyapong

"Who" really is a stakeholder?

I enjoy breaking down some of the buzzwords in project management.

In my previous post, we looked at “project success” vs. “project management success.”

Today I’d like to focus on “stakeholder”—one of the most buzzworthy terms.

For this discussion, let’s check in with our three favorite project managers: Jim, Mary and Alex. They have been tasked with a major construction project in Europe. On the first day of their kickoff meeting, as they were documenting their project charter, they got stuck because the three of them could not agree on identifying all the stakeholders for the project.

Turns out the targeted site for the construction project had a natural habitat for a specific kind of protected species—the moor frog.

Jim and Mary jointly agreed that moor frogs should never be considered as stakeholders of the project—after all, they were not humans. But Alex maintained that they should be considered as stakeholders because the frogs would either be significantly affected by the project, or they would significantly affect the project.

Alex then explained that the classic definition of a stakeholder—from the legendary business theorist R. Edward Freeman—did not segregate animals from humans, nor living things from non-living things. In his award-winning book, Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, Mr. Freeman defined a stakeholder as “any group or individual who can affect, or is affected by the achievement of the organization's objectives.” He subsequently clarified that this definition can be expanded further to cover anything that the organization significantly affects, or is significantly affected by it.

Alex added that the very issue had been argued in the journal article Project Temporalities: How Frogs Can Become Stakeholders by Kjell Tryggestad, Lise Justesen and Jan Mouritsen. These authors took the stance that the natural habitat of the frogs provided some benefits to people in the community, such as via food, recreation or entertainment. Because of that value, the moor frogs should be classified as stakeholders.

Robert A. Phillips and Joel Reichart argued the opposite in their article, The Environment as a Stakeholder? A Fairness-Based Approach. They said that this natural habitat cannot be classified as a stakeholder because, “only humans are capable of generating the necessary obligations for generating stakeholder status.” Their basis was that stakeholders can only impact a project when they “make themselves known as part of the empirical process to develop the project.”

Tryggestad, Justesen and Mouritsen, however, advised that non-living things could be actors of the project if they make a visible difference within the project, such as significantly impacting any of the triple constraints of the project (namely time, cost and scope). Their rationale was that “an actor does not act alone. It acts in relation to other actors, linked up with them.” The frogs were then considered to be “an entity entangled in a larger assemblage consisting of both humans and non-humans.” At the end of their research, the frogs were classified as actors or stakeholders of the construction project.

To bring it home, Alex calmly advised his colleagues that the frogs have peacefully lived in that part of the community for several years. To avoid incurring the residents’ wrath, they should classify frogs as stakeholders and subsequently make the necessary arrangements to appease the community accordingly.

In the end, Jim and Mary unanimously agreed to this great suggestion.

I encourage you to think outside the box to identify all the potential stakeholders for your upcoming projects. Good luck!

Posted by Linda Agyapong on: May 23, 2018 05:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)
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