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
Jess Tayel
Ramiro Rodrigues
Linda Agyapong

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Hackers: A Safety Issue

Leaders exert influence for success

Leaders exert influence for success

By Peter Tarhanidis

Whenever I’m in a leadership role I try to be sensitive to the level of influence I gain, retain and lose. Influence is a precious commodity for a leader. And it can be disastrous if you lose your team or if tensions arise that reduce one’s effectiveness to achieve a goal.

I recall one of my client assignments where the goal was to ensure a successful integration of a complex merger and acquisition. The team had slipped on dates, missed key meetings and there were no formalized milestones.

I set up casual meetings to discuss with each member what would motivate them to participate. One clear signal was that management had changed the acquisition date several times. This disengaged the team due to false starts that took time away from other priorities.

During the sponsor review, I reported there was a communication breakdown and that no one shared this effort as a priority. At that point, the sponsor could have used his position of power to pressure everyone to do their part. However, the sponsor did not want to come off as autocratic.

Instead, he asked if I would be willing to find an alternative approach to get the team’s buy in.

I realized my influence was low, but I wanted to help improve the outcome for this team. So I talked again with each team member to negotiate a common approach with the goal to be integration-ready without having an exact date.

Ultimately, our goal was to have all milestones met while a smaller core team could later remain to implement the integration when management announced the final date.

A leader uses influence as part of the process to communicate ideas, gain approval and motivate colleagues to implement the concepts through changes to the organization. 

In many cases, success increases as a leaders exert influence over others to find a shared purpose.

Tell me, which creates your best outcomes as a leader: influencing others through power or through negotiation?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: May 31, 2017 10:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Playing the Right Leadership Role

Leadership Role

By Peter Tarhanidis

It is not unusual for project leaders to fill a variety of leadership roles over the course of the many unique initiatives we take on.

As I transition from one client, program, employer or team to another, my personal challenge is to quickly work out the best leadership role to play in my new environment. Therefore, I find it helpful to have some knowledge of leadership theory and research.

Leaders must understand the role they fill in relation to staff and management. That typically falls into three categories, as defined by Henry Mintzberg, Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at the Desautels Faculty of Management of McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada:

Interpersonal: A leader who is either organizing the firm or a department, or acting as an intermediary. He or she is the figurehead, leader or liaison.

Informational: A leader that gathers, communicates and shares information with internal and external stakeholders. He or she is the mentor, disseminator, and spokesman.

Decisional: A leader that governs and has to make decisions, manage conflict and negotiate accords. He or she is the entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator and negotiator.

During one of my recent transitions, I thought I was a decisional leader, but I was expected to play an informational role. When I acted on information rather than sharing it and gaining consensus toward a common goal, my team was very confused. That’s why it’s so important to know the role you’re expected to fill.

When you start a new effort, how do you determine what role you’re expected to play? How has that contributed to your success?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: March 17, 2017 09:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

3 Tips for Training New Team Members

by Christian Bisson, PMP

When a new person joins the team, there’s always a bit of a learning curve. But when teams fail to prepare new members, it takes even longer for them to provide efficiencies and improve performance.

Here are three training tips to help new recruits hit the ground running:

1. Don’t Put Trainees In Control

Being available to answer questions isn’t a sufficient way to train new team members.

While knowledge is transferred when you answer a question, new recruits can only ask about issues they’re aware of. This means they’ll often make mistakes that could have been avoided.

Rather than let team members learn things the hard way, share important information before questions are asked—and remember that details matter. For example, project briefs are done differently everywhere, and it’s not always clear who should be included if no one has been specified. A new team member might not think to ask if he or she has sent briefs a specific way at previous jobs.

2. Create an Onboarding Plan

Don’t make new team members chase people down to discuss processes or protocols.

I once joined a team where I was told to set up meetings with a dozen different colleagues so they could explain how they work. I didn’t really know how the conversations would turn out, but I expected the others would be prepared to meet with me.

The result was a bit surprising. The list of people I was supposed to meet with was outdated—several were no longer with the company—and those who were still around expected me to lead the meeting since I had set it up (which made sense). So they didn’t quite know what to say.

This experience was an eye opener. To make new members feel welcome, teams should plan onboarding discussions in advance and have information ready to share.

3. Take a Phased Approach

More often than not, generic training sessions bore and demotivate people, wasting everyone’s time.

Instead, training should be relevant to a person’s role and immediate needs. For example, not everything that a new team member should know will be relevant on day one. If you give them information they’ll need a few months down the road during onboarding, chances are they’ll have forgotten everything when that time comes.

Training and knowledge sharing should be done gradually. The gaming world offers a useful example. Many games have ongoing tutorials where bits of information are shared throughout gameplay, requiring the player to practice a new skill right before it’s needed. This approach maximizes the learning experience and keeps training from becoming tedious. It makes lessons easier to absorb and more likely to be remembered.

Training is often thought of a secondary need for new team members, being conducted as time allows—which might be never. How do you make time for training on your team? What type of knowledge transfer do you prioritize?

Posted by Christian Bisson on: January 08, 2017 05:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

The Case for Grassroots Communities of Practice

By Peter Tarhanidis

These days there is such a high influx of projects and such a demand for project managers, but such a limited supply of practitioners. How can companies help their project professionals improve their skills and knowledge so that they can work to meet that need?

Leaders deliver more results by sponsoring grassroots project management learning and development programs. Common approaches and best practices are shared across all levels of project managers—ranging from novices to practitioners. Therefore, if an organization has more employees who can learn to leverage project management disciplines, then the organization can meet the increasing demand, and are more likely to develop mature practices that achieve better results.

One type of grassroots effort is to establish a project management community of practice (CoP). CoPs are groups of people who share a craft or a profession. Members operationalize the processes and strategies they learn in an instructional setting. The group evolves based on common interests or missions with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field.

For project managers, there is a specific added benefit of CoPs. They bring together a group who are traditionally part of separately managed units within an organization focused on strategic portfolios and programs.

CoP members develop by sharing information and experiences, which in turn develops professional competence and personal leadership. CoPs are interactive places to meet online, discuss ideas and build the profession’s body of knowledge. Knowledge is developed that is both explicit (concepts, principles, procedures) and implicit (knowledge that we cannot articulate).

In my experience, I have seen CoP utilized in lieu of project management offices. The members define a common set of tools, process and methodology. The CoP distributed work across more participants, increased their productivity to deliver hundreds of projects, improved the visibility of the members with management and positioned members for functional rotations throughout the business.

Which do you think drive better performance outcomes—establishing hierarchal project management organizations or mature project management disciplines through CoPs?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: September 21, 2016 07:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Why Email Is Not Your Friend (part 2)

By Christian Bisson, PMP

In my last post, I discussed why you should manage projects via project management tools rather than via email. Let’s imagine you’re making the transition—a wise choice, congratulations! But it may not be smooth sailing as you embed the tool into day-to-day team life.

This post talks about challenges you might encounter a long the way, and how to address them.

1. Cannot use the tool

Not everyone can pick up a tool and learn how to use it on their own. And more often than not, training given to people is not fine-tuned to each individual’s needs.

Some will struggle, meaning they will avoid the use of the tool and revert back to emails or other means to get their work done. In this instance, you might even be asked to stop using the tool yourself because others struggle.

Although abandoning the tool might seem like a quicker way of fixing the issue, it’s actually addressing a symptom, not a cause. Avoiding the use of the tool is not going to be beneficial to anyone long-term.

Instead, take the time to help anyone who struggles, or prepare customized training for your team members. Ask them where they are having trouble, and show them how they can achieve what they need to do.

2. Annoyed by notifications

Oddly, one recurring complaint of using a project management tool instead of emails is receiving too many emails. For instance, when people comment within a task, the tool might email once per comment.

There are two ways you can mitigate the amount of emails:

  • Guide people toward their notification settings so they are configured to meet their needs. Some like to have lots of emails; others prefer to use activity feeds or a notification dashboard within the tool.
  • A project management tool should not replace a conversation. Invite people to discuss issues in person or via a conference call instead of having 10 back-and-forth debates within an item of the tool.

3. Partial access or multiple tools

Many organizations work with more than one tool, which can be very effective in some cases. However, what often happens is that team members are confused because they do not know where to go to see their tasks. In addition, sometimes team members in other locations do not have access to the tool.

All this means the project manager struggles to manage all the work of a project since tasks can’t be assigned to everyone or tasks are split into different locations.

This can be tricky to deal with if the project manager cannot select tools and access. However, the objective is to have everyone on board use one project management tool only. This lets all team members know where to get the information they need and allows the project manager to have a complete view of the project in one place.

4. Email lovers

There are some who feel they cannot live without email. Even when the project management tool has all the information and properly archives it, some team members still want that information emailed to them. Project managers should not resort to sending information within the tool and also sending an email to that person, which is duplicated effort for nothing.

In these cases, it is important to show the person that the same objective can be met with the tool. Show him or her how to access the information easily and how to archive a project workspace if that is a long-term concern when closing a project.

Posted by Christian Bisson on: June 22, 2016 07:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)
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