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.
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!
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?
A successful project requires a combination of technical and managerial activities at every stage to jointly deliver the final result and its benefits.
If you have high levels of maturity in project management without the equivalent technical knowledge, your project is doomed to deliver a poor solution. On the other hand, when you have best-in-class technical knowledge without project management maturity, your project is also doomed to be inefficient and maybe even inefficacious.
Many organizations have already developed competency models to encompass technical and managerial aspects of projects, describing overlapping areas and highlighting essential project management and systems engineering foundations of successful projects.
Consider the U.S.’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) competency model, which “outlines distinct competency areas for project managers and systems engineers, as well as shared competencies that encompass both disciplines.”
Examples of defined project management competencies include:
Examples of defined system engineer competencies include:
Examples of shared competencies include:
You might be asking yourself what does NASA have to do with your own daily projects? Most of us are working in projects and programs far simpler than building space systems. However, my objective here is to call attention to the best in class so that we can contextualize and tailor their model to our own reality.
Of course, in order to achieve a proper balance in your projects, thoughtful tailoring is essential. Take the International Council on Systems Engineering’s handbook, A Guide for System Life Cycle Processes and Activities:
“On smaller projects, where the span of required communications is small (few people and short project life cycle) and the cost of rework is low, Systems Engineering activities can be conducted very informally (and thus at low cost). On larger projects, where the cost of failure or rework is high, increased formality can significantly help in achieving project opportunities and in mitigating project risk.”
Even small and medium projects can benefit a lot from the proper combination of project management and systems engineering. Systems engineering is helpful not only in developing complex products and services, such as a spaceship or an air traffic control system, but also in less sophisticated products such as a bicycle or an alarm system. In fact, systems engineering is even helpful when you are designing your new house.
What product development approaches are you using today? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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:
Having used this personal approach, I learned the following three themes to form my development opportunities:
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.