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?
A project is a planned and coordinated piece of work that requires considerable effort to deliver a specific result.
According to PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), a project is a temporary endeavor to create a unique result. And it is performed by people, constrained by limited resources, planned, executed and controlled.
Project management is an interdisciplinary approach to balance the conflicting interests and constraints of a project: well done (scope), fast (time) and cheap (cost).
Although there are other important aspects of managing a project that will be covered in subsequent posts here, the triple constraint (scope, time and cost) implies that a project, large or small, addresses at least the following areas:
Project managers perform four primary management functions:
1. Planning: This encompasses project initiation and detailed planning, involving processes to identify needs and requirements, define deliverables and tasks, estimate resources and develop the project management plan.
2. Organizing: This function prepares for execution, it is a supporting and administrative function to provide project structure and governance. Most of the time, organizing involves staffing and procurement, but other preparation activities might be included here.
3. Directing: This is the management function of getting the work done, managing execution according to the plan. It encompasses stakeholder engagement, team management and communications management.
4. Controlling: This function takes care of project performance monitoring, preventive and corrective actions and the integrated change control.
These functions might be performed in parallel and should not be understood as sequential.
Outside of these functions, project managers should also focus on managerial aspects of the project, including leadership. Although it is desirable that the project manager possess some knowledge in general business management, business analysis and the technical aspects of the project, they are usually supported by other experts in a number of project management related disciplines including systems engineering, requirements engineering and specialist engineering disciplines, quality assurance, integrated logistic support and more depending on the project and industry.
But, are these best practices really universal given all these factors? Please leave your comments below. We’ll be looking further into this question in subsequent posts.
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?
by Christian Bisson, PMP
Several years ago, I decided to put my web developer hat behind me and become a project manager (and eventually product owner). At first I wasn’t sure if I would be up to the challenge given that most project managers have different backgrounds.
But several years later, I don’t regret my decision.
Technical project managers are more present — and required — in the digital world, and I have no doubt that will keep rising. Here’s why.
The Rising Digital World
The digital world is taking up more space in our lives. And it doesn’t stop at what people see, there is also a vast world of data happening behind the scenes.
A project manager that can’t comprehend the technical relationship between every piece of a client’s ecosystem will fail to manage it properly. As ecosystems grow, it will become more of a challenge to ensure teams have the right people at the right time so that everything comes together as planned.
Still, many project managers are not even aware of what a development environment (development, staging, user acceptance testing, production) or even deployments are. Project managers today should know about synchronizing websites, apps and other tools together. If one can’t deploy a site, then there is simply no hope.
A website used to consist of images and text, so not understanding how it worked didn’t matter much if you had the team to compensate.
Today, however, a lot of websites use advanced technologies to provide users with what they want, like powerful search engines or features using machine learning.
Machine learning in particular is becoming the toy every kid wants. It’s also within everyone’s grasp—whether it’s with advanced machine learning expertise or with tools made available by Google, for example. Project managers need to understand this technology in order to bring out its full potential within the projects they manage, otherwise it becomes a trend word that brings nothing to the table.
Everyone knows that communication is key to running any team smoothly. If a project manager can’t understand what the team is communicating, then he or she can’t properly manage the project.
Furthermore, clients are becoming more techy and often have a better understanding of how things work. So if project managers don’t understand the tech behind the project, they can’t have proper conversations with the client. It helps in key project decisions to actually understand what is going on.
What are your thoughts on technical project managers? As the world becomes more digital, are they becoming essential?