A great emphasis is often placed on the selection of a project manager. Much has been written about the need for training, credentials, experience and ability to engage with stakeholders as the keys to a successful project.
But, I have not seen a similar level of attention paid to the selection of project team members. In fact, I believe many project stakeholders think there are only two roles on a project: project manager and everyone else. It’s often thought that project managers can surmount every difficulty a project may encounter—and that other team members are less of a consideration.
In reality, the selection of team members is as important as the selection of a project manager.
Here are some techniques I use to make good choices as I put together a project team:
Every project has a dynamic driven by the urgency of completion. This dynamic varies by the rigidity of the finish date, required project duration and the number of outside dependencies. Examples of projects with high levels of urgency include regulatory compliance, merger and acquisition and internal corporate mandate projects. Projects with lower completion urgency tend to be longer in duration, but also often are quite complex in nature—think transformations, large system integrations, etc.
The dynamics around urgency of completion help shape the selection criteria for project team members. For higher urgency completion projects, I tend to go with people who exhibit high creativity and the ability to deal with high uncertainty. For lower urgency completion projects, I typically select people who are more measured in their actions and show consistent execution over long periods of time.
I also try to select one person for the team who has the opposite social style as others to serve as a counterpoint, which can be very healthy for a project. This ensures that a balanced perspective is being employed by the project team to resolve issues.
2. Look for Learning Experiences
When selecting team members, I ask them to share the greatest learning experiences they’ve had on past projects. These learning experiences can take the form of working on troubled projects, handling issues with project team members or managing adversity in their personal lives.
These learning experiences build confidence and character that is desired not only for the person being selected for the project, but also for mutual growth with other people on the project. Effective project resources tend to exhibit strong performance in the face of adversity. Project team members with these skills are essential to building a strong, synergistic project team.
A lack of learning experiences tends to indicate a more narrow range of capabilities, which would not contribute to building a strong project team.
Project managers are often pulled in many different directions, which can slow a project’s progress.
To remedy this situation, make one of your team members your second-in-command on the project. They can backfill in times of high engagement to help resolve issues and keep the project team going.
The other benefit to having a second-in-command is the valuable development opportunities the role provides. He or she gets to experience active project management while having the safety of the project manager for guidance. I have found over the years that people who perform well in second-in-command roles perform extremely well when they become full-fledged project managers.
I once had a senior project manager tell me, “Your team is only as strong as your weakest link.” Picking the right team is as important as selecting the project to manage. A rush to staff team members quite often leads to a re-staffing exercise that consumes precious time and energy, not to mention being disruptive to the team. Considerable care and patience are required to build an effective project team.
What good and bad choices have you made when selecting team members for a project? I’d like to hear about them.
By Wanda Curlee
What is the state of portfolio management technology?
That, of course, is a loaded question. Many factors—including the company and the industry—come into play. Nevertheless, most will agree that the tools of portfolio management have progressed.
While portfolio management can still technically be done with spreadsheets, it’s a labor-intensive approach that doesn’t make sense for every organization. So, if you’re ready to upgrade your spreadsheets, how do you know what tool is right for you?
If your organization lacks the expertise, you may need to hire a consultant to help. A consultant can assess the situation and determine the most effective approach to follow. It might be as simple as creating spreadsheets that need to be completed and analyzed differently, or as complex as implementing a new customized tool.
Whether you hire a consultant or not, picking the right portfolio management tool for your organization is a project. And there are many moving parts.
1. Create a wants and needs—or requirements—list. As many of you are already well aware, this is a wish list and there is probably no tool that will meet the full list. The requirements need to be ranked and maybe even weighted to provide a true assessment among tools. One tool may provide only one highly sought requirement but many less-desired requirements. On the other hand, another tool may provide multiple highly sought requirements but no less-desired requirements.
The weighted average can help those make a case for one tool over another. Those making the recommendation should be different from the final decision maker.
2. Customize the tool. The customization should not be done with rose-colored glasses. There should be a pilot program to see if the requirements are producing the results expected or if tweaking is required.
3. Begin implementation. Since this is a portfolio, I would recommend the big-bang approach. That means all projects and programs within the portfolio must be loaded. They need to be analyzed to ensure that the correct information is inputted. The project and program managers need to be trained to understand what is needed on the new tool. Remember, most portfolio tools also work for some (or extensive) project and program management.
Team members working in the portfolio need to be trained as well. Those producing reports and what-ifs must understand how the tool does these things correctly. Without understanding the tool, results may be less than adequate.
4. Compare the before and after state. Once the tool is implemented, the portfolio manager should run a couple tests to see if the previous state and the new tool produce similar, if not exact, results. If not, then there is an issue that needs to be resolved. It may be an easy fix, but more than likely there will need to be some analysis done.
Remember: A tool is not a silver bullet. However, if you have a large portfolio, a tool might be necessary. But don’t expect miracles. You will still have to do the value-add!
By Ramiro Rodrigues
The term path is used for a sequence of activities that are serially related to each other.
Imagine, for example, that your colleagues have decided to organize a barbecue. After dividing up the work, you are responsible for hiring the catering services. For this task, you are likely to have to look for recommendations, check availability and prices, analyze the options and then choose the best one. These four activities are a path. In other words, they are a sequence of activities that must be carried out sequentially until a final goal is achieved.
A project manager’s job is to estimate the duration of each planned activity. And if we return to our example, we could consider the possible durations:
This sequence of activities will last 40 hours, or five workdays. And since the whole barbecue has been divided among various colleagues, other sequences (or paths) of activities—such as choosing the venue, buying drinks, organizing football, etc.—will also have their respective deadlines.
The critical path will be the series of activities that has the longest duration among all those that the event involves.
Let's imagine that the longest path is precisely this hiring of the catering services. Since the process is estimated to take five days, the barbecue cannot be held at an earlier time. And if it were held in exactly five days, all the activities involved in the path have no margin for delay. This means that if, for example, my analysis of options is not completed on the date or within the duration planned, then the barbecue provider will not be selected in time, which will invariably lead to the postponement of the barbecue—and leave a bad taste in my co-workers' mouths.
Under the critical path method, there is no margin for delay or slack. If there is a delay in any activity on that (critical) path, there will be a delay in the project. At the same time, other "non-critical" paths can withstand limited delays, hence the justification of the term.
It is the duration of this path that is setting "critical" information for all projects—when all the work will have been completed.
Do you use the critical path method in your work? If so, what are your biggest challenges?
Find Purpose to Unlock Exceptional Performance
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Find Purpose to Unlock Exceptional Performance
By Peter Tarhanidis, MBA, PhD
There are three common maturity levels in developing project management leadership:
It takes many years to cultivate the skills necessary to execute complex initiatives of all sizes and types. And project leaders may find gratification in the personal development to sustain their performance, as well as their project achievements.
However, over time, it’s not unusual to lose sight of that passion, excitement and engagement for executing initiatives. Instead, the project leader may default to simply providing the project management administrative activities of project execution. This reversal of development is a leadership pitfall and creates a chasm between high performance and exceptional performance.
One way to bridge the chasm is to be purpose-driven. A defined purpose distinguishes oneself as a distinctive as a brand. A brand is underpinned by one’s education, abilities and accomplishments. By identifying what is central to your interests and commitments, project leaders can re-engage with purpose and unlock exceptional performance. This can be broad or can be very specific in a subject expertise.
I have use the following method to find my brand and define my purpose:
Having used this approach to define my purpose, I learned I enjoy the macro view of the firm. I regularly coach leaders and help them develop their teams. Therefore, I like to simultaneously drive toward exceptional performance to achieve a firm’s mission and to advance the needs of society.
Please share your purpose and any examples of exceptional performance you achieved toward that purpose.
Driving Diversity of Perspective
Categories: Best Practices
by Dave Wakeman
It’s easy to assume that the people we work with have the same viewpoint as we do about the projects we’re working on and the jobs we’re doing.
That’s often not the case. In every instance, people are going to see the project differently than we do. And that’s not a bad thing.
This diversity of perspective can have a positive impact on our projects in several ways:
It can lead to new solutions.
In your projects, you might know the big picture, but your team doesn’t always know it. That’s great because they can give you a different perspective about what is going on inside a project and some ideas for solutions.
You can encourage them to bring these ideas to you by wandering around. According to business guru Tom Peters, leaders should work to create opportunities for conversations that are spontaneous and often insightful.
It can give rise to new experts.
The old days of command-and-control project management is over—dead and buried.
In today’s world, it is unlikely that you are going to be an expert in most areas of your project. This provides a tremendous opportunity because you can actually use your lack of expertise to encourage other people to share theirs.
Often team members don’t get to communicate their expertise because the communications systems that we have put in place don’t allow specific expertise to bubble up.
To make the most of the diversity of expertise on your project, spend some time consciously asking people for their opinions about the project, their tasks, milestones and things they have learned.
This can be during meetings or outside of any formal setting or process, but the key is to encourage as much sharing and communication as you can.
It can free project leaders from having to have all the answers.
The problem with leadership roles is that we often feel compelled to have an answer, even the answer.
The problem is that no one has all of the answers. The other problem is that all too often our egos get in the way and we feel like we have to give all the answers or give the final decision no matter what.
This can hold us back. To maximize the impact of the diversity of your teams, you have to recognize that you don’t need to be the know-it-all. You just have to be willing and able to understand various points of view, ideas and explanations. Then you must be able to take action and get people onboard.
So, how are you taking advantage of a diversity of perspective?
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