Imagine this scenario: You are the project manager of a new, strategic project of your company. Excited, you prepare the necessary documents and schedule the project's kick-off meeting.
The kick-off meeting seem to be going well, until you start presenting the necessities and you notice resistance coming from functional managers in ceding their resources.
And it’s only then you realize your mistake: You should have invited the project sponsor to the kick-off.
Kick-off meetings, which should take place between the end of the planning stage and the beginning of implementation, are of paramount importance to the success (or failure) of a project. And you must prepare.
For the project manager, the kick off is a great opportunity to ensure that your stakeholders are identified, to demonstrate that there is a common gain in the success of the project, to map out the stakeholder predispositions and to ensure that their respective roles are understood.
Here are four things to keep in mind:
1. The Invite List: You must have the other relevant stakeholders in the room—functional managers, the customer of the project product and all those who can have an influence, either positively or negatively.
2. The Meeting Infrastructure: The size of the room, amenities, coffee break and everything else that make the environment appropriate.
3. The Presentation: The kick-off meeting will be your moment to demonstrate that the project is well planned with mapped risks. But, keep your audience in mind. For example, the sponsor, usually an executive with no time to see the details, will be present at this meeting. Make your presentation concise and objective by showing that you have a clear vision of where you want to go.
4. The Sponsor: The great benefit of the kick-off meeting is to get commitment to the development and success of the project. Without it, the project manager always runs the risk of having their needs not met. This is where the essential participation of the sponsor comes in. He or she typically has a politician's nature.
Even though it is up to the project manager to conduct the meeting, it is essential that, soon after the welcome is given, the project manager gives the floor to the sponsor. They can use their position within the organization to "suggest" to those involved to give their support, resources and conditions to the project manager on behalf of the expected results of the project. With the sponsor message given—even if he or she leaves right after they speak—there is a greater chance that everyone else will understand and support the project and that will make the rest of the meeting easier for you.
Leaders exert influence for success
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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?
Great preparation goes into identifying the right project manager for the job—including determining the project’s delivery complexity, defining the role profile, selecting interview questions and validating professional certifications.
However, the interview process shouldn’t end once the new project manager is hired. A recurring interview process ensures project managers remain a good fit. It also helps showcase a project manager’s capabilities to instill confidence among leadership groups, stakeholders and team members—especially if elements drastically change, as they are wont to do.
Not every project manager is a good fit for every project. Original assumptions that lead to the initial acquisition of a project manager may not hold true as the project progresses. And poor outcomes often result from hasty decisions to get a project manager on-boarded as quickly as possible to start a project within a desired timeframe.
Here are three questions that not only ascertain the health of a project, but also the fit of the project manager. Depending on the outcome, you may choose to retain the project manager or replace them with someone who is a better fit.
1. Where are we now?
Being able to confidently articulate and identify the true position of a project and the recent progress velocity to get to that position is a foundation of project management success. Failure to know where the project currently resides puts future progress at risk.
Assisting the project manager in this determination of project position includes schedule and budget performance metrics, resource availability, dependencies, risk, issues and other inorganic position indicators. In addition, a project manager should be able to organically identify the “so what” implications and potential remedies required to create a three-dimensional view of project progress.
2. Where will we be in six weeks?
An old adage says that a point shows a current position, two points make a line and three points make a trend. Project managers should be constantly triangulating their project trajectory from their current position. If they can’t, they’re putting the project’s finish in jeopardy.
This six-week timeframe means a project manager can have a clear vision of the visible road ahead, but isn’t so far where they have to speculate well beyond a reasonable horizon.
Use of predictive quantitative methods and tools and prior project experience can help a project manager confidently state where the project is headed.
3. What changed from the original project scope?
Change is constant. It takes many forms and has diverse impacts. Additions or revisions of functional requirements, technical requirements, different implementation approaches, new expectations, supplier complexity, unfunded mandates and other events make up the aggregate, ever-changing landscape of a project.
While the project manager does his or her best to control identification, processing and action around changes, in some cases the aggregate impact of change can overwhelm.
In many cases, changes—such as leadership changes, new suppliers, as well as portfolio management actions that can merge existing projects—have nothing to do with the project manager’s capability. But when the depth and breadth of project change exceeds the capability of the project manager, it may be time to secure a replacement.
What line of questioning might you use to ensure that a project manager continues to be a good fit for the project they were hired for?
by Dave Wakeman
Project management is a hot topic lately. In casual conversations, I’ve heard about the rise of project managers in legal, in sports and in government.
But this recent fame doesn’t mean we’ve gone mainstream. It’s likely that most people still don’t have a full grasp of what project managers do, why they are valuable and what they can really mean to an organization.
That’s why we have to continue promoting the role. I’ve pulled together a few talking points you can use the next time project management comes up in casual conversation.
1. Project managers are great at helping to solve the right problems.
This came up when I was talking about project managers in law. The question was, “How do we know we are doing this project management stuff correctly?”
The answer is a little more complex because you can never be completely sure if you are solving the right problems.
But, project managers who are very active in the planning and scope phases can frame the conversation in a manner that helps get to the root cause of the challenge. That helps organizations not just solve the loudest or most immediate challenge, but address the issue that is going to provide the most valuable long-term ROI.
2. Project managers aren’t just techies.
I’ve never led a technology project in my life. And, unfortunately, too many people equate project management with IT projects.
Ultimately, our best professionals—no matter what their industry—are often project managers without even knowing it.
This is a point you can highlight with your friends, colleagues and curiosity seekers by talking about the way that you communicate, plan, look for logical next steps and adapt to the situation.
In that way, project managers are just like everyone else.
3. Project management can take an organization from failure to success.
In startups, you hear “project management” thrown around pretty regularly. But, in truth, having solid project managers involved is the difference between success and failure.
In many startups, or new project situations, the whole framework of the project is based around an idea, a solution or a theme. This can often lead organizations down a road of throwing things at a wall and hoping something sticks. No rhyme or reason. Just action.
Fortunately for us, as project managers, planning is drilled into our psyche—and planning is the skill most crucial to success.
You don’t need more ideas for how to solve the problem, and you don’t need more people trying to figure out what will stick.
You need a plan of attack with a process in place for collecting feedback and adjusting accordingly. This is basically the textbook definition of a project manager’s role.
To me, any attention to the project management role is great. But if we don’t talk about project management in the right way, I think we miss an opportunity to expand the profession’s impact across industries.
How do you talk about project management and promote the profession?
Playing the Right Leadership Role
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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?