Find Purpose to Unlock Exceptional Performance
Human Aspects of PM,
New to Project Management,
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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.
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 Dave Wakeman
I try to start each post with some sort of hypothesis. In some cases, the hypothesis is clear to me, and, hopefully, you. Other times, however, the hypothesis doesn’t become clear until I’m done writing.
This month, I’m on the side of a clear hypothesis built around much of what I have written about the last few years: The ultimate consideration project professionals need to keep in mind is that we’re in a people business. In the long run, the person with the best people skills often has an advantage.
But what does that really mean?
Communication is the key skill of a project manager.
I’m sure this falls into the trite, clichéd area of project management advice. But as I’ve witnessed time and again over the last few months, we often need a refresher on the basics of our profession.
Being an effective communicator starts with having an expectation of what clear communication looks like, having a schedule that highlights what communication will look like and following through on your communication ideas.
No matter what, remember your number-one job is to be a communicator.
Communication is a people skill.
Decisions are emotional, not rational.
Spoiler alert: No matter what the decision is, emotion drives it.
People like to think of themselves as rational. But that in and of itself is a nod to the emotion necessary to take action on an idea.
You see, by trying to remove all emotion from a decision, you are often slowing yourself down because you are afraid of making a mistake.
Being afraid is an emotion.
Being excited is an emotional response.
Whatever action you take is driven by emotion.
Even if you don’t take any action, that’s an emotional response. Apathy occurs when the idea that you are being asked to take action on isn’t interesting enough for you to care about.
People have emotions. Project managers deal with people.
Projects are driven by ideas. People have ideas, processes don’t.
This is true.
But, if we’re only process driven, we’re likely not doing our best work. Because even though we have processes in place to help guide a project and deliver it effectively, we still have a lot of discretion in our actions — or we should.
Let’s think about this. If you have a certain amount of experience, I hope that you’ve had the opportunity to make mistakes and have successes. In the course of these experiences, you should have learned how to do things effectively or differently than the standardized process might suggest.
Here is a dirty secret: In most cases, by the time a process has been established, there might be a better way of doing it that hasn’t had the time to be incorporated into the process yet.
That’s why discretion is so important. It can save you time, money and trouble on your project.
Processes don’t have discretion, but people do.
While these are only three examples—and they’re likely obvious to most of us—I think it is important to hit refresh about the role of project managers from time to time.
What are other examples of project management being a people business?
by Lynda Bourne
Do really good ideas pop into your mind at the most inconvenient moments, like when you’re in the middle of taking a shower? This flash of bathroom brilliance presents two problems:
And typically, that flash of brilliance fades quickly and can be very difficult to reconstruct even a few minutes later. That may explain why Archimedes went running naked down the street shouting “Eureka!” following his flash of bathroom brilliance. This occurred when he discovered the relationship between volume and mass (density/buoyancy) by observing the change in water level as he entered his bath.
How can we unleash this kind of innate creativity on a regular basis and not just in the bathroom?
While everyone is different, there seems to be three key elements to being creative:
Now, think about your teams and how you work with them to develop creative solutions. Do you call them into a room, dump the problem on them, demand a brainstorming session right there and then wonder why it doesn’t work? Or, do you socialize the problem first, ask people to think about it and discuss it with each other offline, and then call the meeting to see what’s been developed?
Creativity needs space, time and freedom from pressure. This is the antithesis of most modern work environments where people work in a high-pressure job and are constantly inundated with a stream of “stuff” via technology.
How can you make the time to be relaxed, creative and successful?
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?