By Dave Wakeman
The holiday season has arrived—meaning a lot of socializing with family and friends. We’ll be asked about our lives, families and work. Yet, many of us project professionals have a hard time explaining project management and its value.
That’s partly because project management principles and skills have been so heavily tied to IT projects for so long. But in truth, project management is for everyone.
For many of us that have formal project management training, explaining the value of project management to every business or industry can sometimes feel complicated. It shouldn’t be–these principles are just wise business.
So here’s a cheat sheet to help explain the profession to anyone you encounter this holiday season.
Projects are built on the backs of planning and outcomes. Any successful holiday requires careful planning and preparation.
The same is true for any project.
While the project planning stage can be something that all of us wish went more quickly, the truth is that careful planning and attention to outcomes is wise in every organization.
Every organization could do a better job of spending time clearly defining a project or initiative around the outcomes they want to achieve, the resources they have, how much time they want to invest and the people that will be impacted.
If you don’t communicate, you don’t succeed. On the U.S. sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live, there was once a character called “Drunk Uncle” who represented all the relatives you sought to avoid during the holidays.
We’ve probably all been there in some form:
What gets us through these moments? Our communication skills, that’s what.
To be a successful project manager, you need to be a great communicator. I’ve always fallen back on the old saying that I heard when I started out: Project management is 90 percent communication. I still think that’s the truth.
You can show this skill off during the holidays. During an awkward conversation, redirect the topic or reframe the controversial subject matter to something better. Bonus points if you are in a big crowd.
Being adaptable is key to long-term success. No matter the industry or sector, we hear a lot about the need to adapt to the market around us.
The funny thing is, as people with project management backgrounds, change is nothing new to us. In truth, managing change and keeping change in some semblance of order is almost as much of a key skill as communicating effectively. As change is inevitable and occurs more quickly, this skill isn’t just nice to have—it’s a necessity.
To put it in terms your family can understand, think about when you are trying to buy a gift that’s sold out. You don’t have long enough to order it online, and stores are closing in a few moments. All of a sudden Plan B and C start looking pretty good. It’s difficult, but necessary.
Or, illustrate the point with an example of how weather can impact holiday travel plans or how a delay in a work deadline can have you working through the holiday.
All of it takes flexibility.
The truth is that project management is life and as we head into the holidays, all the keys that you use as a project manager can help you get through the season too.
BTW, if you like this stuff and the stuff I usually post, I do a Sunday email that talks all about value, connection, and humans. You can get that for free by sending me an email at dave @ davewakeman.com
I’m frequently asked for insights on performance measurement criteria for project managers. This comes as a bit of a surprise given how professional certification programs, such as PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification, have brought more consistency to project management skills.
Organizations’ typical performance measurement framework for functional roles is focused on growth and results. But that framework is becoming less effective at measuring project managers.
Project managers differ from functional roles in that they perform their duties with definitive time periods, outside influences, ever-changing activities and a higher level of uncertainty.
At the same time, more and more companies are seeking both individual and aggregate project management performance measures. Aggregate measures provide insights into overall capabilities and indicate if improvement initiatives — training, methods, processes — are actually increasing project manager productivity.
I’ve spent some time thinking about how to improve measurement criteria for project manager performance. Here are three areas I believe must be included:
Over time, individual project manager metrics, such as schedule and budget, can be analyzed to show the project manager’s track record. Supplementary metrics, such as change control activity, deliverable finish date delays and cost of poor quality, can provide a complete picture of project manager performance.
By aggregating and averaging these metrics — as well as using other data points such as labor cost — the enterprise capability of project managers can be measured.
2. Project Manager Engagement Reviews: The ability of a project manager to successfully engage with stakeholders is a key success factor for projects. A high level of engagement allows for early visibility to potential delivery issues, as well as a stronger understanding of the success criteria for a project.
The most effective means to measure project engagement is to conduct a post-project review with the project’s primary stakeholder. As engagement is not a binary yes/no condition, open-ended questions allow for deeper insights into the project manager’s level of engagement. For example, probing when project managers anticipated potential project issues would help to reveal engagement. These reviews are not meant to be punitive, but instead to guide and educate.
In addition, the reviewer should also look at the engagement level of the primary stakeholder. It’s not uncommon to find unengaged stakeholders, which can lead to poor delivery results for which the project manager is unfairly held to account. A balanced view of both the project manager and stakeholder will give the reviewer a true measure of engagement.
Capturing project performance data allows project managers to share successes, as well as provide rationale for when things might not have gone as well as anticipated. It serves as a platform for career growth.
In today’s world of ever-increasing project complexity and scale, both companies and project managers need to expand their demonstrated performance results beyond what is found today.
How do you measure project manager performance? Do traditional performance measurement frameworks for functional roles continue to meet the need?
By Wanda Curlee
There are two triangles commonly referenced in the project management discipline: The Iron Triangle (sometimes called the Golden Triangle) and PMI’s Talent Triangle®. Each provides insight into the complexity of even the simplest project.
However, I think there is a big component missing: the human psyche. Let’s look at both triangles.
The Iron Triangle
The Iron Triangle has many versions that have been enhanced by subject matter experts to help define how to manage a project. On the triangle’s sides, you’ll find time, cost and resources. Quality and/or scope, which was added later, can be found in the middle of the triangle.
My preference is to put time at the bottom part of the triangle as it is constant. When time has passed, it’s gone for good (until time travel is invented). All other sides and the interior of the triangle change and often do.
Some would say the scope is constant because there is a statement of work that defines the scope. A good theoretical basis, but reality normally prevails. For instance, out of ignorance, incompetence or “doing a favor”, the scope can change. It may also change because of a customer or vendor request. All these changes affect the other axis and interior of the triangle. However, your time is gone no matter how the scope changes. Quality may go up or down depending on scope, resources and time.
The Talent Triangle
PMI’s Talent Triangle acknowledges that the project professional must have soft and hard skills. These skills include leadership, a technical knowledge and an understanding of the strategic and business alignment of the project, program and portfolio—while also ensuring that projects stay within the Golden Triangle.
Understanding the industry helps project professionals realize the importance of the endeavor for the company. Finally, understanding the politics and strategic fit of the project or program is a must. If the project or program manager cannot articulate how the effort drives the company’s strategic objective, it might be time to move to a different project or maybe find a new profession.
The Human Psyche
While these two triangles are good, they don’t incorporate the missing link—the human psyche.
We need to understand how to drive the project team to make sure no sides of the triangle fail. What does this mean? If one side of the Iron Triangle falls short or goes long then the triangle fails. The same could be said for the Talent Triangle.
Three inherent manners can help: integrated reasoning, strategic focus and creative thinking. I want to look at integrated reasoning.
According to neuroscience, there are three ways a person thinks. He or she can be a rock star, coach/playmaker or rainmaker.
The rock star is the junior to the experienced project manager and is normally focused on one or two tasks. Think budget timelines, schedules and risk management, among other things.
The coach/playmaker is the senior project manager and junior to the experienced program manager. These individuals see the forest. The coach knows how to lead to the final goal.
Finally, there’s the rainmaker. These are the senior program managers, portfolio managers and C-suiters. They can see years into the future. The rainmakers know how to decide which projects and programs make sense for the strategic objectives. They see success.
Why is this important? It leads to integrated reasoning. Project and program managers should recognize where members of their team fall on the spectrum. He or she then needs to encourage and provide the opportunity to jump into a new reality so they can be more effective on all sides of the triangle.
For example, I am very comfortable in the rainmaker role. However, I force myself into the coach and rock star role. This allows me to see the organization, strategy and people from many angles, which increases my political rationality.
So, what is the political reality of your project or program? Does your reality agree with that of the sponsor? How about the project management office or portfolio manager? If you do not understand your political rationality from all angles you will fail yourself, your team and the triangle.
Stay tuned for the next post in which I will put integrated reasoning into reality to help drive the strategic focus of your project or program.
Hi! I'm so pleased to join you on the Voices on Project Management blog! I works for best of breed technology companies around the world managing programs of change, projects, and people. My areas of expertise are talent management, building high performing teams, working globally, and changing cultures to adopt new ways of working like DevOps and Agile methodologies, and my blog entries will be sourced from YOUR questions on ProjectManagement.com.
The Questions forum on Project Management Central is a great place for you to ask questions on… almost everything! One of the recurring questions you have is around preparing for an interview – what types of questions should you expect; what type of interview formats do hiring managers use; and general tips and tricks to help you secure that next position in your career. Over the next columns, we’ll be looking at industry advice as well as your comments and feedback. This week we are focusing on Types of Interview Formats:
“Is there really more than one type of interview format???” some people ask… “Surely its just people asking you questions and determining your fit for the role???”… “Be yourself”, the advice reads. “Be the person the company wants to hire” say others. How can you use the interview format to your advantage, and crucially, not be caught off guard when you walk into the room.
There are different interview formats depending on the stage of the interview process you are in. These interview formats are typically used at the beginning of the candidate selection process, instead of identifying the chosen candidate for the role.
Screening is an important step of a recruiter’s role. They want to ensure that candidates they are putting forward is a good fit for the role and the company. These screenings sometimes take place by email, and sometimes on the phone, lasting 15 -20 minutes. The downside of screening is that you might not have long to prepare, so fall back on your elevator pitch; your key successes and achievements; why you are right for this type of role; why you are right for this industry. Don’t be afraid to ask questions “why is the role available – is the business expanding or is this a replacement”; “what are the success factors associated with this role”, “how does this role fit into the organisation”
Sometimes you will match what the recruiter is looking for, sometimes you won’t. Don’t despair, as making a great impression here will add real value for your job search later on as the recruiter will likely have similar roles in future.
Telephone interviews are usually screening interviews with the company, instead of the recruiter. They will be focused on getting to shortlist of candidates to interview face to face, so the trick is to be on message. Do your homework on the company strategy, how the company is performing in their respective industry, and their recent news (big deals, reorganisations etc). Read the job profile very carefully, identifying what the real criteria are for the role – these items will be repeated in differently terminology across the job spec – and practice your answers to likely questions, which could be competency based. Have questions you are ready to ask: “what metrics will define success for the role”; “is the project team centrally located or distributed across offices [in the country / in the world]”
Tip: Find the job posting on multiple sites (eg. LinkedIn, Monster) to help you identify those key criteria for the role.
Tip: Don’t forget to get the names of who you speak to as they might be in subsequent interviews.
These next interview formats are usually Face to Face. There will normally be two people interviewing you, and they will likely be asking the same questions for all interviews, and ranking you against other candidates they are seeing.
Competency Interviews, sometimes called Behavioural Interviews, are quite common and are designed to predict future behaviour based on past behaviours and experiences. This is why all questions start with “tell us a time when…” as the answer will inform the interviewer on your competency and your approach
Competency interviews are driven by the competencies required for the role. These will be listed in the role description, and can be identified in part by answers received to your questions in the screening and the telephone interviews.
Tip: Competency questions can focus on the good (“tell us a time when you built a successful team that…”) or bad “tell us about your worst project management experience and what you learned”. Be prepared for a negative competence question.
Panel Interviews will have multiple people attending the interview, sometimes dropping in for a section, to ask questions relevant to their area. They will introduce themselves and their role / role description will contain clues for what competencies they are particularly interested in. Have a question prepared on their area “what type of technology do you use for…” that will demonstrate that you understand their responsibility and role.
Presentation Interviews usually are a part of an existing interview. You will be given very clear instructions on the presentation, which might be intentionally vague. For example, the presentation might have a fixed length and an idea of a topic for you to interpret, or vice versa. My advice would be to follow your intuition, but not to break any of the guidance. I once had a five minute presentation take 45 minutes, which meant there wasn’t enough time to run the rest of the interview. One of the competences was to communicate clearly and effectively, which definitely was not demonstrated with a 900% increase on time.
Assessment Centres & Group Interviews are ways for the company to review multiple candidates simultaneously, ranking them against one another. They are traditionally used when a number of roles are available, perhaps the creation of an entire department or area. Assessment Centres do exactly that – they assess your competence and capabilities across a range of activities. These activities can be team based (to measure how well you get on with others), or individual one on one and are usually a mix of the two. In assessment centres, my recommendation is to be the best version of yourself, relying on the preparation you’ve done for the telephone interview, and refining your elevator pitch, key competencies and experiences based on the answers.
Also prepare answers to competency based questions “tell us about a time that…” based on the criteria you’ve identified from the job spec.
Note that in Group Interviews, you will be in a single interview with multiple candidates. Ensure you get enough “airtime”
Role Play Interviews are rare but do sometimes happen in project management roles. This will be to assess your competency deeply in a single area or network of competencies. There will be a script which may be given to you to prepare answers from.
That wraps up the types of interview formats you can expect to encounter in your job search, and I hope you found it helpful. Next time we will focus on how to prepare for interview questions; and tips and tricks. Share your tips and your experiences in the comments below.
See you next time!
By Dave Wakeman
Project managers have an essential—but sometimes thankless—job. They stand at the intersection of complex projects filled with countless stakeholders that don’t always see eye to eye.
This can lead to a great deal of frustration—but great communication skills can make the job easier.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about being a better listener. But over the last few weeks, I’ve come around to an even better goal for all of us: making things as simple as possible, even when the answer is complex.
Great communicators make the complex simple—and for project managers that can be the difference between success and failure.
The good news: With practice, we can all get better. Here are three ideas for turning the complex into something much simpler.
Focus on logical steps: When you’re working on a complex project, it can be easy to focus only on the finish line while all of the steps in between become weights hanging around your neck. This can lead to decision fatigue or analysis paralysis.
But, if you can train yourself to think about the project and how to simplify it for your teams, you can usually look to your milestones and see how the project might breakdown into micro-projects.
Within each micro-project there are likely a number of logical steps. Your job as a project manager is to make sure that your team sees those steps so that they can take action on them ASAP.
Thus, you’ve removed the roadblock of prioritization and simplified implementation.
Emphasize clear communication: Many of us communicate unintentionally. We don’t think about how we are saying things or that each audience might have a different understanding of our common language.
I tell my clients that it often helps to communicate like you are talking with a novice. That may be extreme, but you have to make sure that your communication is getting across clearly.
Over the years that I have been writing for PMI, I’ve written almost exclusively about the importance of soft skills. Communication is probably the most essential of these soft skills. And the most important rule of communication is that if someone doesn’t understand what you have instructed them to do or what you have shared with them, it’s your fault, not theirs.
To simplify your projects, I want you to think about how you can make communication clear to someone who may not be as deeply entrenched in the acronyms and jargon as you are.
And, if you aren’t sure that you are being clear, you can always ask: “Did that make sense, or did I make it sound like a foreign language?”
Always work to improve your processes: Logical steps and communication should teach you a lot about your project and your team. Over time, this should help you and your teams develop a high level of expertise and a number of best practices.
One great thing about best practices is that they can help simplify hard projects, communication and the amount of setup that goes into any project. The down side is that if you aren’t careful about capturing those best practices over time and working to spread these ideas across your organizations and teams, they become useless.
After all, without implementation, you have nothing but more knowledge. And knowledge without action is just noise.
As a leader, you must work to continuously improve the delivery processes that you and your teams use. The ultimate simplification is developed over time by improving processes, focuses and actions.
While improvement in this area isn’t necessarily a given, if you have been focusing on next logical steps and great, simple communications, it is likely that your processes will improve because the complex projects are likely to be slightly simpler.
With simplicity comes a greater awareness of what’s working and what isn’t. With that, you can be efficient. Something we should all hope to achieve.
How do you strive to simplify things for your teams?
BTW, if you like this stuff and the stuff I usually post, I do a Sunday email that talks all about value, connection, and humans. You can get that for free by sending me an email at dave @ davewakeman.com