When my son was a little boy, he was a great enthusiast of world-class soccer players and enjoyed questioning me: "Is a great soccer player born with talent, or did they practice harder than the others?"
Being the native consultant that I am, I replied to him with another question: "What do you think?" From then on, I was amazed by his train of thought being developed through this old yet complex question.
Through my many years of experience in consulting (and my licentiate degree), I got close to many people who were interested in growing their careers as project management professionals. I acknowledge a sense of pride in having collaborated in different ways with many of these stories. But, as an outside observer, every now and then I find myself asking the same well-grounded question brought up during that talk with my son: "Can a project manager achieve excellence through training and experience, or are there innate characteristics to this professional?"
Perhaps I should begin this reflection by attempting to identify what makes a project manager a successful professional. As it has already been written about before by many others, and aware that the list takes many characteristics into account, I will stick to those traits that I most like to see in a professional:
We probably think that we have some (or all) of these skills. By admitting shortages, it is also natural to imagine that these skills may be developed through some specific training. I agree with that. However, I believe that we may recognize how rare (and challenging) it is to identify all of these characteristics at a high-level within the same professional.
The truth is that there are no effective tools to identify how great we really are in these skills. That's probably why it’s so difficult picking the ideal professional for the job. This is neither good nor bad. Bottom line: We were not born with a binary code that always allows us to go beyond expectations and break the simplistic view that we were destined to become something that we will be until the end of time.
In my project management career, I’ve been very fortunate to have worked on different projects all over the world. As with most things in life (like having a flat auto tire or forgetting to pay the electric bill), projects mirror the practical realities of life. One of the takeaways from those experiences has been the commonality of successful project management approaches no matter the geographical location of the projects.
A key characteristic that I have observed over time is how projects and project management resemble a meritocracy independent of personal bias. Projects need to be complete with desired outcomes in a specific period of time. As one completes ever more large and complex projects, one grows in their career as a project manager. This career growth occurs regardless of the race, gender or other characteristics of the project manager.
As with many other merit-based professions such as healthcare, aviation, athletics and science, the introduction of personal bias with project management would be detrimental to the completion of any project. That’s why project management as a profession is a great equalizer given its heavy dependence on the skills and capabilities of a project manager.
In thinking about how project management is a great equalizer, I offer the following thoughts:
1. The project doesn’t know who is managing it. Projects are an interesting construct that is hard to categorize under the typical laws of physics; they don’t have weight, exhibit motion or temperature. Projects do have the characteristic of being a collection of activities and assets that need to be brought together to produce desired outcomes.
In this regard, a project by definition is immune from any personal bias; it’s a matter of solving a three-dimensional problem using people, process and technology. A project manager needs to be skilled at resource, schedule, dependency and stakeholder management in order to solve for desired outcomes. The project itself does not prefer the personal background of the project manager; it awaits the proper project management disciplines to be employed in order to complete its required objectives.
2. Successful project managers find the best people. People represent one of the key factors in any project. When compared against process and technology components, the acquisition of the best people plays a more significant factor in the success of any project. However, the acquisition of people for a project also poses the possibility for personal bias. As a project manager, you have to be able to find the best people for the project independent of subjective perceptions.
A CEO of a global company once said it took him 20 years to get a point where he could identify good people more than half the time. My observations of project managers early in their careers bear this out; they tend to be more subjective in selecting resources that they like and perceive would work well on their team; read this behavior as easier to manage. The more experienced project managers more discreetly evaluate competencies than subjective factors; this is key, as no matter the personal affinity or how easy (or difficult) the person is perceived to manage, the most critical dimension of people for a project is their competencies.
3. Project management metrics show no bias. One of my favorite quips about project metrics, especially when they are not favorable, is “You can’t beat the laws of physics.” If metrics show a project to be over budget or with late milestones, those are intractable project “laws of physics” that need to be addressed by the responsible project manager.
To a great degree, project metrics are designed to not show any personal bias. They are a physical expression of project reality that can’t be influenced by personal factors of the project manager. Metrics are equal in every regard to serve as an unbiased foundation from which remedial project actions are taken.
In my early years as a project manager, I have to admit I made every possible project management judgement error on my projects. Over time and with some valuable guidance from experienced project managers, I grew into leading ever larger initiatives. As part of that growth path, I observed that the most experienced project managers had left any notion of personal bias behind in their project management execution. Their focus on the core dynamics of a project, finding the best people and anticipating conditions that would lead to unfavorable metrics were key factors in their success.
I welcome any commentary on the concept of project management being one of the purest forms of meritocracy that by design can’t rely on personal bias to achieve success.
During the long duration of the pandemic, each of us had to shift our work/life balance. We had to curate a new workday schedule, perhaps adding more flexibility to support multiple needs between work and family. A changing focus with customer and colleague engagement, repurposing commuting time, tending to family needs, caring for those affected by COVID-19, and supporting relief efforts are just some of the changes we had to adapt to. The pandemic forced each of us to make personal and conscious ethical decisions on the tradeoffs, but most have of us have set into a new work/life balance.
After almost 20 months, the world is deploying COVID-19 vaccines under health authorities like the U.S. FDA and Europe’s EMA, who have expanded access protocol for emergency use. The world is hopefully on a trajectory toward a post-pandemic world. Many organizations have established their return-to-work policies, criteria, and expectations of colleagues. One may observe a continuum of return-to-work guidelines built by organizations as a highly collaborative model focused on high-touch customer experience, an innovation-driven design model, or task-based transactional work. Each organization is calling to us to spend some time back in the office or in front of our stakeholders.
How does this affect us, and what do we do to prepare? Our choices can be to simply go back to a pre-pandemic “normal”; stay in the work-from-home pandemic style; or re-engage in a post-pandemic style. Regarding this last choice, we should consider how to maneuver ourselves into a post-pandemic style while still maintaining the agility of working from home. This disruption to our current way of working creates a sense of stress and anxiety as it asks us to re-engage. One must re-learn and adapt to new behaviors and approaches.
One opportunity to be better prepared may be to create a personal contract for the post-pandemic work world. The contract can be a statement or a list of priorities. Here are some tips that I will use to help make the transition better and reset myself:
What would your list include to enable a post-pandemic transition back to work?
Plan for the Velocity of Change to Keep Increasing!
Human Aspects of PM,
Categories: Agile, Best Practices, Career Help, Change Management, Complexity, Facilitation, Generational PM, Human Aspects of PM, Human Resources, Innovation, Innovation, IT, Leadership, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Portfolio Management, Program Management, Project Planning, ROI, Stakeholder, Strategy, Talent Management, Teams
By Peter Tarhanidis, Ph.D., M.B.A.
Today, developments in emerging technology, business processes and digital experiences are accelerating larger transformation initiatives. Moore’s Law means that we have access to exponentially better computing capabilities. Growth is further fueled by technologies such as supercomputers, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, Internet of Things (IoT) and more across industries.
Business Process Maturity
According to market research group IMARC, automation and the IoT are driving growth in business process management (BPM); the BPM market is expected to grow at a 10 percent compound annual growth rate between 2020 and 2025.
Customer experience is redefining business processes and digitizing the consumption model to increase brand equity. Gartner reports that among marketing leaders who are responsible for customer experience, 81 percent say their companies will largely compete on customer experience in two years. However, only 22 percent have developed experiences that exceed customer expectations.
The Way Forward
I’ve developed a few guidelines to help navigate this change:
Change is now inherent and pervasive in the annual planning process for organizations. Given that, I like to ask: What is the plan to prepare staff and colleagues to compete in this hyper-transformation age?
What observations have you made to keep up with this new era’s velocity of change?
By Wanda Curlee
Some believe that project management needs a complete overhaul. Whether you agree or not, there’s no doubt that technology is driving radical change. As I have mentioned in different blogs and presentations, I believe that artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) will have a large impact on the next generation of project managers. Thanks to this new tech, project managers will be adding more value, versus completing mundane tasks.
Technology will do the mundane for the project, program or portfolio manager. So, what will be left for the practitioner to do? For starters, the project manager will be able to focus on the many things put to the side because they’re doing their best to keep stakeholders informed and complete routine tasks, as well as trying to maintain their sanity.
Targeting the Mundane
The good news is, AI and IoT will take on these mundane tasks. Technologies will be able to review a schedule and track down those who haven’t inputted their time. The schedule options, along with recommendations, will be provided to the project manager.
And that’s not all: Tech can also assist with drafting presentations and status reports. The project manager can then add the final touches. Potential risks can be assessed and the probability and cost to the project can be determined.
Impact on the Project Manager
They’ll also have to deal with problem resources already on the project. This may mean less qualified individuals who aren’t able to do the work (through no fault of their own), those who are unhappy on the project and are projecting the feeling throughout the project, and those who are lazy, among other things. The project manager may need to counsel these individuals or may even have to fire them, which, of course, creates risk for the project.
In addition, the project manager may have to deal with subcontractors and vendors. More attention can be paid to higher-level risks and preventing or minimizing their occurrence.
Integration management is also an area of focus. There are project managers who put this aside because they feel if the schedule is all right, the project integration is handled. This is not true. There may be individuals who are not sharing their information promptly, or those who are producing a major milestone but have a family emergency. Without them, no one else can finish a milestone that’s critical to the remainder of the project.
Predicting the future is hard. Time will tell how technology will be used in project, program and portfolio management. Technology should not be considered a silver bullet, but a means to provide help with everyday tasks, allowing leaders to devote time to value-added work.
What do you think: How will future technology change the way we manage projects?