Voices on Project Management

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with--or even disagree with--leave a comment.

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Cameron McGaughy
Marian Haus
Lynda Bourne
Lung-Hung Chou
Bernadine Douglas
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Roberto Toledo
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rex Holmlin
Christian Bisson
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina

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Authoritarian vs. Participatory Project Management

4 Reasons I Love Portfolio Management

My Favorite Research Tools

The Impact of Unforeseen Risks

The Reality Behind a Deadline

Customizing Your Leadership Style

 

by Peter Tarhanidis

I’ve served in various leadership roles throughout my career. In one role, I worked with engineers to build and deliver a technical roadmap of solutions. In another, I was charged with coordinating team efforts to ensure a post-merger integration would be successful.

All of my leadership roles ultimately taught me there’s no-one-size-fits-all style for how to head up a team. Instead, the situation and structure of the team determines the right approach.

Traditional teams are comprised of a sole leader in charge of several team members with set job descriptions and specialized skills, each with individual tasks and accountability. The leader in this environment serves as the chief motivator, the coach and mentor, and the culture enforcer. He or she is also the primary role model—and therefore expected to set a strong example.

But, this traditional team setup is not always the norm.

Take self-managed teams, for example. On these teams, the roles are interchangeable, the team is accountable as one unit, the work is interdependent, the job roles are flexible and the team is multi-skilled, according to Leadership: Theory, Application, & Skill Development, written by Robert M. Lussier, a professor of business management at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA.

On a self-managed team, each person’s capabilities support the team’s overall effectiveness. While these teams do need to have their efforts coordinated, they spread leadership accountability across the group.

Members each initiate and coordinate team efforts without relying on an individual leader’s direction, according to Expertise Coordination over Distance: Shared Leadership in Dispersed New Product Development Teams by Miriam Muethel and Martin Hoegl.

Effective leaders adjust their style to the needs of varied situations and the capability of their followers. Their styles are not automatic. Instead, they get to know their team members and ensure their teams are set up to succeed.

How do you pick the right leadership style to use with your teams?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: December 22, 2016 03:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Managing Your First Strategic Initiative? Here’s What You Need to Know

 

By Kevin Korterud

 

Beware: Strategic initiatives aren’t the same as typical projects—they tend to be considerably more complex. For example, strategic initiatives are usually bound by some form of dramatic urgency around schedule (regulatory, market), costs (process improvement) or consumer satisfaction (subscription, satisfaction).

But the differences don’t end there. Let’s look at some other complex dimensions that must be considered when leading a strategic initiative:

 

1. Stakeholder Management

The stakeholder landscape is much more broad on a strategic initiative than a project. In strategic initiatives, stakeholders typically span multiple departments within a company, creating multiple primary stakeholder groups. And these stakeholder groups will often have nearly equal shares in the success of the initiative, thus creating potential authority conflicts.

In addition, there are also governance functions—risk management, legal, etc.—that will have either a primary or secondary stakeholder role.

 

2. Communications

The complex stakeholder landscape necessitates communication processes that serve vastly different audiences. There exists both a two-dimensional communications problem: one dimension is horizontal (i.e., across stakeholders) and the other is vertical (i.e., involving higher levels of leadership). What once was a linear communication process on a project now becomes more of a matrix process to deal with the breadth and depth of stakeholders.

Communications will need to be carefully tailored to different functions and levels of stakeholders. For example, more detail for operational functions, and simple, high-level summaries for leadership consumption. 

 

3. Progress Tracking

Strategic initiatives bring with them inherent complexities that can quickly overpower the progress report tracking processes that are commonly used to manage projects.

For example, strategic initiatives will typically have more suppliers than on a typical project. These additional suppliers bring with them different commercial arrangements, delivery methods, status reporting formats and progress metrics. On top of that, all of these progress tracking components need to be harmonized across the various suppliers in order to achieve a cohesive and durable view of progress position.

Project managers will need to review, refine and agree on common progress tracking processes, reporting and metrics that are universally accepted by all suppliers. By creating this single harmonized view of progress tracking, you are more readily able to identify and address delivery volatility.

 

When first presented with the prospect of leading a strategic initiative, project managers need to balance the excitement of leading a high-visibility engagement with the practical realities of effectively and efficiently managing delivery. By putting essentials in place, project managers can successfully move on to the next step in the career journey: leading their second strategic initiative!

What essentials can your share with project managers new to strategic initiatives that will put them on the path to success?

 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: November 20, 2016 12:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

Give Up Power to Lead the Team - Part 2

Give Up Power to Lead the Team - Part 2

In my last post, I discussed how powers of position—legitimate power, the power to penalize and the power to reward—don’t create a productive environment. To continue the discussion, I’d like to look at how to turn over powers to team members to create more productive environments.

1. Delegate work: This is the first step toward releasing power. Delegating creates opportunities for us to entrust powers to team members. However, be cautious of downloading—searching for candidates to do work simply because we’re overloaded. Delegating is more strategic. It involves identifying the right work to delegate, finding potential in the team, assessing skills gaps, preparing a plan, providing training and then sparing time to support.

2. Take risks: Even if we delegate, the accountability for work still lies with us and we are answerable to their faults. In fact, giving work and power to team members is filled with risks. However it has its own rewards. Taking risks is essential to provide opportunities to team members, grow their capabilities and create a productive environment. We can mitigate the risks with better planning, by assessing skills gaps and by preparing a response plan. Reviewing and supporting the team members during execution is an important part of risk mitigation.

3. Be an enabler: Acting as enabler is the most powerful practice to entrust our power to the team. It means we are no longer only an actor, doing the work, but also a resource to our team members. An enabler provides direction to team members, coaches them to take new steps, enhances team members’ skills and lets them face challenges. He or she helps teams find the solutions rather than providing a readymade one.

Enabling also means providing praise and constructive feedback regularly—or even sometimes in the moment.  

4. Empower: When we become a resource for our team we stop executing our formal powers because it was the manager who had these powers. One of those powers we are giving up is the power of making decisions. Empowering team members to make decisions requires patience. We shouldn’t panic and start acting like a manager to see quicker results. These moments are tests of our trust in our people. Instead, go back to the enabler mindset—explain the circumstances, suggest options and describe the benefits of finding a final or intermediate decision within a given timeframe.

By turning over these powers to our team members, we not only show our trust in their capabilities, but give them opportunities to enhance their career. This will surpass all the benefits of reward power. It will also generate a positive energy of ownership, collaboration and cooperation, leading to a productive environment that can never be achieved via the negative energy of legitimate or coercive powers.

I look forward to hearing your experience. 

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: October 14, 2016 09:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Empowering Your Team Members

by Dave Wakeman

Has your leadership style evolved to reflect the modern business environment?

Old leadership styles put a premium on command and control, which made sense when there weren’t so many specializations.

Now, our culture, and the way many of our projects are organized, requires that we are more collaborative and more focused on enabling our teams. Let’s call this “leadership by empowerment.”

Having fully engaged and empowered teams is now a key to project success.

If you are struggling with adopting this new leadership style, here are a few tips to help you build empowerment in your teams:

1. Focus on communication: With all of the tools at our disposal, you would think communication and information sharing would be easier than ever.

But it isn’t.

In most cases, it feels like our communications are hampered more than ever by all of the noise and demands from technology. But knowledge is empowerment and if you want to empower your team to maximize its impact, you need to renew your focus on communications and getting people the right information at the right time. You can do this by clearly spelling out the way that you will communicate with your team and how they should communicate back with you. You can create areas, tools and methods for accessing the most important information. A tool like Slack may be a way that you can better organize your information.

2. Allow your subject matter experts to be experts: In projects it is easy to lose focus on the fact that as the leader, you can’t know everything. This can cause project managers to want to dictate every action and every possible scenario to your team members, but that is a clear path to friction, delay and failure.

As the project manager, your job is to put your team of experts in a position to succeed. One way I do this is by setting outcome-based goals for my teams with clear check-in points so that I can understand the status of tasks and activities , but give my team members the power to do the work in a manner that they feel is best.

3. Provide continuous opportunities to learn and grow: We talk a lot about constant learning and development, but how much of that is just lip service? To help empower your teams, spend some time developing the skills that are truly going to help deliver better results for your organization (not just the ones that are going to help your team members learn something new).

You can do this by creating a training calendar or schedule that focuses on mission critical tasks, sharing best practices or interesting new ideas, or inviting in guest speakers.

Remember, your job is to use the tools you have at your disposal to make sure your leadership empowers your team to do the best work they can for you.

How do you empower your team members? 

If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. It is my most personal and strategic content delivered each Sunday morning to your inbox. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: September 21, 2016 12:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

3 Tips For Strong Executive Support

by Dave Wakeman

As project managers we are charged with balancing the needs of the C-suite with the needs of the day-to-day project implementers.

The problem is that this central role often lacks any clear or formal power. So we must rely on strong and meaningful executive sponsor support.

But how can you cultivate that support? Here are three tips.

1) Talk to your executive about the project’s ROI.

Tell them why the project is important now, where it fits into the organization’s long-term goals and what it will mean to the executive and the organization if you succeed.

Then listen to your executive sponsor’s perception of the project and why they see it as important. This will ensure you are on the same page and will give you the ammunition you need to have productive conversations moving forward — especially handy if you end up needing additional resources during the project.

2) Set a schedule for project updates.

Don’t let the momentum built during your first conversation die. Keep the executive engaged in the project through regular communications. And let your team know you will be discussing the project with your executive sponsor on a regular basis — this will help you have more productive conversations on both sides. Regular conversations with your team and executives helps you avoid the messy and time-consuming challenge of bringing people up to speed when they have been out of the loop for long periods.

3) Come forward with solutions.

When your project hits a rough patch, you can ask for help, you can wait to be told what to do or you can come forth with solutions.

The choice is easy: Always lead with solutions based on your expertise as the project lead. You are likely to get more buy-in from your executive sponsor with this approach because you have made the decision easier for them and you are acting like a partner, and not just a subordinate.

And that’s it from me. What advice do you have for engaging executive sponsors throughout the project lifecycle?

(And, if you’re interested, PMI’s Executive Sponsor Engagement report has some additional info on this topic.) 

If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. It is my most personal and strategic content delivered each Sunday morning to your inbox. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: August 08, 2016 01:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
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