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
Conrado Morlan
Kevin Korterud
Peter Tarhanidis
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
David Wakeman
Jen Skrabak
Mario Trentim
Shobhna Raghupathy
Roberto Toledo
Joanna Newman
Christian Bisson
Linda Agyapong
Jess Tayel
Rex Holmlin
Ramiro Rodrigues
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Wanda Curlee

Past Contributers:

Jorge Valdés Garciatorres
Hajar Hamid
Dan Goldfischer
Saira Karim
Jim De Piante
Geoff Mattie
sanjay saini
Judy Umlas
Abdiel Ledesma
Michael Hatfield
Deanna Landers
Alfonso Bucero
Kelley Hunsberger
William Krebs
Peter Taylor
Rebecca Braglio
Dmitri Ivanenko PMP ITIL

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High-Performance Teams Are Purpose-Driven

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:

  1. Lacked shared values: Members did not have a sense of purpose on the intent of the program.
  2. Were not being heard: Members felt they had no control over the program’s major activities or tasks.
  3. Lacked trust: Members felt they could not rely or confide in their fellow team members, sponsors or peers to accomplish tasks on the program.

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:

  1. Built rapport with various team members
  2. Gained their trust by delivering on my commitments
  3. Integrated their perspectives into decision making
  4. Recruited new members to build up gaps in team capabilities
  5. Focused the conversation on our individual purposes and aligned them to a shared value

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?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: April 18, 2018 08:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Project Leaders Are at the Forefront of Today’s Operating Models

By Peter Tarhanidis, M.B.A, Ph.D.

Many organizations are shifting their traditional operating models to include new innovative collaborations and social networks to sustain economic growth. These new operating models, however, challenge the future of leadership.

Most operating models used today were designed in the industrial age. In these models, the division of labor is by specialization, which is hierarchical in nature. This approach has been analyzed and debated by philosophers including Plato and economists such as Adam Smith, whose analysis is incorporated in current organizational designs defining a company’s value chain. The advantage of this approach is that it drives increases in productivity and efficiency by allocating teams by their skillset.

Yet companies are boxed in today. They have become efficient and productive, but are at a disadvantage in sustaining innovation.

Companies are challenged to design and integrate innovative operating models to continue to drive economic growth. Some ways companies are leveraging new operating models to drive innovation include creating internal groups to access and fund startups and sharing resources with external research centers to drive external collaborations that drive new product pipelines.

These innovative operating models challenge leaders to work collaboratively across value chains and external business partners. To meet that challenge, there must be a shift in a leader and team skill sets.

The organizational design shifts from a division of labor and specialization to one that taps into knowledge workers and social networks. This shift—to forge new innovations and operating models—challenges leaders to define new behaviors, styles, skills and professional networks to sustain economic growth.

Project leaders and their teams have been at the forefront of working across these emerging models, navigating both internally as productivity experts, externally as innovation collaborators, and professionally to develop social networks to foster and sustain economic growth.

One’s future as a leader comes down to navigating your development against these current organizational trends. One approach I find helpful is to define personal 360-degree feedbacks. Start with three simple questions to determine where you need to develop and build from, such as:

  1. What do senior leaders want from their leaders to sustain the company?
  2. What do clients and customers want from their partners to build strategic and trusted relationships?
  3. What do teams expect from their leaders to meet strategic initiatives and how can leaders help them succeed professionally?

Having used this personal approach, I learned the following three themes to form my development opportunities:

  1. Senior leaders are expected to communicate in a variety of forums and formats. Leaders should have the courage to ask for help. One should be very knowledgeable about the business and build the professional relationships required to be successful.
  2. Clients and customers expect great experiences with a company’s product and services. They expect leaders to learn their business, marketplace, and challenges. Build trusting relationships and strategic alliances through a successful track record.
  3. Teams want better leaders to sponsor the initiative and provide clear guidance. Align teams to a common shared purpose. Influence members to share in the success of the initiative by linking the initiative to the strategy. Demonstrate how the strategy aligns to the business and how the individual team members help the business meet its goals. Advocate for professional development and provide a mentoring opportunity to advance one’s professional goals.

One must then consider what actions they should commit to developing — whether it is leadership behaviors and styles, business relationships or knowledge — to lead today’s organizations and sustain economic growth and relevance.  

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: February 08, 2018 11:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

A Checklist for Shared Outcomes

By Peter Tarhanidis

I was recently assigned to transform a procurement team into one that managed outsourcing partnerships. I realized the team was very disengaged, leaving the strategy up to me to define. There was no buy-in. The team and the partnerships were sure to fail.

But I was determined to make the team successful. For me, this meant it would be accountable for managing thriving partnerships and delivering superior outcomes.

To get things back on track, I had to first get alignment on goals. Setting shared goals can help to shape collaborative and accountable teams that produce desired outcomes.

Establishing goal alignment can be a difficult leadership challenge; however, leaders must gather the needs of all stakeholders and analyze their importance to achieve the desired organization outcome.

I often use this checklist to tackle this challenge:

  1. Set shared goals in consensus with teams to motivate them to achieve the desired outcome.
  2. Link shared goals to key performance indicators (KPIs) that lead to the desired outcome.
  3. Integrate goals into individual and project performance reviews to drive accountability.
  4. Measure KPIs to keep teams on track.

I used this checklist during the procurement team project and it helped to reset and reinvigorate the team. Once we aligned around shared goals, team collaboration increased and the organization started to achieve the targeted business benefits.

If you’ve used a checklist like this before, where have you stumbled and how did you turn it around?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: July 18, 2017 03:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Kick-Off Meetings: The Beginning of Success or Failure

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.

What other things should you keep in mind when planning a kick off meeting? I look forward to your thoughts.

Posted by Ramiro Rodrigues on: June 21, 2017 10:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Leaders exert influence for success

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?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: May 31, 2017 10:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)
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