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
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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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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 (7)

3 Stereotypes of Project Managers

by Christian Bisson, PMP

The project manager role is often underestimated or inaccurately interpreted. Because organizations can have different definitions of what project management means, there is sometimes a lack of clarity around the role, especially for non-project management professionals. In this type of environment, people fall back on basic stereotypes.

If you find yourself typecast in one of these roles, take heart. You are not alone.

1. The Note Taker

One of the most stereotypical expectations of project managers is that they’ll be the meeting note taker. I’ve experienced this time and time again. During a large client presentation, for example, one of my colleagues was asked if he would be taking notes. He replied, “Well, I have a project manager for that.”

Yes, project managers take notes. But they shouldn’t be the only ones doing so. Meeting attendees tend to focus on the notes that directly impact their work. A designer, for example, will focus on conceptual and visual comments, while a developer will focus on features and functionalities.

Furthermore, if the project manager is leading the meeting it will break the meeting flow if he or she is also responsible for note taking.

2. The Meeting Organizer

Project managers will often be expected to set up meetings—and to a certain extent, that makes sense. For large meetings, such as internal presentations or milestone check ins, it makes sense to have the project manager take care of the planning. It allows him or her to rally everyone and set expectations for the meeting so the team can come in prepared.

But there is a line.

Teams shouldn’t expect project managers to organize meetings when they just need to gather for a brainstorm or a quick chat. Sadly, it happens. For example, I was once asked by a colleague from another office to book a meeting so that he could talk to another colleague that was sitting just 10 feet (3 meters) from him.

Project managers should encourage teams to be responsible for setting up those smaller meetings or one-on-ones themselves.

3. The Accountant

There is a misconception that the project manager is the only team member who should care about budgets, or worse, the only one that should be responsible for a budget’s health. This mindset is tough to change because it’s true that a project manager’s role, amongst other things, is to manage the budget.

However, the project manager cannot take everyone’s actions on his or her shoulders — and it wouldn’t be fair to expect that. If a feature was estimated at 50 hours and the team took 100 hours, it takes collaboration to fix the negative impact to the budget or schedule. The team must warn the project manager, everyone must discuss solutions, and then the project manager should take the appropriate next steps with stakeholders, etc. Obviously, this should be done as proactively as possible, not after the fact.

To think that no one should care about the budget, and only project managers should fetch this information and “figure it out” on their own is absurd. Yet, it’s a common expectation.

Have you found yourself in any of these scenarios? What other project manager stereotypes have you faced? How do you deal with these misconceptions?

Posted by Christian Bisson on: December 06, 2016 08:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

The Case for Grassroots Communities of Practice

By Peter Tarhanidis

These days there is such a high influx of projects and such a demand for project managers, but such a limited supply of practitioners. How can companies help their project professionals improve their skills and knowledge so that they can work to meet that need?

Leaders deliver more results by sponsoring grassroots project management learning and development programs. Common approaches and best practices are shared across all levels of project managers—ranging from novices to practitioners. Therefore, if an organization has more employees who can learn to leverage project management disciplines, then the organization can meet the increasing demand, and are more likely to develop mature practices that achieve better results.

One type of grassroots effort is to establish a project management community of practice (CoP). CoPs are groups of people who share a craft or a profession. Members operationalize the processes and strategies they learn in an instructional setting. The group evolves based on common interests or missions with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field.

For project managers, there is a specific added benefit of CoPs. They bring together a group who are traditionally part of separately managed units within an organization focused on strategic portfolios and programs.

CoP members develop by sharing information and experiences, which in turn develops professional competence and personal leadership. CoPs are interactive places to meet online, discuss ideas and build the profession’s body of knowledge. Knowledge is developed that is both explicit (concepts, principles, procedures) and implicit (knowledge that we cannot articulate).

In my experience, I have seen CoP utilized in lieu of project management offices. The members define a common set of tools, process and methodology. The CoP distributed work across more participants, increased their productivity to deliver hundreds of projects, improved the visibility of the members with management and positioned members for functional rotations throughout the business.

Which do you think drive better performance outcomes—establishing hierarchal project management organizations or mature project management disciplines through CoPs?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: September 21, 2016 07:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

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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