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
Jess Tayel
Ramiro Rodrigues
Linda Agyapong
Joanna Newman

Recent Posts

A Scrum Master’s Duty

Avoid the Internal Project Trap

Take Advantage of the Talent Gap

Project Success Buzzwords: Are These the Same?

Understanding Expert Judgment

3 Tips For Embracing New Ideas

by Dave Wakeman

Back in the old days of command-and-control project management, ideas were mostly helpful at the front end of a project: during the planning phase. But as we’ve moved away from command and control into a world of specialization, ideas in projects and project management have taken on an entirely new role.

More than ever, ideas are what make the difference between success and failure.                           

For many project managers, however, it’s challenging to embrace and utilize new ideas and new ways of approaching problems.

Here are a few ideas on how to embrace new ideas more readily in your regular project work.

1. Understand that your team is full of experts.

Old-school project managers needed to have a high level of expertise in many areas, but today project managers’ key skill is really the ability to communicate. This means it’s likely the project manager doesn’t really know everything about every aspect of a project.

Which is actually good for embracing new ideas. Because as someone who has the key role of communicating and putting team members in the position to be successful, you have to understand that you are dealing with teams of experts. They’ll have ideas—be sure to listen to them.

2. Always focus on outcomes.

I know that the idea of focusing on the outcomes should be common sense by now. But in too many instances, project managers still focus on activities rather than outcomes.

So focus on the outcomes and allow your teams to have the flexibility to take the actions they think will lead to a positive result.

3. Find a new point of view.

Too many people become wed to one way of looking at things.

The problem with that mentality ties back to my first point: project managers can’t control every decision. We don’t have expertise on everything that is going on in our projects.

Get out of your own head and try to gain a different point of view. Think about a challenge from the viewpoint of the end user, the sponsor or the members of the team required to do the work. Thinking from another point of view will help you come up with a different set of ideas that you can bring to your project.

The old ways of doing things or a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work in every case any longer. The success or failure of your project is likely tied to the ability of you and your team to come up with and implement new ideas.

How do you ensure you’re noticing and taking advantage of new ideas on the projects you lead? 

Posted by David Wakeman on: July 24, 2017 10:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

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 (7)

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 (14)

Playing the Right Leadership Role

Leadership Role

By Peter Tarhanidis

It is not unusual for project leaders to fill a variety of leadership roles over the course of the many unique initiatives we take on.

As I transition from one client, program, employer or team to another, my personal challenge is to quickly work out the best leadership role to play in my new environment. Therefore, I find it helpful to have some knowledge of leadership theory and research.

Leaders must understand the role they fill in relation to staff and management. That typically falls into three categories, as defined by Henry Mintzberg, Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at the Desautels Faculty of Management of McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada:

Interpersonal: A leader who is either organizing the firm or a department, or acting as an intermediary. He or she is the figurehead, leader or liaison.

Informational: A leader that gathers, communicates and shares information with internal and external stakeholders. He or she is the mentor, disseminator, and spokesman.

Decisional: A leader that governs and has to make decisions, manage conflict and negotiate accords. He or she is the entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator and negotiator.

During one of my recent transitions, I thought I was a decisional leader, but I was expected to play an informational role. When I acted on information rather than sharing it and gaining consensus toward a common goal, my team was very confused. That’s why it’s so important to know the role you’re expected to fill.

When you start a new effort, how do you determine what role you’re expected to play? How has that contributed to your success?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: March 17, 2017 09:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Do You Really Need a Project Steering Committee?

Categories: Facilitation

By Lynda Bourne

Far too many sponsors, executives and project managers waste far too much time in ineffective steering committee meetings or project/program control board meetings (both referred to as PCB in this post).

The first key question for the organization’s governance team to consider is whether there is any need for a PCB. In most cases, provided the organization has well-trained and effective sponsors, there is no need for a PCB.

When deciding if the costs of a PCB are warranted, consider the following questions:

  • Is the project/program large by the standards of the organization?
  • Is the project/program more complicated or more complex (these concepts are different) than the normal projects undertaken by the organization?
  • Are the risks associated with the project/program higher than normal?

If the answer to any two of the above questions is affirmative, a PCB is probably warranted. If only one answer is affirmative, it is probably sufficient to appoint an experienced and committed sponsor, but the risks, costs and stakeholder attitudes need to be considered.

If the project is business-as-usual, there should be no need for a PCB. The organization’s normal governance, surveillance, project management and stakeholder engagement processes should be sufficient. The most cost-effective PCBs are the ones you don’t have!

 

Making the PCB Efficient

If a PCB is needed, no meeting should take longer than 30 minutes. The costs of running a PCB are in the range of $2,000 to $5,000 per hour (sometimes more), and the organization needs to recoup value from each meeting.

This objective is achievable, but the PCB needs designing and managing so that it is cost- and process-efficient. The design and management functions are best assigned to either the portfolio management office or an executive level project management office (PMO). 

The key elements in designing the PCB are:

  • Every member of the PCB is appointed for a specific reason and the members know why they are appointed, what is expected of them and what to expect from the PCB processes.
  • The relationship between the PCB and the change management processes is clearly defined.
  • The relationship between the PCB and the key project stakeholders is understood. The primary function of the PCB is to champion the project and help maximize its value to the organization.
  • PCB meetings only occur when decisions are required or a formal discussion is necessary; there are no time-wasting monthly meetings. Routine communication between the project manager, the sponsor and the PCB members is designed to deal with business-as-usual information flows and general oversight. There should be no surprises for anyone, ever!
  • Communication with each PCB member is timely and effective. Each member receives clear, concise and informative briefing packs in a timely manner prior to the meeting.
  • Questions or additional information requests are communicated to the project/program manager and the sponsor in adequate time to allow proper responses to be developed and circulated to all of the PCB prior to the meeting. (It’s not the job of a PCB to test the project manager with left field questions during the meeting.)
  • Meetings finish on time and have minutes circulated promptly. All decisions are logged, referenced and promptly communicated to all affected parties. The key responsibility of the PCB is to make timely decisions on matters that affect the organization (not the day-to-day running of the project).

Developing PCBs that work efficiently does require the PMO responsible for the process to develop coaching and advocacy skills in addition to the PCB processes and procedures.

New PCB members will need coaching in their roles. Project managers will need supervising to ensure effective, timely and complete information is made available to the PCB, to ensure proper governance processes are followed, and to ensure there are no surprises in either direction by connecting the executive decision-makers on the PCB to the project/program delivery teams.

None of this is rocket science. But if implemented effectively, this advice will lead to projects and programs that keep progressing with open communication and efficient decision-making. This will make both the project sponsor and the project manager’s life easier and more productive, generating increased value for the organization.

How effective are your steering committees or project control boards?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: July 09, 2016 10:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)
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