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

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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)

Project Management on the Brain

By Wanda L. Curlee

Could neuroscience be the next big thing for the project management profession?

Today, there are many theories about leadership, management, and psychology, yet, no one is quite certain how the brain works in concert with these theories—or even if it does.

In the pursuit of more information, neuroscience—including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) —is being used to study what the brain activity of business-minded individual’s looks like during thought and during motion. (This technology can map new neural pathways as they are created—pathways that can be created until death.)

Already this scientific field is creating new fields of study across the business landscape. Neuroeconomics, for example, is “the application of neuroscientific methods to analyze and understand economically relevant behavior such as evaluating decisions, categorizing risks and rewards, and interactions among economic agents,” according to Dr. Zainal Ariffin Ahmad, a professor in the Business Research for Applied Innovations in Neurosciences (BRAIN) Lab at the Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Graduate School of Business.

There’s also neuroaccounting, neuroethics, neuroleadership and neurogoernance.

With portfolio management still in its infancy, neuroleadership and neurogovernance could potentially assist portfolio managers. By extracting knowledge from the sciences of neuroleadership and neurogovernance, PMI could differentiate itself and its body of knowledge from the various other project management associations and standards.

By using cutting-edge knowledge about how the human brain works to help create standards, PMI could move project management closer to a profession such as medicine. When the standards of the profession are based on empirical scientific knowledge, rather than good practices done on most projects most of the time, project management could become even more science than art.

What do you think? Can and should neuroscience be part of the future of project management?

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: December 16, 2016 08:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

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)

What Do Next-Gen Project Leaders Look Like?

by Dave Wakeman

Care to do a little thought experiment with me? Let’s imagine what the new and improved next-gen project leader should look like. And let’s come up with a few key attributes that would make this new and improved project leader successful.

Here are a few of my ideas about how to achieve success in the future of project management:

1. Emphasize strategic ownership of your projects and your role in the organization.

I know that I’ve been hitting a constant drumbeat over the last few months about the need for project managers to become more strategic in their thinking and their actions. For good reason: As our businesses and organizations become more project-focused, the need to think and act strategically becomes a key factor in our success or failure.

One way you can jump on this before everyone else does is by always taking the initiative to frame your projects in a strategic manner when dealing with your sponsors and key stakeholders. Work with sponsors on ways that you can manipulate and focus your projects strategically.

2. Less domain knowledge and more business acumen.

The project management role in an organization has changed. Even in industries that have long embraced project management principles and the job title (e.g., IT), technical knowledge aspects have become less important because of specialization.

What has replaced the emphasis on specialization in the project manager’s role? An emphasis on strategic thinking and business acumen. This is likely to accelerate to become the new normal.

You can take advantage of this trend by working to think about your projects as tools to increase the value of your company and its products and services to your customers and prospects.

3. Communicate or die.

This last point shouldn’t be a surprise. Being a good communicator has been the differentiator between successful and unsuccessful project managers as long as project management has been a thing.

But as our world becomes more interconnected through technology, with teams dispersed across continents instead of floors, the ability to effectively communicate is going to be more and more important. And the ability to be that communicator is going to have a bigger and more meaningful impact on your career and your success in your organization.

What qualities do you think next-gen project leaders require? Please post your comments below! 

By the way, I write a weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: May 23, 2016 10:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Why Certifications Matter (to Me)

By Conrado Morlan

The number of credentials offered by professional associations, hardware and software vendors and other organizations has grown sharply in the last decade. So have the number of credential holders.

There’s much to be said for certifications. Many companies require a certification to advance along their career path. In addition, salary surveys show that, overall, credential holders earn more.

On the other hand, some professionals and employers are not fans of certifications. They argue that many people have forged a career and reputation without them, that accelerated changes in science, technology and government regulations makes certifications hard to maintain, and that the cost and time of pursuing credentials are too high.

I see the value of certifications from two perspectives: the value given by the credential itself, and the value of my contributions to the credential.

The value given by the certification is the importance of the knowledge gained through earning it, the reputation of the institution or professional association that awards it, and the certification’s years on the market.

The value of my contributions to the credential has to do with how it engages me to actively research trends within my profession. This process can help experienced practitioners turn into thought leaders who share their experiences leading and managing projects across the globe. In other words, the value of a certification can cascade beyond the credential holder. Knowledge is shared with other practitioners, helping them to advance in the profession.

Yes, it’s true that some credential holders fall behind and don’t keep up with the latest knowledge and/or renew their credential. Other credential holders don’t follow the established code of ethics, which harms the reputation and value of the credential. But such misbehavior or lack of up-to-date knowledge isn’t the fault of the credential or the credential-awarding organization.

PMI, for example, has a strict renewal process for the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification that requires certification holders to earn a specific number of credits per cycle to keep the credential current.  And over the 30+ years since the PMP was created, those requirements have been updated to cover market and industry demands.

You may be wondering why I didn’t mention the cost of certifications, and whether they’re worth paying. To me, it’s a no-brainer. I take my professional development personally and always recall former Harvard University President Derek Bok’s quote, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

If you’re a certification holder, how do you measure its value?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: April 26, 2016 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)
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