by Dave Wakeman
Project management is a hot topic lately. In casual conversations, I’ve heard about the rise of project managers in legal, in sports and in government.
But this recent fame doesn’t mean we’ve gone mainstream. It’s likely that most people still don’t have a full grasp of what project managers do, why they are valuable and what they can really mean to an organization.
That’s why we have to continue promoting the role. I’ve pulled together a few talking points you can use the next time project management comes up in casual conversation.
1. Project managers are great at helping to solve the right problems.
This came up when I was talking about project managers in law. The question was, “How do we know we are doing this project management stuff correctly?”
The answer is a little more complex because you can never be completely sure if you are solving the right problems.
But, project managers who are very active in the planning and scope phases can frame the conversation in a manner that helps get to the root cause of the challenge. That helps organizations not just solve the loudest or most immediate challenge, but address the issue that is going to provide the most valuable long-term ROI.
2. Project managers aren’t just techies.
I’ve never led a technology project in my life. And, unfortunately, too many people equate project management with IT projects.
Ultimately, our best professionals—no matter what their industry—are often project managers without even knowing it.
This is a point you can highlight with your friends, colleagues and curiosity seekers by talking about the way that you communicate, plan, look for logical next steps and adapt to the situation.
In that way, project managers are just like everyone else.
3. Project management can take an organization from failure to success.
In startups, you hear “project management” thrown around pretty regularly. But, in truth, having solid project managers involved is the difference between success and failure.
In many startups, or new project situations, the whole framework of the project is based around an idea, a solution or a theme. This can often lead organizations down a road of throwing things at a wall and hoping something sticks. No rhyme or reason. Just action.
Fortunately for us, as project managers, planning is drilled into our psyche—and planning is the skill most crucial to success.
You don’t need more ideas for how to solve the problem, and you don’t need more people trying to figure out what will stick.
You need a plan of attack with a process in place for collecting feedback and adjusting accordingly. This is basically the textbook definition of a project manager’s role.
To me, any attention to the project management role is great. But if we don’t talk about project management in the right way, I think we miss an opportunity to expand the profession’s impact across industries.
How do you talk about project management and promote the profession?
by Lynda Bourne
I’ve always thought the McKinsey 7-S framework is one of the most effective approaches for understanding team interaction. Originally focused on large organizations, the concepts are equally valid for smaller groups, such as project teams. Let’s take a look.
Developed in the early 1990s by McKinsey & Co. consultants Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman, the basic premise of the McKinsey 7-S framework is that there are seven internal aspects of an organization that need to be aligned for a company to succeed.
These elements are considered either “hard” or “soft”. The hard elements are easier to define, and management can directly influence them. They are:
The project’s strategy shapes the other hard elements, as the systems and structures used by the team need to support the implementation of the strategy — not work against it. The optimum structures and systems used in an agile project will be quite different, for example, than those used in a more traditional project.
The soft elements are more difficult to define, measure and document because they are influenced by personalities and company culture. They are:
The soft elements are probably more important than the hard elements. When you have a team made up of the “right people” (staff) with the “right skills” working in the “right way” (style) to achieve a shared vision, deficiencies in strategy, structure and systems can be mitigated.
At the center of both the hard and soft elements are Shared Values — the core values of the team that are evidenced in its culture and general work ethic.
As shared values change, so will all the other elements. But when all seven elements are aligned they have enormous power to generate project success.
Have you used the McKinsey 7-S model or something similar on your projects? How can this type of approach help drive team performance improvements?
Playing the Right Leadership Role
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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?
by Christian Bisson, PMP
All team members must make—and meet—commitments to keep a project on track. However, it’s the project manager’s job to foster the conditions that will allow the team to deliver on its commitments.
Here are three tips to help you protect team members’ time — and ensure they’ll have the bandwidth to keep their promises.
It can be tempting to ignore team members when they warn that there’s too much work to be done in a given amount of time. You may think they should simply push through. But if the project manager doesn’t commit to realistic deliverables—and find backup when necessary—problems just compound.
Take agile teams. It they commit to more work in a sprint than they feel they can complete, it will only make matters worse when unfinished work passes on to the next sprint. But if they commit to less work and get it all done, you might be surprised to find additional work added to the sprint, since the team is performing better than planned.
A team can easily lose time trying to get up to speed. As a project manager, you can reduce confusion and delays by reviewing requirements and answering questions at the outset.
For example, if you’re working on a project with wireframes or designs, you may ask a team member to complete a simple task, like display the product page.
The team member that commits to this could then deliver half of what you expected simply because he or she didn’t have the full picture. Perhaps he or she thought only the desktop version of the page was needed and didn’t bother with the responsive design as you had expected. If you review instructions before work starts, you’ll have the opportunity to catch these types of discrepancies.
If team members are constantly interrupted, their efficiency drops. You can help them focus in a few different ways:
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?