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

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)

Promoting Project Management In Conversation

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? 

Posted by David Wakeman on: April 24, 2017 08:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

The Elements of Team Interaction, Part 1

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:

  • Strategy: The agreed-upon approach to accomplishing the project’s objectives
  • Structure: The way the project team is organized, including who reports to whom
  • Systems: The tools, techniques, and processes used by the team to execute the strategy

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:

  • Style: The behavior patterns of the team, how people interact, and their approaches to leadership and authority
  • Staff: The makeup of the team — “having the right people on the bus,” as Jim Collins writes in his book Good to Great
  • Skills: The existing skills and competencies of team members

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?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: March 24, 2017 06:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

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)

How To Protect Your Team’s Time

Categories: Leadership, Teams

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.

1. Trust your team.

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.

2. Clarify requirements and objectives.

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.

3. Protect their priorities.

If team members are constantly interrupted, their efficiency drops. You can help them focus in a few different ways:

  • Avoid ad-hoc status requests. Plan status meetings (i.e. daily scrums) or ask the team to reach out to you when they need something instead of you interrupting them to ask what they need.
  • Insulate them from changes. Changes are to be expected in projects — and it’s your job to deal with them so the team can remain focused on their work.
  • Be the shield. If another stakeholder — for example, a senior manager — interrupts the team with questions or requests, insist he or she go through you to obtain 
Posted by Christian Bisson on: March 09, 2017 09:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)
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