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

Recent Posts

The Importance of ACCURATE Communication

3 Tips for Training New Team Members

Don’t Forget About Human Resources

Fast Forward: A Peek at Project Management in 2017

3 Project Management Resolutions For 2017

3 Tips for Training New Team Members

by Christian Bisson, PMP

When a new person joins the team, there’s always a bit of a learning curve. But when teams fail to prepare new members, it takes even longer for them to provide efficiencies and improve performance.

Here are three training tips to help new recruits hit the ground running:

1. Don’t Put Trainees In Control

Being available to answer questions isn’t a sufficient way to train new team members.

While knowledge is transferred when you answer a question, new recruits can only ask about issues they’re aware of. This means they’ll often make mistakes that could have been avoided.

Rather than let team members learn things the hard way, share important information before questions are asked—and remember that details matter. For example, project briefs are done differently everywhere, and it’s not always clear who should be included if no one has been specified. A new team member might not think to ask if he or she has sent briefs a specific way at previous jobs.

2. Create an Onboarding Plan

Don’t make new team members chase people down to discuss processes or protocols.

I once joined a team where I was told to set up meetings with a dozen different colleagues so they could explain how they work. I didn’t really know how the conversations would turn out, but I expected the others would be prepared to meet with me.

The result was a bit surprising. The list of people I was supposed to meet with was outdated—several were no longer with the company—and those who were still around expected me to lead the meeting since I had set it up (which made sense). So they didn’t quite know what to say.

This experience was an eye opener. To make new members feel welcome, teams should plan onboarding discussions in advance and have information ready to share.

3. Take a Phased Approach

More often than not, generic training sessions bore and demotivate people, wasting everyone’s time.

Instead, training should be relevant to a person’s role and immediate needs. For example, not everything that a new team member should know will be relevant on day one. If you give them information they’ll need a few months down the road during onboarding, chances are they’ll have forgotten everything when that time comes.

Training and knowledge sharing should be done gradually. The gaming world offers a useful example. Many games have ongoing tutorials where bits of information are shared throughout gameplay, requiring the player to practice a new skill right before it’s needed. This approach maximizes the learning experience and keeps training from becoming tedious. It makes lessons easier to absorb and more likely to be remembered.

Training is often thought of a secondary need for new team members, being conducted as time allows—which might be never. How do you make time for training on your team? What type of knowledge transfer do you prioritize?

Posted by Christian Bisson on: January 08, 2017 05:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

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)

From Data to Wisdom: Creating & Managing Knowledge

Categories: Communication

By Lynda Bourne

The effective management of knowledge has received some extra attention in PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Sixth Edition (to be published in 2017).

And it should—it’s an important area.

While there are many aspects to effective knowledge management, in this post, I want to take a look at the foundation: transforming data into wisdom from a project controls perspective.

As astronomer Clifford Stoll once said, Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.”

He had a point—information changes in character as it is processed. Consider work performance data, the raw observations and measurements made during the execution of project work. For example, knowing that an activity is 25 percent complete on its own has little direct value.

Basic information starts to be created out of this data when it is analysed and assessed. For example, an analysis of this data might reveal the activity should be 75 percent complete and, as a consequence, is running three days late.

This information then becomes useful when it is placed in context and integrated with other relevant bits of information. For example, a report might explain that the activity is on the critical path and the delay has a direct effect on the predicted project completion date.

Converting that useful information into knowledge means communicating it to the right people. For example, when someone reads the report, he or she becomes aware that the activity is running late.

Understanding that knowledge requires the person to interpret and appreciate the consequences of the delay. Interpreting one piece of information to create understanding can happen in many different people’s minds (lots of people may read the report) and each will derive very different insights from the same set of facts. One person may see the delay as relatively minor, while another may think it’s critically important. Understanding is based on the frame through which each person views the fact.

Finally, using the person’s understanding of the situation to inform wise decisions and actions is completely dependent on the capabilities, attitude and experience of the individual.

 

Who Controls that Conversion of Data?

PMBOK® Guide Fig. 3.5

As shown in the extract from the PMBOK® Guide Fifth Edition above, project controls professionals drive the conversion of data into useful information. By using work performance reports to communicate effectively, they can actively encourage the transition of information into knowledge in key people’s minds, and by providing context and advice they can positively influence the development of that person’s understanding to support wise decision making (manifested in the “project management plan updates”).

But achieving this effect requires more than simply collecting and processing data. It requires analysis, insight and effective communication skills.

How effectively do you transform raw data into useful information that helps your key stakeholders make wise decisions?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: December 05, 2016 05:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Are You a Decisive or Divisive Decision Maker?

Categories: Communication

By Lynda Bourne

The way decisions are made can lead to division and discord—or to understanding and commitment. What’s your style?

The Divisive Decision Maker

Divisive decision makers give the appearance of strength and speed.  Every issue is quickly reviewed by the manager (even when they don’t necessarily need to be involved) and a decision is decreed. The manager then expects everyone to comply with the outcome; dissent and alternatives are not tolerated (to do so would be a sign of weakness).

The problems with divisive decision-making include:

  • The assumption that, in all things, the leader knows best.
  • There is a lack of consensus—people are expected to do what they’re told.
  • There is no commitment from the rest of the team to implement the decision.
  • There is a high likelihood the decision will stop being implemented when the manager looks away to focus on the next important decision.

Unfortunately, in many situations, being seen as an assertive decision maker is confused with being an effective decision-maker.

The Decisive Decision Maker

Decisive decision makers recognize that making a decision is only one step along the road to a good outcome. They know they need others to collaborate if the decision is going to achieve the intended result and actually stick. Rather than rushing, they spend time thinking through the decision-making process.

Considerations for the decisive decision maker include:

  1. How urgent is the decision? As with the divisive decision maker, decisive decision makers know that a prompt decision is better than a delayed decision. And, in an emergency, the best option is for the decision maker to issue an order and use his or her authority to enforce the decision. However, the vast majority of decisions do not need an immediate answer (even if a senior manager is asking for one “NOW!”). And in those instances, the decisive decision maker spends time thinking through the best options to achieve the outcome he or she would like.
  2. Does the leader need to make the decision or does the leader need to facilitate a decision-making process? Unlike divisive decision makers, decisive decision makers do not need to be the fountain of all decisions. They let the right people make the decision and let those people take credit for the work. They use their authority to support an effective process, taking the actual decision-making role only when needed to get the best outcome.
  3. What type of decision is being made? Decisive decision-makers understand there are various types of decisions (ranging from simple problems to dilemmas and beyond) and use this knowledge to determine the best decision-making process for each situation.

Decisive decision making allows the leader to use the decision-making process to reinforce the team and build commitment to the overall project and to making the specific decision stick.

 

Also, because the decisive decision maker focuses on achieving the best outcomes, they are better positioned to review and adapt any decision if later or better information shows that an improvement or change is desirable. (At the same time, however, decisive decision makers know the difference between dithering—the hallmark of people who cannot make decisions—and making prudent changes to a decision based on new circumstances.)

A divisive decision maker, on the other hand, tends to see any change to a decision they have made as a threat to their credibility as a decision maker.

What tips do you have for dealing with divisive decision makers?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: November 30, 2016 03:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Give Up Power to Lead the Team - Part 2

Give Up Power to Lead the Team - Part 2

In my last post, I discussed how powers of position—legitimate power, the power to penalize and the power to reward—don’t create a productive environment. To continue the discussion, I’d like to look at how to turn over powers to team members to create more productive environments.

1. Delegate work: This is the first step toward releasing power. Delegating creates opportunities for us to entrust powers to team members. However, be cautious of downloading—searching for candidates to do work simply because we’re overloaded. Delegating is more strategic. It involves identifying the right work to delegate, finding potential in the team, assessing skills gaps, preparing a plan, providing training and then sparing time to support.

2. Take risks: Even if we delegate, the accountability for work still lies with us and we are answerable to their faults. In fact, giving work and power to team members is filled with risks. However it has its own rewards. Taking risks is essential to provide opportunities to team members, grow their capabilities and create a productive environment. We can mitigate the risks with better planning, by assessing skills gaps and by preparing a response plan. Reviewing and supporting the team members during execution is an important part of risk mitigation.

3. Be an enabler: Acting as enabler is the most powerful practice to entrust our power to the team. It means we are no longer only an actor, doing the work, but also a resource to our team members. An enabler provides direction to team members, coaches them to take new steps, enhances team members’ skills and lets them face challenges. He or she helps teams find the solutions rather than providing a readymade one.

Enabling also means providing praise and constructive feedback regularly—or even sometimes in the moment.  

4. Empower: When we become a resource for our team we stop executing our formal powers because it was the manager who had these powers. One of those powers we are giving up is the power of making decisions. Empowering team members to make decisions requires patience. We shouldn’t panic and start acting like a manager to see quicker results. These moments are tests of our trust in our people. Instead, go back to the enabler mindset—explain the circumstances, suggest options and describe the benefits of finding a final or intermediate decision within a given timeframe.

By turning over these powers to our team members, we not only show our trust in their capabilities, but give them opportunities to enhance their career. This will surpass all the benefits of reward power. It will also generate a positive energy of ownership, collaboration and cooperation, leading to a productive environment that can never be achieved via the negative energy of legitimate or coercive powers.

I look forward to hearing your experience. 

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: October 14, 2016 09:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)
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