by Kevin Korterud
I always enjoy hearing about the early careers of the project managers I meet. In almost every conversation, the subject turns to when they were team members being led by a highly capable senior project manager who provided guidance in starting up, executing and sometimes turning around projects.
It’s also not uncommon to hear stories of the worst project manager they ever worked for. These stories, while not as glowing, also influenced their careers around what not to do. By probing a bit deeper, they offered up observations of certain behaviors that created havoc, dissatisfaction and quite often failed projects.
From these observations of the worst-ever project manager, I started to put together my own thoughts on who I would select for this inglorious label. After careful consideration, I arrived at the only logical choice: me. In my early years as a project manager I managed to consistently demonstrate all of the behaviors of poor project managers.
Here are my votes for the most significant behaviors that led to consistently poor performance as a project manager early in my career:
When I was a project team member I relished the thought of one day having a business card with an impressive title of project manager. My thought being once I received that lofty title, it would allow me to be successful at whatever project I was assigned to lead. In addition, the acquisition of that title would instantly garner respect from other project managers.
I failed to realize that most project managers are already quite proficient at leading teams and producing results. The title comes with a heavy burden of responsibility that was exponentially greater than what I had as a project team member. As a team member, I didn’t realize how much my project manager shielded me from the sometimes unpleasant realities of projects.
The satisfaction of acquiring the title of project manager can be very short-lived if you’re not adequately prepared. My goal became to perform at the level at or above what the title that project manager reflected.
2. I Talked Too Much
Perhaps I was wrongly influenced by theater or movies where great leaders are often portrayed in time of need as delivering impressive speeches that motivate people to outstanding results. I remember quite clearly some of the meetings I led as a new project manager that quite honestly should have won me an award for impersonating a project manager.
Meetings were dominated by my overconfident and ill-formed views on what was going right and wrong. In addition, I also had the false notion that I had the best approach to all of the risks and issues on the project. No surprise that this mode of interaction greatly limited the size of projects I could effectively lead. Essentially, it was a project team of one.
After a while, I started to observe that senior project managers spent a fair portion of the time in their meetings practicing active listening. In addition, they would pause, ponder the dialogue and pose simple but effective probing questions. When I started to emulate some of these practices, it resulted in better performance that created opportunities to lead larger projects. “Less is more” became a theme that allowed me to understand the true problems and work with the team to arrive at effective mitigations.
One of the most critical components of any project is the people that comprise the team members and stakeholders. As a new project manager, I tended to over-engage with stakeholders and team members by attempting to instantly resolve every issue, whether real or perceived. My logic was that if I removed any opportunity for dissatisfaction then project success would be assured.
I failed to realize this desire to completely please everyone quite often resulted in pleasing nobody. In addition, I also managed to pay insufficient attention to the key operational facets of a project: estimates, forecasts, metrics and other essentials needed to keep a project on track. Furthermore, the business case for the project gathered almost no consideration as I was busy trying to make everyone happy as a path to results.
Over time I began to adopt a more balanced approach that allowed me to spend the proper level of engagement with people, processes and the project business case. This balanced approach allowed me to have a broader span of control for factors that could adversely affect a project.
For all the things we have learned over the years as project managers, it sometimes causes me to wish for a time machine to go back and avoid all of the mistakes we made. But then, we would not have had the benefit of the sometimes-traumatic learning experiences that have made us the project managers that we are today.
Did you ever consider yourself to be the worst project manager you ever worked for? I think we all were at one point in our careers.
By Christian Bisson, PMP
Machine learning is one of today’s hottest tech topics.
It’s essentially a type of artificial intelligence (AI) in which you give your software the ability to “learn” based on data. For example, you probably notice how YouTube, Netflix, Amazon and many other companies suggests videos or products you should check out. These suggestions are based on your previous online actions, or those of other people deemed “similar” to you.
For some time now I’ve been working on projects that involve this technology. We often have clients who want machine learning even though they do not know if it’s even relevant to them. Since “everyone is doing it,” they want to do it too.
Calibrating a project sponsor’s expectations is often a good idea. While the automated services generated through machine learning may seem magical, getting to that point involves challenges—and a lot of work.
The machine will learn using the data it has being given—that data is the crucial starting point. The data that’s available is what drives how the machine will evolve and what added value machine learning can bring to your project/product. For example, if you are trying to teach the machine to recognize vehicles on images it scans, and all you can teach it with are images of small cars, you are not set up for success. You need a better variety of images.
The machine’s ability to learn is directly tied to the quality of the data it encounters.
Once you have quality data, you need it in high quantities. If you can only provide the machine with the website behaviors of, say, hundreds of users per month, don’t expect it to have enough information to be able to recommend the best products based on user trends. Its sample will be too little to be able to be accurate.
Once you have the necessary data, the journey is not over. The machine may learn on its own, but it’s learning based on how it was built and with the data it’s being fed. There is always room for improvement.
As amazing as machine learning is, it is not cheap. So keep an eye on your project’s budget. Machine learning experts can command high salaries, and there is a lot of effort involved with researching the best approach—creating the models, training them, testing them, etc. Make sure the ROI is worth it.
Have you had a chance to work on a project involving machine learning? What challenges have you faced?
I don’t have a classic project management background, so I spend a lot of time thinking about ways non-traditional project managers can offer up great ideas to people with more traditional backgrounds.
Sometimes I find that easy.
Sometimes I find that rather difficult.
I also spend a great deal of time trying to push people past conventional wisdom.
Again, sometimes that is easy, but most of the time it is incredibly difficult.
This got me thinking about what I wanted to talk to you about this month: While the truth remains the same, the interpretation of the truth can change.
What does that mean to project managers? A lot, actually.
Here are a couple of the things we have always felt were true and how they can be interpreted differently.
1. Project management is about implementation. As my 8-year-old son might say, “True! True!”
The reality is that project management is about implementation of a project plan with a desired outcome in mind.
Yet, as we have seen general business matters change, we have also seen that project managers aren’t just involved in implementation — they’re also involved in strategy.
How is this possible?
Because we don’t just do things, we also have to be in touch with the skills and desires of the organization and our teams.
This means we do need to implement. But as much as we implement things, we also have to have business acumen that will allow us to offer up ideas, be confident in our ability to think strategically and drive our team toward the results.
Like improv comedy, a project manager is all about the “yes, and…”
2. A project manager’s most important skill is communication.
Communication is likely the most important skill for anyone today. But, for project managers, it’s not simply about communication, but communication that enables people to set priorities and take action..
Let me explain.
Poor communication has stopped more projects from being effective than any other thing in project history.
But good communication alone won’t fix every issue. Sometimes communication isn’t the real issue — instead it’s about also doing the right things.
That’s why we need great communication in service of doing the right things and getting things done. Communication is key, but communication without commitment to the right things is the real issue.
The idea that communication and implementation are super important is still true, but why they are true is up for debate.
What do you think?
BTW, if you like this blog, why don't you get my Sunday newsletter. There I focus on business acumen, value, and leadership...along with under ideas. If you'd like to get it, drop me a line at Dave@davewakeman.com with "newsletter" in the subject line.
by Kevin Korterud
The technology found in today’s automobiles is simply amazing. Front and side traffic radar units, anti-dozing head movement detectors, driving timers that alert drivers when they should stop for a break — all good examples of accident prevention mechanisms.
Projects to some degree are like automobiles: They are on a journey to deliver passengers (the project team and stakeholders) to a pre-determined destination. However, despite the introduction of many modern project management technologies, research shows that we continue to experience project accidents. These accidents result in extensive and costly rework to get a project back on track.
I think part of the solution to avoid these potential problems is to borrow from recent automobile technologies as a way to detect troublesome signals. These signals are not readily perceivable from traditional project management methods.
Here are a few examples of anticipatory signals that portend the onset of a skid that often leads to a project accident.
A core competency of a project manager is to determine the schedule, budget and progress trajectory of a project. The project forecast is essential to determine where the project will finish for these measurements. Schedule, budget and progress forecasts from team members that exhibit great degrees of change over prior reporting periods are indicative of trending to an accident. This downward spiral is exacerbated when the forecast measurements come with great uncertainty; e.g., “I don’t know what this will take to finish.”
Several techniques can be employed to reduce the volatility of forecasting. Some of these techniques include initiating a peer review of the forecast with another project manager or supplier subject matter expert, as well as pausing the project to recalibrate the forecast in a dedicated working session. Taking time to implement these and other techniques to mitigate forecast volatility will get the project back on track before an accident.
2. Static Project Status
Project status reports can offer a tremendous amount of value to a project manager. They accumulate both qualitative and quantitative data that sheds light on the current project state. But, despite the visibility status reports provide, they’re just a snapshot. That limits their ability to show progress trends. In addition, a project status report that does not show content changes week over week indicates that the project is likely stalled and headed toward an accident.
To increase the anticipatory value of a project status report, introduce trending and predictive data for risks, issues, deliverables and milestones. This allows the project team to determine what level of progress has been achieved, as well as what progress to expect. It also better positions the project manager to escalate mitigations to avoid an impending project accident.
At the beginning of a project, stakeholder engagement and enthusiasm is typically high. This is not unlike the start of a road trip. But, as time passes on a project, the level of enthusiasm and engagement can begin to wane. Stakeholder engagement over time will face tough tests from project risks to resource challenges to dependency conflicts. Each can sap the energy levels of stakeholders. This leads to passive engagement at best and complete disengagement and absenteeism at worst.
To keep stakeholder engagement at the proper level, stakeholders need to be treated like any other resource on a project. Their time needs to be managed in work plans to avoid oversubscribing their capacity. In addition, their work should be focused on higher value activities that promote project progress. Providing the team access to project support staff to maximize productivity also helps further stakeholder engagement and leads to persistent engagement.
Perhaps one day in the future there will be technology solutions that provide anticipatory signals for projects headed for an accident. Until that day comes, however, project managers still need to think organically and look for hidden signals of dangers to project budgets, schedules and progress.
What do you see as the leading indicators that a project is trending toward disaster?
High-Performance Teams Are Purpose-Driven
Education and Training,
Human Aspects of PM,
New to Project Management,
Nontraditional Project Management,
Reflections on the PM Life,
Categories: Benefits Realization, Best Practices, Career Help, Change Management, Communication, Complexity, Education and Training, Facilitation, Generational PM, Human Aspects of PM, Human Resources, Innovation, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Mentoring, New to Project Management, Nontraditional Project Management, Program Management, Project Delivery, Project Failure, Reflections on the PM Life, Risk Management, Stakeholder, Strategy, Talent Management, Teams
By Peter Tarhanidis, Ph.D., M.B.A.
Program teams should collaborate like a world-class orchestra.
This ideal state of team engagement and performance requires the presence of several key elements, including an engaged sponsor, a governance committee, a project manager and a status dashboard to communicate performance.
However, maximizing this level of performance is especially challenging when working with cross-functional groups, external stakeholders and shareholders. This increases the complexity of the human performance aspects of team management.
I recall one assignment I worked on that required the team to design and build a new centralized model to bring together three different operations. The team was given two additional challenges. The first challenge was to consolidate disparate teams into two geographic centers. They also had to reduce the overall timeline from 18 months to 10 months.
These challenges exacerbated how teams were not working well with their counterparts. They quickly became dysfunctional and lost their purpose. The project was crashing.
Stepping into this situation I decided to conduct a stakeholder analysis. I used this approach as an intervention method to understand the underlying themes. The analysis revealed the team:
After reflecting on the team’s feedback, I realized that most members wanted to find meaning in their work. It seemed no one was developing their sense of shared purpose and putting their strengths to work toward this program.
I decided I needed to re-invest them as members of the team. To get the team back to performing well, I:
This approach strengthened the program and delivered on the challenges.
The lesson learned is, do not simply apply methods and approaches in complex program delivery. Manage the team’s purpose and establish shared values as an important driver of overall delivery.
How do you manage that purpose and invest in high-performing teams?