By Conrado Morlan
When it comes to project management, Murphy’s Law often rings true: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. So it’s up to project leaders to be ready and willing to pivot at a moment’s notice. And it’s a lesson learned that I’ve taken from a number of projects.
In this post, I’d like to share one example. During the first wave of a regional billing implementation project in the Americas, my team and I were learning the ropes of replacing the local application with a centralized regional application.
The first stop was Central America. This region was the first choice because Costa Rica was centralizing its billing operations for the area. Costa Rica already had a dedicated team to manage the billing functions for each Central American country. But this shift meant configuring and training seven countries in a single location.
The outcome was successful, and my team and I identified areas of opportunity to enhance the implementation process for the next countries in the wave.
The next country to implement the program was Chile. We started gathering customer data, cleansing the data, and configuring the training and production processes.
The audience for the training, which lasted one week, included people from finance, billing and IT. After the training, the participants were able to practice for a week in the training environment, and my team and I addressed any questions they had. The planned go-live date was slated for two weeks after the training and practice.
During the two-week break period in Chile, my team and I went to Ecuador as scheduled to begin implementation activities.
One week before the go-live date, the Chile country manager called me and delivered the news: “All the people in the billing department resigned.” The country manager wanted to throw in the towel and postpone the initiative’s launch date. His first comment was, “I will not be able to hire and get the new hires ready in a week.” I asked him to wait before making any decision and that I wanted to discuss alternatives with my team.
I shared the news with my team and asked them to come up with ideas that would keep the program on schedule or at least minimize the impact caused by an unexpected delay. We reconvened at the end of the day and discussed some potential solutions:
Option one and two were similar, assuming that the hiring process would be completed and the new hires would be available for the two-week training/practice. This would also double the workload for the in-country implementation team and the support team in Malaysia.
Option three was feasible but would put a heavy burden on the in-country implementation team and would require assurance that Chile would expedite the hiring and training process to release the members of the in-country implementation team.
Option four was a bizarre idea, but this option would cover all the bases, as the team in Costa Rica was already providing remote support for the billing operations.
My team and I decided on option four. I called the billing and finance head in Costa Rica, explained the situation and asked if the proposed idea would be feasible. They responded that they would need to talk with their Chilean counterparts to check to see if their team could take on the extra workload, but, in general, they found the option feasible.
I also shared the news and the alternatives with the regional CFO and CIO, and both agreed to delegate the final decision to me.
After the call between the Costa Rica and Chile counterparts, it was agreed that Costa Rica would temporarily support Chile, and Chile committed to start the hiring process right away.
This situation reminded me of a basketball player handling the ball from one side of the court to the other and encountering opponents along the way: Sometimes the player must stop to check the conditions and pivot to the left or to the right to continue with the play and be able to put the ball into the net.
While facing issues or risks, project management professionals need to be confident making informed decisions quickly and thinking on their feet to keep projects moving forward.
How have you pivoted from unforeseen occurrences to make project progress? Share your story below.
By Dave Wakeman
As you may have noticed, my attention during the pandemic has been largely focused on the lessons we can all learn about leadership.
Why mess with a good thing? So, I’ll continue to focus on leadership this month, since the lessons are still popping up fast and furious.
Let’s look at what we’ve learned so far about project leadership through the COVID-19 crisis and then turn those into a few actionable ideas we can all put into practice.
First, we’ve found that folks who led with science are the ones who have done a better job of fighting the disease. I’m looking at you Taiwan, New Zealand and Germany, to name three.
Second, we’ve seen that communication is crucial and that honest, consistent communication is the most important thing we can have. And, leaders who provide a vision, a plan and consistent updates are able to gather more support, achieve better outcomes and build more trust.
Third, we’ve seen that expertise matters and that it is impossible for one person to know everything about everything.
So, how do we continue to put these practices to use in our own project careers? Here are a few more ideas for all the leaders out there:
Trust the experts: The first and third points highlight an overarching theme of modern project management and modern leadership: No one knows everything—and I’d go one step further. One of the best things that an expert does is curate the overwhelming amount of knowledge out there in the world.
Again, in viewing the coronavirus press briefings around the world, you see countries toying with herd immunity and countries actually following that theory; then, you have countries with leaders who are offering up wildly unproven medical solutions; and you have other countries that have had stricter shutdown protocols.
What does this show us?
It shows us that there are going to be hundreds of solutions to every situation. Some of them have value and some of them are total quackery. This is why experts matter.
An expert can look at all of the tested options, all of the potential options and all of the long shots, and think through whether or not they are feasible, likely or improbable.
This matters, because as a project manager, you are likely always going to deal with a certain amount of risk—and just because something isn’t likely doesn’t mean it isn’t worth testing.
What it does mean is that you need to make sure that when you test an idea or a solution, you understand it might not work and are able to recognize success or failure through a lens of knowledge and trust in your team’s expertise.
Or, if you have a crazy idea that you might want to test due to the nature of the situation you are dealing with, you can try that as well—with the knowledge that the idea may have a low probability of success.
Leadership matters most during the tough times: It was recently May 4, the day when Star Wars is celebrated around the world. In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, there is a scene in which Darth Vader confronts Orson Krennic about how he is handling the rebel alliance. Krennic makes a bunch of excuses and claims about the efficiency of his leadership and tries to win over Vader’s support for him to command the Death Star just as it was becoming a powerful weapon to terrorize the galaxy.
With his back to Krennic, Vader uses the force to put a choke hold on Krennic and tells him, “Be careful not to choke on your aspirations, Director.”
I like to think that this is a great analogy for the kind of leaders who love to be leaders in the good times, but try to pass the buck when things go wrong.
The reality of leadership is that you have to take the good with the bad, and I think history has proven that the leaders who lead courageously through times of trouble are the ones who are remembered the most.
As an example, Abraham Lincoln is remembered for holding the United States together as the Civil War worked to tear it apart. Winston Churchill is remembered more for his leadership in World War II than he is remembered for any of his other accomplishments. And everyone remembers Mel Gibson’s speech in Braveheart before sending his army off to fight. Am I right?
The point I’m making is that leading is often about how you deal with challenging situations, change or turmoil—and not how you navigate the easy moments.
Why? Because it isn’t easy to make decisions in troubling times. There likely isn’t one answer, but many—all of which likely carry a certain amount of risk. How you deal with these situations defines you and determines whether you are a success or a failure as a leader.
How have challenging situations made you a better project leader?
By Jen L. Skrabak, PfMP, PMP
“It is not the strongest that survive, but those most adaptable to change.” —Charles Darwin
It seemed as if everything changed overnight when the news of the COVID-19 pandemic broke. In California, where I am located, we went from the hustle and bustle of going to work every day and an abundance of options in travel, restaurants, entertainment and events to self-isolation, mandatory family time and the shuttering of many businesses.
We adapted quickly to schools and workplaces being closed. And most project managers, who are fortunate to fit into the small percentage of the workforce able to work remotely, are working from home.
So, what can we learn from all this change? It’s important to reflect on the leadership lessons that will carry us through this crisis—and beyond:
1. Welcome change.
I think the area that reflects the greatest change to everyday life is the grocery store. As essential businesses, grocery retailers were forced to change their business model and how they operate while staying open and serving customers. Each day, stores implemented new procedures to adapt to rapidly shifting federal, state and local requirements.
I was at a grocery store recently and noticed how, in a span of days, the business had changed its hours, hired thousands of new workers to stock shelves, implemented hourly cleaning procedures, installed new systems for checkout, managed a surge in online orders and even adjusted how groceries were bagged. California typically charges a fee for plastic bags to encourage shoppers to bring their own. That’s changed. Many stores no longer want you to bring your own bags, and now they are giving away bags for free. During a recent visit to my local grocer, the cashier told me they were running out of bags, and I said I could just take the larger items without having them bagged. I commented on the shifting dynamic I witnessed.
The cashier replied: “It will change again.”
It’s a great sentiment and true demonstration of leadership from someone who is experiencing a great amount of change every day at work. It’s not just the changes that are forced upon us, but more importantly, how we adapt to those changes with agility. It starts with us.
2. Master agility.
When this crisis is over (and it will be), take the time to understand what distinct behaviors work well rather than just going back to the way things were. I have found that turning on the video in conference calls is a more effective way to engage with teams vs. just having audio. In fact, research shows that 80 percent of people on audio-only conference calls are multi-tasking. And people rely on body language to help understand the message. The most important takeaway is to approach new things with curiosity and a desire to learn. Don’t just return to your comfort zone.
3. Work with what you’ve got.
It seems that every day, we hear new information that conflicts with the old information. First, the experts told us not to wear masks. Or that only N95 masks are effective. Then, we were told to wear masks when we went outside and that any cloth or scarf would be fine.
When dealing with complex issues, there is a constant stream of new information that we must digest and react to. The ability to keep working well and moving forward, despite the ambiguity, means that we don’t wait for the perfect information in order to start developing and executing plans.
4. Embrace the now.
If you took it for granted that you could get a haircut, go to that restaurant you’ve always wanted to try or travel to a dream destination anytime, we now know that things can change in an instant. Procrastination may result in objectives not getting met at all or a delay that may last months or years.
The lesson here is to prioritize what’s important—and do it now. Good time management practices show that handling something (like an email) once and making a decision on it right away is more effective than putting it aside or making a task list to deal with it later.
5. Be thankful.
While this is a stressful and difficult time, there’s also a lot to be grateful for, such as more time with family, no commute, less pollution and a focus on simplicity. Take a moment at the start of each day to remind yourself of three things that you’re thankful for—and why they are really important to you. It will make you happier and more focused for the day ahead.
What leadership lessons has the pandemic taught you? Sound off in the comments below.
By Dave Wakeman
I’m still on lockdown here in Washington, D.C., until at least May 15. That gives me a lot of time to poorly teach 4th grade and to think about life, business and what comes next. It also gives me plenty of time to watch the news—and I have been fighting that desire, because it is frustrating to see far too many displays of poor leadership when strong leadership is so needed.
But to bring it back to the positive, we can also see with great clarity how important good, not even great, leadership is. Here are a few principles that have been reinforced to me during this time of uncertainty:
1. Leadership is about vision: Next to my desk I keep a shadowbox with a profile of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in it. I keep it there because of FDR’s famous quote, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” To me, it’s a constant reminder that we must have courage.
Courage requires vision—vision of a better future and a better outcome for our project teams. As we come out of this crisis, we need to be ready to provide a vision for our teams of how we are going to grow out of this experience, what we are going to do to overcome obstacles and what future growth and opportunity we can expect.
In too many places right now, we don’t see that. And the lack of a clear vision for the future and how we’ll come out of this pandemic is causing us more damage than necessary. That’s because business, society and life are all built on a foundation of confidence. When you don’t have the confidence that things will be okay or have direction, it becomes easy to grow demoralized.
2. Leaders don’t micromanage: I’m only as successful as I am because I let folks do their jobs.
I’d also tell you with complete sincerity that I only seem anywhere near as smart as you might think I am because of all the people who are willing to share their ideas, experiences and perspectives with me.
That’s a long-winded way of me telling you: You can’t be an expert in everything. As a leader, you have to recognize your role in the project and let the experts do their jobs. That’s what they are there for.
No one is an expert in everything, and anyone who is claiming they are is trying to fool you. This crisis should lay open the idea that not one of us, as an individual, can successfully execute all areas of a project. In fact, this crisis should highlight the power of experts, period.
To achieve success, it is essential that we not micromanage, that we give our teams a clear goal and direction—and that we get out of their way so that they can do their jobs.
3. Leaders accept responsibility: I think of a scene from Batman v Superman when Wonder Woman dashes in front of Batman to deflect the lasers from the metahuman that was attacking Metropolis and Gotham City.
Bad analogy, but to me Wonder Woman sets a great example for leaders. She jumped in front of Batman to protect him so that he could get back into the Batplane and come up with a new strategy for defeating the beast with his intelligence and his arsenal of gadgets.
As leaders, we need to think of ourselves as Wonder Woman in that regard. A leader must protect their team to be able to do the work that is required for project success. It’s relatively easy to deflect attention, pass blame or throw someone under the bus. But real leadership entails dealing with the heat from outside sources and people looking to attack or slow down your project.
In our current crisis, we have seen many examples of leaders trying to push blame onto others, pass responsibility and remove themselves from the role as the head of the project when things aren’t going well.
That’s not really leadership, though. That’s sun-shining: the act of leading from the front when things are going great and running for cover when the storm clouds come in.
I hope everyone is safe, and I hope that we can begin to gain control over this pandemic so we can return to our projects, recreation and life. Until then, I’ll continue to consider lessons learned about leadership while watching this crisis unfold.
What have you learned about leadership in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic?
By Emily Luijbregts
We are facing uncertain times. The “External Shock” that COVID-19 has brought to economies around the world was something that few of us could’ve predicted—deserted highways, closed schools and businesses, and an instantaneous demand to work remotely. Within the first quarter of 2020, workforces were furloughed and organizations struggled to adapt to the new world.
As project managers, we have not remained immune to this. Our projects have been cancelled, postponed or delayed. We have had severe issues with supply chains, team management and connectivity. And the uncertainty which faces us, not only for the next quarter but for the remainder of the year, has made us look tentatively towards future prospects and the ability of our organizations to survive.
If you are finding yourself furloughed or in a precarious position within your organization, you may already be asking yourself: What can I do to become more adaptable to change? How can I make myself indispensable within my team and organization? And more realistically: What can I do to make sure that I can land another job as quickly as possible?
Here are a few career tips to set yourself up for the future:
First things first: When was the last time you updated all of your professional profiles? I’m not just talking about LinkedIn, but also PMI and ProjectManagement.com, PMTribe and others. Are you showing off all your skills, and are your job descriptions and goals concise?
It can also be helpful to analyze if your skillset is still relevant to the job that you’re looking for. This can be especially enlightening if you are working in a remote environment and can now promote your ability to manage virtual teams.
I try to update my own profile every quarter or every six months, depending on the amount of change that has happened in the previous period.
Like many of you, I’ve been forced to spend a considerable amount of time indoors in the last few weeks, and I’ve been trying to figure out the best use of my time without binge-watching another series on Netflix. One thing that I often try to reflect on are my strengths and weaknesses. What do I need to improve, and where do I excel? Then, I try to look at what I can do to turn my weaknesses into strengths in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible.
If you’ve been furloughed, your company may have provided you with a learning program to boost your skills during this period. But if, like many project managers, you’ve been let go without support, there are a few free options that can support your learning journey.
For example, PMI offers free courses to anyone who is interested in project management. This is a great way to learn more about project management and refresh your existing skillset:
Have you already joined your local PMI chapter? Have you tried networking on ProjectManagement.com? I am a strong advocate for online networking, and I’ve been trying to connect with other project managers on LinkedIn and ProjectManagement.com to support them during this time with coaching or access to job prospects.
Networking is not just about searching for your next job. It’s about utilizing and building relationships with your peers that can stand the test of time. During the first month of virtual working, I scheduled and held virtual coffees with peers and team members, and also planned regular catch-ups with colleagues to make sure that we could stay virtually connected and supported during this uncertain time.
Recruiters are also feeling the pinch of the economic downturn. I have several recruiters in my network who are very nervous about the remainder of the year and what it will mean for companies and their ability to provide suitable candidates. If you do not have a few trusted recruiters in your network, consider sending an updated CV or résumé to professional recruiters who might be able to help if a viable opportunity presents itself.
We all know that life will be dramatically different for many of us once this pandemic is over. Not only with respect to our careers, but within our personal lives. I hope that whatever happens in the coming year, we all come out of this crisis with our health and good humor intact. The project management community is known for its close-knit and supportive atmosphere, and I hope that in a “Life after Corona,” it will continue to be so.
Share in the comments below: What career tips would you give other project managers during this time?