Alexis Ohanian has racked up quite a list of accomplishments in his 37 years. He cofounded Reddit, sold it and then came back to help rescue it. He wrote a bestselling book. He cofounded a seed stage venture fund. But when it came time to have a chat with one of his fellow speakers at the latest gathering in PMI’s Virtual Experience Series, he seemed deeply concerned that people were going to be convinced he was a slacker. It wasn’t entirely unjustified. He was, after all, talking to Tanya Elizabeth Ken, the 17-year-old founder of LakshyaShala, an NGO dedicated to helping kids around the world gain equal access to education.
No shocker here, both of them had some interesting thoughts on how to revamp the educational ecosystem—a timely topic as kids around the world head back to school.
Introducing children to the virtual classroom forms habits that impact future work behaviors and outcomes. “Teaching someone how to learn online unlocks all kinds of doors,” Ohanian said.
With the vast power harnessed by digital learning comes an even greater responsibility to create platforms that are accessible. Despite all of the technological advances spurred by the global pandemic, systems of education remain unbalanced across the globe.
“Virtual learning can reach a wider audience, but we need to take into account the people who don’t have the access/resources,” said Ken. “If you want to solve a problem like equality in education, then we need to solve all the hindrances families are seeing.”
There’s still work to be done, she said. And while improving access to education sits high on her priority list, so too does improving the quality of education.
“The education system does not teach us entrepreneurship and project management skills,” Ken said.
Ohanian admitted he didn’t think much about project management until college and even then he used it mostly to plan his EverQuest guild or Quake 2 clan. But he also said those skills were the only way he was able to develop Reddit. “Project management is how you build a startup,” he said. (It’s also apparently how he helped plan his rather complex wedding. “It wasn’t always that romantic, but it was effective, gosh darn it.”)
Whatever the project you’re working on, this is a time that demands the ability to contend with astounding change. And empowering students to think of themselves as problem-solvers builds that agility from early on, said Ohanian. “Real life doesn’t have a syllabus,” he said. “The more a student can exercise the muscles of resilience, the better.”
Part of building resilience—on projects and in the classroom—is pushing past failure.
“You’re taught to avoid failure at all costs as a student, to get good grades, but life is full of failures and setbacks,” he said. “Get comfortable with failure—not because you’re not doing the work, but because struggling and disappointment and learning from it, that’s life.”
That theme of resiliency bubbled up quite a bit and it’s no doubt emerging as the new must-have skill as we all attempt to navigate the next normal. The goal shouldn’t be to just bounce back, but to bounce forward, said session speaker Greg Githens, PMP. Expect to be surprised—and seize the unknown, he said. Don’t let uncertainty stall progress: Do a lot and do it now, said session speaker Norma Lynch, PMP.
So get cracking. And get ready for the next Experience PMI event, “A New World View: Our Global Impact,” slated for 20 October: http://ow.ly/569n50Biskx
Before we reconvene on the Interweb, tell me: How are you becoming a more resilient leader?
By Cyndee Miller
Full disclosure: I’m a big fan of Trevor Noah. But even I was a bit surprised at his eloquence in speaking about managing projects—and what it takes to deliver them.
And those skills are coming in handy in these strange times.
Noah said he felt “inspired” by the opportunity to rethink how he does everything.
“It’s not often you get an opportunity to completely revamp what you do,” he said. “We cannot ignore the situation we’re in. It would be a disservice to not emerge from this without thinking about better ways of working—of living.”
That means abandoning your comfort zone. His approach? “I wake up every day saying this could be the day I get fired,” Noah said. “It makes me appreciate the fact that I’m not. It also makes me ask what else would I be doing?”
There are no rules, Noah said. And that opens up new opportunities for people to reinvent ways of working, to rewrite the rules and to reemerge better than before.
“For any project manager who’s out there thinking about the moment, try to apply yourself to thinking about how you would like an ideal system to be, as opposed to trying to apply an old system to this new world,” he said.
And yes, that includes one of the greatest questions of our Zoom-filled times: Do you really need that meeting? Or can you handle it over a text?
“We are in a situation where we can challenge conventional thinking,” PMI President and CEO Sunil Prashara said in talking with Noah. “Be realistic and optimistic at the same time. That allows you to innovate.”
Note: This optimism isn’t the kind of unchecked, unicorn-and-kittens, pie-in-the-sky optimism. Meaningful innovation only happens when it’s based in reality. And right now that reality is intrinsically linked to COVID, which is serving as a catalyst for iteration and the exploration of new systems. The little virus is the ultimate gamechanger. “There’s nothing like a crisis to ignite innovation,” said Shobhna Raghupathy, PMP.
That means ditching those old prescriptive ways of thinking and activating a new set of power skills. Adaptability, communication and collaboration are the must-haves in the age of disruption, said Erick Means of CDW.
And forget failing fast. You’re still failing, said PMI’s Scott Ambler. Project leaders should instead aim to fail less often, learn faster and succeed earlier.
Much of innovation is tied to tech, of course, and project leaders mustn’t ignore the sometimes-sticky ethical issues that will inevitably bubble up.
“Every conversation about technologies should consider, ‘Okay, what are the ethical implications? What are the unintended consequences?,’” said Rana el Kaliouby, author and CEO of healthcare Affectiva, an MIT Media Lab spin-off focused on “bringing emotional intelligence to the digital world.”
The effects aren’t always what they would appear on the surface.
“My biggest concern is not that robots are going to take over—it’s that we’re accidentally building in bias in unintended ways,” said el Kaliouby. The best way to combat that? Build diverse teams of people with different POVs and perspectives.
Mark your calendars for the next Experience PMI event on 9 September, when Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian and Lakshyashala Edutech’s Tanya Elizabeth Ken will lead the conversation on entrepreneurship and resilience. I’ll see you there—virtually, of course.
I’ll close out the same way PMI started each session throughout the day, with a simple question: What’s the one word you’d use to describe the work you’re doing today? Tell me in the comments below.
By Cyndee Miller
Greta Thunberg isn’t messing around. Joining forces with three other young climate change activists, she called on political leaders last week to stop talking and actually do something: “Our current system is not ‘broken’—the system is doing exactly what it’s supposed and designed to be doing. It can no longer be ‘fixed.’ We need a new system.”
For many people, taking on such massive issues can be overwhelming. And even the mighty Thunberg admits to Reuters she was “very worried” when she first began. “But when I started doing something, then there came hope from that. Because hope comes from action.”
Hope comes from projects.
Thunberg is part of a new generation of leaders who see that potential—and are using it to transform and define the future. Unflinching in the face of change. Naturally collaborative. Digitally fluent. Deeply committed to social good. Constantly learning.
This is the PMI Future 50. And they’re coming in with their own POV on building a better workplace—and a better world. There’s architecture activist Pascale Sablan, determined to right the social injustices embedded in design. Alagesan Hanippuya, PMP, is forging a fintech future in Southeast Asia. Tiago Chaves Oliveira, PMP, is pushing for more creativity and innovation in Brazil’s government. Gregory Daniels, PMP, is helping Zoom manage a 30-fold traffic surge amid the COVID-19 crisis. And there’s Thunberg, too.
They’re all putting their own stamp on the future of work and how projects get done. Deloitte reports nearly half of millennials and Gen Zers prioritize making a positive impact on society, for instance. And 32 percent of Gen Zers say they’re motivated to work harder and stay longer at a company if they have a supportive manager, per The Workforce Institute. It’s common enough advice for leaders, but this new cohort is determined to put it into action. “We need to take care of people. Just asking for results will not work. We also need to try to understand their needs and their perspectives and to encourage each person to ask critical questions,” says Gabriel Costa Caldas, director of operations at GPjr, Brasília, Brazil.
This also means a shift in the most in-demand skills. “I would expect big-picture thinking, creativity and empathy to play an even bigger role in successful project management,” says Miishe Addy, CEO of Jetstream Africa, Tema, Ghana.
Read more about the youthquake and meet all the Future 50 leaders in a special issue of PM Network® and in a series of videos and digital exclusives. (Pro tip: This is a multimedia affair to be enjoyed. Flipping through the pages of the magazine is a grand experience where you can take in everything and everyone at once, along with loads of pretty pictures. Check out the digital profiles and you’ll find most have Q&As at the end with some content that doesn’t appear in the magazine. And the videos let you see and hear these leaders in action.)
How is the next generation of leaders transforming your organizations and industries? And who gives you the most hope for the future? Fill me in in the comments.
By Emily Luijbregts
In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell explains that you need 10,000 hours to master any skill. That equates to several years of work and development.
But even dedicating smaller amounts of time can lead to progress. If I told you that you could become a better project manager within 100 days, would you believe me?
I’ve been spending a lot of time during the pandemic thinking about professional development and how we can become better project management professionals in every aspect of our careers.
When I started on this journey myself, I decided to take a look at my leadership skills and determine how I could better manage my remote and virtual teams. I chose this path based on the projects that I managed this year and where I felt that I could add the most value to my projects, organization and, more importantly, my team.
Your challenge—if you choose to accept it—is to sharpen your skill set as a project leader over the course of 100 days.
In the next 100 days, I want you to consider taking the steps below and tracking where this journey can take you:
1. Determine three areas that need your attention.
Where are your weaknesses? Where do you most need help?
This can be a real challenge for some people to comprehend, as knowing your weaknesses is a sign of a deeper understanding of yourself as an individual. I have truly come to understand my weaknesses, not only in my professional life but through my private challenges, which enabled me to look at myself from a different perspective and analyze my achievements and shortcomings.
When I’m mentoring an individual, we’ll spend quite a bit of time working on this topic—normally, it’ll be something that they didn’t think of initially. If you struggle with this task, I suggest talking to someone whom you trust and working on this together.
I recommend choosing three areas of focus, but if you have two or four areas, that’s absolutely fine. This is your path and your journey.
2. Make a plan for what’s realistic to achieve in this time period.
Let’s be honest, no one can devote 24 hours a day to perfecting a skill or personal development: It’s just not possible. Life gets in the way. And that’s absolutely fine.
Determine what’s feasible to achieve in the next 100 days and set yourself some realistic SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based). Also, analyze how you’re going to get there. What tools do you need to be able to develop? Is there a course of action you need to follow? What about guidance? This is the time to make sure that you’ve got the resources that you need to succeed.
You can plot this plan however you feel is most appropriate. You can choose a Kanban Board, Gantt chart or even a list of to-dos. Keep it simple and tailor your methods to your needs. When I did this for myself, I created a sheet in my workbook that looked similar to the below:
3. Seek out support.
Make your manager and colleagues aware of what you’re doing, and maybe they’ll join you. Make this a positive turn towards professional development and collaboration. I bet there are skills that you have that your colleagues need and vice versa. Challenge each other to become better professionals and raise the bar within your teams.
My support network came in the form of my peers. I asked several respected project managers whom I trust if they could recommend courses or webinars that might be suitable or give me advice based on their experience.
4. Complete the action plan.
Now, we get to the difficult part: You need to actually do the work and execute the plan that you’ve made. Watch some webinars, attend training courses and find a mentor. Along the way, I’d like to suggest that you adopt the agile principle of “inspect and adapt.” Analyze what you’re doing: Is it working? Do you need to change paths?
At the end of the 100 days, you will emerge a stronger, more confident project manager.
What 100-day challenge are you willing to take on to become a better project leader?
By Cyndee Miller
For the past several years, business pundits have waxed poetic about “unprecedented change” brought on by what seemed like massive socioeconomic shifts. Well, buckle up, because it’s become abundantly clear that was just the pregame. The past few months alone have shown we’re in for some painfully uncertain times.
The one thing we do know the future is sure to hold? Change—delivered through projects.
More than half of organizations are refocusing their identities around projects and programs, according to PMI’s research. And even before the pandemic and accompanying economic meltdown hit, project leaders said the biggest project delivery obstacle was managing changing priorities.
It’s going to take a new kind of multidisciplinary team—the kind that can turn strategy into reality, even as shifts in scope or requirements inevitably pop up.
These change-ready teams are grounded in innovation, collaboration and empathy. Complexity doesn’t faze them. They’re ready for anything. PMI’s Pulse of the Profession® In-Depth Report, Tomorrow’s Teams Today, lays out three core tenets behind the new take on teaming:
In the renewable energy sector, supercharged growth is rapid-fire technological change. And that means a lot can happen between project tendering and execution, says Jeanette Ortlieb, PMP, project manager, Distributed Power Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa. “As project manager, you need to be ready for change to happen,” she says in the latest issue of PM Network®.
The most effective project leaders don’t just manage change—they rally their teams around new ways of thinking. Case in point: Rocio de la Cuadra Vigil, PMP, of Yanbal International in Lima, Peru: “I love changing all the time in search of better ways to work.”
Even amidst all the change, though, the idea of projects delivered by teams isn’t going anywhere, says Peter Moutsatsos, chief project officer at Australian telecom giant Telstra.
“I do believe that the construct of a project team will persist into the future,” he says on a recent episode of Projectified®. “It might mean that projects become perpetual in that you may have a persistent team of people working constantly through a series of iterative projects.”
That will bring its own challenges and opportunities, Moutsatsos says, as far as team composition—and keeping everyone energized and engaged. And who knows what the post-COVID team will look like. People may be suffering from serious Zoom fatigue, but are they all going to rush back into the office or hop on a plane for an in-person project launch?
What are you seeing on your teams? How are you staying ready for anything? Let me know in the comments.