Project Management

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
Lynda Bourne
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Christian Bisson
Yasmina Khelifi
Sree Rao
Lenka Pincot
Soma Bhattacharya
Emily Luijbregts
cyndee miller
Jorge Martin Valdes Garciatorres
Marat Oyvetsky
Ramiro Rodrigues
Wanda Curlee

Past Contributors:

Rex Holmlin
Vivek Prakash
Dan Goldfischer
Linda Agyapong
Jim De Piante
Siti Hajar Abdul Hamid
Bernadine Douglas
Michael Hatfield
Deanna Landers
Kelley Hunsberger
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Alfonso Bucero Torres
Marian Haus
Shobhna Raghupathy
Peter Taylor
Joanna Newman
Saira Karim
Jess Tayel
Lung-Hung Chou
Rebecca Braglio
Roberto Toledo
Geoff Mattie

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Viewing Posts by Conrado Morlan

Do You Miss the “Old Way” of Communicating?

By Conrado Morlan

In project management, communication is a core competency that significantly impacts the outcome of a project. Most likely, you have worked hard to master your communication skills. Then all of the sudden, the way we communicate changed. The style had to adapt, evolve and amplify with the support of technology during the pandemic.

We were accustomed to more traditional ways of communicating, such as in-person meetings (with groups, or one-on-one with stakeholders), spontaneous conversations around the office, and conference calls, among others. But most of these methods were totally erased when, by necessity, we started to work remotely.

In a matter of weeks, we had to close the communication gap by learning on the fly how to use new technology tools featuring virtual rooms with a mosaic of participants, featuring screen sharing, tool chat, or instant messaging (IM). We faced the challenge of having to define new rules of communication and common ground (like having cameras on or off during the meeting, and muting your microphone if you aren’t talking).

In just a few months, we adjusted to a new way of communication: online calls instead of phone calls; recorded online meetings with automatic transcripts instead of handwritten meeting minutes typed out afterward; more IM communication instead of email communication.

For many project managers who are still remote, this continues to work well; for others who have returned to the office, they are starting to readapt to (or are missing) the “old way of communication.”

Readapting to the “way things were” won’t be an easy task. Many people have lost that sense of personal interaction, and it is becoming more difficult to bring several people together at the same time in a meeting room to discuss the project. People’s preferences have also changed, and many prefer a virtual meeting as they think that there will be no difference to a meeting’s outcome if the meeting is in-person or virtual.

Perhaps the outcome of the meeting will be no different, but what about in-person human interaction—a key element for communication? Reading non-verbal cues is becoming more difficult, a valuable element that will confirm if a “yes” is truly a yes or instead a “maybe.”

As a project manager, what has been your biggest challenge in adopting and adapting the “new way of communication” in your projects?

After a recent project progress meeting with my team, one of the senior members and I discussed the face-to-face communication challenges we have with other members. We concurred that when the person receiving the information has low retention, it results in false assumptions and a misunderstanding on the topic of discussion.

Why is this happening? If the person receiving information confirms that everything is clear, why do we still have communication issues in projects? Usually, it's because taking notes in a meeting is going away, as many team members wait for a meeting recap that summarizes their action items.

In face-to-face communication, we spend most of the time listening—and apparently, we're not good at it. We filter what we want to hear, and that may result in a broken message.

That senior member of my team is part of the silent generation. He mastered his listening skills in an environment without all of the ways to "replay" conversations that we use today. In addition, he mentioned that the communication environment before was "less polluted" than today, where we are bombarded with things that affect our ability to pay attention.

I asked the senior team member what the key elements of good listening skills are, based on his experience. He recommended:

  • Pay attention to the dialogue and receive the message.
  • Acknowledge the message using positive expressions, such as "Okay" or "I see."
  • Confirm the message was received by summarizing what was discussed.
  • Ask questions to the person giving information during and after the discussion.

What are the face-to-face communication challenges you have experienced with your team? Do your team members pay attention when you speak? What advantages and disadvantages do virtual meetings have?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: November 25, 2021 01:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

The Time to Start Vertical Development Is Now

by Conrado Morlan

 

Not everyone is born a leader. Some must be groomed. This is where the vertical development comes in. In my previous post, I wrote about how it can lead to a better understanding of challenges, more innovative thinking, improved emotional intelligence, and increased ability to resolve conflicts constructively in the VUCA world.

 

As humans, we experience stages of development: infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Just as we progress through those stages as humans, we make similar progress moving through varying stages as project leaders.

 

David Rooke and William R. Torbert developed a  model that outlines seven styles of leadership. Although it was introduced in 2005, I find it still relevant in today’s VUCA times:

 

  • The Opportunist wins any way possible, is self-oriented and manipulative
  • The Diplomat avoids conflict, wants to belong, and follows group norms
  • The Expert rules by logic
  • The Achiever meets strategic goals and juggles managerial duties
  • The Individualist creates unique structures to resolve gaps between strategy and performance
  • The Strategist generates organizational and personal transformations
  • The Alchemist generates social transformations

 

When you started out as a project manager, you most likely were in the Diplomat or Expert groups.

 

Becoming a project manager jumpstarted your vertical development with an unprecedented experience. That should had been complemented with meeting new peers with different perspectives and consolidating your experiences and knowledge to start acquiring a new POV.

 

The natural path to follow next is to become an Achiever, turning yourself into an action- and goal-oriented individual. Evolving to Strategist or Alchemist requires you to explore disciplines that will create projects, teams, networks, and alliances on the basis of collaborative inquiry.

 

So go ahead and step out of your comfort zone: Look for a stretch assignment, start exchanging your perspectives with other people within your organization, and consolidate that knowledge. This will help your development—and prepare you to face the VUCA challenges that many individuals and organizations are already facing.

 

How are you using vertical development? Share in the comments.

 

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: October 15, 2020 12:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

VUCA Means It’s Time for a Bigger Cup

by Conrado Morlan

 

The term VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world has been around for a while. But 2020 will be remembered as the year that forced every organization to deal with the VUCA world. And the most successful ones will be those that find ways to improve the capability of their leaders by acquiring new ways of thinking.

Yet even before COVID, PwC’s annual CEO survey found a majority of executives reporting they didn’t have the talent needed to grow their organizations and respond to increasing complexities.

         Today’s VUCA world demands vertical development. What exactly does that mean? The acquisition of skills, certifications, and experience is essentially learning or horizontal development. Vertical development helps the individual change to become more sophisticated, mature, and capable.

Put simply: Horizontal development transforms what you know; vertical development transforms how you think.

Typically, vertical development involves the following:

  • An unprecedented experience that derails a person’s habitual way of thinking
  • Meeting with people who have different perspectives to find a different way to achieve outcomes
  • A process of integration to help the leader gain a different perspective and develop a new way of thinking

Vertical development isn’t exclusive to leaders at the top of the organizational hierarchy. It’s for anybody in the organization, including project professionals.

If project managers and/or organizational leaders respond to the VUCA world simply through learning a few more skills, it’s not going to produce any significant benefit. They must develop their capabilities, adapt, and expand their ability to respond to the challenges. Vertical development involves a transformation of their consciousness.

To understand the difference between horizontal and vertical development, think of a cup of water. Individuals developing horizontally are pouring water into their cups. Individuals developing vertically need a bigger cup.

As project managers grow into their leadership roles, it becomes less about their mastery of frameworks, methodologies, tools, and techniques, and more about their container. The level of consciousness to navigate the complexity of the VUCA world requires a bigger cup.

One of the greatest benefits of vertical development is how it fosters increased mental complexity, innovation, emotional intelligence, and the ability to resolve conflicts constructively. This translates to an improved ability to interpret situations and make effective decisions—two essential skills needed to tackle problems in the VUCA world.

         How are you and your team using vertical development to deal with today’s VUCA world?

 

 

 

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: September 29, 2020 11:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Expect the Unexpected: Turning Unforeseen Issues into Opportunities

Categories: Disruption

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:

  1. Hire and retrain team members. This would postpone the Chile implementation for at least one month.
  2. Implement Ecuador and Chile in parallel.
  3. Split the implementation team. Half would support Chile’s billing operation while the hiring process takes place, and the other half would support Ecuador’s implementation.
  4. Ask Costa Rica to temporarily support Chile’s billing operation.

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.

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: May 21, 2020 09:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Forging Resilience as Project Professionals

By Conrado Morlan

 

“A man may have wisdom and discernment, but that is not like embracing a favorable opportunity. A man may have instruments of husbandry, but that is not like waiting for the farming seasons.” — Mengzi

I do not know a project management professional who has not faced challenging situations during their career. The range of challenges can include unforeseen risks that quickly became issues, such as geopolitical events, acts of God or, most recently, a pandemic.

Those kinds of stressful situations help to forge the resilience skills and traits characteristic of the modern project management professional. Resilience is not about toughness; it is about equanimity. It’s about how you manage your temperament in challenging situations and move forward.

During these times, stakeholders expect you, the project management professional, to act and act fast. There is a desire for instant gratification and often a misinterpretation of the concept of “being agile” by both stakeholders and project management professionals.

I remember one time in which I was leading the negotiation process with a prospect in South America. On that Friday morning, I recommended that my manager hold off on sharing the final proposal until I met with the prospect in person on Monday. On Saturday morning, I received a text from my manager telling me that he was about to leave for South America for the Monday meeting, which was not in the original plan. Due to personal commitments, I was flying in on Sunday night. As soon as I landed, I already had two missed calls from the customer and a couple of texts asking for an explanation about the drastic changes in the proposal and why the purchasing department was copied in the email.

My approach, based on Fabian strategy—a military strategy in which pitched battles and frontal assaults are avoided in favor of wearing down an opponent through a war of attrition and indirection—was not successful. Much like when Fabius fought Hannibal, a third party involved took action without my knowledge.

When we met with the customer, I tried to regain control of the situation, but it was too late. Now the purchasing director was at the negotiation table, something that was not part of the original negotiation strategy. After several hours of renegotiation, the contract was signed, but the two parties left money on the table. The customer saw a reduction in their IT budget, as the planned spend was reduced by 15 percent.

History Repeats Itself

Similar to what happened to Fabius during the Second Punic War, my manager was hailed as the key negotiator who closed the deal, and my perceived lack of action was recorded in my annual performance review.

The desire for instant gratification was satiated, but it made the company lose sight of the future. When the contract was about to end, the customer called to notify us that they would not renew the contract for the second phase of the project.

My strategy not to share the proposal ahead of time was focused on the long term, and on building a strong relationship with the customer—which would later translate into more business for the company. After the contract ended, my manager and his boss realized the reason for my “lack” of action and changed their views.

Lessons Learned

This event was one of the best learning experiences in my professional career. It gave me the knowledge of how to bounce back and the strength to learn the lessons I needed in order to move to the next stage in my career.

Cultural awareness cannot and should not be ignored. Contract negotiations have strong ties to culture, and local and national business etiquette should be followed to be successful.

Recognition for your efforts may not happen at first. It may take some time, but it will help confirm that your decisions were for the best.

It was one of the many setbacks in my career, but I am grateful for the experience.

As a project management professional, what events or situations have forged your resilience?

 

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: April 14, 2020 11:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
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