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
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David Wakeman
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Ramiro Rodrigues
Soma Bhattacharya
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Recent Posts

Do You Foster Imposter Syndrome in Your Team?

3 Ways Project Managers Can Build a Competitive Advantage

Building Team Synergy and Resilience

The Entropy at the Heart of Project Management

5 Symptoms—and 5 Solutions—For Excessive Self-Confidence as a PM

Viewing Posts by David Wakeman

3 Ways Project Managers Can Build a Competitive Advantage

Categories: Best Practices

by Dave Wakeman

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the art of strategy. I did some research to rebuild my website during 2021 because I decided the pandemic was a good opportunity to create a new version of my business—and what I found was that around 40% of businesses have no clear, stated strategy. And, of the 60% that say they have a strategy, around 80% of those strategies don’t pass the test of actually being a strategy.

Ask yourself:

  1. Do you know your ambition?
  2. Are you focused in your targeting?
  3. Do you know why someone picks you over someone else?
  4. Have you identified the resources you need to be successful?
  5. What will (and what should) your action list look like?

In a lot of ways, this looks like the role of a project manager as well. But where I really want to turn your attention to this time is to the third question about knowing why folks will pick you over someone else. Because I want to talk with you about having a competitive advantage in your role as a PM.

Let’s begin by defining a competitive advantage for our purposes as the skills, attitudes and competencies that you have that help you stand out and get your projects completed successfully even in very challenging environments.

Now, let’s look at some of the key competitive advantages that I see missing pretty regularly—ones that can change everything because you can work on improving them. Here are my top three:

1. Leadership skills: It can feel like we live in a world without leaders. Managers, yes. But real leaders feel few and far between.

In fact, I’ve seen a sharp reduction in the amount of “thought leaders” preaching leadership principles or highlighting the way that folks can be better leaders in their organizations. A leader is someone that uses persuasion, not just positional authority, to get their team to achieve the results they want.

It can also be improved by focusing on the right actions and attitudes. The first attitude is one of team over individuals. On projects, it can be easy to fall into the trap of looking at the task list and thinking of the individuals and the individual tasks independently. That’s often the road to trouble, since success doesn’t happen alone or in a vacuum. Helping your team see this is a strong start to success—and one you can work on as a PM.

Start here and master this attitude. This alone will help your leadership skills.

2. Vision: I understand how crazy this one can seem to a lot of you, but bear with me. Vision is often missing because we can all fail to see the big picture from time to time.

For PMs, it might not even always feel like an important skill—but it is, because having a feeling for the vision of what success will look like can be the difference between success and failure. This is due to the reality that in most instances, our projects are part of a larger ambition—one that might have many stakeholders and many smaller tasks or projects that lock into ours.

We need to know this, recognize what the entire scope of the environment will look like, and be able to share this with our teams. That’s vision.

You get better at vision by being willing to take a step back from the task at hand, connecting with key stakeholders and working to see the 50,000-foot view of the project. In my strategy work, the first thing we focus on is setting the “ambition” for the organization. This is simply figuring out what success will look like.

That’s vision, and if you put your organization’s overall thinking into the framework around ambition, you’ll have an easier time with it.

3. Communication skills: Since I started writing these pieces, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about communications skills because your ability to communicate effectively has arguably the most impact on the success or failure of your projects.

Why? Effective communications can help propel people to action, shortcut potential challenges, and draw people toward a successful conclusion of your project.

Where does communication fall short for most people?

  1. Too much jargon or complicated language: You have to speak to the level of your audience and their understanding, not just yours.
  2. A failure to listen: We are all guilty of waiting to talk at one time or another. But being an effective communicator requires a willingness to listen to the other person.
  3. A lack of ensuring the message got across. I have an affinity for making sure I got my message across by making myself the point of ineffective communication. I do this through offering up that I may not have shared everything, or that I may have been too technical. By making yourself the butt of the joke, you can lower people’s resistance to saying they didn’t understand something.

These three skills are competitive advantages—and are unfortunately often missing. But like a good strategy, you can focus your energy to give yourself a chance to be more successful. Give these skils a try, and let me know what happens.

Posted by David Wakeman on: May 03, 2022 01:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

5 Big Lessons Learned During 2021

Categories: Lessons Learned

by Dave Wakeman

Wow! That year went fast, didn’t it?

I don’t know if 2021 was better or worse than 2020 because the collective sense of uncertainty was exchanged for moments of great hope that moved back to great uncertainty.

I don’t bring that up to be a downer here in the period of annual reflection and resolutions, but as a way to introduce some of the ideas that really stuck with me in 2021 and that seem likely to help carry me—and, hopefully, you—forward into 2022 and beyond.

Here are my five big lessons learned from 2021:

1. Planning is more important than ever: I took some time over the first two years of the pandemic to go back to school and study up on brand strategy, marketing strategy and corporate strategy.

And, if you see a pattern there, you are paying attention because the pattern is that you have to know where you are going before you can start down the path to getting there.

In the best of times, we get pulled in a lot of different directions, but during the last two years while the pandemic has been our companion, we’ve seen it become more difficult to find space to think—and for any of our actions to seem relevant.

This makes going through the planning process even more important because we have to stop ourselves, slow down and think. That way we can actually do something productive with the limited amounts of focus many of us are struggling through right now.

2. Leadership counts: We’ve seen various forms of leadership around the world. Some good, some bad, and some that defy description.

What we have seen in looking at all of these is that leaders matter. Leadership counts because most of the time, leaders are the ones that are helping us know what to focus on, where to put our efforts, or just help us make sense of a situation.

In projects, this same idea applies because it can often be impossible to always know how our actions are going to play out in the larger sphere of a project without some guidance from our leaders.

3. Communicating effectively is key: I’ve spoken about how the message that the person receives matters more than the message you are delivering. That is something we see all day, every day right now.

As PMs and leaders, you likely have a good idea about what you are trying to get across. Sometimes, the idea that you are expressing gets lost in translation. I think this is where the advice to talk to me like a third grader comes from.

But the pandemic has highlighted the reality that the words you say can seem clear to you—but can be confusing to someone else for any number of reasons (like lack of a clear definition of the words, lack of a shared vocabulary around the problem, or cultural differences).

The list of challenges to getting your point across is probably limitless, but our bigger challenge is to beat back on those challenges so that our message does get through.

4. The importance of a vision: I don’t know a lot of project managers that use the term “vision.” We do hear a lot of “vision statements,” but most of the time they are fluffy and confusing. (By “vision,” I mean direction, ambition, and a way of communicating your goals.)

One of the big challenges that many countries have been dealing with during the pandemic is that there hasn’t been a really good vision for what ending the pandemic will look like. This lack of clear vision for success has made it easier for communications to be confused, leadership to look tepid and for life to feel like a bit of a free-for-all at times.

You can call your vision an ambition. You can call it a definition of success. Or, you can call it something else entirely.

The lesson I’ve learned is that if you don’t have one, it becomes easier for folks to act out of fear, panic or without a shared destination—causing more challenges than needed.

5. Ultimately, teamwork is a way forward: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is the power of teamwork.

I did a podcast with the CEO of the Philadelphia 76ers, Scott O’Neil, back in June. We talked about being part of a team. Scott coaches his daughter’s basketball team and I coach my son’s soccer team. We got philosophical for a few minutes, but the big key that came out was that both of us like to be part of a team, and that being a teammate has great benefits.

During 2021, I was reminded about this over and over as we saw teams work together to overcome big challenges—like the way that the vaccines were rolled out in communities across the United States. But I’ve also seen the breakdown of teams and how much damage bad team chemistry can do to the collective effort of a team, like the way that Juventus and Manchester United have often seemed like less than the sum of their parts.

These are the lessons I’ve learned this year. By no means is this a comprehensive list, but it is mine. Let me know what you learned in the comments below.

Happy new year!

 

           

Posted by David Wakeman on: January 18, 2022 09:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

3 Skills PMs Need in a Changing World

Categories: Best Practices

by Dave Wakeman

As we head into the homestretch of 2021, we are still being heavily impacted by the pandemic—and it seems like a society that is restructuring (or realigning) itself due to challenges and issues that the pandemic uncovered.

Reading this morning’s paper highlighted this to me. It got me thinking about the types of skills that a PM is going to need to highlight (or build) to ensure that they are on top of the ever-changing world we are living in.

Here are my top three:

1. Communication: I feel like any good list on what makes a good PM should always contain improving your communication skills, but in this regard the communication skills we need to improve are a bit more broad than normal.

In a general sense, we always want to remember that your communications need to be clear, concise and easy to understand. But as we expand here, we need to make certain that we have the ability to communicate with folks clearly in different cultures. This might mean recognizing how different phrases translate or different customs come across.

The key to being a successful communicator in a changing world is that you need to focus on the receiver of the communication—with an emphasis placed on things that might make your communications fall flat. Because even when you share a common language, the gulf in understanding can be significant.

2. Negotiation: We hear a lot about different issues that are being exposed around the world right now, like supply chain backups, staff shortages and demand issues. The list goes on and can contain hundreds of variations on each issue, but the key idea here is that even if you are dealing with a challenge, a good PM has to find ways to resolve issues. This comes down to negotiation. And what is negotiation but solution seeking at its finest?!

To be an effective negotiator in a changing world, you need to focus on your communications to begin with (like I mentioned above, communications seem to be the gateway for effective project leadership). But you also need to recognize how to frame ideas, challenges and solutions to give people win/win opportunities. You also need to be able to see different routes to success.

Probably the most important skill is to not look at negotiation as a winner-takes-all situation. Because in most instances, it’s going to be about accommodation and not capitulation.

3. Recruitment: I’ve written here over the years about how great a PM I think Alabama football coach Nick Saban is. One of his best skills is his ability to recruit talent to Tuscaloosa. Talent wins.

To be a successful PM in our new environments of change and uncertainty, you are going to need to focus on recruiting folks to your team to be successful as well.

Recruiting in this context doesn’t mean getting people to sign up as your “ride or die,” though it may require that at certain times. Instead, recruitment is likely a lot more flexible as you need people to dedicate a few hours to a challenge you are dealing with, sign off on a new piece of your project, or commit the resources necessary to help you keep your project moving forward.

As I write this out, I start thinking about how we recently discussed project management being a sales job. Then, I look at my list and realize that the key way that PMs are going to work forward now is through selling: their ideas, their partnership and their resources.

Maybe instead of a big change, the more things change the more they stay the same? Let me know what you think in the comments

Posted by David Wakeman on: October 26, 2021 09:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Are Project Managers Salespeople?

Categories: Leadership

by Dave Wakeman

I recently realized something that I never really thought about before (at least, I don’t remember thinking about before): Project managers share a lot of the same needs and requirements with salespeople.

Crazy, right?

Many of you are probably scratching your head, thinking, “Dave has really lost his mind now.” You might be right, but let me try and explain. Here are some things we have in common with salespeople…

1. Driving awareness: One of the key jobs of a PM is to make sure that the stakeholders and key assets of a project know what is going on and are committed to helping the project reach its goal.

That’s really just another way of saying “drive awareness.” Which is really one of the key things that salespeople do: They find targets in the market and they create attention and need through elevating awareness.

For project managers, a similar process happens when you look at the people that have an impact or influence on your project’s success or failure. You have to figure out who these people are and let them know that your project is moving forward—and what impact it is likely to have on folks over time (if you are successful).

That’s a lot like a salesperson. 

2. Expressing value: I’m a trained marketer. That means that I don’t believe in commodities. Which is good for project managers, because every project a PM undertakes should have some sort of unique value that is going to also add value to the team, stakeholders and environment that the project exists in.

As a PM, you also likely find yourself struggling to get people to buy in on the value your project creates at all times.

Why? People have different priorities. People may have different beliefs about the value of a project. Or, people just don’t want to invest in certain things.

We could go on here, but the key is that as a PM, you have to mitigate the risk to your project of people not knowing the value of what you are doing. How? By expressing the value of what you are working on.

There are two types of value to express: tangible value and intangible value. Tangible things are easily measured (like time saved, money saved or money earned); intangibles are much more difficult to measure, but they can have a big impact (like less stress, less time wasted or time saved). You make these values clear by expressing them in a manner that shows how your project directly leads to the benefits.

Again, y’all are selling!

3. Gaining commitment to action: This is the ultimate sales job. Without action, nothing happens.

In any leadership role, you end up only being successful through the efforts of others. In sales, the same idea holds. This is why the focus on commitment to action is so important.  You have to get people to commit to taking action or no change will take place.

What does action look like? A process started. A job completed. A purchase made.

As a PM, these jobs look exactly like the job of a salesperson, because you both are relying on the efforts of others to help you achieve success.

Now I may be wrong, but when laid out like this, PMs and salespeople look much more alike than we usually think they do in a lot of cases.

Or I’ve lost my mind.  (You tell me in the comments below!)

Posted by David Wakeman on: September 28, 2021 10:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

3 PM Lessons I Needed to Relearn

Categories: Best Practices

by Dave Wakeman

I just got back from taking a road trip, and while I was away for the month, I had my website rebuilt from the ground up. It turned out nicely and makes me look like I really know what I’m talking about.

All kidding aside, having to put my website in the hands of an expert in web development taught me some lessons about project management that either I forgot or needed to learn.

Let me share a few of them with you…

1. Being clear on the outcome you hope to achieve is crucial. At the end of the project, I debriefed with my web developer and she said that the nice thing about working with me is that I respect her work and don’t micromanage.

As we continued talking, I realized that the reason I didn’t micromanage the project was because I was pretty clear in the project brief with exactly what I needed to achieve and what success looked like to me.

Due to that, I was able to give her clear instructions and allow her to do the work I brought her in to do.

In managing projects, all of us should be aware that if we spend a lot more time at the start of the project being clear about the results, we are likely to need to spend less time micromanaging or “handling” things during the project.

2. Communication is key. I’ve been talking about the people aspect of projects since I started writing this column back in 2012. In doing a project to rebuild myself under constraints imposed on me by the pandemic, I remembered the importance of clear communication.

In the past, I know that I have written that the keys to successful communication are for your messages to be:

  • Clear
  • Concise
  • Easy to understand

Over the years, maybe I’ve been guilty of getting away from those three principles, but I was reminded that these are essential communication qualities and that it is good to keep them in mind—especially when managing remotely.

3. Let experts be experts. One of the key ideas in my project management talks and writing is that as the leader, you can’t be the smartest about every aspect of your project. That’s why you work so hard to build strong teams.

As often as I remind myself, I know that I can still slip up and throw out bad ideas.

It causes two problems when I do this:

  • First, it slows down things because the people on my team often have to explain to me why I am a knucklehead and why I am wrong.
  • Second, it slows the team members down because they have to do their work and they end up thinking about the way that they are going to have to justify something to me. Even when that isn’t what I really want, my actions tell them something different.

Strangely, my website project came together very well and I managed to keep myself from micromanaging the whole process. I was reminded that as a leader you have to:

  1. Be clear in your vision
  2. Communicate effectively
  3. Give experts room to do their job

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Posted by David Wakeman on: August 11, 2021 01:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
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