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
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Jorge Martin Valdes Garciatorres
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Rex Holmlin
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Roberto Toledo
Geoff Mattie

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Viewing Posts by Jorge Martin Valdes Garciatorres

Adaptability: The Ultimate Skill for Project Leaders?

By Jorge Valdés Garciatorres, PMP 

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”

—Milton Berle


Experts say that the world will never be as we once knew it. I personally think that it will take us several years to return to some sense of normalcy. We’ll have to accept it: Adaptation is inevitable.

As I prepared to write this blog, I was looking for a personal story to illustrate my resilience skills. The truth is that many came to mind. I believe that this ability, along with creativity, is something we all have as project managers.

Working from home for the past 15 or 16 weeks (I’m one of the lucky ones who can work remotely during the pandemic) is perhaps the closest example of resilience. In my case, it has required less effort, but the overwhelming response we have had to our Managing Remote Teams program has helped me realize that, although the technology exists, there is still a lag in the ability of many to adapt to this new way of working.

Another reflection that came to my mind was that perhaps as project managers, our shifting scope of work causes us to take life as it comes. That is to say, this professional activity that I chose and that I enjoy so much helps those of us who practice it to develop that capacity of hyper-adaptation. For example, life has led me to give courses in parking lots, and on one occasion a few years ago, I almost had to give a course while on the presidential plane for a group of Mexican government officials. I have learned to work at home, where I have a spacious and comfortable office totally adapted to my taste, and I’ve also transitioned to suddenly having to work at a 35 inch x 35 inch desk in a client's facilities. 

Other reflections come to my mind with regard to the technological changes that people in my generation have experienced. My kids just can’t believe that when I was young, I was my mother’s remote control, and that in my time, the “smart” were the people who used phones—and not the phones themselves. 

In the end, whether it is a generational skill or whether it is fostered by the career someone chooses, there is no doubt that adapting to changing situations is an important and vital skill in these times.

During the "Googleographic" research I did to write this article, I came across this page in which the American Psychological Association, in addition to defining resilience, proposes some activities to help foster it.

The literature available on the web around this topic has been increasing. I can also recommend two books, not to be missed, that can help you better understand how resilience can make the difference between success and failure.

One story that has marked me in particular, masterfully narrated in the book Desde la Adversidad,  that of Ernest Shackleton, a ship captain of about 110 years ago. He went down in history for having formed what is perhaps the most resilient team in history.

Another book that I highly recommend is Bonnie St John's Micro-Resilience: Minor Shifts for Major Boosts in Focus, Drive and Energy. I had the opportunity to listen to Bonnie while attending an event a few years ago. Her story is incredible, and an inspiration for everyone. The fruit of her experience is explained very assertively in her excellent book.

If you are a project manager or a consultant, chances are that you are already a resilient person. But remember that you must keep exercising your skills to keep them in shape.

How do you exercise your resilience?  


Posted by Jorge Martin Valdes Garciatorres on: September 01, 2020 02:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Taking the Lead During Project Transformation

Categories: transformation, Leadership

By Jorge Valdés Garciatorres, PMP

"There is nothing so practical as a good theory." 

—Kurt Lewin

Every project will lead, eventually, to a big or small transformation. However, the PMBOK® Guide doesn’t outline the processes needed to prepare an organization for the transformation that will come with the project. 

Organizational development, created by Kurt Lewin in the 1940s, is the discipline that covers dealing with organizational transformation. In my opinion, Lewin, a natural agile thinker, was ahead of his time. If you review his intervention approach known as “action research,” which is iterative and based in retrospectives to learn and improve, you’ll see why.

Characteristics of a Successful Transformation

Organizations are open, complex and dynamic systems. Intervening within a company to transform it in any way is an adventure that should be addressed from a systemic view. 

It is no secret that the transformation journey can be painful and even traumatic for some. However, if organizations want to maintain relevance, it is crucial to build resilience into their DNA. With the right approach, change and transformation can become not only a reality, but an important development opportunity for employees and organizations. 

Here, based on my empirical experience, I will outline elements that must be present to enable transformation and the minimum systems that must be addressed to increase the probability of success. 

Transformational Elements

In my experience, the transformation should have, at a minimum, the following five elements: 

  1. Top-level sponsorship. Management must offer the appropriate support and sponsorship of the transformation, providing the vision or purpose of the transformation and bringing collaborators into it. 
  2. Big ideas. As a consequence of top-level buy-in, you will typically have the end goal in mind, and you’ll need to establish a path forward. Big ideas will give direction and inspiration to the collaborators and help them to better visualize what lies at the end of the path. 
  3. An involved team. Those who will lead and participate in the project and those who will be impacted by the change need to be considered. This could be addressed from the very beginning during the information gathering and interpretation of such information. These points of view must be taken into account from the verbalization of the opportunities or problems, to the configuration of a viable and valuable solution. Even more, you have to build a social fabric that helps enable the project. You need to lean on project internal influencers (agents of change) who will exercise their leadership for the benefit of the project. 
  4. Identified challenges and viable solutions. Around every process of transformation there is a force field, which Lewin called driving forces and restraining forces. To bring about change, these forces must be brought into imbalance so that the driving forces are strengthened and the restrictive forces are weakened. This, in addition to the energy put into the transformation, will help the team approach the finish line more efficiently. 
  5. Moderated action. Limit the implementation efforts so that you are always acting at a high-impact, low-complexity level. This ensures the delivery of usable results for the organization, minimizing deviations and risks. In addition, having low-complexity implementations generates a positive inertia towards the change process. Lewin’s action research approach serves as a foundation for this element. 

Subsystems to Address

The change effort should be addressed in a balanced way with a systemic approach. To achieve this, I usually use the model outlined by Patrick Williams, which comprises four subsystems: 

  1. The environment subsystem: This represents the influence that the external environment exerts on the organization, the organizational context itself and the strategic focus of competition. When faced with a transformation, the environment must be evaluated to identify which aspects must be taken care of. 
  2. The management subsystem: This subsystem includes the vision, the beliefs, the leadership style, the way decisions are made, the way communication flows, the risk appetite of the organization and the level of commitment that management has with the transformation process.
  3. The technical-work subsystem: This includes aspects such as information technology, work models, toolkits, methodologies, machinery, processes, formulas, equipment, structure, and roles and responsibilities, all of which are factors that can favor or inhibit the changes that are to be implemented. 
  4. The human-social subsystem: This represents the people who have skills, knowledge, competences, motivation, needs, attitudes, commitment and expectations, as well as the interactions among these people, how they deal with conflict and how they communicate to find the best path of action. 

In my experience, using the above elements—plus acting small by using the low-complexity/high-impact approach—will put you in a better position to tackle the challenges of your transformation journey, with an agile approach. 

What about you? How are you managing the transformation that comes with your project?

Posted by Jorge Martin Valdes Garciatorres on: July 13, 2020 04:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

5 Ways to Successfully Manage Remote Project Teams

By Jorge Valdés Garciatorres, PMP

“Remember that we choose to follow leaders based on the way the leaders make us feel. Remote associates are no different. You just have to concentrate on ensuring that your remote people feel included, supported and part of a team.”

Steve Coats

As companies take necessary precautions to keep their staff healthy and safe, remote work has become the new normal.

Some organizations have already worked this way, and the pandemic has only intensified the pace. Others may be thinking about it, and others may have never considered this option and perhaps are struggling to keep things going in the midst of the crisis.

In any case, there isn’t one right way to do remote work. However, whichever method suits your project teams best, leadership and communication play an important role in the process.

The benefits of remote work

In a totally empirical, non-formal study that I am conducting on my own (my grandma used to call this “curiosity”), I have been talking to and gathering information from my students, colleagues, friends and relatives, and sharing my observations with them. Throughout México and other locations in Latin America, it seems like most people are more happy than not about working from home. Among the aspects they are enjoying the most are:

  • They can save money on commuting and other expenses.
  • They can spend more time with their families.
  • They have more time for themselves, in some cases up to four hours daily.
  • Some can eat better while at home.
  • Some are finding more time for exercise. One of my interviewees even told me that during one weekend, he and his wife ran for the equivalent of a marathon on the treadmill.
  • Most are participating in webinars or online classes.

The drawbacks of remote work

When I ask about the downsides of this modality of work, there are also several answers:

  • They perceive a more intense rhythm of work. 
  • They note a dramatic increase in their number of meetings. 
  • Some of them are struggling to find a place at home where they can concentrate. 
  • Some of them report weight gain since they are eating more often, and moving less.
  • Most have told me that they find it more difficult to balance personal life and work.

At this point, most of them complain about the way their leaders are following up with their assigned duties. They feel like they are being micromanaged. Their project leaders are asking for updates several times during the day. Again, in some cases this is almost not present, but in the majority of my chat partners it is recurring.

Based on my experience doing remote work for nearly 15 years, I’d like to outline some lessons learned for leading remote teams. I am focusing on the day-to-day phase of remote work, assuming that at this point all of you have passed the implementation phase:

  1. Set the ground rules and expectations with your team, and establish new ones or modify some of them, as needed.
  2. Trust in your team. Perhaps not all of them need close supervision. And for those who are less mature, tell them that you are there to help. Establish a system of responsibility and accountability that doesn’t rely on you hunting them down at every turn for updates.
  3. Show empathy and compassion. In the program I am leading now, for instance, nearly 45 percent of team members live alone, and being alone for eight weeks (because of the lockdown) is difficult. Nearly 30 percent are suffering an overnight transformation in their daily habits. As a leader, you must help your team navigate their personal circumstances to move a project forward.
  4. Establish a daily or a biweekly virtual standup. Ask each of your team members how they are doing. Let them know that you are here for help if they need something.
  5. Read your team and schedule one-on-one conversations when needed. Show genuine interest in the individual and then get straight to the point.

What are some practices you’ve implemented to ensure your remote project team is working at full capacity?  

Posted by Jorge Martin Valdes Garciatorres on: June 22, 2020 11:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

The Art of Active Listening

Categories: Communication

"To listen closely and reply well is the highest perfection we are able to attain in the art of conversation."
-- François de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)

Interpersonal skills are crucial to project management. There's a lot of literature about them, even a section dedicated to them in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)--Fifth Edition. Still, some of us think it is too much work to improve on an interpersonal level.

I believe that good interpersonal skills can transform you into a "WOW!" project manager, as U.S. business management writer Tom Peters would say. 

In my view, one of the most challenging interpersonal skills to develop is communication. And communication is equal parts listening and speaking. However, I would say it's twice as important to be a good listener than a good speaker. Greek philosopher Epictetus said: "We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak."

Being an active listener is not easy. I think it is more art than skill, so I often encourage my colleagues to review and use this checklist every time they have an important meeting with stakeholders and team members. It includes five elements; if you try to work on one at a time, you will end up becoming an active listener: 

  1. Be 100 percent attentive to what your speaker is saying.
  2. Let the speaker know that you are listening: establish eye contact and nod often. 
  3. Be open to what he or she has to tell you and encourage honest communication, no matter what.
  4. Avoid making judgments about what you are hearing. Try to be empathetic about what is being said and wait until the conversation is concluded before responding. When something is not clear, try to rephrase it to make sure that you understood correctly, prefacing it with: "What I am hearing is that..."
  5. Provide feedback appropriately. If you feel upset or annoyed in any way, then call for a pause. The worst thing you can do is to continue a conversation that is making you feel uncomfortable, because inevitably, you'll stop listening and the speaker will stop talking.

That's what I try to put in practice to be better at my listening skills, although I recognize it is very difficult and usually this takes a lot of conscious effort and self-discipline. 

Do you have more tips to add to this checklist on how to become an active listener?
Posted by Jorge Martin Valdes Garciatorres on: July 22, 2013 06:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Are You an Assertive Project Manager?

Categories: Human Aspects of PM

"People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care."

--John C. Maxwell

Have you ever heard your project manager say something like "I'm not here to make friends; I'm here to get things done"? This is known as extrovert management. 

On the other hand, some project managers manage more as an introvert. They are less aggressive and more passive in their approach. 

There is a range of assertiveness, which can be understood as a person's tendency to actively defend, pursue and speak out for his own interests.

Assertiveness is a key point for a leader's ability to achieve results, according to a 2006 study from researchers Daniel Ames and Francis Flynn. They found that our natural tendency to focus on negative information suggests that the costs of low or high levels of assertiveness may often outweigh the benefits in the eyes of observers. 

So what is the best approach to assertiveness in the context of project management? It depends on the project.  

Perhaps the bottom line is to develop our ability to cover a wider range of assertiveness and adjust our behavior to the context of the project. 

For instance, on short-term projects, being more assertive will give us the ability to achieve results. But on a large project, the best approach might be more moderated in assertiveness to build good relationships with our team, which allows us to collaborate productively in the long run. 

Which kind of project manager do you prefer? And which kind of project manager are you?

Posted by Jorge Martin Valdes Garciatorres on: October 01, 2012 12:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

"If you can't convince them, confuse them."

- Harry S. Truman