by Dave Wakeman
I don’t know soccer as well as a lot of folks because I didn’t grow up with the sport in rural Georgia during the 1980s, but that hasn’t stopped me from coaching a group of 12-year-olds.
This means that I have had to fall back on my skills as a communicator, teacher and student to help these kids learn the game, grow their skills and have fun.
What has been the most important thing? Leadership.
Let me share some lessons.
1. Direction matters: When I first started working with the other coaches, I said, “We need a philosophy, a direction.”
Thus, the “3 Ps” were born: passing, pressure and possession.
Are these the right Ps? Is this the right direction? Does it work all the time?
Maybe. Maybe. No.
What the 3 Ps have highlighted for me is the importance of having a destination and a direction so that you can rally people around where you are heading.
With the kids, we know that our core principles are those 3 Ps—and that we if we focus on them, we are likely to be successful in growing as a team.
As PMs, the same thing plays out when we lay out the idea of “what success looks like” for our team and stakeholders.
2. Communication matters: Coach Jonah says that I am the “rah-rah” coach and the “motivator.” I don’t know if I buy that.
I do know that because I can’t fall back on my soccer skills to demonstrate certain ideas or experience to teach about certain situations, I have to be more thoughtful in the way that I communicate with our team.
What does this mean?
This may sound like a lot, but it is really the embodiment of our 3 Ps.
You can use this idea as well by knowing the three or four things you need to get across for your project to be successful—and reinforce the message over and over.
A lesson that I learned in my marketing training that applies everywhere is that it takes many more times hearing a message before it sticks with your audience.
As the PM, you might get tired of the message or explaining things, but you are thinking about a certain aspect a lot more than most people—and you need to recognize that it might be only a small part of someone else’s life or job.
3. Leadership matters: Ultimately, the whole project comes down to the idea that leadership still matters.
With our kids, it isn’t that they want me, Paul or Jonah to be great soccer coaches or players. They need us to be leaders.
They look to us to provide direction, vision and instruction that will help them learn the game, improve and have fun.
In your work, your team members aren’t always looking to you for technical direction. Often, they want you to be a bridge for them to success in the project, growth in their skills, and stronger performance as a team.
It is a simple message, but sometimes you need a group of seventh graders to remind you. What do you think?
By Sree Rao, PMP, PgMP, PMI-ACP
Have you ever made a program or project decision that did not turn out to be the right one? As program managers, we not only need to make several decisions over the course of a project or program, but we also need to guide our teams with decision making.
Here is a framework to help you make decisions based on data and objective criteria. I heard about the RICIE model in a strategic management course, and found it to be really helpful to internalize the steps needed for rational decision making. Here I am proposing the RISCIE model, which is a minor modification to that model.
The RISCIE framework has six steps:
1. Recognize the problem/opportunity: In this phase, identify an opportunity or a problem that you want to solve. If it is a problem, identify the root cause of the problem. Do not mistake symptoms for problems. Example: Team members are consistently missing deadlines. This is a symptom that is a result of either bad planning, unclear requirements or team members’ lack of experience.
2. Identify solution criteria: Most of the time, we jump to solutions instead of identifying the solution criteria. To choose the best solution, come up with a list of criteria that the solution must meet. Example: The solution must be implemented in three months to meet the launch date, or should cost below a certain amount. Prioritize the criteria.
3. Solutions exploration: Analyze possible solutions that would fit the solution criteria. Do not stop with just one solution—explore multiple ones.
4. Choose a preferred course of action: In this step, evaluate all the solutions against each of the criteria that were identified in Step 2. Choose the solution that meets the most criteria. If there are multiple solutions that meet all the criteria, evaluate if there is a possibility to do a quick prototype or proof of concept of each of the solutions. This would uncover any pros/cons of the solutions that were missed in Step 3.
5. Implement the preferred course of action: The next step is to implement the chosen action. Ensure that any solution criteria that were defined upfront are indeed being met with this solution.
6. Evaluate the results and follow up as necessary: Lastly, evaluate the results. Ensure all the KPIs are being measured, and operationalize the solution. Do a lessons-learned or a retrospective session to use them for subsequent decisions.
Ensure everything is documented and that all the key stakeholders are involved in every step of this process. While this process does not guarantee successful outcomes, it does guarantee that your decisions are based on data and objective criteria. Do not measure the success of a decision based on the outcome (outcome bias). I plan to write my next post around this topic. Stay tuned!
What tips do you have for rational decision making in your projects and programs? What mistakes have you made, and what are your lessons learned?
by Dave Wakeman
I was reading an article the other day about understanding the signs of burnout. The list was pretty much representative of what most people share when I talk with them about it these days: It included things like trouble focusing, missing deadlines, not feeling like they know what they’re doing, and struggling for motivation.
Then I saw a reminder of how we are in the third year of the pandemic—and that’s when I realized that we are all likely dealing with some level of burnout. So let’s take a step back and figure out how to help our people during tough times…
1. Be aware of what is going on.
I’ve had to slap myself upside the head a few times to remind folks that we are currently dealing with a situation that can rightly be referred to as “toxic stress.” We are still struggling as a society to get COVID under control, many of our economies are showing signs of recession, people have new routines, there are climate issues…I could go on.
I won’t because that would be too depressing. But the starting point of addressing stress and burnout is recognizing what is going on. You can’t solve a problem you can’t see.
If you are feeling a little stressed or under pressure, you can imagine that most people around you are feeling something similar.
2. Be open about these challenges.
In working with my clients, I try to give them room to talk with me—even about things that aren’t related to our projects. Sometimes, just getting things off your chest can just help you cope with challenging times.
Unfortunately, many of our organizations (and our culture) try to reinforce a feeling of stoicism around troubling times and encourage us to keep our issues pent up inside.
As a leader, you have to recognize that the default is unfortunately to not mention anything and to not seek help or a sympathetic ear. So, you may have to force this issue a little bit; that’s okay. The payoff for your team will be huge, and your ability to help people will make you a better leader in the long run.
3. Look for ways to release the pressure valve for folks.
Everyone has deadlines, meetings, internal and external pressures, and much more. We can’t control everything for our teams, just like they can’t control everything around them. But we can often find solutions to help relieve some of the pressure.
In North America, I see a lot of businesses letting their teams have Summer Fridays off. I also see team get-togethers at ballparks, picnics and other places where they can be outside together in an informal way (as mentioned above, anything simple where we can just provide an ear). You might encourage this by setting up “bull” sessions where there is no agenda.
Going even further, you might be able to relieve some of the deadline pressure or the feeling of endless connectivity by setting expectations around turning off devices, response times, or turning on your out-of-office notifications to get a break. The big idea here is that you have to actively engage in this process with your team.
In my world, I think I find that this is the key to everything when you are dealing with people, especially in an environment where everything can feel like a struggle. Put on the brakes and take a step back. Then, be deliberate in finding ways to give people an ear to bend, a feeling of support, and a little space to catch their breath.
Maybe I’m crazy, but we all need that right now.
What signs of burnout have you noticed in yourself and your co-workers, and how have you dealt with it? Share your thoughts in the comments below. And for more on this topic, read The Danger of Project Manager Burnout.
3 Ways to Lower Your Stress at Work
Categories: Best Practices
by Dave Wakeman
My mind is on summer break. Anytime I start thinking about my summer plans, I also think about how I can use this to teach a lesson. I think I’ve come up with a pretty neat way to tie a trip to the beach into the jobs that project managers do every day. Let me explain…
As PMs, the job is to manage stakeholders, communicate, adapt and adjust, put out fires, and to end up as a clearinghouse for everything that has to do with your projects. We also hope to achieve a break because we want people to be able to make their own decisions and to take actions independent of us doing all the thinking.
This is where my vacation comes in, because when I am away, I like to be totally away—independent of any decisions for my business. Which brings us to the question: “How do we create an environment where our teams go on without us?”
Let’s take a quick tour through three ideas:
1. Give people some autonomy.
I remember reading the book The 4-Hour Workweek, where Tim Ferriss talked about turning over problem solving to his outsourced sales and service team. His solution was to set parameters when the outsourced team should just act.
Such as, “If solving this problem costs $100 or less, you make the best decision and let’s move on.”
How can we apply that to our work?
As a PM, you might set parameters for your purchasing agents that tells them, “If the purchase is under $1,000, you do what you think is best.” The number isn’t important, the transfer of authority is.
The same idea applies for correcting errors, changing a process, or communicating an issue. Set up the parameters for when you need to know (or don’t need to know). Then, you stick with them…no matter what.
2. Don’t be the first to respond to everything.
Some of the worst habits that we encourage when leading a project or a business happen because we feel like we must do everything ourselves.
Look, I’m as guilty as the next person of doing that—responding to emails at all times of the day and night, trying to juggle what can feel like 30 or more different things at once.
When you give yourself a few moments to think about it though, it won’t work for taking a real vacation. It doesn’t allow you to be a really effective PM.
Why? Because you become a bottleneck.
How do we not become a bottleneck? First, you set those parameters like we discussed at the top.
After that, you want to be more in control of your time and how you use it.
Do you check your emails constantly? I used to. Now I don’t.
Instead, I might check them once an hour or every few hours even. And, on vacation, I’m likely to check my emails twice a day.
You can do this even in your normal workday. I do two things to force myself into better habits:
3. Be gentle on yourself and others.
Most mistakes aren’t fatal and can easily be fixed. Which makes the constant churn of work and the constant need to be “on” seem less necessary.
I worked on some political campaigns, and I’d train folks to write campaign ads. They’d always start with apprehension, because a lot of folks would snap under pressure, yelling and screaming about an ad that didn’t work the first time.
I took a different approach by saying, “If we mess up, we will fix it. No one is perfect.”
What happened was removing the pressure of perfection (or near perfection) enabled my teams to do better work. They felt freed from the need to get everything exactly right the first time because they knew that I was going to say, “We are off here, but let’s see what we can do to fix it.”
That’s something we should all be paying attention to. On vacation, I can turn over tasks to people and they feel comfortable doing them because they know I’m not going to freak about an error or something having to be redone.
In our projects, giving people that freedom probably gives us a break from being the bottleneck we talked about before. But it also gives our team members the chance to do their best work without fearing that wrath will rain down on them.
That may not mean you are on vacation, but certainly it can make your job easier…and that might really feel like just the break you need.
I’m off to the beach! See you next month
In this high-demand/low-availability labor market, we all have to start re-thinking about how to staff one of the increasingly most pivotal roles in large, complex technology delivery: the program PMO lead.
In the past 10 or so years, we have all seen the size and scale of delivery dramatically increase as the business and technology landscape becomes more complex with multiple solutions, architectures, geographies, suppliers and organizations—and enabling layers such as cloud platforms. For new technology solutions as well as transformations, program delivery leads now spend more time than ever navigating this highly complex landscape—which leaves less time for traditional program management activities.
This situation has put an increased premium on the PMO lead role, which typically was portrayed as more of an administrative function. Ever more frequently, the PMO lead role has become closely integrated with the program delivery lead role in terms of guiding the trajectory of delivery…to the point where they resemble an adjunct delivery function to the program delivery lead.
The common dilemma today: Where does one find a PMO lead that can oversee the typical delivery operations activities such as risks, issues, workplans and tools—as well as assist the program delivery lead with critical delivery assurance efforts? In addition, how can we fill a PMO lead role with the right person in a timely manner as not to impair the mobilization progress of a delivery program?
As opposed to the traditional approach of trying to staff at the last minute when demand arises for a PMO lead role, the most effective path is to have the next generation of PMO leads on hand before you need them. Keep these three points in mind:
1. Recognize that large, complex and transformation PMOs require a unique mix of leadership skills. Programs are typically known to be a collection of delivery projects that directly fulfill a unified set of business needs. However, the landscape of programs has changed over the years where they now have to be implemented in a highly integrated, more complex technical and business environment. In addition, there can be transformative enablement capabilities such as value realization, organization change management and dependency management.
Given this landscape, PMO leads that solely oversee the execution of serial recurring PMO processes will not be successful. The PMO lead of today needs to have skills that transcend pure administrative execution by serving as a broker of conflicts, predictor of delivery volatility, as well as an organizational enabler of progress. In addition, to do so PMO leads now engage at a much higher level in an organization.
To achieve success, PMO leads need to have prior experience with complex delivery leadership, senior executive engagement as well as an ability to quickly grasp the delivery “big picture” in order to take action in a proactive manner. Traditional administrative backgrounds are not enough to prevail in today’s delivery environment.
2. Domain and local knowledge is highly valuable. In addition to delivery leadership, executive engagement and the ability to sense prevailing conditions, it’s very helpful to have additional knowledge in the areas of business domains, as well as localized organizational characteristics.
For example, the learning curve of a PMO lead that spent most of their career in healthcare would have to be enormous to grasp the terminology and concepts of energy exploration; the converse is also true, when an energy exploration PMO lead serves on a healthcare program. In addition, organizational entities in companies may differ between regions and product lines.
There are a few methods to help ensure that domain and local knowledge needs are fulfilled. Where possible, prioritize PMO leads that have prior business experience in a specified domain area. To assist with understanding the organizational entities, consider the PMO lead shadowing the overall program delivery lead in recurring leadership meetings.
Where there are no available PMO leads with the necessary business domain nor local knowledge, consider providing business domain training as well as conducting immersion sessions for the prospective PMO lead in advance of their start of their role. It’s much quicker to take PMO leads with the right mix of modern-day competencies and incrementally bring them up to speed in these areas than it is to try and instruct a business domain lead on complex delivery.
3. Rotational PMO lead roles build more effective delivery leaders. In order for PMO leads to stay ahead of the game, their role needs to start in advance of delivery activities. In today’s complex environment, any delay in staffing a PMO lead will be detrimental. The best way to avoid this problem is to make the PMO lead role a rotational staff function. This enables it to be a training ground for future delivery leaders.
In the military and other organizations, the notion of a rotational staff assignment is quite common. In addition, it is highly prized given the visibility it provides—as well as the ability it creates to foster further career growth (which might not be found in a traditional assignment).
Current delivery leadership that needs to gain experience with more complex delivery, as well as experienced new joiners, are both examples of candidates for modern-day PMO lead roles. In addition, standard PMO lead training should be designed, built and deployed. Organizations that identify, groom and deploy PMO leads in a timely manner are already starting out ahead of their competitors. This model is not limited to employees of an organization; performing the same function with suppliers is also valuable to reduce the chance of late PMO lead fulfillment.
The function of a program management office has been both an integral and essential component of complex industrial delivery for almost 100 years. Over the past few decades, technology delivery leaders—as well as stakeholders—have gained a similar level of appreciation for the importance of the program PMO lead.
As demand continues to increase with no end in sight to the shortage of capable PMO leads, it’s best that companies start to build their own cadre of future PMO leads; this is essential for both staffing this role in a timely manner, as well as to ensure the growth of delivery capability.
I welcome any comments on what others are doing to help both staff program PMO roles, as well grow this function in your own organization.