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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So, You Fancy Yourself a Mind Reader? You’re Wrong.

By Cyndee Miller

It’s probably the bracelets and the boots. But I long harbored a desire to be Wonder Woman. I had big plans for using her Lasso of Truth on my sister.
 
But conference keynoter Nicholas Epley came in with a reality check for me: “Of all the superpowers, reading minds is the only one you already have.”

It’s that innate human ability to understand what others think, feel, believe, want and know. And it’s what makes humans the most dominant species, he said.

But it's complicated. At best, the ability can help project professionals connect with their team. At worst, our egocentrism, stereotyping and behaviorism can spark misunderstanding or even conflict.

“There’s only one mind that you’re engaged with all the time: your own,” said Mr. Epley. “We tend to oversimplify other peoples minds.”

Body language tends to be another culprit of missed connections, says Mr. Epley — and this after I’ve spent years covering it as it as a way to get ahead in business. “The problem with body language is that we misread it,” he says.

To really understand someone, you have to really get inside their head, Mr. Epley offered a few tips:

  1. Be wary of gimmicks. Facial expressions and body language can mislead — and there’s no proof that training can improve a person’s ability to read it.
  2. Cut the confidence in half. Approach people with humility.
  3. Be painfully clear when you communicate. Ask direct questions, listen carefully, reiterate clearly and ask for confirmation.

Do you experience misunderstandings with your teams? Do you think Mr. Epley’s approach could help? 

Posted by cyndee miller on: October 30, 2017 01:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

It All Begins — and Ends — With the Team

by Cyndee Miller

This year’s PMI Project of the Year sounds like the plot of some Tom Cruise movie: Deadly nuclear waste starts to leak into the outer shell of a storage tank at an underground storage facility in Washington, USA. A team is tasked with moving the 800,000 gallons (3 million liters) of deadly toxins to a stable tank — in just three years.

Except in real life, there was no Mr. Cruise to jump in and save the day. It was the Hanford AY-102 Recovery Project team that got the job done.

So when Roland Greenwell, PMP, stepped up to accept the Project of the Year award, he gave credit to his team.

“It was the workers who really invested in the vision and made it possible,” said Mr. Greenwell, single-shell tank retrieval manager at Washington River Protection Services.

It initially didn’t look great: The project was given just a 15 percent chance of success. But because of the team’s dedication to delivery on the project strategy, the project closed early and US$8.3 million under budget.

The Hanford AY-102 team members weren’t the only difference makers. The other finalists had extreme circumstances of their own to contend with:

Gahcho Kué Project, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

The Gahcho Kué diamond mine sits deep in the Canadian artic, in the middle of nowhere. Building the mine required shuttling materials over a treacherous ice road that only exists for two months of the year. Missing it would have meant massive delays to the project. But in the end, the team prevailed, closing the project two months early. The payoff? In 2016, the mine exceeded its carat production by 60 percent.

University Link Light Rail Extension, Seattle, Washington, USA

Traffic around Seattle is the fourth-worst in the United States. Commuters clearly needed another option. So the city decided to build a light-rail link between downtown and the University of Washington. Despite underground obstacles and stakeholder concerns that threatened to throw the project off track, the team delivered the line extension US$200 million under budget. And because the project closed early, service began six months earlier than scheduled.

For more on the 2017 Project of the Year winner and finalists, look for in-depth feature stories in upcoming issues of PM Network and check out video case studies on PMI’s YouTube channel.

Posted by cyndee miller on: October 29, 2017 02:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

With Great Innovation Comes Great Responsibility

by Cyndee Miller

Sweet home Chicago — the birthplace of deep-dish pizza, Ferris wheels (and Ferris Bueller), brownies, Chance the Rapper and yours truly.

This is a city driven by innovation.

Not to brag, but we’ve pretty much cornered the market on mind-blowingly awesome construction projects, with the skyscraper as our specialty. We may no longer be able to claim the world’s tallest, but we’ll always be home to the world’s first. Construction isn’t the only game in town, of course. In September, mega consultancy KPMG named Chicago one of the top 10 tech innovation hubs in the world. Take that, Silicon Valley.

And now, PMI® Global Conference is here for a visit, with Sir Tim Berners-Lee as the opening keynoter, no less.

As the father of the world wide web, Sir Berners-Lee has serious cred talking about innovation. Over the years, I’ve heard my fair share of hooey about fostering creativity. I appreciated his stance, which basically comes down to letting people do their thing: “When you see a twinkle in somebody’s eyes, that’s when it’s time to give them some space.”

When he first started talking about his nebulous project called the world wide web, for example, his boss called it “vague, but exciting.” Then he had the good sense to get out of the way.

Still, Sir Berners-Lee said he was constantly working to keep the spark alive. He needed to nurture that flame to get to the next phase: the critical collaboration necessary for the nascent project to take off.

“How do you take the creative energy between these different companies trying to produce the best browser and get them to produce the best HTML so there is just one web, just one HTTP,” he said.

For project managers, it’s about getting people to put aside their way of doing things, collaborate on the common goal and build consensus. “By the time you’ve mixed your ideas with other people’s ideas, you’ll end up with a better product,” said Sir Berners-Lee.

With any major innovation, the people driving the effort usually go in with a really strong idea about the world they want to make, the problem they want to solve. But there are inevitably unexpected consequences once an idea makes its way into the real world, said Sir Berners-Lee.

Take Twitter. Given that Sir Berners-Lee built the internet, he also built Twitter — and the angry tweet. “We used to think just good things would happen,” he said. “Give the world a liberal dose of communication and give them a medium that knows no nation and surely there will be world peace.”

Alas, we all know that’s not quite how it worked out.

“Project managers must think about: If everyone ended up using [a given project], what would be the affect on humanity?” he said.

As innovation continues to ramp up — and project managers begin to step up as agents of change — it’s a powerful and necessary question.

Posted by cyndee miller on: October 29, 2017 07:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)
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