By Yasmina Khelifi, PMP, PMI-ACP
I first experienced the transformational impact of diversity during a six-month internship in Japan in 2000. The experience made me question every action and learned behavior I had previously made without a thought: how to greet people, how to make a request, how to thank others, how to celebrate, how to apologize and, more importantly, how to collaborate. It opened the door to a stunning new world.
Since then, I’ve reveled in managing projects in an international environment. Diversity on project teams is an invaluable source of innovation and growth for individuals—as well as for projects.
Personal Benefits of Diversity
Throughout my career, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to work in diverse and inclusive environments. And I've learned so much as a result.
First, these experiences taught me humility: By delivering projects in the Middle East and Africa (MEA), I’ve worked with people who speak multiple languages and learned how to collaborate with people from different cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds. These experiences also helped me question the status quo: For example, in my technical field in France, few of my colleagues are female, while most of my Chinese colleagues are female engineers.
My sense of empathy was reinforced: Technical or political constraints can disrupt projects, but despite it all, the teams worked hard to meet their goals. These experiences also ignited my curiosity and encouraged me to broaden my views. I learned to ask open-ended (non-judgmental) questions and to fight against biases.
Surprisingly, interacting with people in other cultural environments also pushed me to better understand my own culture and myself. This introspective journey forced me to step back and grow into a more dynamic, informed and empathetic project leader.
Project Benefits of Diversity
Diversity isn’t just about ethnic or cultural differences—it also means embracing people with varying ages, gender identities, professional backgrounds and levels of experience.
For example, when I first began to work as a project manager, I had a team member close to retirement. His role was instrumental in the team: He calmly listened to our issues and acted like a mentor, sharing his experiences to help guide our decisions.
Conversely, I wanted to improve a project status, but I did not know how. I talked to a younger colleague, and he offered to review it. I surprisingly discovered he was proficient in designing documents.
A few years ago, I worked on a very diverse team, as far as background and experiences are concerned. They were not engineers; some had marketing backgrounds, others were not college graduates, one studied history and managed the supply chain.
During our working sessions, we often strongly disagreed and faced various misunderstandings. But I cherish these projects, because we worked collaboratively to reach a compromise, despite our differences. It also fostered a feeling of belonging and true team collaboration.
Diverse project teams force you to explore and adopt new ways of working. When I began to work in MEA, I discovered new digital communication tools that allowed me to forge a bond with my team and deliver project information to remote team members.
Being inclusive brings fresh perspectives that enhance creativity and spark innovation. It also keeps your project team from falling into a rut of the same old ideas and solutions.
Don’t Fall into the Diversity Trap
Let’s be clear about the diversity business case. Hiring someone only for the sake of diversity is counterproductive.
When I was hired as a SIM Delivery Manager for MEA, a new colleague assumed it was because I speak Arabic. Unbeknownst to them, I cannot speak Arabic. But I do understand project management. Reducing my experiences and knowledge to a cultural fit was demeaning and hurtful.
Undoubtedly, knowing a language and a culture helps to build trusting relationships and offers a competitive edge in our global environment. But this cannot make up for a lack of project management skills.
Inclusion must have a rational and objective basis:
The desire to boost public image or sway public opinion to appear open-minded and tolerant will not add value. Instead, work to embrace qualified individuals who bring something fresh to your team.
How do you foster and celebrate diversity within your project team?
By Marian Haus, PMP
There is obviously a high interest in the project management community and literature about what drives project success. For example, searching online for “why projects succeed” will return you five times more web pages than “why projects fail.” Similarly, there are four times more pages about “project success factors” than “project failure factors.”
This is no coincidence! The overwhelming interest in project success insights is driven by the struggle of many organizations and project managers to understand what drives success.
But before answering the question of why projects succeed, let’s first try to define project success.
The most common definition of success is delivering the project on time, on budget and in scope. PMI’s PMBOK Guide® says a project is successful if the following parameters are met: product and project quality, timeliness, budget compliance and customer satisfaction.
Others define project success by measuring the project ROI (or business case) over a certain period of time. If the ROI is positive, the project is declared successful, regardless of its deviations along the way.
I have my own definition: A project is successful if it meets its given goals, within acceptable variance boundaries (e.g., in terms of scope, time or budget). This is a relative definition and relies on the fact that the world is not perfect. Hence even a successful project will rarely be a 100 percent success.
A civil construction project might be declared successful if it meets its scope and quality. Acceptable time or budget deviations might not be seen as failure. Similarly, an IT project might be declared successful if it meets its scope on time, with acceptable deviations from quality or budget.
A project’s success is relative: it depends on how the success criteria and metrics are defined from the very beginnings of the project, along with who will measure them.
OK, there are clearly many definitions of project success. Similarly, there are also many views and studies on why projects succeed.
Let’s take a look at a few studies and try to find a common denominator.
According to PMI’s 2015 Pulse of the Profession®: Capturing the Value of Project Management, over the last three years the number of projects meeting their goals—hence being successful—has remained steady at about two-thirds of projects. This success is the result of organizations supporting project excellence by focusing on fundamental aspects of culture, talent and process.
But size matters, too. A Gartner study from 2012 shows that small IT projects (below US$350,000) are more likely to succeed than big projects (budgets over US$1 million).
Other studies reveal that project success is tightly linked to clear project objectives and requirements that are fully understood and supported by actively engaged stakeholders.
My view on the common denominator that leads to project success is simple: the main drivers of project success are rarely of a technical nature. Instead, the drivers are the basics of the project management culture and discipline within the project organization.
In other words, fix the project management basics, and your chances of reaching project success will increase.