This past winter I helped coach a recreational league high school basketball team for my son. I am always up for the challenge of coaching a youth sport for our town. Over the years, I have coached lacrosse, soccer, baseball, and most recently basketball. There are many challenges to a successful season, and at this level success isn’t always defined as how many wins a team can get. It sure helps with morale, but the most important gauge of success is that a player has become a better player playing for the team I coached. That being said, I find myself pulling from my Project Management background in so many areas. Utilizing the practice of initiating, planning, executing, controlling and closing the work has helped tremendously in making the whole experience for the other coaches, the players, and the parents a smooth and enjoyable one. I thought it would be fun to look at the areas that I have pulled from.
Initiating can be hectic. Luckily, most of the parents and other coaches also realize that the number of wins isn’t the only way to have a successful season. This all starts way before a team is actually put together. We need to meet with the full league, secure gym time, set up a way for players to sign up, and figuring out and coordinating the practice and game schedules.
Planning, for me, is the fun part. We finally are ready with lists of players and it’s time for tryouts. Similarly to hiring an employee that you are going to work with on projects, we always focus on how coachable the kids are. This doesn’t mean that they are the best at the sport, but it means that they are ready and willing to learn. The same goes for business. If everyone focused on all stars for projects, we may do well on that one project, but it is important to also train other players for other projects and for the future. A good project team is a blend of experienced, motivated individuals with multiple skills. On a basketball team, we want everyone to come to practice with an open mind. Sure, it helps to have teammates who can shoot and score, but it sure helps having someone that may be good at defense, or great at bench morale. These all make for a great team and a fun experience.
Executing comes in many forms, especially during a season. Each game requires execution; from the players and the coaches. On a project team, executing well allows the team to succeed at their ultimate goal of successfully finishing the project on time and on budget. Executing plays is what is required of the players, while figuring out player matchups and what the other team may be throwing at us is what is required of the coaches.
Controlling in terms of a sports team can be broken down in a couple of different parts. Off the field, there are a lot of moving parts, most of which are coordinating various schedules, vacations, carpooling, and the occasional sicknesses… making sure that we have enough players to play in each game. On the field, or court in the case of basketball, we as coaches must look at the players as individual parts of the team. We need to ensure that they are not getting worn out, not getting into foul trouble, and, ideally, trying to control the other team enough to win the game. I did mention that winning isn’t everything, but it sure is part of a competitive sport.
Closing the season out can be in the form of a playoff run. But, more than that, it is important to make sure that the team’s goals have been satisfied and hopefully a handful of them are willing to come back for another season. Having a team that has been together for one year can drastically help ease startup of the next season. On a project team, there will be turnover due to promotions, change of job, retirement, etc… but making sure that they are all motivated to be successful again on another new project is the ultimate goal.
In conclusion, project management practices help me make my personal and professional lives much easier to handle. If anything, from coaching a sport or being part of a project management team, it has allowed me to break down a sometimes daunting task to one that is much more manageable and enjoyable. Applied in judicious amounts, I believe project management practices will also help you: at work, in the community and at home.
“Because I said so…”. This is a “powerful” sentence that (almost) every child has heard at least once. When they are criticized, misunderstood or just denied of what they want (with no explanation whatsoever), a child’s first impulse is either to dissolve into tears and/or to push back, puffing and woofing angrily towards the “repressor/enemy” (usually an adult). They want to show that they are in pain (psychologically) and frustrated.
But when you are 4 or 5 or 7 years old, it’s almost impossible to describe eloquently your state of mind, your emotions. It’s much easier to display them. This is why, in those particular moments, children begin to shout, whimper or scream. They actually begin to (what psychologist call) act-out (their feelings/emotions/ frustrations).
And guess what? In the adult world, it’s almost the same.
As adults, we learn to restrain (even repress) ourselves from physically exhibiting our (deep) emotions. We try to explain them, rationalise them as much as possible. However, as soon as somebody is “pushing” (harder) our buttons, we tend to return to our inner (indignant) child. We sulk, puff and woof, retreating from that conversation or, quite the opposite, retaliating in a strong, powerful manner. And, more often than we think, we want to protect ourselves by being more offensive. Instead of understanding our fears, insecurities and self-doubts, we block them and, most importantly, we turn them back on our opponent/”enemy”.
Didn’t you feel, after a dense, heated conversation and after you had time to cool off, that you might have just overreacted? That some of the actions you took and/or replies you uttered seemed (after you cooled off) exaggerated and inflamed considering the light weight of the topic itself?
That’s because you acted-out your state of mind. In that particular moment, the anger you experienced came from the fear that you will not get what you need/want, that you are not loved, not respected, not included/accepted by the group.
Isn’t that exactly how it was when we were kids, only with more psychological “baggage” accumulated over the years? We are adults now, we can be angry and fight back with more power and more means. We can win this one - not like when we were kids.
Oh, this is such an illusion…
Now, imagine all of these for an individual in a leadership position. The number of threats and (possible) conflicts rise exponentially. Higher expectations and greater ambition bring an increased level of stress and anxiety. All of the repressed fears, emotions find an easier way to surface and the individual (the leader?!?) is more prone to act-out in difficult times such as short deadlines, conflicting teams, disgruntled employees, stressful projects and more. Just like in childhood, acting-out brings (most of the time) many disadvantages and problems in any human relation.
Obviously, we wonder if we can avoid these situations as much as possible or, at least, reduce their probability. It’s hard to give a recipe for such a complex psychological matter.
However, I would venture a guess and offer three key elements that, in my opinion, any individual should focus on if she/he wants to be a better person (and, consequently, a better leader). As a side note - these are also core elements of servant leadership and promoted as such.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, I am sure. Emotions, sensations, feelings, fears: all of them are part of a “world” that constitutes the foundation of any relationship; being personal or professional. Therefore, we must not ignore them but try to understand and have them work for our benefit as individuals, especially, for the ones aspiring to lead.
To be the leader everyone expects today, we need to heal the “wounds” from yesterday or, at least, acknowledge and start working on them. And this is the toughest leadership decision that any of us wishing to lead has to make.
Are you up for it?
I was fortunate to begin my career on the most expensive highway project in the United States, The Central Artery/Tunnel Project (also referred to by the Boston locals as the Big Dig). For those that don’t know, this was a mega-project in Boston that rerouted the major Interstate from above ground to below ground. The final costs to complete exceeded $16 Billion. Indeed, with a project of this size there was bound to be at least some problems. Most of these issues led to escalating costs, schedule issues, and questionable execution. However, after all was said and done, it has led to much more enjoyable harbor front views, public parks and allowed the interstate to run underground throughout the city. Back then, I had very little appreciation for what I was learning and what I was a part of.
When I started working, I had an eyes wide open approach to everything at all times. However, even though this project was the most expensive in the US, I knew nothing different in the Engineering and Project Management world. I thought this was normal and would be like the rest of the projects that I would be on. Twenty years later, I look back and realize that I probably won’t be on such a project again and if one comes around, I probably will treat it a bit different with regards to my appreciation for it. However, I also remember that I wanted to learn. I wanted to get the most out of it. So, I steered towards the people that had been on the project a long time and felt I could learn the most from them. By definition mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge and support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career or professional development. Little did I know back then that this would be my first opportunity to have many mentors. I didn’t know what a mentor was back then. I guess I thought that a mentor would be someone who would come to me in a graduation cap and gown, sit with me, teach me the ropes and not let me fail.
Within my first month, I started asking more questions. I remember sitting in my first large program level meeting and being in awe of the knowledge the team members had. While I was nervous, I learned quickly that these people… these mentors... were all around me and wanted to help me be all I could be. That being said, I was very fortunate to have an amazing boss at the time. His name was Al and while I had no idea at the time what he was to me, looking back he was the first mentor to whom I always found myself turning when I had questions or concerns and wanted to seek his approval on what I was doing.
My first recollection of finding out that a 20-something didn’t know-it-all was on a simple task of providing a construction overview schedule for Al for an executive meeting he was going to be attending. I was so proud of myself. I was ecstatic that I had completed this task with little or no help and thought what I had done was perfect and required no editing. Little did I know, that was one of Al’s first tests for me. I handed over my printout the morning of the meeting thinking I was all set. Al thanked me and said he would review it. I thought to myself, “Review it?!… It’s perfect. It shouldn’t need any review. It’s ‘good-to-go’”. About an hour later he called me over to his desk. He had markings all over it. The one comment that has stuck with me out of all of the edits was that the coloring that I had chosen was all wrong. He then explained to me that the executives would think it was too busy and would not be forceful enough for the message that it was portraying. Now, he didn’t make me feel bad or feel like I failed, but he made suggestions on the basis that I could improve my messaging. For years after I left that first job, I turned to Al for direction and even approval on my career decisions. To this day, whenever I provide a dashboard or report I think back to this comment and still try to improve upon my deliverable.
Mentoring can come in all shapes and sizes. It can occur when you least expect it or when you have signed up for a mentoring program. Our local PMI Chapter has a great mentoring program of which many people take advantage. When they are done they are so glad they went through it. Many of the mentors and mentees are first timers. They also don’t have to be mentors who are perfectly aligned with the mentee’s main line of duties. I am currently mentoring a handful of supervisors. I find that while they can run circles around me on many of their day to day responsibilities, I am able to provide them with some guidance, more specifically in the Project Management profession since they have no formal training or formal PM education. They find out about things that may help right away or even a year from now, much like Al did for me.
In conclusion, I urge any and all of you to get involved with mentoring, either with your own company, with your PM organization, or even with old colleagues. Mentoring entails communication which we all know is usually the area of breakdown in most conflicts.