Vision to Value: Executing Strategically Focused Initiatives

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Executing initiatives, and their component projects, successfully means delivering value to customers. The Vision to Value blog focuses on solutions to the organizational problems that inhibit that success.

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Do Executive Sponsors, Not Project Managers, Hold the Key to Project Success?

Has an Executive Sponsors Ever Deserted You?

Are Strategic Projects Really the Most Important?

Culture v. Project Success: How to Win

Are You Herding the Cats or Leading the Cats?

Do Executive Sponsors, Not Project Managers, Hold the Key to Project Success?

Jonathan Norman, from the Facebook's Major Projects Knowledge Hub, and I talk about one of the six major gaps that cause project failure--the executive sponsor. Should the role be renamed "Accountable Executive?" Is leadership more important, or fo they go hand-in-hand. Listen and add your comments. We would love to hear what you think.

You can get Filling Executions Gaps at all booksellers worldwide including at Amazon

You can join Jonathan's group at Major Projects Knowledge Hub

Posted on: March 19, 2018 10:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Has an Executive Sponsors Ever Deserted You?

Have you ever had an executive sponsor desert you?  What can you do about it? Are you stuck with a bad sponsor? Or, maybe it is not the sponsor at all, could it be you

I recently had a great chat with one of projectmanagement.com's prolific contributors, Elizabeth Harrin, in her Project Management Cafe group and we talked about just this topic. Please watch because there are some great tips on leading your executives.

Cheers,

Todd C. Williams
   Filling Execution Gaps
   Rescue The Problem Project

Posted on: February 13, 2018 08:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Are You Herding the Cats or Leading the Cats?

As we are well into the last half of this decade, it is time to reflect on our past and contemplate the future. With the New Year we think about our families, our friends, our successes and failures; we think about our jobs, our professions, and the world of possibilities. We must reaffirm our true north and stay the course, make corrections, or find a new destination. As project managers, we must look at the changes in the discipline and translate those into a plan for our professional development—a plan that meets our needs and the needs of the discipline.

Tomorrow's Project Manager

As project managers, we have seen significant change. Over the last couple decades, the project management field has grown to be recognized as a professional discipline and many have benefited from the changing views of how projects are run. We have witnessed or implemented processes and procedures and have seen project management offices spring up to help prioritize enterprise portfolios and manage resource loading. It has been an exciting time.

In the last half dozen years, many have seen project management become a commodity. Various organizations push their certificates as the end all of employment requirements and companies have created checklists to qualify good project managers just as one might look at the functions required from a personal accounting program. Employment firms relying on high-volume placements capitalize on this attitude, realizing how cost effective the screening process can be. Meanwhile, thousands of people clamor for their project management certification so they can jump into the resource pool.

It takes more than a certification, however, to make a good project manager. The most valuable experience is coordinating all the stakeholders to achieve a common goal. These traits are difficult, if not impossible, to acquire in a class, let alone grade on a test. Process is a vital component; however, project managers must step beyond the role of processes and aspire to be leaders. This will manifest itself in three grades of project managers.

Tier One: The Coordinator

Today's certifications equip project managers to be coordinators. The expectation is that they herd cats. They work reactively at the rear and the flanks keeping the cats all going the same general direction.

The Coordinator


The expectation is that they herd cats.

This is a comfortable non-confrontational roll where a majority of project managers feel comfortable and nearly every company requires the trait. The coordinator implements processes and procedures, monitors timelines, reacts to problems, and escalates out-of-control issues. This is the area where project management has become a commodity—if you can get projects to be proceduralized anyone can manage them.

Hopefully, this notion has run its course as companies realize that this only works with highly repeatable projects, the paradigm must change to cover projects requiring innovation.

Tier Two: The Negotiator

The negotiator has a different set of skills—they run with the cats and apply reason getting them to head the correct direction. This requires that the project manager understand the stakeholder's needs and values and can mediate a compromise.

The Negotiator


They have learned to run with the cats and apply reason getting them to head the correct direction.

Once the portfolio develops past the point of repeatable projects, there is no longer a single possible goal a project. The project manager has to coax people to compromise and develop a mutual endpoint that provides value to all stakeholders. This is the first level of leadership.

All negotiators understand there is a process to follow—planning how to approach the negotiation, exploring options, proposing and bartering a solution, and executing the plan. However, few question that the majority of negotiation is art. The way people support their viewpoint, handle their demeanor, show confidence in their beliefs, and deal with rebuttals make or break a successful negotiation.

By managing a team in this manner, they begin to self-correct and adjust their course realizing the power of the team and ineffectiveness of running off on a tangent.

Tier Three: The Leader

The project manager that walks in front of the herd, the cats following, is at the highest level of aspiration. Leaders understand their mission, mold and maintain a vision aligned with the strategic goals of the organization, communicate the direction to the team, and inspire people to achieve that vision. The team becomes self-directing.

The Leader


They walk in front of the herd, the cats following.

Leadership can be learned, but not from a book or class. It is acquired from understanding the tools and applying them. It requires experience and an open mind.

The opportunity to enter into a leadership role presents itself to nearly everyone. We need to recognize that situation and know how to step in and lead the team to success. Our biggest obstacle is the courage and confidence to move in that direction—to know when the cats will follow. The first few attempts often lack the polish and finesse of the accomplished leader, but experience brings it rewards.

How to Get There

The key to the future is acquiring the soft skills to aspire to new levels of management. Minimally this requires education in organization development, sociology, business management, and leadership. However, the cornerstone is real-world experience. As with any discipline, education pales in the shadow of experience. Moving from a reactive to a proactive approach where identifying and addressing problems prior to them becoming issues is critical. This requires a calm, methodical approach and open communication channels with all stakeholders. The result is a high-performance, self-directing team that drives any project to its appropriate goal.

What Are Your Thoughts?

How do you see project management changing over the next five years? Please let us know.

Posted on: December 01, 2015 08:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Project Leadership: Lessons From FedEx

Categories: Executive, Leadership

The Nine Traits of a Leader: charisma, individual consideration, intellectual stimulation, courage, dependability, flexibility, integrity, judgment, and respect for others

"I just want to be a project manager. I don't want all that responsibility." The room was silent, save a few exasperated sighs. Everyone looked around the room trying to figure out how we would handle the comment. No one addressed it. In fact though, there are many levels of project management maturity and only the highest levels require leadership and there is nothing wrong with this person's desire to wanting to stay out of the fray. In fact, the prominent US certification process—PMI's PMP®—has historically little to do with leadership. PMI is only recently catching up with the rest of us who have been preaching leadership and business for the last couple decades. So where do we learn about leadership and how can we improve our leadership skills?

Tips and Techniques

Leadership cannot be taught nor can you test for it. It is a set of traits we develop that are reflected in our core values and how we relate to others. Studying, learning, and mimicking various techniques are a start, but until they become part of our values and persona and are as natural as breathing, they are only superficial and we fall woefully short of being a leader.

Being a leader is a great aspiration, but requires more effort than that required to attain a simple certification. To understand what necessitates being a leader we can turn to the corporate world. In a Fast Company article by Heath Row, FedEx® specifically calls out nine traits to identify a person's leadership potential—charisma, individual consideration, intellectual stimulation, courage, dependability, flexibility, integrity, judgment, and respect for others. Here, they are paraphrased and grouped into three main categories.

Outward Actions

A leader is a role model for others in everything he or she does. They have charisma to instill faith, respect, and trust. They respect others opinions. Instead of berating, they carefully listen and excel as a coach and advisor. Using these skills, they have developed the ability to get others to think in new ways, identifying and questioning unsupported opinion and, in its place, use evidence and reasoning. This brings a fresh new approach to problem solving in the organization.

Direction

Leaders do not give in to popular views or demands and have the courage to withstand resistance against looking at ideas that are out of the mainstream—regardless of the personal cost. They are adaptive and effective in rapidly changing environments, with an ability to discern issues, simultaneously handling a variety of problems, and making course corrections as required.

Internal Responsibilities

Based on a strong sense of mission, leaders are dependable, keeping their commitments and taking responsibility for their actions and their mistakes. A foundation of internal integrity guides them through what is morally and ethically correct. Superior judgment allows a leader to evaluate multiple action plans objectively using logic, analysis, and comparison. They are pragmatic decision makers.

Leadership and Project Management

With all that is entailed in being a leader, it is easy to understand why someone would make the distinction that all they wanted to be was a project manager. Minding the scope, schedule, and budget sounds quiet and peaceful, even mundane. Taking a subordinate, individual contributor role managing team members to someone else's direction, is tranquil in comparison to a leader's responsibilities. One must remember, though, there are two paths in project management—successfully managing the most difficult of projects as a leader, or following a cookbook project management style as a coordinator. The demand will increase for the former, while the latter will be commoditized and relegated to any resource, remote or local. To advance the project management discipline, leadership qualities are essential.

Posted on: November 23, 2015 04:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

Leading Without Authority: Influencing Your Stakeholders

Categories: , Leadership, Leading Up, Persuasion

Influence ImageLeadership is more than leading the people who report to you. As a project manager, you need to lead a team which you rarely have any authority over. The absence of hierarchical advantage adds a challenge, but is ideal training on how to deal with managers, customers, and difficult people. The key is making them feel that they chose the direction. One of the best methods of doing this is storytelling.

Listening

To start, you need to listen non-judgmentally. Too often, we jump to conclusions, share observations, blurt out solutions, and fail to give others time to assimilate information from our point of view.

A few years ago, I was talking with a potential client that had a very successful data analysis company. The problem they were having was with a custom piece of proprietary hardware they had designed and built to collect the data. The business development manager, who loved hardware design, was managing the product development and was relaying the current situation. I asked for the history on how they got to their current disheveled state. He sighed and told me his tale of woe.

The first release was a success, but after short time a key supplier of one of the core components, a small company, went out of business. This made him look for a new supplier. Adding to the frustration was that all the other suppliers charged significantly amount. We talked about the functionality and a few other particulars on that version. He continued by saying that about a year later they created a new revision and changed that same component's functionality to use firmware so reprogramming would be easier. They contracted with an individual, who was desperate for work, to design the part. As a result, they got a great deal. Unfortunately, the protocol used was nonstandard and no other suppliers used it. When the contractor found full-time employment, they were again without support. Version 3, the version currently use, had another component losing support and they needed to find a new vendor.

The present problem was on a contract with a new company, started by a recent college graduate, to supply a subset of components. He was running into multiple problems, various vendors were arguing that he had designed the interfaces incorrectly, and now he had taken another job out of state. The business development manager was left with money invested in an unusable product. He insisted the problems were unavoidable and the company's strategy was prudent and fiscally conservative.

Building The Story

I returned to my office to determine how to approach telling them that they needed to focus on gathering and analyzing data, not building hardware, and the business development manager's pet project should be given to a company that specializes in developing custom hardware. I sent them an email asking about their growth plans for each business unit and clarifying a few other points from our conversation. From this information, I outlined the following agenda:

  1. Summarize the information that I had gotten, ask how they are going to achieve their aggressive growth goals, and what role the business development manager would have in that.
  2. Ask them how they were going to address the common issues any growing company would see—security, cross-training, hiring new staff, etc.
  3. Ask how they are going to continue managing a custom product development while doing this ramp.
  4. If required, list the problems with the previous versions highlighting the areas that were a result of not having an established hardware company managing and building their custom equipment.

As I replayed what I had been told, they started filling in the answers, arriving at the conclusion that they should focus on their core business of collecting and analyzing data, rather than building hardware. I never had to mention bullet 4, they came to that conclusion on their own. Investing time in building a trusting relationship with a reputable product development group, whose responsibilities would include architectural design, building, and supplier management, would free up time of the business development manager to... well... develop new business. It would also insulate the company from problem in the hardware supply chain.

Obvious Solution

I could have told them in the first meeting that product development was not their forte, and that the business development manager's pet project of managing all the vendors was costing them dearly, but I would have not been invited back. As obvious as some answers seem, when situations have evolved over time the people in the middle are unable to see some of the most obvious answers. Playing back words in a different context is the key to shedding light on the proper direction and draws them to the conclusion using their own words. Your job is to simply facilitate the process.

Posted on: November 11, 2015 07:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)
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