Project Management

The Human Side of Project Management

The Human Side of Project Management is a place where we can discuss ways we can improve our competencies and interpersonal skills as project managers; things like acquiring new knowledge, improving performance, becoming better leaders, building up teams, motivating others, making decisions more effectively and building trust.

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Recent Posts

3 Ways Your Presentations are Telling on You and Your Projects

On Getting What You Ask For

Gaining Customers Takes More than Proximity

The Importance of Asking the Right Questions

The 80/20 of Learning at Work

3 Ways Your Presentations are Telling on You and Your Projects

Categories: work

When we think of presentations, we often think of keynote talks and the like; but there is another type of presentation that is much more common and should be treated with the same care of preparation as a keynote: the presentations we give on our own work. I love attending presentations on the projects that are happening in my company because they keep me well-informed on what is going on both inside and outside of my “box.” I’ve been taking some notes on presentations both inside and outside my organization that I hope will help us deliver these presentations even better and keep us from conveying the wrong message or worse, not communicating at all:

  1. Issue: Presentations don’t have a purposeful, single story.
    The next time you attend a meeting or a presentation in which the speaker is trying to explain their strategy and/or project, take note of whether they jump right into the work (i.e., tasks) that they are doing (or need to be done) rather than giving a concise statement of their purpose and how that singular purpose will be (or is being) fulfilled. A focus on tasks almost always results in confusion, conflict, and/or indifference, which is arguably the worst of the three.
    Think critically about why your work is being done and the business issues it is resolving – start there. Details can always be shared outside of the presentation, so focus your preparation time on accomplishments and why the audience should care.
  2. Issue: Presenters apologize for the volume or boringness of their presentation’s content.
    Apologizing for your content upfront is a guaranteed way to lose both your credibility and your audience – it ranks right up there with apologizing to your audience for not being able to read a complex slide. Don’t do it.
    ...and by “don’t do it” I mean don’t create slides that people can’t read and don’t create content you feel like you have to apologize for. If you do either of these things, please redo the slides and rewrite your presentation because it is a sign that you are on the wrong track.
  3. Issue: Your fellow associates are hearing about your projects from customers instead of from you. This one is very different from the others in that it is a lack of presentation that is telling on you. If your customers know something such as a new program, product, or feature before people within the company do (particularly if they are supposed to be a part of it), then there is a major internal communication problem.
    This one is simple and critical…let your people know what you are doing as a company and brag on the great work you are doing by giving great presentations. If you can’t brag on the work you’re doing, then you have a much deeper problem than presentations.

What others have you noticed? I’d love to hear them…


Posted on: September 22, 2017 12:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

On Getting What You Ask For

One of the more prevalent posts in my LinkedIn feed over the past couple of weeks has been a post from a furniture store associate asking everyone to vote on their favorite of three customer service lobby layout/designs for her store. On the surface it seems like a good idea. After all, she has gotten nearly 6,000 responses at this point, which gives her significant outsider feedback on which design to choose. However, given that the request provided no context, requirements, or use cases and only asked to vote for picture A, B, or C; I have to ask whether or not she is truly getting the input she needs in order to make an informed decision. I feel this case provides some additional insights on the importance of asking the right questions:

  1. Without providing context, no question will elicit the answer(s) we really need.
    In our case of the furniture store associate, the only information given was that the provided pictures were mockups of her customer service lobby designs and the question was, “Which one should we use?” She’s getting a lot of people choosing a design, but very little rationale for those choices. Is she optimizing for seating or flexibility? Is she more concerned about the décor or functionality of space? Without this input, the associate will never know what criteria her responders were using in their decisions…and if she goes with the majority vote, she may not get what she needs.

  2. Without parameters/boundaries, people will go with the “bright and shiny” response.
    A ton of people have chosen option C for the lobby design. I find this interesting because C was also my first choice, which was based solely on aesthetics. Stopping to think more functionally, I quickly changed my mind to option A, which was more open and provided the flexibility to stand, sit, and/or recline. I can’t help but think that most of the C respondents are just going with their “bright and shiny” gut instinct, primarily because they were not given criteria for making the decision.

Our associate in this case is definitely getting what she asked for; but as we all have known from our childhood, that is not necessarily a good thing. I’d love to hear what tactics and strategies you all use to ensure you get the right answers as well as your own lessons learned.

~ John

My posts can also be seen on LinkedIn under my profile:

Posted on: August 02, 2017 12:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Gaining Customers Takes More than Proximity

As I stood in my driveway talking to my neighbor, whose lawn was in the process of getting treated for weeds, I mentioned which company I used for my own lawn maintenance. Upon hearing this, my neighbor’s lawn guy smiles and says, “Get rid of those [other] guys. I’m right up the street” and proceeds to get in his truck and leave. Given that this lawn maintenance worker really wanted my business, he made a number of key mistakes in this brief interaction that I feel we can all learn from. As we take a look at these mistakes and some ways to avoid them, remember that we all have a number of various “customers” to whom all of these things apply. Our customers include:

  • employers (both current and prospective)

  • stakeholders/team members/coworkers/management (i.e., internal customers)

  • consumers of our (or our company’s) products and services (i.e., external customers)

Using the lawn service example above, let’s walk through this individual’s mistakes in regard to gaining a new customer and see what we can glean from them.

  1. Disrespecting Competition (and, by extension, disrespecting a prospective customer) – telling me to “get rid of” the company I am currently using accomplished two things: 1) it insulted my decision-making abilities by belittling my choice of vendor and 2) it insulted my current service provider, who I happen to like.
    Instead: This individual could have opened a dialogue with me about how well I like my current provider and what opportunities may exist. He even had a current customer (i.e., my neighbor) present who he could have leveraged to validate his claims and given his company credibility, which he entirely failed to do.

  2. Assuming Proximity Matters – setting up your business in my neighborhood has exactly zero bearing on my decision to become your customer. If my current provider shows up and does good work, do I care how far they are driving?
    Instead: He could have engaged me in a discussion about how his service addresses the gaps left open by my current provider (if he would have bothered to address item #1, he could have successfully done this). In so doing, the fact that he resided in my neighborhood would have been a pleasant side note rather than the entirety of his argument.

  3. Not Engaging the Prospective Customer – while I am happy with my current lawn service, I would have been open to discussing the benefits of changing providers; but he didn’t even take the time to try.
    Instead: Simply taking the time to engage me in a conversation about my lawn and my experiences would have made this guy significant headway toward making me a customer. Incidentally, I am only a customer of my current provider because they were the first ones to approach me and their price was right.

So regardless of who our customer or prospective customer is we must:

  • respect them as a decision-maker and their other options (our competitors);

  • remember that their decision to choose us is based on our merits, not our proximity or convenience to them; and

  • always engage our customers to keep in view what they want and need, regardless of our own assumptions.

What else would you add?


My posts can also be seen on LinkedIn under my profile:

Posted on: July 10, 2017 04:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Importance of Asking the Right Questions

Categories: project management

How many of you have come across some variation of this kind of graphical question in your media feeds? I saw this one in my LinkedIn feed and it annoyed the heck out of me. Not because it is a hard question, but because it is the wrong question.

In the comments, most people were jumping right into the math…(4X4=16) + (3X3=9) + (2X2=4) + 1 = 30 The problem, however, is that the “correct” answer depends on the recipients’ assumptions, which they are unlikely to be aware of due to the vagueness of the question.

For example:

  • If the question is “How many balls?” The answer is zero – it’s a drawing

  • If the question is “How many balls are depicted in the drawing?” The answer is 16

  • If the question is “How many balls would be in this type of configuration?” The answer is…well, it depends on how many sides its polygonal base has; is it three or four?

Nevertheless, many people posted their answers in the comments with 100% certainty of their correctness. You see, there are a lot of assumptions to be had, and the “correct” answer is entirely dependent on the recipients’ suppositions and how they perceive the question; and the scary part is that they all have the potential to be different.

What does this have to do with project management?

Just like the question above misses its aim, we can be missing huge chunks of information when we are collecting lessons learned, formulating our project charters and plans, etc. by not having enough discussion around the right questions. I would not be surprised if the majority of project “failures” and problems have more to do with expectations/assumptions versus reality than they do with actual failures. Changing a single word in a question or framing questions differently to ensure clarity makes a huge difference in whether we gather the right requirements, solve the right problem, or meet the right business needs.

So, what do we do?

  1. Start with why.
    Why are we engaging in this project, product, phase, task, etc. in the first place? The answer to this question will provide context and constraint for subsequent questions and endeavors.

  2. Ask good questions until all of the right people are engaged and have given input.
    We may not have buy-in or engagement because we are not asking the right questions, asking vague ones, or asking confusing/convoluted ones.

  3. Never ask questions without disclosing context, purpose, and intent.
    Unless, of course, you want an insufficient answer.

I look forward to hearing your experiences with asking the right questions.


My posts can also be seen on LinkedIn under my profile:

Posted on: August 10, 2016 09:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

The 80/20 of Learning at Work

Categories: learning, work

I once came across an old Air Force manual entitled How to Instruct (AF 50-9) that I purchased at an antique store. The manual was published in November of 1952, so I was surprised to find that it contained adult learning philosophies and methodologies that are touted today as having been developed by 1980s vintage educational psychology. It turns out the manual was very competently written and, in true military form, composed with a commitment and resolve that is rare in the corporate arena.

I was taken aback as I read on page two of the manual:

“It has been estimated that eighty percent of the time a man spends in the Air Force is devoted to training or being trained.”

My initial reaction was Whoa! How do they get anything done?! I then stopped and realized I had fallen into the trap of immediately envisioning formal classroom training rather than considering the plethora of training/learning activities and opportunities there really are…especially informal ones.

I then asked myself some key questions that can benefit us all in our daily workflow. What if I treated 80% of my efforts as learning activities? (And conversely, how much am I missing by not doing so?) For example: What if, when I attended my next meeting, instead of thinking, “Ugh, I’ve got to go to another meeting!”, I approached it with the attitude of learning more about the people involved, what their issues are, what solutions are being overlooked and how I can impact the situation more effectively? None of these questions can be answered without learning, and what we learn by approaching our work this way is invaluable.

Since adopting this “work is learning” mindset a while back, engagement with my work increased tenfold…although I must admit that I have to remind myself of this often.

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve experienced this as well...


My posts can also be seen on LinkedIn under my profile:

Posted on: August 03, 2016 11:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

"How much deeper would the ocean be if sponges didn't live there?"

- Steven Wright