Female Element

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Female Element blog is about experience and current trends in project management, digitalization and agile organizational transformation seen by eyes of a woman. Why to distinguish such view? Female and male brain operates differently and we may have various interpretations for the same situation. Female leadership is a thing and should be recognised. But mostly because more inclusivity for women is good for all aspects of business and we still have way to go.

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Do you have project portfolio, or rather just a to-do list?

Tackling gender bias at workplace is like with any other bias, it’s part of leadership.

Back to basics. Sometimes it is all about how well you can write meeting minutes.

Ability to deal with complexity is among the top required job skills. How do you stand?

Do you need to sell your project to key stakeholders? Design project elevator pitch!

Do you have project portfolio, or rather just a to-do list?

Companies are initiating projects to support their business strategy by achieving improvements, delivering changes, introducing new products or solving issues that may threaten the whole company existence. Project ideas are collected, assessed and prioritized in a project portfolio with a purpose to bridge company strategy and its execution. Where is the difference between a to-do list of project ideas and balanced portfolio that helps to manage strategic risks?

Every organization has to deal with limited resources and need to decide which projects will be initiated, postponed or even canceled. But how to assign the project funding and other resources to make the best out of the list of the collected project ideas? Several views have to be taken into consideration which makes portfolio management a complex discipline. I don’t aspire to describe all of that but I would like to mention a tool from different area, company growth strategies and product management, and link these together to create inspiration on how to balance a project portfolio.

BCG Matrix is a product portfolio concept formed in 1970 by Bruce D. Henderson for the Boston Consulting Group. BCG Matrix is also referred as Growth Market Share Matrix, tool to support long-term strategic planning by considering growth opportunities and deciding on their funding. The matrix has 4 elements to which are company products assigned. Each of the elements represent a product category and suggest how should the management invest and develop the products to further support company growth.

Over the time, BCG Matrix was criticized for its over-simplification and misuse, mostly due to the misleading wording for the main 4 types of products. I agree, calling products cows and dogs sounds awkward, so I dare to adjust the wording to give the 4 elements a bit more general meaning.

According to the author of BCG Matrix, balanced portfolio should have:

  • High-performers whose high share and high growth assure the future. High-performers gather a lot of attention and resources because they are expected to generate major part of company profits.
  • Stable products are mature, proved products that will not provide expansion, but are profitable enough to supply funds for the future growth AND
  • Opportunities to be converted into High-performers with the added funds

Then there is also Base, products that are sometimes kept just to continue legacy or they may be required by legislation. For instance, regular post services in distant areas are not profitable, but must be provided. BCG product strategy originally suggested that companies may get rid of such products, but later managers concluded that this idea may not be the best.

Just to summarize, BCG product strategy portfolio was developed to provide a guidance how to categorize and structure products to provide support for company growth. Now, when we transfer the original BCG Matrix concept of product strategy in a project portfolio, we may determine project categories by their impact on company strategy:

  • Base -> Project category Maintenance: projects that provide maintenance to existing processes and tools, for instance upgrade ERP system to higher version because the current version will be no longer supported. Or process redesign due to the industry regulatory requirements. Maintenance projects are necessary due to changes in external environment, but do not provide outcomes that would directly contribute to achievement of strategic goals.
  • Stable products -> Project category Continuous Improvements: projects that deliver changes focused on improvement of the current status and focus on the core business. For instance, process redesign in order to decrease operating costs, integration between two major business systems to provide process automation or update of existing system with new features to provide better user experience. Improvement projects build up on existing company structures and makes them better.
  • High-performers -> Project category Extension: projects that deliver changes that do not improve the current state but rather alter it, for instance by implementing new products and new processes. Examples may include building new production line, process digitalization that opens door for new customer services, rebuilding sales channels, partnering with creating new value added by developing key partnerships.
  • Opportunities -> Project category Innovation: these are projects that are risky and work best with the “fast fail” approach. Innovation, disruption or adoption of new technologies would be probably their central focus. Innovation projects are aiming at identification and exploration of new revenue streams, aggressive business transformations and ambitious achievements. Companies must be ready to let them fail if there are signs that project would not reach its goals. But at the same time, without innovation the company is in risk by being threatened by more aggressive, disrupting competitors.

 

By assigning projects to categories related to their impact on company strategy and summing up investment in these projects, we may determine at a glance where is the focus of the company. Regardless how aggressive is the company strategy on paper, the reality is far more reflected in particular changes that the company is decided to undertake.

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Posted on: December 12, 2018 06:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tackling gender bias at workplace is like with any other bias, it’s part of leadership.

Categories: Communication, Leadership

Gender bias is like any other bias we face at work. It has a lot to do with the way we were raised, what we were taught, what is the culture we are coming from. But it is also caused by receiving too many information we can’t process and rather use shortcuts in our thinking to quickly come up with conclusion. In other words we are sometimes following stereotypes rather than spending time to rethink what’s going on. 

Gender stereotypes are not one-way directional. It’s not at all that only men would be biased about their female colleagues. We as women fall into stereotypes too, for instance we often feel we are not ready rather then to go for ambitious task and show our strengths. Bias or stereotypes come from mental models that got coded in our minds over the time. To avoid falling into these traps, we first need to be aware of them and than bring the practice of challenging the bias in the workplace so that both male and female team members benefit. Being aware is the first step to reprogram our mental models towards more objective situation assessment.

Why is it important specifically for project managers? Project teams are temporary and have limited resources, that’s why it is important to correctly assess skills and competencies of the team members to promote the team performance and address areas for further development. Being biased as Project Manager may result in overestimating or underestimating abilities of individuals and unwelcome team dynamics.

 

The source for the second part of this post is article “Tips for the workplace” from Leanintogether.org. LeanInTogether is NGO co-led by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. The article lists 6 biases and tips how to raise awareness and deal with them. I’ve shortly summarized them below. Please feel free to challenge them in the comments section or to share your experience.

Challenge the like-ability penalty 

Successful man are more like-able, but successful women are not. Assertive women are seen as aggressive, ambitious, but men with the same behavior are seen as confident and strong.

How to deal with this: The advice from the article is to listen to the language of like-ability penalty and when you hear it, request a specific example of behavior when a female colleague was seen as pushy or aggressive. Challenge the situation by asking if men with the same behavior would be seen the same way. The answer is probably no. 

Evaluate performance fairly

There is a difference on how we evaluate men and women performance. Women are promoted based on what they already achieved, men are promoted based on their potential.

How to deal with this: The key is fair and transparent performance evaluation. 

For instance when you check top influencers on this forum you see very few women. Would you think that someone pushed competent women back and put men on their places? Of course not, the system is transparent. But whenever is evaluation based on gut feeling, the transparency is lost and fairness is in question.

Give women credit

Men attribute their success to innate skills while women see reason for their success in external environment, e.g. I was lucky in getting this job. As a result, women often undervalue themselves, have lower confidence and are undervalued by the others. They are then less likely to go for stretch assignments or promotion.

How to deal with this: Make sure that your female colleagues get credit they deserve and don’t let them downplay it by saying: oh, I just helped.. Encourage women to go for it!

Get the most out of meetings

Men tend to talk more on meetings and sit at the front. Women held themselves back and choose to sit at the end of the room. 

How to deal with this: Facility the project meetings in a way that everyone have space to talk. Encourage women to sit in the front, ask women directly to share their thoughts. Be aware of “stolen” ideas and recognize your female colleagues for their contributions. 

Share office housework

Women tend to take more of the office housework, for instance to arrange meeting rooms, to take notes, to organize events. We expect women to do it, it’s for granted. When men takes over such task, we appreciate him for supporting the team. But it’s not only the small office work, the article is pointing out that 2/3 of executive women in Fortune 200 companies are responsible for supporting business parts rather than for profit and loss units.

How to deal with this: distribute the project office administrative tasks equally. Appreciate whoever is setting up meeting room and don’t assume it’s a job for female.

Make work work for parents

Well, this is a nice one. Motherhood triggers so many assumptions, for instance that mothers are less committed to their careers. This bias can not be further from reality and completely undermines very hard decisions that parents have to take when it comes to figure out care for their kids. But this bias does not impact only women, men who take family time off face similar “punishment”.

I personally consider this bias as the most deep rooted and the most damaging. 

How to deal with this: Don’t assume that parents, mothers or fathers, are less committed. They are not. They just have more on their plate to manage. As project manager avoid planning meetings too late or too early in the day, respect parents‘ needs and let them finish their job in flexible hours. Parents are committed. After all they really need their jobs to take care of their families.

 

I’m happy to say that I see less and less gender bias throughout my career. I believe we as society are changing but it’s also me who grew professionally in much stronger and confident women. Bias is just a bias after all, we can minimize it by being aware of it and fight it.

Posted on: December 02, 2018 07:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Back to basics. Sometimes it is all about how well you can write meeting minutes.

I was recently talking to my friend, product manager in large financial institution who is dealing with projects delivering process digitalization and large systems integration. I asked her what would really help her teams in the context of their projects. I expected anything but this: improvement of quality of meeting minutes.

In large organizations with concurrent running projects, numerous stakeholders and distributed teams is communication a key. Sharing information is vital for making the right decisions, assigning priorities and managing tasks across multiple projects. Meeting minutes are supposed to inform its recipients about decisions made, tasks assigned and discussed issues. It really is important to do the meeting minutes right because otherwise information get lost and things do not happen as intended.

Here are my personal tips how to write good meeting minutes:

  1. Prepare before the meeting and pre-fill your template
    1. Use template with prefilled names of participants. When the meeting starts, only indicate who is present on your list. It is saving a bit of time.
    2. Every meeting should have at least simple agenda. Fill in your agenda in the meeting minutes template in advance. It will help you to structure the notes as the meeting goes.
  2. Type the minutes during the meeting
    1. Type the minutes during the discussion. It helps to capture all important information but mostly it avoids spending your valuable time by writing the minutes after the meeting.
    2. I will not lie, I learned to type fast. I still type just with 3 – 4 fingers max but that’s enough.
    3. Following discussion and making notes at the same time requires practice. Facilitate the meeting in blocks following your agenda. Always summarize loud what was agreed, what next steps will be taken, who will be responsible and inform the participants that you are writing it down right now.
    4. Rather describe then abbreviate. Keep your audience on mind when summarizing the notes. It is worth to describe what really happened, which points were raised and what was the full conclusion. Short statements without context are not very helpful when it comes to figuring out what should be done next or why were certain things agreed.
  3. Distribute the meeting minutes with executive summary
    1. When the meeting is over, your notes are finished and ready for distribution. But not that fast… as not so many people enjoy writing meeting minutes, I’m not sure if there are many more who like reading them.
    2. When crafting the email to distribute the meeting minutes, prepare short executive summary that you put in the email body. Include the main agreements, high priority tasks and next steps. The recipients will appreciate that because it is saving their time and gives them quick, valuable overview.

 

Meeting minutes are not only part of basic project communication or, as often seen, administrative task that just takes time. As a project manager, you may use the meeting minutes as a tool that helps you to build trust with your stakeholders. Meeting minutes that document well what was discussed and what was agreed are sign of transparency and open communication. And that counts on a long term!

Posted on: November 21, 2018 11:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (26)

Ability to deal with complexity is among the top required job skills. How do you stand?

Complex problem solving was predicted as the top required skill by 2020 by the Future of Jobs Report by WEF in 2016. Now, in 2018, the report highlights need for analytical thinking and innovation with complex problem solving remaining in the top 10. Skills demands are related to the trends in job market driven by adoption of sophisticated technologies such as AI, urge for digitalization, IoT and big data analysis.

So I was thinking to introduce here Business Dynamics, a complex problem solving method that fits any situation and is designed to tackle truly complex issues. If you like challenges, try to use the method to solve an issue described in the second half of this post.

What is Business Dynamics

Business Dynamics originates in cybernetics and is basically a system theory applied in business environment. Its founder is Jay W. Forrester and its current guru is prof. John D. Sterman at MIT. The method is based on understanding principles of feedback loops that forms structure of any system constellation. Business Dynamics is the opposite to the linear, event -> consequence, thinking.

Regardless how much complex it sounds, it is not that bad… Although the method itself is designed for computer simulations that consist of number of integral equations, you can use its simplified version with pen, paper and set of basic rules.

How to create simplified Business Dynamics model

The best is to work in a group and discuss. Because your model will change as you work on it, my tip is to use large sheet of paper and post-its for the model variables. When you need to change the model, just rearrange the post-its and redraw the lines connecting them.

  1. Identify variables that occur in the problem (write them on post-its). Variable is something that you can assign a value. For instance, weather is not variable. But outside temperature is.
  2. Identify direct relations between the variables, connect them with arrow showing which variable is the influencer and assign polarity + or – to the relation. Plus means that both variables move in one direction (when the first one raises or decreases the influenced variable also increases or decreases). Minus means they grow or decrease in opposite direction.
  3. Add more variables and relations as you continue to analyze the problem
  4. Look for feedback loops, closed circles of linked variables, to predict system behavior. When you count all plusses or minuses on a feedback loop, you may see positive, reinforcing feedback loops that cause exponential growth. Negative, balanced feedback loops seek equilibrium.
  5. Read your model, follow the feedback loops and play with growth or decrease of values of your variables to identify the solution

Island Borneo bubonic plaque outbreak – test your complex problem-solving skills!

Here’s a problem that actually happened. Because people’s lives were in stake, the decided solution must have been proved to be right before applying it. The team that solved this issue used Business Dynamics method.

On the island Borneo, villagers were dying of the Bubonic plague. Seemingly unrelated to the problem, roof beams in the village are collapsing and a swarm of dead fish have washed up on the river banks. The plague is being caused by rats that transmit the disease to humans through bites. Bubonic plague causes human death, but rats are not affected, they only transmit the disease. But why have the rats suddenly started biting humans?

You have found the following facts:

  1. On Borneo island it rains a lot
  2. Villages are built from palm leaves and beams
  3. Recently, there was used DDT to kill mosquitoes who transmit malaria (DDT is now banned toxin cumulates in the body of living organisms, DDT was used in agriculture before its severe side effects were discovered)
  4. Bubonic plague is spread by rats
  5. Cats are now catching geckos; but in the past, geckos usually escaped cats
  6. Villagers bread cats to prevent rats from coming to villages from jungle
  7. Geckos are very slow due to DDT, but do not die
  8. Cats die due to DDT
  9. Geckos eats cockroaches and caterpillar who live in cribs

Problem to solve:

What must be done to save the villagers from more bubonic plague, falling cribs and dead fishes?

 

I used Business Dynamics method for several years as part of my Strategic Management course for MBA students. Island Borneo was favorite exercise for my students. Complex problem-solving is definitely a skill that can be learned and trained. Let me know if you would like to learn more.

Posted on: November 12, 2018 06:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Do you need to sell your project to key stakeholders? Design project elevator pitch!

Categories: Communication, Leadership

Elevator pitch is a technique how to introduce yourself, your company or a product in a short, spot-on and engaging way. Why not use it when presenting the project, you’re currently working on?  We all need to sell and promote our projects from time to time so it’s better to be ready when it needs to happen. Having your elevator pitch ready may help you to impress potential team members, get attention of key stakeholders or make users of your future project outcomes interested and engaged.

The elevator pitch is actually named after average length of an elevator ride, which is assumed to take 30-60 seconds. To make sure that you can deliver your elevator project pitch on time, the best is to write it down and practice.

 

1. Summarize how does your project create value

When thinking about the value, imagine what should change after the project is delivered and what is the issue or problem you are trying to solve.

I was recently chatting with my friend and he told me that he works on a project of leukemia cure and rolling it all over the world. It made me instantly jealous that I'm not part of his team.

His job title is IT Integration Manager. He works with SW solutions and he could as well talk just about that. But what matters is why are those software applications in place and what is their purpose - to get the treatment to patients.

2. Explain main project outputs

When it comes to describing which capabilities, products, services or other deliverables the project will create, stay focused on end results and avoid too much detail. Remember 30 seconds!

3. Share the goals of your project elevator pitch

After you summarized the project value and outcomes, say clearly what you’re looking for from the person you are talking to. Don’t let people guess because you may miss your opportunity.

Are you hoping to schedule a meeting to discuss the project further because you need a specific input or support? Do you wish to get that expert on board? Just say it.

4. Put it all together and practice

Write down your points and practice to see if you can make in a 30-60 seconds time with clear articulation. Avoid use of too much of specific terms to ensure that your audience will understand you even without being experts in your field.

 

Hope to see some examples from you!!

Posted on: November 07, 2018 03:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)
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