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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Seeking work-life balance

Getting ready for job interview

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.

Seeking work-life balance

Categories: Agile, Leadership, Leadership

Thank you for your comments on my last post about interviewing for a new job and relocation to Europe! I

have joined my new team and became fairly busy for the last couple of months. Starting a new job can be easily overwhelming, it involves not only the new processes and organization to learn, but also to build your network, dive into the company culture and keeping up with existing teams. How to restore the work-life balance then?

My assignments can be characterized as management of large organizational changes and as such is never done. My to do list is always full and I could easily stay occupied from early morning till late hours every day. But that is not what is happening. As mother of three kids, I see reaching a work life balance as a must.

I also realize a lot of pressure on women, particularly mothers, who want to provide their care to their families and at the same time to keep up with their career and develop professionally. Unfortunately they are often facing unwanted judgmental comments whether they are dedicated either enough to their families or to their jobs. I’ve been there. But after all that does not matter as long as you’re able to find the balance that makes YOU happy!

I would like to share few tricks that may help.

Set boundaries to manage your time

My experience is that once I mentally admit to myself that I can work long hours, evenings or weekend, it happens in a second. Any free space in my time that I’m willing to dedicate to work is immediately filled up. How to get out of this? Set yourself boundaries and keep your spare time for urgent matters only. Treat them as exception, not a standard. It is hard, requires a lot of self-discipline, but it is definitely helping.

Delegate and orchestrate rather than manage and control

Centralized decision making creates bottlenecks. Is it easier to save discussions and just do it by yourself? In certain situations for sure. Does coaching and mentoring your team consume time and energy? Yes indeed. But from a long term perspective, empowered teams not only foster intrinsic motivation of the team members and deliver better results, it also helps people to grow professionally and increase their skill maturity. All these aspects then ultimately helps to manage the workload.

Prioritize and minimize number of your work in progress items

When it comes to prioritizing and delivering items on the to-do list, I use approach borrowed from agile practices – focus on the necessary things to avoid gold-plating, create the outputs when they are needed and gather early and often feedback from your stakeholders to adjust quickly and prevent rework.

It is necessary to admit that certain things will never get done. Not because you skip them due to the lack of time. The reason often is that priorities change over time, stakeholder requirements are altered after seeing a first draft or certain discussed concepts are later abandoned after digging in more detail. Keeping you to-do list verified with your stakeholders helps to spending time on items that are really critical for success and overall helps you to deliver the right outcomes.

 

What is your experience with seeking work-life balance? Looking forward to hear your tips!

Posted on: April 26, 2019 05:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Getting ready for job interview

Categories: Communication, Leadership

My latest private project is relocation to Europe and part of it is looking for a new job. After attending several job interviews, here are my learnings on how to get ready for jobs that require project management or business analysis competency (or combination of both).

For project-based professions, the obvious focus of showcasing your skills is portfolio of delivered projects. Demonstrating your past experience is natural response to the job interviewer who is looking for a fit to their current challenge. But that may also mean that you are positioning yourself into the range of assignments you have already undertaken, in other words more or less to continue the job you were doing before. That may be perfectly fine if that’s what you want. Frankly speaking, being a project manager or business analyst is challenging enough.

It becomes harder when you have ambition to grow in your career, for instance to manage larger and more complex assignments, to enter new industry or different subject area, such as move from IT project management to broader organizational changes, or to move up from execution focused jobs to more strategic level. But what helps is your preparation and presenting the right experience from your list of accomplishments.

Here are my personal learning points, I would be happy to hear about your experience!

  1. When entering new domain, do your homework

Be prepared. If you intend to enter new industry, learn the basics first. Research the current trends, look at the activities and direction of the main industry players, check articles and any other publicly available information about the company itself. Do your best to understand what challenges are probably on the table and map your past experience to them to show that you have capabilities to solve them.

Entering new industry is hard, but doable. Some industries are very closed and have natural resistance to admit newcomers. To prove that you are the right candidate, go through your past accomplishments and pick up those that demonstrate your ability to learn or, another strategy how to enter new domain, to build networks and teams of experts that help you to deliver the results.

  1. Focus on relevant experience and be specific

After several years of being in project environment, you’ve accomplished a lot. But not all the experience is relevant to your potentially new job, so be careful to select the best examples. For instance, if you like to hire a plumber, would you be excited to listen to stories how that person was also a bus driver, librarian and learned foreign languages by being an au-pair? Guess no. Avoid this trap of presenting unhelpful information by putting your focus on staying relevant to the job description.

What matters is to present that you have the right skillset, even if that would be just 30% of what you ever achieved. Especially when you look for bigger job than you had before, select your particular achievements that put together a puzzle clearly showing that you have all the skills on the list, even if not yet used on one single project.

Being relevant also demonstrates your good understanding of the potential job. To make it even better, be specific when talking about how did you do things, how did you deal with situations, which tools and approaches you put in place. Being specific helps your interviewer to relate your experience to what the company is looking for.

  1. Stay confident

Staying confident and being prepared to answer all questions is your target. Project management profession is very broad and makes you ready for dealing with stress, communicate in difficult situations, handle risks, use soft skills, there’s a lot. Business analysts train their learning skills, complex thinking, attention to detail as well as seeing business context. Staying confident is then well earned and should be fully justified.

 

Good luck with your careers in 2019!!

Posted on: January 11, 2019 02:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (25)

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.

Illustration:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 (16)

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 (27)
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