Project Management

The Healthy Project Manager

Matching up wellness coaching and motivational interviewing techniques with project management—along with inclusion and inspiration—is my goal.

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Fun and proven Team Building

Is there benefit in asking better questions?

Ugh!  Change is so hard!

Does joy at work even matter?

Can gratitude make us better project managers?

Fun and proven Team Building

Today I’m sharing two simple team building activities that have been special to me over the years – sharing in the hope these might be helpful for someone else!

  1. I had 12 people who reported to me.  We all sat together at a long table and each person was given a small bowl or plate.  Each person was handed 11 small, smooth stones (not larger than 2.5 inches) and a set of markers.  I asked each person to draw one positive word on each rock to describe each teammate.  In the end, each team member ended up with a plate holding 11 rocks painted with empowering words.  Even though we did this activity years ago, those plates and rocks remain important to us all and the plates holding inspiring words can still be seen on desks today.  These are the words my team used to describe me:  Leader, quarterback, beauty, family, honest, inspiring, truthful, kind, generous, motivator, energy.  When things seem hard, I just pick up a rock and feel stronger.  It didn’t cost much, but the impact has been great for each of us.  Some people now work for other companies, but they took their stones with them and they are still on their desks!
  2. I asked everyone on the team to bring in 5 photos that tell a story about them.  Some brought pictures of themselves doing activities like rock climbing or soccer playing.  Others brought pictures with family members or pets.  I provided paper, special scrapbooking stickers and tape, etc. and everyone created a page that represented who they were.  In the end, we put the pages into an album and dated it with the year.  Over time, team members came and went but the albums were a fun reminder of who was here each year.  We learned so much about one another seeing their pictures, sharing stories and seeing one another as “well-rounded” individuals.  It was a really fun exercise.

Both of these were simple team building activities, but the positive results continue through to today.  Do you have a favorite team building activity you can share with us – one that really had great results?

Posted on: February 11, 2020 06:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Is there benefit in asking better questions?

In an earlier career as a wellness coach, I was introduced to motivational interviewing (MI) and it has helped me become a better project manager by teaching me how to ask better questions.  MI is a counseling approach born out of the behavioral health field.  It was created as a way to talk with people resisting change.  For example, if someone was court ordered to seek counseling for drunk driving, the individual might meet with the counselor simply because that had too vs. honestly wanting to make a lifestyle change.  For wellness coaching, I was trained in the practice of MI to support people told by their physician they needed to lose weight or stop smoking for example.  It is very hard to make these kind of lifestyle changes – especially when not really wanting to or ready to change.

WHAT IS MI?  MI is an evidence-based way of speaking with someone else that is genuine, caring, collaborative and person-centered.  It’s a method of asking questions to help the other person think more deeply, and encourages them to move through the stages of change faster.  Often this is done by helping the individual see their strengths and use them to move forward.  For example, if a lawyer wanted to stop smoking, I might talk with them about the determination and discipline it took to go through law school.  During the conversation we would agree law school wasn’t easy and they were faced with many challenges, but in the end they received their diploma.  I would ask them to consider how they could use those same strengths and discipline in completing law school to approach tobacco cessation. 

MI IN PROJECT MANAGEMENT:  In project management, we often lead projects creating change for others – and often the change is unwanted, or the change is something people are not quite ready for.  Using MI when speaking with others has been very helpful for me to help others accept and even embrace change or explore what can be done to move forward. 

There are 5 basic rules of MI and they are:

  • Be an active listener – show the other person you care about how the change will affect them.  Active listening means you nod in understanding, you repeat what you think you understand and see if it lines up with what the other individual is saying.
  • You hold up an imaginary mirror to show the other person the difference between where they are today and where they want to be.  For example, when rolling out a new technology you might share what’s “in it for them”.  You might explore with the other person all the reasons why making a change could be an improvement or spend time looking at other times they have successfully conquered change.
  • Avoid arguing or confronting the other person directly.  When you speak using MI techniques, the other person doesn’t feel defensive.  For example, instead of saying “Why don’t you agree with and support this project?”......instead you might word it as “I get the impression you may not support this project, can you tell me more about your perspective?”  This opens the door for conversation without making the other individual put up a wall.
  • Tap dance by adjusting to the other person’s resistance instead of opposing it.  Examples of this be “it seems like you are being bombarded by so many changes all at once” or “from what you are saying it can be hard to accept change when leadership did not approach you first”.  These type of phrases help the other person realize you understand their perspective.
  • Find ways to support optimism and self-efficacy.   For example, “Last year you accepted 12 other technology advances and clearly have a lot of experience with change” or “Your team has been instrumental in stepping up and showing other departments how to lead changes in the past”.   It’s a way of helping the other person or the team believe in their abilities.

An aspect of using MI when speaking with others is referred to as OARS standing for Open ended questions, Affirmation, Reflective listening and Summary reflections.  OARS are important to achieving the best end result.  Let’s explore these:

  • Open ended questions.  Avoid asking anything that can be answered with a YES or a NO.  The reason for this is that you are trying to learn more, and you are trying to get the other person to think more about their situation.  You are curious but not leading the other person in a specific direction – only asking questions to help the other person verbalize their perspective.  For example if I asked an analyst if they could submit their data – their response would be YES or NO.  If I asked, are there any barriers or challenges you will face in submitting the data?  You might hear a lot more information to better serve your project.
  • Affirmations.  Pepper your conversation with these – examples might be – “I recognize you are being pulled in many different directions and have so many important assignments on your desk right now”.  Or, “I really appreciated how you responded to the email you received from a coworker today.  It was so professional and clearly stated your perspective in a respectful way”.  Whatever you choose to focus on – make sure your words are always genuine.  These truthful affirmations help the other person feel appreciated and valued.
  • Reflective listening.  These are not questions.  They are statements about what you heard to make sure you correctly understood.  For example, “I hear you are being pulled in many different directions and it is hard to know how to prioritize the work on your desk”.  During your conversation please avoid distractions, focus on what the other person is saying and do not interrupt.  This is often where you hear the crux of the matter – the core of the issue.  During this time you are 100% focused on what the other person is saying – your mind is quieted to assumptions or additional questions.
  • Summary reflections.  You want to make sure the other person realizes you heard and clearly understood what they told you.  This is when you tie a pretty bow on your conversation.  An example might be “Because of our discussion today, I have a much better understanding of your work load and why it appeared you were resisting this project.  I will work with your manager to ensure we both prioritize these assignments together to reduce any worry or frustration about what needs to be done next.  Thank you so much for taking the time to help me understand your situation better.” 

MI helps us all develop stronger connections with our stakeholders and leads us to greater project success.  Would you like to learn more about MI?  Do you think there would be value in a Webex presentation on MI?


Posted on: January 20, 2020 02:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Ugh!  Change is so hard!

Change is hard but so important for success.  As project managers we are constant leaders for change for teams and companies around the globe.  Project management in just the very name describes we are making change happen for others - and these days rapid change is expected.  With rapid change comes complexity and stress and often leads to pulling others through change vs. having them create change beside us.  Resistance to change means we deal with fear, ambiguity and frustration or even anger.  Some companies support us with change management practices, but many do not.  So, what are some things that can help us successfully lead change?  Here are 5 things I do:

  1. Ask open ended questions and spin positive when possible.  When I am dealing with someone resistant to a project, I like to ask them questions like….. “I get the impression you do not believe this project will be successful.  If I asked you to rank how successful you believe this project will be with 1 being a total failure and 10 being total project success…..where would you rank it?”  Perhaps they answer with a 3.  At that point, I would ask them why didn’t you rate it a 2?  This is a subtle way to get the person to “fight” for the project and subtly spins the conversation to thinking positively.  Doing this helps others begin to see things in a more accepting way.
  2. Beef up the communication – Share as much info as possible to the right people in the right way and do it OFTEN!  I try to incorporate fun ways to share communication – for example, sharing a sports quote of the day with the CFO who is a huge sports fan.  He loves getting my communication update e-mails and looks forward to the sports quotes.  This is an easy way to create some positive energy!
  3. Power up your people skills – Encourage, influence and support as much as possible.  Your efforts will be well spent leading and inspiring teams through the transformation!  Find ways to make it fun.  For a local hospital, I make homemade truffles – we call them “go-live pills” for IT implementations at the hospital.  Once when sharing a new project was coming a pharmacist asked me if I was going to make go live pills, I said yes, and he responded – count me in! 
  4. Listen, listen, listen.  Listen to all the reasons why your team has concerns about the change.  You can avoid challenges and help them successfully move through the stages of change (pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance) when they believe their voice is heard.  This is very important.  I like to use a TELL ME WHY board and ask everyone to contribute why they are experiencing any resistance to change.  This board is displayed during meetings and we can add to it any time.  Once fears get placed on the board, it seems to diminish the concerns a bit.
  5. Be a cheerleader!  Celebrate all the achievements, send thank-you’s, share your appreciation for the time and skills of others.  Keep cheering along the marathon – it encourages the people running the race!

Please share some ideas below around how YOU successfully lead change.  Your input will he

Posted on: January 02, 2020 02:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Does joy at work even matter?

For some, talking about joy in your work might sound corny or might not seem important, but I believe it is something we should all consider.  Here’s why:

Think about a highly functioning sports team – when they reach a goal or win, they express joy, right?  They display camaraderie and often when there is a touchdown or other goal, they dance, hug, or at least share a high-five.  There is a connection between them, a bond – and this shared joyful experience propels them to achieve even more.

As project managers when we bring joy to our teams and projects, we create camaraderie and connections too.  Our projects are more successful, we create environments where questions are welcomed and challenges become something the team tackles and overcomes together.  Creativity flourishes in these environments.  As a team incorporating joy in our daily tasks, we appreciate our work more.  Teams doing this build a foundation for success.

Sometimes it is hard to spread joy, but joy can change culture.  An environment where there is joy also appreciates and fosters generosity.  It is proven that safety and quality improve when there is joy in the workplace.  Joyful staff appreciate the meaning in what they are doing.  Teams thrive instead of just persevere in cultures where joy and generosity abound.

Maybe someone reading this blog is skeptical that joy can do these things, but after many years in the workforce I believe joy leads to excellence and enables teams and companies to be more resilient in the face of constant change.  I'd way rather work in a place of joy, wouldn't you?

Let me know what you think about this and how you experience joy in your work! 

Posted on: December 04, 2019 06:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Can gratitude make us better project managers?

To me gratitude is a feeling of appreciation and being thankful for something beyond myself.

IDEA#1 - POSITIVITY AND PROJECT MANAGEMENT:  When we are grateful and show gratitude to others, we approach our work through a more positive lens.  This lens helps us see and appreciate the good in others.  Gratitude is a great mindset to cultivate because when we come from a place of positivity, good things are more likely to happen.  Bringing gratitude to projects improves the overall “team spirit”.  Many years ago I read a book called “The Carrot Principle” by Adrian Gostrick and Chester Elton.  In the book, they described research indicating employees need to feel appreciated and valued – and when polled, employees stated they would rather receive appreciation for their work than receive higher pay.  When employees feel appreciated, they try harder and performance improves.  By simply showing genuine gratitude for the work your team is doing, it stands to reason project outcomes will improve and you will be seen as a more successful project manager.  TAKE AWAY – Take time to share honest feedback with your team about what you are grateful for about them and their contributions.

IDEA #2 - A STRONGER PROJECT MANAGER:  Living with a mindset of gratitude creates changes in our mind AND in our body.  We physically and mentally become less stressed when focused on gratitude.  Scientists say when living with a sense of gratitude we become stronger and more resilient. Wendy Berry Medes, a Social and Biological Psychologist from the Greater Good Science Center, has studied this for years – researching how gratitude impacts health and longevity.  She can scientifically prove via lab work, sleep studies, etc. that gratitude has a positive impact on both health and aging.  People with higher levels of gratitude even have healthier cells at the microscopic level.  Studies show people cherishing gratitude are more likely to have stronger social connections, are less likely to be angry, sleep quality tends to improve and gratitude has been proven to lower both resting blood pressure and cholesterol levels!  TAKE AWAY – Living with gratitude can make you a stronger project manager both physically and mentally.

IDEA #3 - SOCIAL CONNECTIONS:  Having a sense of gratitude can improve your daily experiences at work with stakeholders, teams, vendors and others we come into contact with.  Improved social connections can only positively impact our projects.  Gratitude experts like Robert Emmons, Professor of Psychology at UC Davis, states gratitude has “the power to heal, energize and change lives”.  Others share fear and anger cannot live in the presence of gratefulness – if that is the case, then gratitude can help us move teams through change management easier or face difficulties with more resilience.  Why don’t we talk more about this when training project managers?  It only makes sense that gratitude can improve our effectiveness as project managers.  Grateful individuals are more forgiving, outgoing, helpful, generous and charitable.  TAKE AWAY – Use the sense of gratitude in your social connections to improve your social connections!

CHALLENGE:  So, this November – a month where Thanksgiving will be celebrated in many homes, would you consider joining me in a renewed focus on gratitude? No matter what our situation is, there are things and people around us we can be grateful for.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on gratitude and your experience with gratitude in your important role as a project manager!

Posted on: October 30, 2019 03:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

"How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?"

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