Viewing Posts by Joseph Pusz
As we get ready to celebrate Halloween I am reminded about the scary moments on projects and starting my project management career. Thinking back to my younger days I enjoyed dressing up in my Halloween costumes and “trick or treating” through the neighborhood to collect candy. I wasn’t so fond of scary movies and haunted houses! I recall the anxiety before entering the haunted house, the uneasy feeling in my stomach and fear about being scared. I also remember the feeling of calm after exiting the haunted house and thinking, “well that wasn’t too bad.” Then after a few visits it actually became fun to be scared and the anxiety waned as I knew that all would be ok. I didn’t have anything to fear from the scary gremlins and monsters in the haunted house.
I remember being a new project manager and feeling the same fears of the unknown on my first few projects. I wasn’t sure what gremlins were going to trip me up and derail our projects. It seemed like around every corner someone or something was waiting to shout Boo at me! I wasn’t sure who was a good guy to help out the project team or who was a monster lurking in the shadows looking to scare us or do us harm. Do you remember those days when you were afraid of the project gremlins?
Just as with my early haunted house experiences, managing projects soon became less scary. I learned that the gremlins and monsters weren’t real. I eventually found that projects were actually fun and not scary at all. But it took time to learn where to look for the project gremlins and to be at ease when they jumped out at me. I think I even learned how to scare some of the project gremlins so they didn’t try to scare me or the project team again. Even so, they still try to jump out at us and put a scream into us today after years of leading scary projects.
What are some of these project gremlins and how can we learn to not let them scare us off our projects? The project gremlin I find the scariest is the project sponsor! They can be like a werewolf. During the day they walk amongst us as normal humans, but at night they transform into monsters threatening our projects and scaring our team members. Most project sponsors are within leadership positions and certainly outrank us in the organization. They are Managers, Directors, VPs and sometimes C-suite Executives. The higher up in the organization the scarier they can be for new Project Managers. As a junior employee and new project manager I was always anxious when meeting with these project sponsors. I had that same anxiety in my stomach as the haunted house visits, nervousness, stumbling over my words, and not able to think clearly.
The project sponsors seemed friendly enough and some even recognized my anxiety and helped to put me at ease. But when we’d miss a deadline or exceed spending the werewolf would come out! I remember one werewolf who actually threw a shoe at us during a project meeting! The best trick for these werewolves is to remember they don’t like to hear bad news without some kind of warning. When they are alerted bad news might be headed their way they are able to control the beast within and not attack our project team. To keep project stakeholders in their human form it is best to communicate with them frequently and be honest with both good and bad news.
Another scary project gremlin is often referred to as Project Risks and Issues. These gremlins are harder to see and sometimes sneak up on us without any warning. They may not be as scary as the project sponsors, but every project seems to have so many of them. They have a way of popping out from behind every corner and scaring the project team when we feel like everything is going well. The best way to keep safe from these monsters is to shine a bright light on them. They don’t like being exposed to the team and try very hard to stay secret right up to the moment when they jump out at us!
I find it best to keep a record of these Project Risks and Issues. When you write them down and assign one of the team members to fight them off they seem to be less scary. It is also a good idea to look back at past projects and see if you can learn when they pop up and how to keep them hidden. Since they are all different, I suggest developing a strategy of how to mitigate the chances they scare us. I’ve also learned they like to come in bunches and scare us by overwhelming us in volume. Usually, if we can limit how many of these project gremlins jump out at us, we can minimize how scary they can be and our team can keep us safe from them.
The final project gremlin I want to share with you is the very frightening monster I call the Project Schedule. This gremlin is so scary because it has mind control powers. The project schedule seems harmless. We work with our team and build the schedule not knowing that soon our every thought will be consumed by this beast! The schedule can be a complex monster with so many connections and paths like a giant spider web trapping innocent team members in it’s clutches.
Once you know the project schedule has mind control over you it is extremely difficult to take back control. The best way to do this is to remember that you created the schedule so if you reach deep within your subconscious know it is ok to change it. The schedule will fight back and hide critical path and resource constraints. Know that you control the schedule when you stop fearing it. The project schedule, like most project gremlins really wants to be your friend. When you stop fearing it you will learn how to become friends and help one another.
There are other project gremlins, some more scary than others, and we can discuss them next Halloween. For now, my best advice is to know that all these monsters are only scary when we let them control us. The more we work with them the less scary they will be to the project team. You need to know it is safe to share stories with your team members and trick the project gremlins or perhaps even give them a treat to keep them happy. Either way, know that project gremlins, like the haunted house, aren’t so scary when you realize it is our own thoughts which are causing us to be afraid. We have the power to stay safe and keep the gremlins from scaring us!
“A leader is great not because of his or her power, but because of his or her ability to empower others.” This quote comes from author John C. Maxwell. I believe it’s a great quote and it has helped shape my professional purpose to empower people to deliver results. The quote stirs your emotions and makes us think of leaders in our lives who have empowered us. Unfortunately, most leaders don’t live up to the greatness of the quote.
Why does this matter? What is the current situation which prompts us to consider making a change? As I shared in my previous post, the trends from PMI’s Pulse of the Profession shows a flat line of ~55% success on projects over the past decade. This shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone in our industry. We can do better than a coin flip on projects and we should explore new solutions for how we deliver. One solution is to empower our people. Give our project managers and project teams the authority to succeed!
It’s common practice for executives to proclaim, our people are our greatest asset. Yet, when I work with my clients, I rarely find actions to match the words. I see layers of bureaucracy and process handcuffing peoples at all levels of the organization. I see organizations driven by top-down leaders whose actions clearly speak “do as I say.” How do we break this cycle? Where can we look for examples of successful organizations empowering people? How can empowered project teams deliver better results?
First let’s explore the military. You said, “The military?!?” Why would we look to the military for examples of empowered people? Aren’t the troops just following orders, void of thinking? That is often the impression we civilians have but consider this quote from General Patton, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” There is a principle in the military called Commander’s Intent which essentially means focus on what needs to get done and leave the how it gets done to those on the front line. Contrast that with how direction is given in corporations across the world. We’ve all been in situations where our boss is hovering over our shoulder asking, “why are we doing it that way, why don’t you do it like this?” Under our breath we are screaming STOP MICROMANAGING ME!
The success of the US military is built upon 1) trust within teams, 2) creating a common culture, 3) being disciplined in execution, 4) accepting risk, 5) understanding the mission and 6) Commander’s Intent1. Each soldier understands their role and trusts their team to deliver on their respective outcomes. The teams are trained to be successful and empowered to accept reasonable risk to achieve the mission. In our corporate world we do almost the reverse of this on our projects.
We generally build project teams by pulling people out of their regular job. We don’t train them on being a project team member. They have not established trust within the team and often they are competing against one another for promotional opportunities and compensation. The project objective is rarely shared by leadership. We establish rigid process we must follow and when something outside of process occurs, we ask for someone to revise the process or establish a new one. We aren’t focused on the outcome, the mission. Our focus is on the process and ensuring we’ve adhered to it, so we’ll be able to pass the next gate review.
Also, organizations usually bring the team to the project rather than the project to the team. That is opposite of how work is done in the military. We often hear of elite special forces missions such as the one conducted by Seal Team 6 to kill Osama bin Laden. When that mission, or project, was approved they didn’t select different operators from different teams to come together for a one-time project. No, they went to an existing team and gave them the mission. The team had already established roles, trust, and confidence to be successful.
Commander’s Intent and bringing the project to the team are great examples of how we can learn from the military to empower people to deliver results. We can also look to the corporate world to find organizations succeeding by empowering their resources.
An example within the corporate world is Ritz-Carlton. As you know Ritz-Carlton is a luxury hotel with customers who expect a level of service to align with the luxury price being paid. To help meet these expectations Ritz-Carlton has empowered their “ladies & Gentlemen” or as we commoners call them, employees. Ritz-Carlton does not shy away from sharing their culture of empowerment. In fact, it is on their website and you can read it here - https://ritzcarltonleadershipcenter.com/2019/03/19/the-power-of-empowerment/
Their policy allows each Lady & Gentleman at The Ritz-Carlton, at all levels, are empowered to spend up to $2000 per guest, per incident. The amount isn’t as important as is the message is sending to their employees - You are empowered to satisfy our customers. From their website, “The $2000 amount is worth a lot, both financially and symbolically. And the symbolic part is what’s truly important. It shows how much we trust our Ladies & Gentlemen. It’s how much we trust them to do the right thing, how much we trust them to resolve a guest issue well, and how much we trust them to always think of creative and memorable ways to elevate the experience.”
Has this policy paid off for Ritz-Carlton? For the 5th consecutive year they have been ranked the #1 luxury hotel brand in guest satisfaction by JD Power2. This obviously isn’t a fluke as it is 5 years running for them. Empowering the Ritz-Carlton Ladies & Gentlemen is delivering results and with that comes repeat business, industry recognition, and satisfied employees.
We have success stories to point to both in the military and the corporate world where empowering people delivers results. We should explore opportunities to follow their lead with our project teams. We see this more within Sales teams than we do on the delivery side. I’ve attended several executive level meetings where the CEO declared, I don’t care how you get it done, but hit your sales goals by the end of the quarter.
Imagine if we empowered our deliver teams the same as we do sales. Imagine if we provide Commander’s Intent to our delivery teams. Imagine if we organized our teams to bring the work to them as is done in the Military. Now, let’s stop imagining and let’s start doing. Let’s empower our people to deliver results!
It is common for many people to make New Year’s Resolutions at the beginning of each year. What is your resolution for this year? The Top 5 New Year’s Resolutions in 20191 were;
All seem to be great ideas for a resolution. However, we find that keeping a resolution isn’t quite as easy as making a resolution. By the middle of February about 80% of us fail with our resolutions2. We only make it about 2 months!
There are many suggestions of how to do better with our resolutions. Use steps such as “Keep it Simple”, “Only take on one resolution at a time” or “Tell friends and family to build accountability“. All good ideas, but we still fail. Why?
Let’s consider slight changes to the top 5 listed above and see if we can find a difference.
I added a Purpose to each of the resolutions. Now it’s not just "Getting in Shape", there is a purpose for getting in shape. By adding a purpose, the resolution has a defined end result. It gives the resolution more meaning.
What does all of this have to do with Project Management? When we look at the trending statistics from the yearly PMI Pulse of the Profession, we find that as an industry we are mostly flat at about 55% success on projects over the past decade.
However, in that same decade we (PM industry) increased the number of PMPs. We increased the amount of spending on training. We made large investments in PPM tools. We matured the discipline with certifications for SCRUM, CAPM, and more. So why then are we remaining constant in success/failure rates all while we are increasing variables which should be making us more successful?
When we live with Purpose we perform better. When our companies and careers have Purpose, we perform better3.
I’ll use an example from a recent client engagement. The client was struggling with project delivery. They had a defined consistent methodology, a robust PM toolset, skilled PMs, and a supportive leadership team. All the basics for project success were in place but still they couldn’t get consistent project outcomes.
One of the strategic projects they were working was an implementation of a CRM system. I interviewed the team and asked them, “Why are you doing this project?” The consensus answer was – the Leadership team wants a new CRM system to replace the outdated system.
I asked the Leadership team the same question but received a different response from them. The Leadership team approved the CRM project not to upgrade the system, rather it is to achieve a 30% growth in revenue over the next 3 years.
The team was unaware the purpose of the project was 30% revenue growth. The project team didn’t take any ownership in helping the organization reach the revenue growth target, they all thought that is a sales team target.
When we in the PM space fail to align our work to the Purpose of the organization we are limiting our ability to achieve impactful results. We aren’t placing ourselves in value-add roles and we fall into the dreaded overhead category. We have to view our projects not just as projects, but pieces to a larger Purpose. Our teams will engage better, they will take ownership of the project outcomes better and they feel valued.
Knowing why we are working projects is more important than how we work our projects. I’ve found far too often that PMO leaders are focused on “how we work” and “what we work on” and aren’t spending enough time helping the teams understand our Purpose. The Purpose Driven PMO empowers people to deliver results. The Purpose Driven PMO provides value to the organization. The Purpose Driven PMO starts with why. The Purpose Driven PMO allows us to achieve success beyond what we see from the flat trend lines in the Pulse of the Profession trend data.
2 – US News & World Report - https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2015-12-29/why-80-percent-of-new-years-resolutions-fail