Grace Willis, PMP, says unconscious bias often “renders project leadership an endeavor in swimming upstream.” Such challenges represent symptoms of larger societal issues to be overcome, but underlying tenets hold true when it comes to good project outcomes—engage your teams, understand your stakeholders, and be authentic.
Grace, how did you get into project management? Since graduating college and entering the world of management consulting, elements of project management have been consistently integral to my job duties. However, if I had to select a turning point, it would be during an internship I held while pursuing my MBA. A mentor and supervisor suggested that I formally pursue PMI certification. He thought I'd make a great project manager based on my performance in the internship. I heeded his advice, pursued the official process, targeted my job search to roles with the official "Project Management" title, and took the exam. The rest is history; I've been a certified PMI-PMP since 2010.
What do you love most about the work? I was initially drawn to the ability to help achieve objectives whilst coordinating subject matter experts. The project management experience was akin to conducting an orchestra where each valuable specialist in unison with others created outcomes.
However, as my professional acumen deepened in this space and dysfunction emerged from the woodwork, I became intrigued in understanding organizational dysfunction and uncovering its impacts, which include misalignment between projects and organizational strategy, poor vetting of stakeholders and suppliers, unmitigated risk, and waste. The latter led me to broaden my skills and pursue Lean Six Sigma under the tutelage of Six Sigma Blackbelts. This journey into lean was essentially my formal exposure to process improvement—an asset I leverage even today as an Agilist.
What do you find most challenging or frustrating? What was most frustrating is the misuse of the title “Project Manager.” It has been used by employers to mean everything from glorified Executive Assistant to Systems Engineer, with a touch of project management capability. This is a disservice to candidates and represents a sort of “bait-and-switch” recruiting tactic. The discrepancy between title and function is what inspired my first contribution to PMI in which I discussed the many shades of meaning tagged to the "Project Manager" role and title.
An extension to this phenomenon was the inattention given to selection of project team members and suppliers. Most disappointing was senior leaders with organizational power but a comfortable ignorance of the Project Manager role—a dangerous cocktail.
Does your approach change with the environment in which you’re working? I’ve worked internationally in countries with a national language other than English. I have found, when it comes to project management, people are people. This is not to ignore certain cultural nuances such as hierarchy, labor laws, indices of respect, and of course, language. However, some underlying tenets hold true:
Where there are implications is how I am received when I show up. Specifically, there will be persons who have intrinsic challenges such as unconscious bias, preconceived notions, discomfort with change and so on, with the collective result being their struggle to respond professionally to someone fitting my profile. Their struggle then renders project leadership an endeavor in swimming upstream because these persons are resisting the project manager—not necessarily the work to be done.
Some of the laundry list of challenges are at the forefront of conversations going on in our current environment and represent symptoms of larger societal issues that remain to be overcome. One can only come as far as the organization allows unproductive and disruptive organizational cultural behaviors to flourish or be minimally, if at all, addressed.
What's your proudest professional achievement? Contributing thought leadership to the community. I have had several articles published whose content touches on real-world experiences, which often diverge from theories laid out in bodies of knowledge. Being able to candidly share field experiences through various print and digital avenues—and having an excerpt of my articles be selected for publication in a compilation—makes me proud.
What's the best piece of advice you've received or can share? Remain authentic. Being your true self comes with risk, especially when you must deliver tough messages. In my career, I’ve had to deliver recommendations to end a project or rethink an initiative. In these instances, leadership was holding on for dear life to make things work despite clear indices that the endeavor was failing due to deep-seated and systemic impediments. Sponsors were simply victims of the sunk cost fallacy—in a nutshell, the misguided belief in the approach to continue going because we've come this far and already spent so much money/time/resources.
In my current career as an Agile leader, I’ve had to deliver messages that an engagement was not viable, or that business leaders and team members involved in a transformation were ill-suited.
Support your authenticity by having your facts ready. Data points, data points, data points are essential. Make the connection between the data and the impact. Finally, come to the table with recommendations and possible next steps. If your authenticity is met with negativity, then evaluate if you really want to stay in the environment you're in.
How has ProjectManagement.com helped you in your work and career? It’s great to be able to get direct feedback via comments from community members—something that wouldn’t have been possible via the PM Network magazine alone. The community, reading what others are doing, and invitations to informative webinars, has been great.
Where are you from? Where are you based? I’m Jamaican, proud to be one, and very proud of our national motto "Out of Many, One People.” My second home is southeast Florida, which itself is home to a large contingent of the Jamaican diaspora.
What interests or hobbies do you have outside your day-to-day work? Decorating. I have a weakness for retailers that focus on home beautification and kitchen gadgets. Other than that, I like to discover new parks and trails, swim, go to the beach and travel.
What about a favorite TV show, artist, movie? Law and Order—all of them. Phil Collins, the Peters (Cetera and Gabriel), Bob Marley and Bon Jovi. For movie, it’s a three-way tie between Dancehall Queen, and the original releases of Back to the Future and The Terminator.
Best vacation? During the summer before my last year of college, backpacking across France and taking full advantage of my France Rail Pass encapsulated a blissful, adventurous, and precious era in my life that stays with me to this day.
Thank you Grace!
Our new Ambassadors Program is driven by a special group of community members—people like agile coach and management consultant Andrew Craig, PMP, who helps other members discover all that ProjectManagement.com offers, from discussions to downloads, and all the dynamic content in between.
Andrew, how did you get into project management? Long ago I managed coffee shops then retail electronic stores. I really became a people person—came out of my shell so to speak. But then 2008 happened. I completely reinvented myself and moved into the technical realm. I started out with help desk/tech analyst, moving to developer—all while recognizing that at some point, a career utilizing my management-leadership-people skills, along with my technical skills, could be very conducive as a business analyst or project manager. From developer I moved to product analyst with a large healthcare firm. From there, I moved on to a business analyst role, then transitioned to project management, both within financial services and consulting.
My journey to Agile actually started while I was a product analyst. I just had not realized at the time the impact it had on me. As a project manager, I began to question the ways in which we were doing work, asking if there were better ways, asking how we could be more inclusive and work in smaller batches for regular feedback. From there the rest is history!
What do you love most about the work? I love helping others to understand what it is that they want and helping them to get there. I love building relationships and trust. I love to see others get to that “Aha!” moment and flourish with a new sense of understanding and confidence.
What do you find most challenging or frustrating? Being constrained by bureaucracy or a luddite for working differently. Just because that is how it was done, does not equate to how it should be done. We should always challenge ourselves to think about things from different perspectives.
What's your proudest professional achievement? Anytime I see or hear that I have made a positive impact on someone else’s career, confidence, ability to perform—that is such an amazing and rewarding feeling. I so love what I do but recognize the impact I can have on others and the expectations of me and my role.
What's the best piece of advice you've received or can share? Always do the right thing, even if it’s hard to do, and understand that the right thing will not always make everyone happy—the right path is sometimes the rocky path.
How has ProjectManagement.com helped you? I became active here at PM.com in 2016 after earning my PMP. I had been very active on Linux communities prior and felt like it was time to push myself out of my comfort zone and begin contributing professionally here. It has been a great five years.
And you’ve made more than 7,600 contributions! Wow! PM.com has helped me to recognize my strengths and new opportunities for growth, to become more confident in what I can contribute, and how those contributions can be recognized and impactful to others. Meeting people at the PMI Global Conference this past year that were influenced by my contributions was mind-blowing. Those times are priceless.
What interests or hobbies do you have outside work? For a long time I was a Linux geek. Heavily involved in communities. I’ve since moved on and have solely focused on my professional life and family. I was heavy into mountain bike racing but have transitioned to trail running. Less logistics and time consuming. Nothing beats running or riding through the woods.
What about a favorite TV show, artist or movie? A favorite movie is hard, but I have lots of shows: The Wire, Ozarks, Stranger Things, The Expanse, Money Heist, Hunters—you get the picture.
Best vacation? We stay local for vacations. Our favorite place is Maine. We drive up with the kids and dogs. That’s a whole other story! We also love the Poconos right here in Pennsylvania.
Thanks you Andrew!
To connect with Andrew, visit his ProjectManagement.com profile.
Hailing from Salzburg, Austria, Stephan Weinhold is a project manager and agile coach in the cooperative banking sector. He takes a Buddhistic approach to the work, and believes constant challenge is what we signed up for and how we grow.
Stephan, how did you get into project management? In high school I started making websites; in 2000 I moved to Vienna and founded an agency there. After a couple of months—and a lot of “experimental learning”—I figured out that “Do what you love” won’t make sense for me. So, I followed the “Be so good they can’t ignore you” path and et voilà: I am in project management. And I haven’t regretted my decision once since. Ok, that was a lie.
What do you love most about the work? I love that I am working a lot with people from different cultures, backgrounds, motivations, work ethics, professions—different everything. On the other hand, I can spend some hours working on my own, if I feel the need to. And I love the challenge. I know that sounds like a motivational poster, but you cannot grow without constant challenge. Every good project manager is a tiny “eager beaver” deep inside, I think. Our profession gives us many possibilities to live that out.
What do you find most challenging or frustrating? Nothing, seriously. Of course, there are situations every day where I feel the urge to ride on a horse while screaming and wielding a giant battle axe above my head. But for me, solving these situations is a huge part of our job. So I just shrug my shoulders and start working. If you stop taking work-related things personal, you will have a better life. Trust me.
What's your proudest professional achievement? At some point I learned to stop taking myself and my role so important.
What's the best piece of advice you've received or can share? View things Buddhistic. If it bothers you, change it. If you cannot change it, come to terms with it. If you cannot come to terms with it, pack your things and move on.
How has ProjectManagement.com helped you in your work and career? There are so many great project managers writing so many great and inspiring articles … asking and answering questions in the forum, which constantly gives me new thoughts while writing … communicating with all that people that know so much about our profession … playing PMchallenge.
What interests or hobbies do you have outside work? I love spending time with my family and friends. I love writing, fiction and nonfiction. I used to play basketball—I’m 5.77, but it turned out to be enough here in Austria. I am playing tennis every now and then. I have two energetic kids, so time is rare. I like playing guitar—I am a trained musician. I listen to music a lot—classical music, of course; Jazz, Progressive, Death Metal, Rap. I read a lot, always several books parallel—a bit of project management, James Lee Burke, a bit of management and agility, Thomas Bernhard.
Favorite TV show, artist or movie? The Wire. More recently, I really liked Fleabag. Right now, I am spending a lot of time with Paw Patrol. [Music:] Deftones. Plini. Beethoven.
Best vacation? Always the upcoming one.
Thank you Stephan!
To connect with Stephan, visit his ProjectManagement.com profile.
Project management is not just about focusing on the tasks at hand, but also the adoption and impact, says Lorelie Kaid, VP of enterprise project management for Washington State Employees Credit Union. People will remember your integrity, she adds, so don’t lose it.
Lorelie, how did you get into project management? I have never had the official title "Project Manager" Yet, project management is something I have always done, just not formally. My love and passion around it came early in my career when I was implementing a mainframe-based application that would essentially eliminate an entire department. Users could enter their forms directly into the system and no longer send them to a department to enter. The planning was challenging because I needed help from the very people who would lose their jobs. This experience was the beginning of learning the people side of project management and the importance of not just focusing on the task at hand, but the adoption and impact.
What do you love most about the work? Making a difference. For my day job, I am leading people who are making a difference in my organization. We are transitioning our IT efforts to Agile and some of my project managers have migrated to incredible scrum masters. We are focused on implementing key organizational initiatives that are making a difference in our member’s lives. On the side, I have taught project management for over 20 years. Some of my students are new to project management, and others are pros, but together we all learn from each other based on experiences.
What do you find most challenging or frustrating? There seems to be different perceptions about what project management is and isn’t. It is not an administrative role, but there are administrative requirements in the role—every role has these. It is not a role that “does everything.” When you say “accountant” in the business role, people generally know what you are referring to. When you say “project manager” there are many definitions on the spectrum, and it is important to help people get to the same [understanding] in your organization so that you can move forward.
What's your proudest professional achievement? Honestly, not to sound cheesy, but it is seeing the people I work with succeed. Twenty years ago, I had an intern who is now very successful. We are still connected and have lunch two to three times a year. I tell the people who work for me now that my role is to help them on their journeys, to help them move forward in their careers. The key is they have to do the work to make it happen. I am their biggest cheerleader.
What's the best piece of advice you've received or can share? Integrity matters. An early mentor told me this and he could not have been righter. Your integrity is something people will remember. Don’t lose it.
How has ProjectManagement.com helped you in your work and career? It has given me exposure to thoughts, ideas and people that I may not have encountered. I love this tool and the platform it provides.
What interests or hobbies do you have outside work? One of my passions is producing the musical at the local Tahoma High School every year. I have been doing this for seven years and love it. It is three weeks of crazy chaos, but I enjoy managing the young adults backstage—the actors, orchestra and crew. I am lucky to work for a company that supports my volunteer efforts as well. And volunteering, my project management skills have come in handy. Managing the young adults requires a lot of patience, openness and creativity.
What about a favorite TV show, artist or movie? Big-time Law & Order fan as well as NCIS. Long-time fan of Queen—well before the movie. I have all of the albums. Favorite movies are the Star Wars and Bourne series
Best vacation? Visiting my son and his wife in Philadelphia.
Thank you Lorelie!
To connect with Lorelie, visit her ProjectManagement.com profile.