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March 2010 Archives

Work-Life Balance Meets Reality

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In reading Lynda Bourne's post, Hey Boss, What About Work-Life Balance?, I'm reminded of a Dilbert cartoon where the employees have been told that they must pick three benefits/activities from the following list:

•    Work
•    Paid Time Off
•    Family
•    Health
•    Hygiene
•    Hobby
•    School
•    Sleep
•    Social Outings

Management then says the first two things have to be work and paid time off, leaving employees to pick only one more.

Lynda's post also reminds me of an infamous initiative at my office that we shall call Project S. Everyone knew we under-bid on it the project, and to make up the gap, team members were required to put in 10 hours of unpaid overtime.

As time passed, burnout mounted and the ever-increasing turnover of employees began to grab even the attention of the division president.

Later I was told by a colleague on the project the project manager had been re-assigned. And a company memo announced that all overtime needs had to be approved at the executive management level to ensure proper work-life balance for the long-term health of our employees.

So in this example, a leadership decision promoted a balanced work-life culture, but what happens when the front-line project managers are practicing something else?

In a way, mandating unpaid overtime is a means to accomplish a project goal. Would you agree?

Show Your Team You Care--And Not Just About Deadlines

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In the process of putting together a new course on Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment, I've discovered some interesting information about employee engagement. A survey by The Gallup Organization over a 30 year period posed the following question to millions of employees: "Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?"

Isn't that an interesting question? Most of us might not even think of it as a measure of how engaged we are in our work. But if the truth be told, doesn't the slightest personal attention -- even a small inquiry about an ailing parent -- make you feel like you're more than just a worker to your manager?

I love the example cited by Stan Shimizu of Resourceful HR LLC in the podcast about reward and motivation that he and I recently did for PMI. Stan explained how the executive team at his former company made sure, in spite of the long hours everyone normally put it, that he left the office every day by 5 p.m. to tend to his wife who was having medical problems.

The executives even sent meals to his home. These actions meant more to Stan than monetary compensation could have and made him feel tremendously valued as a person. He states that these simple, kind acts increased his dedication and loyalty by 1000 percent!

Here's another wonderful example. Roberto Daniel, vice president of engineering at Invensys Controls South America, regularly spends one-on-one time with each of the people he manages.

During this hour, the person is not "allowed" to talk about work at all -- just about personal interests, family, hobbies and the like. His people look forward to it, as does Roberto. He considers it an essential tool for getting to know his people and what they are about, and he says it makes a huge difference in the productivity and engagement of the team. Since 2006, he has had over 200 of these face-to-face meetings.

Especially in this tough economy, we all have to work doubly hard to let our people know that they are valued and appreciated. Let's not let this simple pathway to productivity and well-being be overlooked!

The Key to Career Success? Relationships.

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I heard it over and over again: "Not you! No way. It can't happen to you! Impossible!" It was a nice thought, but the fact of the matter was that it was happening, and it was happening to me.

I was one of the most connected and well-known project managers in the company. I had a huge variety of experience and a sterling reputation. I was coming off of a wonderful two-year international assignment and was just getting ready to start back to work in the United States when I was told that my position was being eliminated.

While I had been away, my entire management chain had changed and my organization's mission had shifted out from under me. The company was laying people off in droves. A father of five, I was staring unemployment in the face.

The first order of business was to try to find another position within the company. It took a mad five-month scramble, but I managed to hang on.

During that period, I was very busy. Still, I took the time to reflect--not just on what to do about the situation, but what I might have done differently, and what I might do in the future to prevent it and how to be better prepared if it should happen again. In retrospect, it's easy to recognize this as textbook risk management.

I also considered the things I had done well (that in the end made it possible for me to find another position) and reflected on what I might do to ensure that I continued to do those same things in the future--textbook lessons learned.

I collected my thoughts, my resolutions, my lessons learned, in a one-page document titled simply, "I wish I had." I review it periodically to keep it at top of mind and I will tell you honestly that often enough, it's painful to re-read it. Some lessons are only learned painfully.

I'm happy to say that I have been given the opportunity to put those resolutions into practice, and so I would like to comment on them in this space with the sincere hope that perhaps you might find value in the lessons I've learned.

In our business, a certain level of technical prowess is necessary but not sufficient. Beyond technical skills, we need to develop people skills, and the essence of people skills is relationships.

As I look over my one-page document, I note that there are some things that I don't see:
•    I wish I had been better at making Gantt charts.
•    I wish I had been a better software developer.
•    I wish I had cultivated deeper skills in earned value analysis.

On the contrary, my list is filled with resolutions about relationships. It's about people skills and how I need to further cultivate and employ them to not only ensure continued career success but also appropriate work/life balance.

I'm looking forward to sharing more reflections around these career lessons learned--and hearing your thoughts as well.

Treat Me as a Client

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Dealing with vendors and customers provides a very good example of the peculiarities of human behavior.

As a project manager, you may feel obliged whenever you do anything for your customer. But when it comes to vendors you perhaps put yourself in a position above them and treat them differently.

Take this example:

In the IT industry we have a software engineering process group (SEPG) and software quality assurance group (SQAG) responsible for ensuring the implementation of Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) processes.

Project teams follow the groups' instructions and do whatever is required to clear an audit. Once the organization clears the audit and receives a certification, no one cares about the processes anymore because of the following reasons:

1.    The project team feels unnecessary extra work was pushed on them by the SEPG/SQAG groups and the project team just wanted to be done with it.
2.    The project team feels that they are doing a favor to SEPG/SQAG by implementing the processes rolled out by them, and the SEPG/SQAG feels otherwise.

The best way to keep a sustainable process model is to mentor project teams about the importance of processes to their project. This compare to what we do with our client -- we work as a trusted advisor, providing consultation at each step.

When it comes to an internal project we start treating internal teams as a vendor and ask them to do whatever we need, it doesn't matter if it really adds any value to them. My suggestion SQAG/SEPG teams is that you shall treat the project teams as your client and act as a trusted advisor to them.

This is the only way you can have a sustainable model.

Changing Taiwan's Project Management Outlook

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This is a guest post from Roger Chou, PgMP, of the Institute of Taiwan Project Management

Five years ago in Taiwan, there was a general lack of awareness about project management.

This led all of us in the project management community to some basic questions: How could we prove the value of professional project management teaching and qualifications to the country's leading opinion-makers? And how could we show that having as many qualified managers as possible would be good for business and therefore for society?

We decided to provide free project management training to business leaders, company managers, politicians and other influential people. All of these people knew enough about management skills and practices to take such an invitation seriously--and if it was free, how could they refuse?

In this way they would understand what all the Project Management Professional (PMP)® education providers were trying to achieve.

This became our strategy: influence the influential.

After getting first-hand experience of what it meant to be trained and to work as a professional project manager, participants started to endorse project management education and qualifications.

At the same time, we also facilitated numerous newspaper reports on major successful projects, including Taipei's Tower 101.

We also managed to get over 2,000 people--many of whom participated in the free training--to sign the petition for proper project management training sent to our main forum of elected politicians, the Legislative Yuan. Following this petition, we wrote an open letter to Taiwan's president about the importance of project management teaching and qualification.

One of the hardest places to introduce new ideas, practices, technology or anything that requires rethinking convention is within government departments. They see their main responsibility as implementing policy--discussions about or changes to working practices could be potentially costly distractions from an already sensitive process.

Despite the challenges, our efforts have paid off. As of January, all civil servants are now required to have professional project management training and qualifications.

While "influencing the influential" was a business plan specifically tailored to Taiwan's situation and needs at that time, we were nevertheless following our own professional management training.

As the A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) indicates, identifying your stakeholders and satisfying their needs would be the first step to successfully managing change, regardless or how big or small that change.

Hey Boss, What About Work-Life Balance?

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The last hypothetical I posted, Is This Your Project Stakeholder? attracted a wide cross section of responses.

It made me wonder what you think of this real life experience (only the names have been changed):

Sebastian is a highly competent, upwardly mobile executive and your boss. He works 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and is a very detailed person. He proofreads everything, making copious corrections and is also studying for his second master's degree.

You have found the best time to approach Sebastian to discuss anything is after 8 p.m. when the office is quiet and he is working on his studies. In fact, at this time of night he seems to appreciate a brief chat.

The problem is you have a "life" outside of the office and feel 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. is a very fair day's work.

How would you approach building rapport with Sebastian to allow the discussion of important project issues and enhance your career prospects without waiting until after 8 p.m.?

I will review all comments and based on your feedback I will suggest some solutions in my next post.

PMBOK® Guide for the Trenches, Part 3: Cost

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What would be your reaction if I told you there's a widely practiced profession out there that pays well, with (usually) nice working conditions, and it involves continuously providing its customers with the wrong answers?

Welcome to the wonderful world of cost estimating.

Take for instance, the original estimate for the National Ignition Facility project--it was just over US$1 billion. The final budget was US$4.2 billion. The Central Artery/Tunnel Project, also known as the "Big Dig," was originally estimated at US$2.8 billion. Through 2006, US$14.6 billion had been spent (though to be fair, this is only US$8 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars).

The original estimate for the Sydney Opera House was US$7 million. The final cost was US$102 million, more than 14 times the original estimate.

Why is estimating so tough? It's not as if estimators are dumb or poorly trained in their profession. I've earned my estimating certification, and that was one hard test--it melted my brain. I took the examination on a Friday and couldn't participate in light conversation for the following weekend.

The reason that initial cost estimates seem to so rarely align with a project's final costs has nothing to do with the work quality of the estimators. It has to do with the work quality of everybody else on the project team. You see, comparing the final costs of a project to their original estimates is a way of making the cost baseline team somehow responsible for everything that went wrong in a project.

In the case of the Sydney Opera House, bad weather, incomplete plans and drawings, and a lack of information about the material and the structure of its now-famous roof all added dramatically to the cost. The estimators didn't make those errors--other members of the project team did.

I have to laugh every time I hear a project manager lament all that's really needed is a good cost estimate--as if a sufficiently prescient estimate would work as a talisman to ward off rate variances, contingency events, poor performance and scope creep.

For those estimators who are reading this and can't believe your eyes, I figured I've spent enough ink lambasting you for hanging around projects and continually re-estimating the remaining costs as a way of providing project control capability. You deserve a break.

I'm especially interested in hearing from those estimators and project controllers who somehow find themselves the scapegoat when their original cost baseline gets blown to smithereens. 

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