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May 2010 Archives

What Makes a Good Project Manager?

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I think the mark of a good project manager starts with how they manage projects.

In April, the Institute of Taiwanese Project Management gave out its first 10 Outstanding Chinese Project Managers awards. The winners and candidates were examples of what defines a good project manager.
In general, most of the project managers who caught the selection board's attention managed efforts that were:

•    Completed within budget and on time, sticking to their scope and quality
•    In line with the client company's business objectives or ambitions
•    A benefit to the economy, society or local community

Good project managers also have commitment and determination -- a common characteristic of the 10 award winners. Their background, education and work history all showed they were individuals who, when they committed to doing something, would do all that was possible to get the work completed, even when others wanted to give up.

I also realized during the award-selection process that good project managers are a driving force in our society. Their constant, ongoing completion of projects keeps our economy active and competitive.

Whether these are large telecom projects (such as the installation of China's countrywide broadband network) or smaller ecology projects (such as reducing the carbon emissions of homes or businesses), the project managers leading these efforts are all doing important work that improves our society and our economy.

It is only through their planning, execution and management skills, as well as their commitment and determination, that any project can be completed efficiently and effectively.

If you know excellent project managers who deserve to be recognized, consider nominating them in next year's PMI Professional Awards.

To all you project managers silently toiling away -- possibly thinking "these awards have nothing to do with me!" -- I would like to praise your work: You are the real driving force in society. Never underestimate how important your contribution is!

Developing Swift Trust

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My last post posed the question, How do you manage trust with a new team? Some suggested taking a cautious approach to building respect and rapport. Others addressed the long-term nature of trust developed in a traditional framework.

These are valid, but there's a different form of trust that can also be highly beneficial to project teams: swift trust.

Swift trust occurs when a diverse group of experts are brought together in a temporary organization such as a virtual team created for an urgent project.

It's especially prevalent when the team is required to deliver a result that requires interdependent working and there are significant external pressures. The team has to work out their differences on the fly and "blindly" trust one another to do their jobs simply because there is no alternative.

In these circumstances, team members tend to exhibit behaviors that presuppose trust. Each person knows they're trustworthy and assumes they can trust the others. Therefore, the team simply acts as if trust is present even though there has been no opportunity to develop the more traditional forms of trust.

This is swift trust, and although it can be a powerful force, it is also fragile and easily broken. Activity contributing to the team's common goal, professional behavior and an effective team leader allow swift trust to develop. But it will only last as long as everyone behaves in a trustworthy way.

One aspect of developing swift trust is the presence of recognized expertise. We tend to trust modern medicine and therefore tend to trust doctors. Very few people when rushed into hospital in an emergency want to check the credentials and track record of the doctors working to save their life. They trust the hospital to provide competent doctors to help solve their problem.

Another aspect is a clearly defined objective and clearly defined roles and responsibilities. The key to developing swift trust is interdependent work focused on a common objective. Each member of the team needs the other's particular expertise for the team as a whole to be successful.

Swift trust is not a random occurrence. By understanding the criteria that encourage its development, a manager can create a favorable environment. Then the act of trusting tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

By trusting others we encourage both trustworthy behaviors and engender trust in return. However, as with traditional trust, swift trust can easily be destroyed by untrustworthy behavior. It needs nurturing and support.

The concept of swift trust is not new. There have been papers and books on the subject for at least a decade. But making pragmatic use of the concept on project teams has not been widespread.

If you've been involved in a temporary team under pressure, did you notice swift trust between you and your colleagues, or was it missing altogether? Please share your experiences to help build a better understanding of this interesting phenomenon.

Why I Like Being a Project Manager

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I have often been asked in the past about the benefits of working in project management.

Having worked for many businesses in various roles, I have learned that what I like most about project management is the variety of roles and the type of environments I am exposed to.

I was always drawn to the concept of managing, but didn't really want to stay with the same environment or be involved in long-term operational work.
Project management appeals to me because it allows me to:

- Manage teams
- Work with different teams on the new projects
- Work in different cultural environments
- Be exposed to various architectures, systems
- Manage my time and efforts against very specific deliverables
- Work in multiple departments or areas, thus being able to gain insight into the ways of managing projects by looking at different angles and listening to different points of view  

The project management cycle is so finite that it creates an opportunity to refine skills a lot faster. As a project manager moves from one stage to another, you get to know the components of project management delivery. Therefore, you have many opportunities to improve how you manage each of them, be it budgeting, generating the scope of work, generating a work breakdown structure or managing the risks.

The opportunity for lifelong learning in project management is also a benefit. While you get to do a complete job with the skills you have -- therefore covering all aspects of the project management -- you also get an opportunity to specialize in a particular area, such as risk management or schedule management.

What other benefits have you discovered?

Unselfish Networking

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Several years ago a friend "in transition" (a euphemism for "unemployed and looking for a job") asked me to look at his résumé.

He figured there must be something wrong with it because it never helped him find a job. The only way he ever found work was by knowing somebody.

I'm not surprised. It seems to me the thing to work on is not just tweaking one's résumé, but rather getting to know more "somebodies."

The way to do that is through professional networking.

I'm a very proactive networker with connections around the world, but that wasn't always the case. In the past I found (my mistaken understanding of) networking to be distasteful. If you'd asked me what I thought of it, I would have said:

1.    Networking is self-serving.
2.    I want to make it on my own.
3.    It's enough to be really good at what you do.

Live and learn. Somewhere along the way, I realized no one really makes it on their own. And it isn't enough just to be good at what you do.

We are social creatures. We exist as part of the wonderful super-network known as human society, within which we create sub-networks to suit our particular needs.

Yes, some "networkers" are self-serving, in the same way that some people are selfish. But one need not be selfish to network.

On the contrary, I decided to turn the idea on its head. Rather than network for selfish motives, rather than seek to meet and know people to advance my own agenda, I would network for others. (This was a revolutionary idea for me, but that's because I was ignorant. Good networkers knew this already.)

Each of us has gifts and talents, and I'm no exception. What I know and what I can do are valuable, and I would like to use what I know and what I can do to help other people succeed. If, in the end, that contributes to my own success (it will and it does) that is a delightful consequence.

It's simple: Know more people, help more people.

When I recently found myself "in transition," I appealed earnestly to my network. The response was overwhelming and touching. Ultimately, it helped me succeed. It's very satisfying to have seen the goodness and generosity of my network and to know that so many fine people stood ready to help.

You can't achieve that with a résumé, however perfectly crafted.

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with — or even disagree with — leave a comment.

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