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Bloggers Sound Off: Mentoring Matters

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In this Voices on Project Management roundtable, bloggers discuss their mentors. We asked: What is the best project management advice you received from your mentor? How do you continue to use it?

Hajar Hamid, PMP: One of my previous managers gave me valuable advice on how to respond to challenging emails: Wait for a day before responding. The reason behind this is to be objective in responding and to get to the core of the issue. Only with a clear head can we contribute to the solution.

Mário Henrique Trentim, PMI-RMP, PMP: The best advice I received from my mentor was: "There is no single project management theory. It takes knowledge and experience to build the maturity that will help you manage larger and more complex projects."

In the beginning of my career, I focused on managing "by the book." It felt safe because I was compliant to a standard. However, every project has special characteristics. Even A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)--Fifth Edition mentions tailoring. 

Today, I advise my own mentees to learn and master one methodology at a time, applying them to a specific project. With time, they get more experienced and fluent in many standards and methodologies.

Lynda Bourne, DPM, PMP: The mentee relationship has proven a very rich experience for me both as a mentor and as a mentee. 


As a mentee, I mainly worked with women who had succeeded in areas in which I was just starting out. The most important thing I learned from mentors was this: Observe how the men operate. They don't take failure personally, they are confident in their own abilities, and they know the value of networking. I learned how to do these three things better with support from my mentor, and my career flourished.

Generally my mentees are seeking a career change. Some know what they want to do next, some don't. In our conversations, we explore options for their next career moves. I don't give advice as such -- I just ask questions, challenge or talk about my own experiences. Then when mentees make their move to the new career, they are ready and understand any risks. Mentees have the solution in their own minds and usually just need someone "in their corner" to work it out.

Conrado Morlan, PMP, PgMP: While working hard to earn stripes as a junior project manager, the triple constraint ruled my mindset and blocked me from developing project plans. I was literally playing by the book and couldn't see the forest for the trees. 

My manager recommended I look at the big picture, be flexible and put things into context. "We do not live in a perfect world and you have to understand that," he said. He advised that I shouldn't let the uncertainty of resources stop me from seeing the bigger picture. The purpose of a project is to produce a result and along the way, my stakeholders and I would need to be flexible and adapt to the existing conditions.

Bernadine Douglas, PMP: The best project management advice I received was regarding building rapport. My mentor encouraged networking and holding meetings inside and outside of the office to build rapport with team members and stakeholders. 

As a mentor, I too put a lot of emphasis on this. I take advantage of situations to talk with team members so they feel comfortable talking with me.

What's the best advice you received from a mentor? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.

Breaking Down Barriers

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In this week's excerpt of "Women in Project Management," Beth Partleton gives a very honest answer to the question: "Will there ever be a day when we're not talking about women in project management as a separate topic?" She also provides advice on professional development opportunities as well as what women need to consider when considering a career in project management.

Want a Career Edge in 2013? Carpe Diem

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In my last post, I promised some pointers for what to do after you've identified your career goals.

My suggestion is to toss them aside. It may seem to defy career logic, but here's why it works: While our definition of success evolves slowly, the specific steps and goals that get us there can and should change with the circumstances. And circumstances are changing ever more rapidly.

For example, a meaningful goal can quickly turn into a waste of time with a corresponding opportunity cost.

I remember sitting down for my first career-planning session when I got into line management at IBM in the late 1980s. My manager and I carefully mapped out a plan that included various entry-level positions, followed by roles in middle management and then executive management. It all looked pretty good. Then along came the great upheavals of the late '80s and early '90s that stripped away entire layers of middle management.

I found myself with a plan that led to a place that no longer existed. I was trapped in career limbo, until finally I was forced into a role as a system architect. Frankly, that didn't work out very well. But in that role, I attended a conference on software development and learned about project management as a profession. It intrigued me, so I sought out more information about it. 

You see, the system architects on my team were brilliant technologists. But they weren't good at planning their own work. Opportunity! I suggested that perhaps I could add more value in the role of project manager. The rest, is history.

Had I relentlessly pursued the goals outlined in my career plan, I probably wouldn't have survived past 1992. But when serendipity and opportunity intersected, I seized the moment. As a result, I've had a rewarding career, one in which I see myself as successful. (In this regard, my perspective is the only one that counts.)

The moral of the story? Where you will end up in your career 25 years from now may have nothing to do with your grand visions of today.

Here are a few other suggestions to keep you on course but flexible:

  • Keep a short horizon. The further out you plan, the less your actual future will look like your vision of it.
  • Seize the moment. Anticipate serendipity. Plan for it. 
  • Stay aware of what's going on around you and inside of you. Revise your goals accordingly.

Systematically pursuing relevant goals and adopting new ones as others become irrelevant is a delicate balance. But the resulting career agility is well worth the effort.

If Project Managers Had Life Tenure...

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I recently heard an interview with Antonin Scalia, an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, regarding the rulings he has handed down over the years. The reporter wondered if Mr. Scalia ever worried about public backlash or the opinions of his fellow justices.

Mr. Scalia simply replied that he didn't worry about that. He has life tenure, given to him by the U.S. government. He believes that tenure allows him to do and say what he thinks is right and not worry about how it will affect his career or colleagues.

This answer had a profound effect on me.  I often wonder if I am "doing the right thing" when I make decisions at work. I try, but I would not be honest if I did not admit that the career survival instinct hasn't kicked in once in a while. Perhaps sometimes I compromise on issues that I know are not good for my projects or my team. But I'll give the client the answer they want to hear, or perhaps tone down the weekly status report to avoid stirring the pot when there are real issues to discuss.

I've now started applying what I will refer to as the "life tenure" rule to all of my decisions and activities. I try to look at a decision or situation through the lens of "If I did not have to worry about politics or personalities or self-promotion, would I still make this move?" I have to say, thankfully, that I appear to achieve that about 90 percent of the time. But clearly I think that can improve.

I know it is naive to think that someone could or should perform their job as if they could not get fired.  Or to think that if we all had that freedom, that we would always make the right decision. But it is an interesting concept to ponder, and a fascinating test to apply.

Think about it: How would your professional life change if you had life tenure as a project manager?

Help Your Network Pay Attention to Your Career

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Our careers exist in the context of that intricate web of family, friends and colleagues that we call our network.

I've often drawn an analogy between that network, as an organism of sorts, and our own brains. For example, when our brains make more robust connections, our network of cells becomes "smarter." Likewise, we become more adept at things that we use our brain connections for and our network becomes more adept as we use the connections we've created.

In the same way that we as project professionals are bombarded by an overwhelming number of stimuli, so too is our professional network. And likewise, the network can only take notice of a very small number of things. The majority of what it encounters simply has to be ignored.

I previously wrote about how we can sensitize the part of our brains called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) to help us achieve career objectives. If the above the analogy holds up (and I think it does), we should be able to sensitize our network to help us advance our project management careers in the same way that we can sensitize our own minds.

Simply setting a goal mentally sensitizes the mind to events that can help us achieve that goal. Similarly, articulating a goal to our network, especially in writing, sensitizes our peers' minds, creating spots of sensitivity within the network. The network becomes sensitized and can attribute new meaning to the same stuff that has been happening all around it. All of a sudden, everything seems to become aligned to your purpose.

For example, if you tell your professional network that you are looking for job, it becomes something your peers are aware of. When they see an open project management position, rather than skip over it, they think of your job search.

As a participating member of this network, you can work with others to sensitize your mind to their purpose. You will pay attention to things that you otherwise would have ignored that will help you to help them achieve their career goals.

As I have often said, networking is a generous activity. When you give without thinking of getting, you will find that the network gives back more than what you put in. Don't doubt it! Not for a moment.

How have you benefitted from your network?

Selecting a Protégé From Your Project Team

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It is always good to groom talent internally to fill vacant positions in the company. It saves cost, effort and time -- all the important aspects of a successful project. 

I like to think of grooming a project team member as another project.

To ensure that 'project' is successful, a project manager should look for possible candidates that match certain characteristics. In my opinion, the following are among the characteristics a manager should look for in potential project managers (in no particular order):

1. Friendliness

A project manager must be able to communicate effectively. Friendliness is a good trait to have because more often than not, a friendly person is able to get information from the least communicative person.

2. Willingness to learn

Learning happens all the time in managing projects. Even the most seasoned project managers still learn something new from each new project.

3. Vision

A project manager must be focused in seeing a project through until it is completed -- or halted. He or she must have a clear vision to be able to steer the project team to fulfill the project goals.

4. Organized 

And this doesn't mean the project manager's workstation. The information that the project manager shares must be organized and structured to ensure clarity and understanding to the recipients.

5. Diplomatic

In a project, conflicts will arise -- even from something as minor as a missing network cable, for example. A project manager must be able to act objectively, as a mediator and be able see the whole picture.

6. Firm

When making decisions or providing direction, a project manager needs to be firm. Not every decision will be popular. Resistance may occur, but the project manager must stick to her or his ground.

This, by no means, is an exhaustive list of characteristics that a project management protégé must have. But I do believe these are the fundamental criteria that a project manager should possess to be effective and successful.

What criteria do you look for in a project team member when grooming him or her to be a project manager? What other characteristics do you feel are important for someone who wants to be a project manager? 


A Different Mindset: From Project To Program Manager

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As a project manager, leading a project to success provides a feeling of accomplishment. Having been successful at several projects, project managers could see becoming a program manager a likely career move.

But when PMO managers were asked about the most critical factors for success, developing the skill sets of project and program managers were an area of concern, according to PMI's 2012 Pulse of the Profession. As a result, many organizations will renew their focus on talent development, formalizing processes to develop competency.  

In my opinion, developing a program management mindset is a key first step to successfully transitioning to a program management role. For example, moving from the linear world of a single project to the molecular world of programs can be daunting. Plus, you'll face the new experience of leading other project managers.

Here are some practices I have found valuable to adopting a program management mindset:

1. Think big picture  
A common misperception about programs is when they are viewed as one big project. Keep in mind that a program is an interconnected set of projects that also has links to business stakeholders and other projects. Adopt a 'big picture' attitude to the overall program and avoid fixating on a single project's details.

2. Create a project manager trust model  
As a project manager, you develop trust with individual contributors performing delivery activities. As a program manager, you have to develop trust with project managers. Create a common interaction framework with every project manager for progress reporting, resource management, etc.

3. Encourage project managers to say "so what?"
As a program manager, you will deal with additional reports, metrics and other information that you didn't experience as a project manager. Encourage your project managers to start dialogs with "so what" outcomes. This will get right to the direct impact on the program. Have them support these outcomes with relevant information from their reports, dashboards and metrics.    

4. Establish credibility with business leaders   
With programs, customers are typically in business functions. Immerse yourself and your project managers in their business. Training, site visits and status meetings held at business locations are good ways to immerse your team in the customer's business.

5. Develop long-distance forecasting skills
Forecasting several weeks in the future is satisfactory with a project. However, a program with projects moving at different speeds and directions requires a longer forecast horizon. Set your forecast precision in terms of months, not weeks. In addition, look for multi-project forecasting considerations such as holiday blackout periods and external project dependencies.   

What have you found effective to make the mental leap from project manager to program manager?

To discuss Pulse of the Profession on Twitter, please use #pmipulse.



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Stick to Project Management Basics

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The importance of fundamentals in project management is obvious, but easy to lose sight of.

As professionals who constantly strive to improve, we study, read, take courses, attend seminars, listen to podcasts and more -- all to become better project managers. Ironically, sometimes this desire to learn causes us to lose focus on the fundamentals.

Instead, we look to novelty, the latest trends and perhaps even the latest fads in the interest of improving.

Likewise, we might embrace sophisticated techniques without ensuring that we've properly implemented the basic things on which the sophisticated techniques depend.

I've often heard great sports figures and musicians emphasize the importance of fundamentals in their success. Project managers would do well to place similar emphasis on the basics of our profession. I'd go even further to suggest that before we embrace any new or sophisticated technique, we should first look at how well we are implementing the fundamentals.

For example, what good does it do us to implement the latest agile techniques on a project where we haven't adequately implemented rudimentary change management disciplines? Similarly, what good would it do to implement Monte Carlo simulations in a context where we haven't adequately identified basic risks?

In my estimation, our success depends almost entirely on how well we have implemented fundamental risk and change management processes.

Things go wrong and plans change -- yet we often charge ahead without adequately planning and preparing for those realities. Certainly, our intuition tells us this is true, and our experience validates our intuition. Yet it still often happens that we lose sight of the obvious fact that the basics matter and matter most.

If you should ever waiver in your conviction, look no further than PMI's 2012 Pulse of the Profession. The report notes that change management and project management basics are among the most critical project success factors.

New and sophisticated techniques have their place, but the best thing to do in any profession is to go back to basics. Don't let the allure of the sophisticated or the novel, distract us from the value of fundamentals.

To discuss Pulse of the Profession on Twitter, please use #pmipulse.



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Pay Attention to Your Project Management Career

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Throughout the workday, project professionals are bombarded by an overwhelming number of stimuli. And yet we can only take notice of a very small number of things.

The majority of what we encounter simply has to be ignored. At a subconscious level, our brains constantly sift through all of the inputs, deciding what can be ignored and what warrants consideration at a conscious level. This process is managed by the Reticular Activating System (RAS).

When we learn a new word, for example, the RAS sensitizes the unconscious mind to that word. When we encounter the same word again (which we had ignored in the past), we will immediately take notice.

We can take advantage of this sensitization process to help us advance our project management careers by setting an explicit career goal.

In the same way that the "new" word we learned existed before we learned it, there are things taking place in our lives that could be enormously helpful to us in our careers -- but we are ignoring them. Setting a goal sensitizes the mind such that we will take notice of things that we would previously have ignored and we will assign meaning to things that were previously meaningless.

Simply setting the goal mentally does a lot to sensitize the mind to events that can help us achieve the goal. Articulating the goal in writing sensitizes it even further. Reviewing the goal periodically sensitizes the mind further still.

Know what you want to achieve in your career. Write it down. Review it periodically. These three steps will make you consciously aware of your goal and give new meaning to the same old stuff that has been happening all around you.

This "new" conscious awareness will further sensitize the mind to related and useful things. As you then pursue possibilities with such heightened awareness, the process accelerates. All of the sudden, everything seems to become aligned to your purpose.

It was all along. You just weren't paying attention!

Do you have any examples of how goal setting has heightened your awareness of events that have helped you fulfill your goals?
 

The "Other-Conscious" in Public Speaking

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In my last post, Contagious Enthusiasm in Public Speaking, I talked about how being overly self-conscious can inhibit your effectiveness as a public speaker. I also know that public speaking is a valuable way to enhance your career growth. I promised to explore the idea of being fully "other-conscious" a little more deeply.

Communication, of course, is what we project managers spend the majority of our time doing. Public speaking is common enough for us.

All communication is about sharing meaning. To be effective, we need to have a good understanding of whom we are talking to and what will influence his or her understanding of the message we are trying to communicate.

The best communicators have a keen ability to be very attuned to the other person. It helps them develop a rapport that makes real understanding happen more readily.

Effective public speakers bring this ability to the group setting. They master the ability to be dialed in, not to the group, but rather, to many individuals simultaneously.

Some people who are extraordinarily good in "one-on-one" situations can be very ineffective as public speakers because they find it so distressing. Much of what people find distressing stems from self-consciousness -- they are overly concerned with how people perceive and react to them.

Forget self-consciousness. Be other-conscious. If everything we do is focused entirely on the listener as an individual, it can help us have the kind of rapport essential for good two-way communication.

The mistake people often make is to view public speaking as addressing an audience -- a nameless, faceless and even a potentially hostile audience. Rather, we should view our listeners as a collection of individuals with whom we need to establish separate relationships in order to effectively communicate with them.

But don't ignore yourself in the process. On the contrary, because of the importance of the speaker's role, visibility, prominence and leveraged influence, the speaker must pay particular attention to him or herself. And that means, with a mind toward the other.

What do you think? Does being self-conscious help you be other-conscious in all communications, not just public speaking?

Read more about speaking in your project management career.
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Contagious Enthusiasm in Public Speaking

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A few years ago, I was at a PMI chapter professional development day to give a presentation and attend some sessions.

Between sessions, I saw a young man who worked for one of the conference sponsors reading something. I asked him what he was reading, and he said he was going over his notes for his upcoming presentation.
 
"Excellent," I commented. "What will you be talking about?"

Our product," he replied. Then he added, "I'm probably going to bore everyone."

"Why would it bore everyone?" I asked. "Well," he said, "because it's a boring presentation."

Now I was really intrigued. I asked again why it's boring and got a similar response: "It's just not very interesting."

I kind of felt sorry for the guy, but thought maybe I could help him out.

I continued, "Certainly, it's interesting to you. You must have some enthusiasm for the topic -- the product you are here to sell! How can you share that enthusiasm with the folks who will be listening?"

"No," he replied, "I don't really find the topic interesting at all. I don't have any enthusiasm for it."

You can't give what you haven't got -- and the most important thing you can have when speaking is your enthusiasm for your topic. But having enthusiasm isn't enough. You have to be enthusiastic, and you have to be able to share your enthusiasm with others. But the biggest inhibitor to sharing enthusiasm is self-consciousness.

Therein, I believe, lays the great secret to effective public speaking.

Public speaking is a giving act. You are giving of yourself - your insights, your experience, your enthusiasm, your knowledge, your stories, your being. The effective speaker is fully tuned in to the people he or she is speaking to - fully conscious of their presence, their reaction, their needs - fully other-conscious. This leaves no room for self. No room for self-consciousness.

Next post, I'd like to explore this idea of being fully "other-conscious" a little more deeply. In the meantime, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about how being "self-conscious" can inhibit a speaker's effectiveness.
 
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How to Handle Your Project Management Mistakes

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My mother used to have a Charlie Brown pin that said, "I've never made a mistake in my life. I thought I did once, but I was wrong."



I'm not as oblivious to my mistakes. In fact, I have made quite a few, both personally and professionally. In some cases, my gut told me I was making a mistake, but I went ahead anyway. Other times, I forged ahead confidently, only to be jarred by the sudden reality that I'd done something wrong.  



This happened recently at work. I got called into the proverbial "principal, or headmaster's office" and learned something I'd done caused trouble at a sister company. Not intending to make waves, I had started a tsunami.    



If you're a new project manager, it shouldn't be a surprise that you may make some mistakes. What do you do when you are called in to discuss your fallibility on the job?   



I sat and listened to the grievance presented to me -- staying calm is always the best approach. I absorbed everything my organizational leader shared with me. The first thing I said was, "I'm sorry." I briefly explained my side of the story without fanfare or drama. If you can explain yourself with brevity, do. Rambling probably won't work in your favor.

I made it clear that I understood the other side of the story and guaranteed that I would be extra diligent in the future to avoid such mistakes. I wasn't defensive. I wasn't full of ego. I recognized my part in the issue and accepted the blame, as hard as it was.
 

My organizational leader was professional, but she also expressed her dissatisfaction and disappointment in my behavior. This was the hardest thing to hear. The importance of being able to receive harsh criticism is not touted enough. The ability to hear -- and accept -- when someone else points out that you failed goes a long way in helping you establish a fruitful project management career.

Afterward, my organizational leader followed up by saying she trusted that I had learned my lesson and would make better decisions going forward. She appreciated hearing my side because she now had full context of the incident.  



Before leaving, I asked if there was anything else I could do. In my case, the answer was no, but if there are action items for you, be diligent about accomplishing them in a timely manner. Give feedback to your organizational leader about your progress.   
 


Making a mistake as a professional is embarrassing, but most times, your career will go on. Deal with the mistake professionally and with integrity for a chance to be even better at what you do.  

Project Management Career Paths in IT Services Organizations

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Project management plays a vital role to successfully deliver IT services to customers. Each IT service -- from strategy and consulting to platform migration -- has its own life cycle and project managers must be aware of the different phases, tasks and deliverables. This means IT services organizations must be dedicated to build qualified and competent project managers.

Career paths in project management help build the competencies in project management in an evolutionary manner. Career paths also provide a clear road map for the growth of the employees in the profession.

Those IT organizations that invest on designing the project management career path and relevant skills of the employees deliver excellent business value to customers.

In my opinion, there are nine "levels" of careers in IT services organizations. Titles depend on the organization, but in my experience, these are the levels:

Level 1: Entry-level employees with either a technical education background or a functional background may have titles such as software engineer or functional analyst.

Level 2: Employees at this level participate in requirements or business process analysis, high-level design, and technical specifications.

Level 3: This could be the team leader level. He or she might manage a team of three to four members and deliver part of project deliverables.

Level 4: This could be the project leader. He or she might manage a team of about 10 members and deliver small projects.

Level 5: This would be the project manager. He or she manages a team of 20 to 30 members and delivers multiple, medium-size projects or a large project.

Level 6: This is the senior project manager level. He or she manages a team of about 100 members and delivers multiple large projects.

Level 7: This is usually the program manager level, managing a team of about 200 people. He or she delivers complex program(s) for a single customer.

A delivery manager could also be at this level, managing a delivery unit with a team of 200 members. He or she delivers logically grouped projects based on technologies, customers, verticals or regions. For example, a delivery unit could consist of projects from different customers in the Middle East region.

Level 8: Usually the head of delivery, he or she delivers multiple complex IT programs or manages multiple delivery units.

Level 9: This is the chief delivery officer. He or she takes the responsibility of overall delivery of IT organization.

To move from one level to the next in the project management career path, it requires improving current competencies and learning new competencies.

To move up the career ladder, project managers should focus on the nine knowledge areas from A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).

They should also study The Standard for Program Management.

In addition, core competencies should include, but aren't limited to:

•    Project life-cycle management
•    Effort management
•    Software change management
•    Configuration management
•    Organization change management
•    Leadership skills
•    Multi-cultural team management
•    Global delivery model

Do you agree with these career levels? What skills should project managers focus on to move up the IT career ladder?

Editor's notePMI's Pathpro® is an online tool that organizations and practitioners can use to identify the skills and competencies needed to create a successful project management career path. 
 

Speaking about Your Project Management Career

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Every major turning point in my career within the last eight years -- everything that I would call progress -- can be traced back to one thing: public speaking.

Eight years ago, on the advice of a few colleagues and friends, I decided to take my project management stories and experiences to a broader audience and enter the world of public speaking. I hadn't anticipated how wonderful it would be to share stories and experiences with so many fine people. Nor could I have ever imagined the world of possibilities it would later open up to me.

Success in project management certainly depends on capability. But it also depends on exposure and on the image you convey. What better way is there for you to gain exposure and to project an image as a capable project manager than to stand before a group of colleagues and share your knowledge on the profession?

When asked about public speaking, people often say, "I wish I could do that."

I say, "Why can't you?"

Each one of us has a unique perspective and unique experiences. All that remains to be done is to tell the stories in a compelling way. That takes some work and some practice, but it is within reach of any professional. I'll address some ways you can be a great public speaker in my next post.

In the meantime, I'd like to know if you ever considered public speaking? Why or why not? How has it helped shape your career? What tips can you share?

Managing Your Personal Brand

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In a reply to my previous post about the advantages of an employee adopting the mindset of an independent consultant, commenter Conrad Harrison said:

In terms of going fully independent you have to go beyond the profession. Whilst people are seeking you out on the basis of profession, then anyone in the profession will do and can replace you. They have to be seeking you out: recognizing your uniqueness. That added value that only you can provide.

Your uniqueness, this differentiating characteristic, is perhaps the most important part of your professional reputation, your brand.

And you do have a brand. It might be good or it might be not so good. It might be very crisp or it might be fuzzy. It might be consistent or it might be ambiguous. It might be helping you or it might be hurting you. Whatever it is, your brand tells people what they should expect from you.

Here are a few considerations I view as most important in managing the "Jim De Piante" brand, along with tips for cultivating your own brand:

Little things matter. Every interaction with other people contributes to your brand. Often, it's a seemingly small thing, such as promptly returning a call, that can leave a lasting impression.

Quality matters. As in all things related to reputation, it can take a long time to build a good brand, but you can destroy it very quickly. People talk about you. They talk about your work. You want to be sure they're only saying positive things.

Consistency matters. When people think or talk about you, you want them to remember, think and say you can be counted on to do certain things a certain way.

Whether you're an employee or an independent consultant, the project you're working on is going to end. Then what? Who will seek you out and why?

I'd be interested to hear how you manage your personal brand.

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The Employee as an Independent Consultant

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This post was updated from its original version, published on 8 July 2011.

I've been employed by the same multinational corporation for the past 27 years. About 15 years ago, I decided that I didn't like feeling like an employee, and decided to adopt the mindset of an independent consultant. Strictly speaking, I was and am still an employee. What changed was my mindset.

I decided to think and behave like an independent consultant while continuing to be an employee of the same corporation.

It's a nice arrangement. I treat my employer as if they were a client, my main client. With a couple of notable exceptions, they've given me steady work.

Since I see myself as an independent project management consultant (even though I am really an employee), I have to think about marketing. If I don't keep the pipeline full, business could dry up. I make sure people know who I am, what my capabilities are and that I stand ready to help them.

I do a lot of business development. I help people "on my own time" so they'll know what I can do for them should they have a need.

I get to know who the decision makers are, who holds the budgets and who has influence.

I keep myself sharp. Sometimes, my client/employer pays for my training and pays me when I take training. Sometimes they cover any travel expenses to take the training. Or, I may take training on my own time and expense to increase skills and my value proposition as an independent consultant.

I interact with others in my profession apart from my client/employer. I belong to a professional organization (PMI) and volunteer with them as a speaker and writer.

When I begin a new project, I approach it as a consultant, looking not only at how I can satisfy the immediate need, but also looking at the potential for follow-on work.

When people I deal with are unpleasant or difficult to work with, I remind myself that they are my client, and will be paying me for my work. It helps keep things in perspective.

I do the occasional "side job" for other clients, but only to the extent that it doesn't result in a conflict of interest.

I don't think I would have the courage to make the career switch to truly be "independent." At least not yet.

I have the utmost respect for those who really are independent. I understand that I don't face the same risks they do, which is why I have such respect for them. I've learned a lot from them and hope to learn more.

But this works for me and seems to combine the best of both worlds. I have the satisfaction of doing work for people who seek me out as a professional, and doing so at a level of risk that I find tolerable.

What do you think? Do you think working as an employee and behaving like a consultant would work for you? Why or why not?

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Project Managers in the C-Suite

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I've seen some articles and heard some commentary lately that lament the fact that there doesn't seem to be a clear career path that leads from project management to the so-called C-suite, also known as the "executive suite."

Where I work, there is no direct path that leads from project management to the executive ranks. Occasionally, a person who has worked as a project manager becomes an executive, but it's certainly not the norm.

From my own point of view, this isn't a problem -- on the contrary. Had I wanted to be a "line" executive, I would have stayed in line management. I chose project management because I saw it as a means to manage the kind of work that I really enjoy most: the realization of ideas.

For me, career growth means managing projects that are more important, more valuable, more interesting or just more fun. Often, this can mean bigger teams and bigger budgets, but for me, that doesn't necessarily translate into bigger thrills. Career growth does not mean at all that I need to become an executive to feel fulfilled.

I see project management and executive management as complementary, but very different, skills. To me, that means that the two fields will appeal to two very different kinds of people, depending on individual temperament.

Project management is very tactically focused. It's all about defining the job and getting it done. It seems reasonable to me that the kind of person who manages projects is also tactically focused, and temperamentally oriented toward the realization of ideas.

On the other hand, I see executive management as more strategically focused, more about defining a strategic vision and deciding which projects to undertake to realize that vision. It seems reasonable to me that the kind of person who becomes an executive is also strategically focused, and temperamentally oriented toward defining strategy and how to achieve it.

What do you think?

Are project managers under-represented in the executive ranks? If this is true, do you see this as a problem, generally speaking? Personally speaking?

Do you have aspirations to become an executive? If so, do you see being a project manager as an obstacle to those aspirations?

Do you believe that project managers are temperamentally different than line managers? Why or why not?

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Reinventing the Project Management Career

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In my previous post, I said, "I can't be sure but I have a feeling that the nature of the project management game is changing." I'm becoming more certain of that all the time -- especially in terms of what that means for my career.

Recall that I articulated three trends that "give me pause:"

• Project management jobs are following other IT jobs to emerging markets
• Agile is gaining in popularity as a way to approach IT projects
• The way the global economy functions is said to be changing

Each of these injects a fair amount of uncertainty into my career plans.

In a project context, uncertainty is interesting in that it has the potential to positively or negatively affect project objectives. The same is true of career objectives, which makes those three trends very interesting to me.

So what are my career objectives? Simple:

1. Continue to manage projects
2. Have enough variety in those projects to keep things interesting

To what extent might the aforementioned trends affect those objectives? It depends on the timeframe. Thinking about the state of the profession over the next four or five years, two questions come to mind:

• Within that time, what is the likelihood that one or more of the three trends I outline will have an impact (positive or negative) on my two career objectives?

• What might that impact be?

You tell me.

What are your overall goals for the next five years, and how will the shifts we see in project management affect those goals?

Project Management Is Shifting Dramatically. What's Next?

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I have a feeling the nature of project management -- which has sustained my career for more than 20 years -- is changing radically.

Two tectonic shifts in the business world made project management an obvious career choice for me back in the late 1980s:

1. Just as I was about to enter middle management, 25 percent of such jobs were eliminated from the economy.

2. Around that same time, organizations began to reorient their thinking and started to define and organize themselves as project-based businesses.

Explicitly in response to these two phenomena, I consciously made the decision to leave line management and enter project management. The writing on the wall is certainly clear in retrospect. And honestly, it was pretty clear at the time as well.

Now, I see three things happening that give me pause. They're clearly things I need to react to, but unlike last time, I don't know how.

1. Lower-level IT jobs continue to go to emerging markets. As the people who took these jobs 10 years ago mature in their roles, more of them are becoming project managers. They're close to their teams and to the work -- even if the sponsors are elsewhere.

2. The way project work gets done, particularly in the IT industry, seems to be undergoing an important shift. I really don't know what's underneath it, but I do know that PMI has embraced Agile development, even offering an Agile certification. Is this the direction in which IT is headed?

3. As we emerge from the economic crisis, every indication is that the way the global economy will function in the future will be very different. We keep hearing of a "new normal."

To me, these three things spell change, and it seems to me I ought to be making some changes as well, but I'm not sure what they are yet.

I'd be interested to hear and learn from you. What are your observations? What are your plans?

Editor's note: In Project Management Circa 2025, published in 2009, editors David I. Cleland, PhD, PMI Fellow, Bopaya Bidanda, PhD, and 39 experts from around the world share their insights on the future of the project management profession.

Mutual Trust: Achieving Success With Your Sponsor

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Projects can be very complex -- a bit of a jumble of various considerations. As Wendy Mason's comment on my last post suggested, reducing project success to achieving scope, schedule and budget objectives is overly simplistic.

Success on a project has to be measured in many dimensions and according to changing circumstances. As Sergio Flores commented, there is risk inherent in every project. There are things beyond the control of the project manager and in some cases project managers simply make mistakes.

When a project manager takes on a project, he or she enters into a partnership with the sponsor. The sponsor depends on the project manager's ability to bring the project to fruition, and the project manager depends on the soundness of the sponsor's ideas. They share in each other's potential success and each must be willing to face the risk of failure.

It's human nature to inherently push ourselves beyond our limits. The willingness of a sponsor and project manager to enter into a partnership knowing that there are risks is a testimony to this spirit.

I believe that the very possibility of failure makes success all the more exhilarating. And because we're social creatures, I believe the possibility of mutual failure makes mutual success all the more exhilarating.

Is it a disservice to the sponsor for a project manager to enter into a partnership when there is a distinct possibility of failure? I think not. In fact, I think it would be a grave disservice to decline to do so for fear of failure.

At a personal level, I rather like the idea of my sponsor and I betting on each other to succeed. We could lose, sure. But the fact that we could lose, together, makes the possibility of winning together all the more compelling.

What do you think about mutual success and failure with your sponsor?

Should Failure Be Part of Your Career Plan?

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Failure is a hard word.

But we really can't know our limits if we don't sometimes test them.

So how do we reconcile the fact that we may "fail" sometimes and still be successful practitioners?

I can't say that every project I've ever managed has been a complete success. Not all of them have been delivered to full scope, on time and within budget. Nevertheless, I'm happy with my career and believe I'm a successful project manager.

Clearly, there's more to career success than simply stringing together a run of successful projects.  I don't know anyone who has done so. (And if I did, I would wonder if they might consider taking on a more challenging project next time.)

There's a component of success that has to do with achievement and pushing ourselves beyond personal limitations. Not everyone is so forgiving of our project failures, but we must see the failures in the context of personal growth and our overall career.

Career success is in the eye of the beholder.

Whether or not we consider ourselves successful has to do in part with how we react when our projects fall short of complete success.

 If we emerge from project failure smarter, wiser, stronger, better -- or just humbler from the experience -- we are prepared to achieve a greater level of success.

It's scary, but I think in the end we will judge ourselves more harshly if we don't explore and extend our limits than if we stay comfortably within them.

Net: Fail to succeed.

What do you think? Can failure eventually lend itself to career success?

Project Planning for Career Success

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In my December 21 post, I suggested that to have successful careers as project managers, we must manage projects effectively. And that depends on solid planning.

Imagine two project teams, Team A and Team B. They take on exactly the same work. Team A does a poor and hasty job of planning, and the project manager commits to complete the work in 12 months, at a cost of US$1 million. Team B does a more careful job of planning, and the project manager commits to complete exactly the same work in 14 months, at a cost of US$1.2 million.

Teams A and B deliver precisely the same result, at the same cost, in the same amount of time. Total project duration: 13 months. Total project cost: US$1.1 million.

But consider how they're evaluated:

"Project Team A Exceeds Budget by $100,000, Delivered Late. Project Manager is Fired."

"Project Team B Delivered Early and Under Budget. Celebration in Honor of Project Manager."


The essential difference between a well-managed project and a poorly managed one is, in my estimation, entirely in the planning. Planning is about the creation of expectations. In this case, expectations were created and then either fulfilled or not, with all other factors being equal.

What do you think: Does successful project planning create a successful project management career?

How Do You Define a Successful Project Management Career?

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The criteria for what constitutes a successful project are pretty clear: full scope delivered on time and within budget.

Consider how a "failed" project is characterized: Press reports of conspicuous project failures declare "the project was several years late." Or, "the project overspent by so many millions of dollars."

But what does it mean to say that a project was late? Late with respect to what, some arbitrary date by which all such projects are supposed to be completed?

And what does it mean to say that a project overspent? Overspent with respect to what? Some arbitrary amount that all such projects are supposed to spend?

The fact is that both of these values -- project completion dates and the budget -- are not arbitrary in the least. These values are determined by the same person who is responsible to not exceed them: the project manager.

Let's look at that. The project manager determines the project completion date and the budget. The project manager then manages the project so as to not exceed those values.

Why, then, should a project ever be late or over budget? Think about it. We have it made! We get to say when and how much -- we simply have to meet those commitments. Our destiny is in our own hands. How can we fail?

And yet ... we fail.

I can hear the rebuttal now: "The schedule and budget were imposed by management, or the client or the sponsor." No they were not. You were given "targets." If you accept those "targets" as your budget and schedule commitments, you are setting yourself up for failure.

As the project manager, you are responsible for determining the schedule and the budget. If you cannot bring them both in line with targets, the sooner you say so, the better.

Success also means not failing. Quickly killing a project that will never meet targets is a good way to avoid failure. Alternatively, you can negotiate changes in targets for scope, schedule and budget so that it's possible to succeed.

Regardless of your personal criteria for a successful career, success as a project manager implies success in managing projects -- and that means meeting commitments that you make.

How do you define a successful project management career?

Beyond Superficial Networking

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In a previous post, I wrote about sincere questions as the most powerful tool for learning about a person. Oftentimes, we stop asking questions too soon. After a few superficial inquiries, we don't start seeing the affinities, so we don't dig deeper. This is exactly the wrong thing to do.

Think in terms of layers. The most superficial questions are in the first layer: Where are you from? Where do you work? Where do you live?
 
First-layer questions aren't usually enough to help you find the leads to uncover a real likeness. It's the follow-up questions that allow you to penetrate the next layer. I've found that if you can "mine" a line of questioning down about six layers deep, you will surely strike gold.

If you ask someone where they're from, for example, and they say, "Little Rock, Arkansas, USA," you might think, "I have never been there, so we have nothing in common." You might then move on to another superficial question or end the conversation completely.

Or, you could reply, "Isn't former U.S. president Bill Clinton from Little Rock?" This might induce a response like, "Actually, he moved there after he became attorney general, but I recently saw him speak at the PMI® Global Congress." Ah ha! You've struck gold. Now you can ask more questions. "You were at the PMI congress? So was I. What did you think of former President Clinton as a speaker? Did you see any other presentations you liked?"
 
By eliciting the simple fact that this person had been at congress, you opened up many more possibilities for deeper questioning. Any of these could be a potential source of further questions.

Try it. With practice, you'll start to notice a spectacular phenomenon. You will become quite skilled at sensing where the "gold" lies. And you'll begin to discover you have affinities with practically everybody.

Does Work-Life Balance Really Exist?

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I spent a good part of a recent weekend doing a final edit of an upcoming project management book. Ironically, one chapter referenced a 2004 Fast Company article called "Balance is Bunk!" ('Bunk' being a slang term that basically means 'absurd.')

There I was, giving up my well-earned leisure time on a beautiful fall day, but wanting and needing to get the job done. So I went to the article, which states:

"The truth is, balance is bunk. ... The quest for balance between work and life, as we've come to think of it, isn't just a losing proposition; it's a hurtful, destructive one."


Now we're really getting to the core of the dilemma, I thought to myself. The author then quotes John Wood, who at the time the article was written, had been working seven days a week, 365 days a year. In regard to the elusive, so-called state of "balance," Mr. Wood said:
 
"I don't look at balance as an ideal. What I look at is, Am I happy? If the answer is yes, then everything else is inconsequential."
 
That made a lot of sense, I thought. I love and am passionate about what I do. I want to get this book published and out the door -- but what's on the other side of this supposedly unachievable quest for balance?
 
Rodney Turner, PhD, recently made a presentation entitled  "Work-Life Balance in Project-Oriented Organizations." A preview states:
 
"Companies should treat their employees with respect and allow them to have a work-life balance. It is good for their physical and psychological health and therefore good for social sustainability. ... The need for profit and responding to client demands often takes precedence over employee wellbeing."
 
Hmmm.

So is work-life balance bunk? I think the answer is both yes and no.
 
Sometimes when a project grabs us or is imposed on us, we have to say, "I surrender" -- either out of passion, guilt or intense pressure. I chose to give the book I was editing my all -- even when a "balanced" work-life scenario would have had me walking in the woods on that beautiful day. But I know it was worth it, and I know other beautiful days will come. I need to make sure I take advantage of them -- at least once in a while.

What do you think about the work-life balance challenge?

I Wish I Had

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It's embarrassing how easily we slip back into former (bad) habits and how quickly we lose sight of our firmest resolutions. Perhaps if I go public once again with my resolutions, I can shame myself into adhering to them a little more faithfully.

Last March, I blogged about career success and mentioned some resolutions I had made after I had been laid off more than a year previously. I revealed having written a page of resolutions called, "I Wish I Had." Many people asked for a copy, so here it is, along with my renewed commitment to all it says.

I Wish I Had

I worked for my employer for exactly 24 years and 5 months when I was told that I was being laid off.   

My departure date was originally set for February 26. This was extended until June 30.
 
On June 30, I left as planned, signing the papers at 5:30 pm. At 8:30 pm, a different division obtained the final approvals they needed to offer me a job. They made the offer the following morning. I accepted.
  
From the time I was notified until the time when I actually departed, I had time to reflect. Often I thought,  "I wish I had done some things differently." 
 
Well, now I have that opportunity. I've decided to put those things in writing and I have resolved to do them, now that I have been given another chance.  
 
Therefore, I resolve to (more or less in order of priority): 
 
1.  Schedule time for my wife and kids as a first priority, not something I do when I get a free moment.
 
2.  Take better care of my health and fitness as a first priority.
 
3.  Take greater advantage of employment benefits.
 
4.  Create greater separation between work and personal life. 

  • Work more regular hours  
  • Protect meal times with the family  
  • Focus better so that I can do what I need to within reasonable hours
  • Keep work and personal stuff completely separate on my computers 

5.  Go to my employer's local facility more regularly to keep up with colleagues here.
 
6.  Back up my data frequently.
 
7.  Be better prepared to leave if this ever happens again
 
  • Cultivate my non-work network more carefully, especially in the Charlotte area.    
  • Have a very crisp resume that is always current. 
  • Keep my contacts lists (work-related and personal) current and complete. 

8.  Be more selective in what activities I agree to do outside of work.
 
9.  Be more selective in what extracurricular assignments I take on at work.
 
10.  Be more proactive in finding "my next job."
 
11.  Have some real mentors who take a genuine interest in my career.
 
12.  Have mentors outside of work.
  
13.  Care a lot about work, but not too much.
 
14.  Be very proactive in my employer's career development process.
 
15.  Blog. 

Sell Yourself

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As circumstances change, career expectations change. In boom times, you think about self-fulfillment. In lean times, you think about survival.

In either case, your best strategy is to create demand for your skills as a project manager. You have to make potential stakeholders aware of who you are and what you can do to help make their projects a success. It makes no difference if you're in a corporate culture or working independently. The very nature of the project business is such that even before you start a project, you know that it will end. Staying alive as a project manager means being known to the people who can keep you alive.

As a result, you're constantly selling yourself and your ability to help people with their projects. You can't help them if they don't know you, so you have to take steps to make yourself known. It's not enough for people just to know you, however; they also have to like you. Common sense says people buy from people they like. You're selling. They're buying.
 
You have to network in such a way as to not only be known by others, but also to be liked by them. And one of the best ways to win people over is to ask them sincere questions. Not only does it endear you to people, but it also helps you discover their needs and what you can do to help their projects succeed.

The Project Manager as Intel Processor

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The Intel Core i7-980X Extreme Edition processor is one heck of a piece of technology. It has six physical cores. Its base clock speed is 3.33 GHz. It supports three channels of DDR3-1066 memory and has 12 threads for your application to work with. It also has 12MB of L3 cache shared across all six cores.

I'm not sure I understand all of that but here's something I understand perfectly: To become the proud owner of one of these will set me back US$999. I also understand perfectly that if I were to drop US$999 for one, I will have wasted my money.

That processor, out of the box, is utterly useless.

Unwrap it and set it on your desk. There it will sit. It will accomplish nothing. In practice, it will be completely indistinguishable from a stone of roughly the same proportions.

Let's look at what it will take to get our US$999 worth out of this little jewel.

First, it needs to be directly connected to a source of power, something that will bring it to life and keep it alive. It also needs to be connected to and communicate with memory and storage, with a keyboard, a mouse, a display, speakers and a printer. It requires software, too, of course.

And even then, it can't really do anything. The real power of that processor can only fully be realized when the computer it runs in is connected to a network of computers.

Power. Contacts. Connections. Input. Output. Software. Communications. A network.

You, the project manager, are that processor.

As necessary and valuable as your technical and project management skills may be, they're not enough to ensure project or career success. It's impossible for you or the stakeholders on your projects and in your career to realize the value you bring unless you are well and fully connected, playing a central role in your stakeholder networks.

We increase the value we bring to our stakeholders by increasing the number and quality of our contacts, by developing strong connections, by creating input/output channels and cultivating communication skills, and by being connected to sources of power and influence. To the extent that we can increase our own value proposition, we can make ourselves more valuable to our stakeholders and in the marketplace.

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.

Hey Boss: The Conclusion

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The more than 40 comments on my last post Hey Boss, What About Work-Life Balance? provide an interesting mix of views. Here are my thoughts on how to work effectively and build a relationship with someone like "Sebastian." This input comes from a position of advantage since I knew the real person.

The first key to building any effective relationship is to avoid stereotyping. Sebastian was a very effective, upwardly mobile manager with a focus on being promoted to the main board. Interestingly, most people liked him as well as respected him. It's just that he had a different life focus, which is not uncommon in successful senior executives.

The second key is to recognize that in every relationship there is a power dimension. How a manager like Sebastian would use his power is to an extent a generational issue. Many younger managers would see nothing wrong in you setting reasonable boundaries and procedures, as long as they understand their purpose. Managers with more experience are used to operating in a command and control environment are likely to react negatively to a "junior" pushing rules upwards.

The third key is mutuality. Team members need to understand what he or she needs from the relationship (support, resources, backing) but also what Sebastian needs from the relationship. Then, work to negotiate mutually beneficial outcomes that meet both sets of requirements.

For the team member discussed in the post, the requirement was time-related; Sebastian's requirements were not defined in the original post. However, by defining what's important to Sebastian, then linking your requirements to the achievement of his requirements, you can start to achieve real communication inside an effective relationship.

Finally if you wish to be taken seriously, you need to develop a reputation for credibility. Senior management needs to recognize that if you say something, it is backed up by facts, and if you commit to something, it is delivered. Credibility is earned by performance, but there is no harm in quietly making sure your performance is noticed in the right places.

In the end, relationships all depend on the situation. But mutuality and credibility are the two keys to advising upwards. If you are seen as a serious contributor to the organization's success and can link your needs to the needs of senior management, there's a high probability of achieving your desired outcome and benefiting the organization at the same time.

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?

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.

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.

Breaking Your Commitments

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In my previous post, I talked about work commitments. Sometimes success in project delivery requires breaking those commitments if they are not in line with your goals. If you need to break a commitment, I recommend the following steps:

1.    Identify a commitment you have made that is not benefiting the project.

2.    Consult with the project manager and/or supervisor whether this activity can be removed from your list.

3.    Identify someone suitable to deal with this task. Seek advice from your manager when in doubt.

4.    Once you've secured management authorization, transfer the details of your commitment to that person.

5.    Advise the person to whom you originally made the commitment that the task has been reassigned to another person, and explain the reason for this action.

Depending on your role and authority, you may be able to deal directly with the person to whom you made the commitment, and you can resolve the conflict without involving other parties.

There's no magic formula for undoing what's done. But by breaking such commitments in this professional manner, you are renegotiating the terms of your commitments and earning trust and credibility. 

Veering From the Typical Career Path

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I recently watched a Hindi movie called 3 Idiots. The moral was to follow your passion--which got me thinking...

In the software industry I've seen examples of technical leads who were promoted to project manager based on the assumption that they'll perform just as well in that role.

But in several of these cases the technical lead has failed in the new position. That's because project management is not about resolving technical issues. It has other parts: resource management, cost management, expectation management, etc.

Companies shouldn't automatically follow the standard growth path for each role, whether it's for a software engineer, senior software engineer, technical lead or project manager. Rather, the path should be decided based upon an individual's capability and interests. A technical lead may be interested in business analyst work or quality-assurance activities instead of the project management role.

Also, as individuals we should have the opportunity to follow our passion and not feel tied to a typical career path.

What do you suggest?

Stop Being So Humble!

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I had the honor of presenting on the power of acknowledgement at PMI Global Congress 2009--North America in Orlando, Florida, USA last week. Whether it was a long presentation or a booth demo, people told me they were inspired into action.

I got into a deep conversation on acknowledgement with Efrain Pacheco, a senior project manager at the U.S. Department of Justice and assistant vice president of the Chapter-to-Chapter Outreach Program for the PMI Washington, D.C. chapter.

Efrain shared something poignant. He told me he's humble by nature and this is the way he was brought up in Ecuador. And as a result, he has difficulty accepting acknowledgements.

At the Executive Office for Immigration Review where he worked as project manager for the information systems and IT support, for example, Efrain was given an award for turning around project.

It was given to him in from of his whole office. So he smiled, but he told me he couldn't say anything or even let himself feel anything because he felt so strongly that his entire team should have received the award.

Efrain's story brings up two important issues: the need to accept acknowledgments with grace and appreciation, and the positive value of wanting to share the glory with one's team members. I am going to focus on the first now and address the other in a future post.

Here's the deal, folks. When we don't accept an acknowledgment graciously, it's as if that person gave you a gift, and you said, "No thanks. I don't want or need that. I don't even like it."


That's what an acknowledger is left with when the acknowledgee says, "Oh, it was nothing" or "It was no big deal." Or as in Efrain's case, when he just smiled but didn't express his appreciation and allow himself to feel the joy that comes naturally with being acknowledged. He just couldn't let it in. Instead, he kept a wall around himself.


When I told him he was rejecting a gift, he was shocked. He had never thought of it that way. He is now committed to working on accepting the precious gifts of acknowledgment.

Remember, someone who acknowledges another in a heartfelt and authentic way is making himself or herself vulnerable. They are trusting that the person will fully receive their gift.

Don't disappoint them.

Harold Kerzner: Project Managers Must Understand Business

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Project managers are in for some big changes. Coming in on schedule and within budget is all well and good--but it's not enough.

That's been the running mantra for a while now, but it seems to be gaining even more traction as Harold Kerzner, PhD, explained in the first-ever closing session at a PMI global congress in North America.

"Time and cost used to drive all decisions," said Dr. Kerzner, senior executive director, project management at the International Institute for Learning Inc. "Now we're saying, 'Wait a minute, are we providing value?'"

Without that, the project will be axed.

"If management doesn't see how a project will deliver a value, that project will be canceled even if it's meeting time and budget constraints," he said.

Not all constraints have equal value, Dr. Kerzner said.

That's quite a mind shift for project managers--and it's going to take a whole new skill set.

Indeed, Dr. Kerzner boldly predicted earned value management will be "obsolete very shortly," upstaged by value measurement methodologies that consider intangibles such as goodwill or reputation.

And while a mastery of technical knowledge use to suffice, that's now considered "old school."

"Project managers must understand business," he told the crowd.

They will also need an understanding of politics, culture/religion, stakeholders and people. And Dr. Kerzner predicted a new wave of certifications in complex projects, virtual teams, cultural differences and morality and ethics.

Project managers who go in armed with those skills will find a receptive audience in the executive crowd.

"The biggest change in the last several years has been in senior management support of project management," he said. "Senior management no longer views project management as a career path. It is now viewed as a strategic competence necessary for survival of the company."

Do you agree with Dr. Kerzner? Are you seeing increased demand for business understanding--or should project managers stick to what they do best?

The Double Paycheck

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Organizations always seem to be looking for ways to keep major talent engaged and loyal. Simple as it sounds, they need look no further than making sure that they have created a culture of appreciation.

I have heard acknowledgments referred to as "the double paycheck," which I think is very fitting. Even people who earn less than they feel they should,  will dig in and engage fully if that other "paycheck" comes regularly.

After a presentation I made to the PMI Information Systems Specific Interest Group last year at its Professional Development Day, a woman came up to me and told me that she had just left a high-paying, senior-level job, with no other job lined up.

She left it, she said, because she hadn't realized that her former job at Booz Allen Hamilton was really a dream job. Although it probably wasn't the best job in the world, there was a culture of appreciation at that company that made it a pleasure to come to work each day.

"I am going back there," she said emphatically. "Even if the job pays less and the level is lower, I don't care. I didn't realize what a difference the atmosphere of a company makes. At the job [after Booz Allen Hamilton], I didn't know my worth or my value and I didn't feel appreciated for anything that I did. I'm going back to Booz Allen Hamilton, no matter what."

I later discussed this example with a Booz Allen Hamilton partner. "Oh," she laughed. "We call those the 'come-back kids' and we welcome them back once they realize what they were missing."

And yes, it is a part of the company's philosophy and its mission to have a culture of appreciation. They most certainly seem to be doing something right.

So what is that double paycheck worth? Everything!

Visualize Your Success

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Many years ago, I recall being in an interview where the recruiter asked me if I knew what visualization was. I didn't. She explained to me that it's all about forming a mental picture of something you want to achieve as if you've already achieved it.

For instance, imagine a standing ovation for excellent project performance or a big increase in pay or a promotion.

It makes the future seem clearer and it tells your brain that you can do it, you can achieve it--because you've seen yourself do it successfully before.

So how does it work? Simply do the following:

1.    Choose an object and really focus on it. Then close your eyes and in your mind, tell yourself what you just saw--the colors, shapes, details. Open your eyes and confirm.

2.    Close your eyes again and see yourself performing activities tomorrow, simply replaying in your mind what you know you will be doing tomorrow.

3.    Identify one thing that you want to achieve. Let's say you have a meeting to present a project status report to the stakeholder community and you want to ace it. Close your eyes and visualize yourself standing in front of all the people attending your meeting, confident of the material and how you presented it. See yourself reporting with confidence, referring to documentation on slides or handouts, seeing everyone around understanding what you are presenting and being pleased with your results.

4.    Do that a few times until you know exactly what you need to do to obtain that success. I would go as far as spending 20-30 minutes a day to do this exercise.

Your mind will become conditioned to visualize the future the way you want to see it and, sometimes intuitively, that will lead you toward the envisioned success.

So my question is: What do you want to achieve now?

The Search Is On

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For project managers out of work or just looking to change gigs, the recession and job cutbacks have made the competition tough. John Thorpe, managing director of Arras People, a project management recruiting firm in London, England, offers some tips for landing your dream job.

1. Focus on you, not your projects. Many people make the mistake of ticking off all their successful projects rather than talking about how they contributed to that success. "People are interested in what you did," he says. "You could have been serving coffee on that project. But if you made the difference in a project's outcome, be loud and proud about it."

2. Experience trumps training. Hiring managers are most interested in a proven track record. Mr. Thorpe suggests you put project experience front and center.

3. Market yourself. Your résumé is your sales literature and you have to sell your experience and education in a way that speaks to the person doing the hiring. "A generic CV is not going give you the best chance, particularly in this economy when hiring is tighter and roles are much more specific," Mr. Thorpe says. He suggests tweaking your résumé for each job, emphasizing your experience in a way that specifically relates to the position you are applying for.

4. Keep it short and sweet. Recruiters have hundreds of résumés to sort through. If yours is 17 pages long, they're likely to pass it by. "You have to grab their attention in the first half of the page or you are not going to make the cut," he says.

5. Consider contract work. Many companies are opting for temporary employees to fill gaps in staff without making a long-term commitment. For those with the right skills, contract gigs can garner decent wages and help you get your foot in the door.

6. Go to networking events. A lot of jobs never even get advertised, so it pays to network. It's a time-consuming but necessary part of the search, he says. "Finding a job is a job. You need to work hard at it and commit yourself full time."

Want to know where the hotspots are even in a down market? We've got it covered PMI's Career Track in the May issue of PM Network. We will also have stories on making time for training and moving up the career ladder.

And in the 10 April issue of Community Post, PMI members can check out an article on how to highlight your credential when you are jobhunting.

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