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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.

Cultural Lessons from a Controversial Comedian

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Recently, I re-watched Borat during a long holiday weekend. Though it's a comedy, I think there are important lessons to be learned from its essence, which is an exploration of behavior: how a foreigner's actions — the norm in his or her culture — may seem offensive to another country's native population. In the film, Borat, a fictional journalist from Kazakhstan, travels to the U.S. and makes interviewees uncomfortable with his behavior. You may have had a similar experience when you started working in a multicultural project environment.


The film showed several examples of issues project managers may have experienced in such an environment. From those, I have noticed the following two cause the most discomfort among project team members:

Proxemics

U.S. anthropologist Edward T. Hall invented this term to refer to our personal space. Depending on an individual's culture, the amount of acceptable space around a person varies according to subtle rules. 


In the film, Borat gives a great demonstration of invasion of personal space. He starts greeting New Yorkers on the street with a handshake and a kiss on each cheek. Most of the people react adversely. Some even threaten him. 


Team members in a multicultural project environment may experience similar aversion, particularly during the forming stage. I remember during a kickoff meeting in Argentina with team members from Argentina, Uruguay and the U.S., the Argentine host introduced himself with a handshake and a kiss on the cheek. He started with the Uruguayans, who have a similar greeting. When the host got to the first U.S. team member, he stepped back, extended his arm as far as he could and said, "A handshake is OK for me." In situations like this, warn your team members beforehand that there might be cultural differences, and urge them to be upfront with their preferences while respecting others' norms.


Stereotyping

In my experience, stereotyping is the main source of conflicts in a multicultural project environment. In the film, Borat stops at a rodeo dressed as a cowboy to interview a rodeo owner. Because Borat has a large mustache, the owner assumes he's from the Middle East. The owner recommends Borat shave his mustache so he can look "more Italian," which may help him fit in better.


If not managed well, stereotyping may become a barrier and impact the project work. I recently witnessed this during a project that included implementations in Latin America. One of my European colleagues was very vocal about the stereotyped unpunctuality of Latin Americans, recommending strict controls be placed to avoid any schedule slip. I had a private discussion with him to find the source of his concern. It turned out that he had not had previous experience working with a Latin American team, and he was operating on a stereotype. I asked him to give the team members a chance to prove themselves before he set any controls. In the end, his perceptions were unfounded — the team members worked as expected and met schedule requirements without the need for controls.

As projects become more global, project managers need to understand cultural complexities that lie below surface behaviors. I would advise using a holistic approach to find out more about people's cultural values and beliefs. 

Have you learned cultural lessons to apply on your project team from unconventional sources? 

Real Results From a Dinner Joke

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Who said managing projects would be a bed of roses? You have probably experienced the same hardships I have on a few projects, especially if you manage multicultural distributed teams.

Well, the global project I was leading was no exception. We had hit some bumps in the road, but finally found ourselves in an in-person project status meeting in a major city in the United States where the organization was headquartered. 

Brought together were distributed team members from the United States, Latin America and Germany. In the meeting, we all agreed we were in the same boat, but there were still many disagreements and moments of finger pointing. By the end of the day, with no positive outcome in sight, we were tired, frustrated and hungry. The last thing we wanted to do was to see each other that evening, but we still decided to have dinner together for lack of other plans. 

A large circular table held our party of 10. While we read the menus, the server asked us what we would like to drink, and that's when the magic started. 

The server said: "I hear different accents. Are you pilots?" To which I responded no, and then jokingly added: "We are Facebook friends from different parts of the world and decided to pick a place to have dinner and meet in person." My colleagues heard the joke and followed along. 

Then, the server asked us where we came from and about our interests. She became our group moderator. Every time she came to the table, she asked questions, which we answered according to our different cultures and life experiences.

We realized we shared many things in common -- and little by little, we became acquaintances on a personal level. This dinner that almost everyone was trying to avoid helped us connect. 

The next day at the office, even though we were facing the same project hardships, our attitudes had changed. We worked together to define an action plan to bring the project back on track. We also agreed to stay on site for the next two weeks to implement the plan. 

And during our free time, we kept bonding by participating in shared interests. For example, those who were runners ran together in the morning, while others who were auto-racing fans visited a go-kart track near our hotel. At night, the wine lovers taught us about vintages over dinner.

How do you foster bonds with distributed multicultural teams? What team-building exercise has yielded good results? 

Share your thoughts below along with your Twitter handle, and Voices on Project Management will publish the best response as a blog post.

Culture Shocked Into Action

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During my project management career, I have experienced many culture shocks. But the one that changed my life happened when I joined a global corporation in Mexico in the mid-1980s.

I was a recent graduate and had just finished my internship with this organization when I got a job offer. During immersion training, all the new hires visited the boardroom, lined with awards and honors that the Mexican branch had won in the past. Most impressive was the mahogany table, where many major deals went down. It was cared for like a museum piece.

After several months, I adjusted to the corporate world with the help of a great manager and mentor. Soon enough, prep work started for the quarterly review meeting, when executives visited our office from the company's U.S. headquarters. To my surprise, my manager included me in the prep team, which meant I would be a presenter.

When the big day came, I arrived at the boardroom a few minutes beforehand to ensure everything was in order for my first presentation to senior executives.

There, I found one of the visiting top executives -- with both feet up on the mahogany table. When the meeting began, we commenced introductions. The visiting executives threw their business cards across the table as a casino croupier would, while my Mexican colleagues and I handed our business cards to them. 

The meeting progressed, and when the time came for one of the visiting executives to present, he tossed a copy of a handout not only to me, but also to the general manager of the Mexican branch.

I was in total shock. I wondered, how could this be happening? They were high-level executives, and their lack of good manners -- by my standards -- took me by surprise. I also felt frustrated. This was not interaction I had hoped for with headquarter executives.

It took me some time to digest the experience. But by the next quarterly review, I was ready to take action. I tossed my business card at each of the U.S. executives during the introductions. Before my presentation, I slid handouts across the table at them but handed them to my Mexican colleagues. My actions raised a few eyebrows among the latter.

By the end of the meeting, the executive I saw with his feet up on the table months prior asked me to stay in the room. I expected to be reprimanded, or even fired. But he said: "Thanks, Conrado. Your actions during the meeting made me realize that business behaviors need to be adjusted according to location. What may be okay in my country may not be okay in yours. You taught me a great lesson. Employees like you make this a great company."

That was the "wow" moment that had an impact on the rest of my professional life. I'm not recommending such drastic actions, but I felt strongly enough about my experience to take the risk. The moral of my story: Culture shock does not have to be a negative or incapacitating. I used my experience as a source of motivation, introspection and change. 

It led me to a lifetime of researching organizational and national cultures and sharing my experiences of working with multicultural and multigenerational teams.

As a project manager, how have you recovered from culture shock and turned it an opportunity for professional growth? 

Share your thoughts below along with your Twitter handle, and Voices on Project Management will publish the best response as a blog post.

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.

Video Series: Women in Project Management, Part Four

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Voices on Project Management presents a six-part interview with Beth Partleton, PMP, PMI Board of Directors, on "Women in Project Management."

In week four of "Women in Project Management," Beth looks at how men and women communicate, particularly at how their different communication styles impact team dynamics and decision-making. She offers usable insights into understanding dissimilar communications styles and how they impact behaviors within project teams.

Video Series: Women in Project Management, Part Three

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Voices on Project Management presents a six-part interview with Beth Partleton, PMP, PMI Board of Directors, on "Women in Project Management."

In week one, Beth shared her road to project management and how she has seen project management evolve from a male-dominated profession to an excellent career opportunity for both men and women. 

In week two, Beth shared the role mentors can play in a project manager's career and what lessons she learned from them about effective team interaction.  

In week three, Beth addresses the opportunities and challenges for women to take on leadership roles in project management. For example, did you know research indicates that more successful companies have at least one woman on their board of directors? In your organization, have you noticed an increase in women in leadership roles?

Video Series: Women in Project Management, Part One

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Voices on Project Management presents a six-part interview with Beth Partleton, PMP, PMI Board of Directors, on "Women in Project Management."

Beth's background spans three decades of project, portfolio and risk management, particularly in the area of capital projects. She headed Miller Brewing Company's PMO and served as senior project manager and functional project manager of architecture and civil engineering. She has been a certified Project Management Professional (PMP)® since 1991.

Beth is a strong advocate for the value of the project management profession not only for organizations but also for practitioners. "Women in Project Management" provides her perspective on how women are closing the gap in traditionally male-dominated fields.  

In part one, Beth shares her road to project management; her thoughts on the misconception that project management is a male-dominated profession; and the strides organizations have made in including women on project management teams as well as some candid observations on what still needs to be done.

Fostering Cultural Awareness — Right from the Start

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Establishing a connection early on among team members is essential, but it can get complicated when they're from different parts of the world.



One of the elements I consider is what anthropologist Edward T. Hall describes as a person's cultural context level. Higher context cultures -- such as Italian, Latin American, Chinese and Indian -- place great value on interpersonal relationships. Lower context cultures -- such as U.S., British or German -- emphasize directness and logic. For example, non-verbal communication is more important in higher context cultures. In higher context cultures, the contract is a starting point for negotiation. In lower context cultures, the contract is the contract.

By understanding an individual's personal, national and organizational cultures, you can better align the team and gain greater influence.



I didn't just read up on this theory. I lived it. While leading a project in Brazil in 2001, some U.S. team members told me they were uncomfortable with how Latin American team members greeted them with hearty handshakes and kisses on the cheek.  



I knew I had to address the issue early on to set the tone for the rest of the project. So during our next meeting, I eased into the topic by showing clips of people greeting each other in movies or sitcoms, making sure none were from the United States or Latin America. Afterward, I asked team members how they would react if they were in a similar situation. This was a revealing moment as the team became aware of their cultural differences by "seeing" themselves in the video clips. This broke the ice and opened the floor for candid discussions. 



Since then, I've included cultural differences on the agenda for every first team meeting. I use that time as an open forum for us to share and record cultural experiences. I also create a repository with documents and video clips that can be later used to induct new team members.



I've shared this experience with peers, who agree that cultural awareness is a skill that should be developed and mastered. Incorporating a cultural differences exercise establishes respect and empathy for diverse values and behaviors, which in turn creates an open and accepting team environment.


How do you handle cultural differences of your team members at the start of each project? What are you doing to build cultural awareness?

A Project Management Wish List for 2013

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Another year for project managers has come and gone. And while this is the time for all the usual year-end activities (budgets, status reports, etc.), it's also a good opportunity to look toward the future.

To project managers around the world, I wish you health and prosperity. I also thought I would share a few other dreams I would like to see come true in the New Year:
1. Talking project plans. From GPS systems to smartphones, just about every device offers a verbal communications mode nowadays. The same technology should be applied to project plans. They could alert you to urgent issues: "Your resources are overloaded" or "You need to add more tasks." A talking project plan could even present an entire status report without you speaking a word. Think how much fun your meetings would be when the project plan says, "Just go home because your project will never make its projected end date."
 
2. Project issues that solve themselves. Project managers know that early detection of project issues is the key to staying on schedule and budget. We hold resolution meetings. We collaborate with leadership to craft brilliant solutions. Yet every so often, it would be great for issues to just solve themselves. For example, say your project is over budget. Then suddenly you get an e-mail from your project sponsor that grants extra funding due to your company's outstanding performance this year. A project manager can dream, right?

3. Resources ready, willing and able to jump into the action. We spend a considerable amount of time identifying resources and negotiating for their availability on a project. And still, we see our schedules fall apart when they're pulled away by other demands. Just once I'd like to have a project where everyone is fully dedicated, with no other distractions to threaten the schedule. It would make me very happy to hear a project team member turn down a meeting with the company president to work on my project.

4. No change requests. During the early phases of a project, we work to create the most accurate set of requirements possible. We consider it all — the many functional needs and the hidden complexities. After all that work, wouldn't it be nice if everything remained precisely the same throughout the life cycle of the project? Think of the time you could save by canceling those painful weekly change-request meetings.  

5. Give back all contingency funding in the project. We typically reserve contingency funding to guard against unforeseen events. Imagine the sheer joy of having no project risks that required budget or schedule relief. Just think of the satisfaction of telling your project leadership "We have no weather, people, software, hardware or network risks, so we are returning all contingency funds!"

What's your project management wish for 2013?

What's Missing?

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When a project manager or team member is unsure of what to do, it's often because there's something lacking. And in my experience, it's usually lacking in all or some of these key areas: knowledge, experience and the project's intended benefit.

In an IT project, for example, let's say you are in charge of the rollout of new computers and rearranging the workstations. You would need to be clear on the requirements first, and you would have to assess if the budget is sufficient for all the required resources and activities you will need to execute. It's your project management knowledge and experience that will aid you in completing the required tasks correctly.  

You may have had experiences where you felt that you were clear on the goals and direction of the project. But depending on where you got the information, and if you don't understand how a particular organization operates, you might be going in the wrong direction.

No matter how much project management knowledge or experience you have, if you don't have knowledge of or experience with the stakeholder or project owner, you will end up failing or negatively impacting the business.

While this might seem like common sense, my experience shows that many people are struggling and looking for creative and advanced solutions to something that is simple. They spend countless amounts of energy and time to figure out a complex solution rather than just looking at the obvious.

In reality, they are missing something in their knowledge, experience or understanding of the project goal or direction.

Use examples from your life to validate this for yourself. Look at an area where you are actually having trouble or an area that is not working as well as you'd like it to. Something is likely missing in your knowledge, experience or project comprehension whether you want to admit it or not.

Have you ever been unsure of what to do in a project? Was it because you were missing something in one of these key areas?

Are You an Assertive Project Manager?

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"People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care."

--John C. Maxwell

Have you ever heard your project manager say something like "I'm not here to make friends; I'm here to get things done"? This is known as extrovert management. 

On the other hand, some project managers manage more as an introvert. They are less aggressive and more passive in their approach. 

There is a range of assertiveness, which can be understood as a person's tendency to actively defend, pursue and speak out for his own interests.

Assertiveness is a key point for a leader's ability to achieve results, according to a 2006 study from researchers Daniel Ames and Francis Flynn. They found that our natural tendency to focus on negative information suggests that the costs of low or high levels of assertiveness may often outweigh the benefits in the eyes of observers. 

So what is the best approach to assertiveness in the context of project management? It depends on the project.  

Perhaps the bottom line is to develop our ability to cover a wider range of assertiveness and adjust our behavior to the context of the project. 

For instance, on short-term projects, being more assertive will give us the ability to achieve results. But on a large project, the best approach might be more moderated in assertiveness to build good relationships with our team, which allows us to collaborate productively in the long run. 

Which kind of project manager do you prefer? And which kind of project manager are you?

Why Getting Mad Can Benefit Your Projects

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"Get mad, then get over it." --Gen. Colin Powell, USA (Ret.)

Generally, people consider anger to be a negative emotion. But it doesn't have to be.

Let's review the positive side of anger:

Anger can benefit relationships.
Many of us are told to hide our anger, but doing so could be detrimental to your relationships.

For example, if you're angry because of a mistake that a project team member has made and you don't speak up, he won't know that he has done something wrong. He will probably keep doing it and enter into a vicious cycle.

On the other hand -- if justifiable and aimed at finding a solution --expressing dissatisfaction can strengthen relationships. Such honest communication can help solve problems among stakeholders and build cohesiveness into your team.

Anger can motivate.
Anger can prove to be a powerful motivation force, helping you "go the extra mile" and keep working despite problems or barriers.
 
For example, if you're criticized for your work, you may feel further motivated to do better because you are angry and want to prove that you can improve your level of performance.

In project management, if we are able to produce what is called  "positive anger" in our team, they will be more motivated to achieve results. But don't make a team member mad just for the sake of it. Find the right words to push them in the right direction.

Anger can indicate an optimistic personality.
Ironically, happy people have something in common with angry people. Both tend to be optimistic.

Take the study of risk management, for example. Dr. J.S. Lerner, professor of public policy and management at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, found that angry people expressed optimistic risk estimates. Estimates of angry people more closely resemble those of happy people than those of fearful people.
 
It's okay to get mad, but always behave professionally and treat people respectfully. Don't let wrong behavior undercut a right message.

At the end of the day, we're all human. We all have feelings, one of which is getting mad. Use positive anger when you can. Above all, be able to communicate when you're angry in a way that doesn't undercut your message.

Have you ever used anger in a positive way in your projects?

Read more from Jorge.

The Optimistic Team for Project Management Success

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"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." -- Winston Churchill

About 100 years ago, Ernest Shackleton was looking for a crew for a challenging project: to produce a map of the South Pole. It is said that he published an ad in the local newspaper looking for team members with creativity, a good sense of humor and technical skills.

Fast forward to the present day. Dr. Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States, is the founder of positive psychology, which focuses on the study of such things as positive emotions, strengths-based character and healthy institutions.

Dr. Seligman theorizes that in order to choose people for success in a challenging job, you need to search for aptitude, motivation and optimism.

This "explanatory style" theory, which indicates how people explain to themselves why they experience a particular event, can be applied to teams, too, according to Dr. Seligman. He based his hypothesis in three basic predictions:

If everything else remains unchanged, the individual with a more optimistic explanatory style will succeed. This happens because he or she will try harder, particularly under bad circumstances.

The same thing should hold true for teams. If a team can be classified by its level of optimism, the more optimistic team should achieve its goals, and this will be more evident under pressure.

If you can change the style of the team members from pessimistic to optimistic, they will achieve more, particularly under pressure.

The next time you need to pick a project team member, consider their optimism in addition to his or her technical competencies.

How do you choose your team members? What characteristics do you take into account when integrating members to your team?

Read more from Jorge.
Read more about teams.

6 Tips to Persuade Stakeholders to Say "Yes" to Your Project

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"Advertising is fundamentally persuasion, and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art." -- Bill Bernbach, founder of Doyle Dane Bernbach, an ad agency

Starting a project is not always easy. It requires resources and changes the status quo, so there can be a lot of obstacles until you hear "yes" to a project.  

That's why you need to know how to effectively persuade your stakeholders to get on board with your project.

Dr. Alan H. Monroe's motivated sequence pattern, created in the 1930s, is useful for doing so:

1. Attention: Capture your stakeholders' attention with an interesting opening statement, or share a statistic related to your project.

2. Need: Identify the need that your project will address and share it with your stakeholders. The more information you have about the business needs, the better the chance your project is approved.    

3. Satisfaction: Let stakeholders know how your project will satisfy the identified business needs. In detail, describe the approach you'll use in your project to address the needs.

4. Visualize: Explain the 'perfect world' that will exist after the project has finished. Make it as vivid as possible -- explain how it looks, sounds and smells. Be very energetic and enthusiastic when you explain.

5. Action: Tell them what you need them to do. Let them know specifically what steps you are taking to achieve the vision you've just shared.

The sixth element I would add is to tell a story to help you make your point. It could be real or it could be fictional, but remember that people are more likely persuaded when they hear or read a story that transports them. If a story is told well, we get swept up and are less likely to notice things that don't match up with our everyday experiences.

Use your creativity -- find your own way to mix all of these elements and you can build a powerful tool to persuade even the most demanding stakeholder.

How do you reach and influence your stakeholders as people, not just businesspersons?

See more posts from Jorge Valdés Garciatorres.

See more posts about stakeholder management.

Beyond Stakeholder Management

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My mentor in this field -- Julio Matus Nakamura, a project manager -- once told me, "In any organization, there aren't just processes, projects, strategies or tools. What really matters is people."

That lesson, learned long ago, taught me that no matter a person's position, he or she is a human being first. It's very important to build trust among human beings in order to believe in each other. When I realized that, I vowed to establish that type of relationship with my stakeholders -- to build that trust and try to create a more personal relationship with them.

In my opinion, in some cases it's more important to have a good relationship with the sponsor or customer than the results of the project.

I'm not suggesting you forget about your project's results or even the contract. Just that you should put the same emphasis in building a deeper relationship with your key stakeholders as you put in delivering good results and caring about contract issues.

Here are some simple tips that I have used for a while. I hope it may help you when building a relationship with your stakeholders:

1. Use basic manners: Always say hello, goodbye, thanks, please, well done, good job and I'm sorry. These are powerful little words that can make a big difference.

2. Show respect: Often when we are in a conversation with someone, we are not 100 percent in the conversation. You must be present. No excuses. When talking with someone, pay all of your attention to what the person is saying. Avoid thinking about your response when the other party talks; just listen carefully to what's being said.

3. Learn to read body language: We communicate more with our body than with our words. Learn to "listen" to the body of your counterpart and learn to speak with your body. For example, don't cross your arms during a conversation, as this can seem standoffish. Make eye contact during conversation and always face the person to whom you're talking.

4. Share something personal: Find affinities with your stakeholder wherever possible. This could be the university where you studied, the town where you grew up, vacations you've taken, books you've read, or your favorite team and sport. Make sure to find the appropriate moment to share these commonalities.

5. Break the ice: Read the environment around your stakeholder and discover his or her interests. At the first opportunity, bring those interests into the conversation.

What about you? What tools or techniques do you use to build trust with your stakeholders?


Distributed Agile Teams: Beyond the Tools

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Many of today's agile project teams are distributed around the globe. While simple implementations of agile processes assume co-location, in larger enterprises, this is rarely the case. Selecting tools to assist remote communication helps, but it's not enough.

Here are some human factors to consider, beyond the tools, to work successfully with a distributed team:

Cultural differences can become apparent when working with global talent. Some people are uneasy if some social small talk is omitted as part of doing business. Some are uncomfortable if we don't simply get to the point. This affects agile teams as they implement practices such as self-organization, pair programming, and retrospectives. Remember people's assumptions can vary.

Time-zone differences can be helpful by providing longer hours of coverage. But check with your teams on when they begin and end their workday. Different cultures have different laws and traditions on when to go home. Not all people have private transportation, and not all countries use daylight savings time.

Finding teams in compatible time zones can be an advantage with more hours of coverage, if the hours and needs are remembered. Partnering with teams that are north or south of each other makes this easier because the time difference is less extreme.

Communication differences among distributed teams also require forethought. Agile teams will notice a need for engaging and informative tools in their story grooming, estimating, planning and retrospective meetings.

Telephone calls can be awkward because there is no visual cue as to who is speaking and no person to look at. Also, sound varies for each person depending on if they are in the same conference room, on a speakerphone, using a headset or cell phone. Make it a point to include people on the phone if part of the group is face-to-face.

Video conferences or webcams might be a better option. Be aware of the background so it is not distracting. Also be aware of the lighting quality and direction -- illuminating an attendee's face is better than a dark silhouette.

Spatial user interfaces, which extend traditional graphical user Interfaces by using two or three-dimensional renderings, give people someone to look at and allow positional body language and gestures to convey nonverbal information. However, be sure to allow training time for participants so they can make the most of these environments before needing to concentrate on a meeting.

By using the right tool and having the right mindset, agile teams can work together across wide distances.

How do you work successfully with distributed teams?

Pancho Villa's Approach to Project Communication

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"It is my duty to inform you that Pancho Villa is everywhere, and nowhere at the same time."
Pancho Villa,1878 - 1923



Pancho Villa (1878-1923) was a revolutionary Mexican general and the subject of legends. In his time, Villa commanded the most powerful army in Latin America. Some considered him a bandit and cold-blooded killer. Others think of him as a true charismatic leader.

His leadership style provides lessons that we can apply to our work as project managers -- specifically, when it comes to project communication.

Historians says because of his fear, Villa would tell one member of his troop to "watch his back," and keep on an eye on suspicious behavior when he wasn't alert. Legend says that in this way, Villa braided the troops -- to keep them watching each other and "manage the risk" of being killed.  

I have adapted a similar approach to project management. Villa knew he couldn't supervise his troops all of the time. As we know, not everyone can be present for all meetings and working sessions during a project. Therefore, I often try to "braid" my team through a communication approach adapted from Villa's to keep information flowing.

This communication technique reduces communication channels by holding one team member to be responsible for sharing important aspects of the project's journey with one or two other team members. For every two people on the project team, there should be one person updating them. In my experience, I have found this kind of communication useful with small teams between 8 to 12 people.

This keeps everyone updated on the project because each team member has at least one person informing her about the project's progress and/or situations in face-to-face conversations. This allows me to avoid extensive email use. Even In some cases, fewer meetings are required and the meeting itself becomes more productive.

What do you think? What communication technique you are currently using? Do you like the idea of "braiding" your project team? Do you think the braiding technique could apply to other project management aspects?

Read more about project teams.
Read more from Jorge.

Successful Techniques to Lead Project Facilitated Workshops

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A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)--4th edition states in chapter 1.1, "Good practice means there is general agreement that the application of project management processes has been shown to enhance the chances of success over a wide range of projects ..."

"...Good practice does not mean that the knowledge, skills and processes described should always be applied uniformly on all projects. For any given project, the project manager, in collaboration with the project team, is always responsible for determining which processes are appropriate, and the appropriate degree of rigor for each process."

In my experience, these passages are the essence of project management. Think about it: not all processes must be applied to every single project. And the project manager, with his team, is responsible for selecting the applicable processes and the rigor with which they'll be used. Beautiful, isn't it?

Process uses techniques. One of the most important techniques that I've applied is the PM's role as a workshop facilitator. To successfully apply this technique, you have to develop your skills in this area.

A facilitator's success relies on his or her preparation for each session. This includes the opening statement, the icebreaker exercise and the group dynamics you will be using to build trust, among other things.

Remember, every facilitated session has two main elements: An underlying process to achieve desired results and the content.

When you facilitate, it's important to understand that you can only work with process -- not the content. Facilitators must detach from the content. If you want to provide an opinion on it, you have to make it clear to the audience that you are abandoning your role as facilitator, then give your objective opinion and then let the audience know when you're putting your facilitator hat back on.

Finally, trust in yourself and in your ability to execute. In the end, the truly magical thing is the discussion and sharing that takes places within all participants during the session. This will really help you and your team to gain confidence, identity, sense of membership and a common understanding that can only be achieved in this type of setting.

Have you had success in implementing any of these techniques? What tools and techniques have you used to facilitate effective workshop sessions?

See more posts from Jorge.

Project Manager as Meeting Facilitator

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A few weeks ago, I was about to start a facilitated workshop with a very good customer. A South African colleague of mine, Michelle Booysen from Pétanque Consultancy, a South African consulting services in the field of project and process management, was invited to the session. We were preparing to start work when I confessed I was terrified. "No matter what, whenever I'm facilitating a session I always get scared."

Michelle is a savvy consultant and has a great deal of experience managing projects and facilitating meetings. She told me: "What a relief -- I am not alone." We both laughed.

That moment reminded me of my mindset when I earned my Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential. At that time, I thought having a PMP® was the ultimate achievement in my professional career.

Since then, I have learned that to excel as a project manager, you have to have more than a credential.

One of the skills you need is being able to facilitate. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)--Fourth Edition, chapter 5, mentions facilitated workshops:

"Because of their interactive group nature, well-facilitated sessions can build trust, foster relationships, and improve communication among the participants which can lead to increased stakeholder consensus. Another benefit of this technique is that issues can be discovered and resolved more quickly than in individual sessions."

Being a facilitator is a difficult art that is worth mastering. I have used facilitated workshops to build a project plans, to review mission and vision statements, to map business processes and to review deliverables.

Although it is always a challenge, if you understand how to play that role, you'll be leading (facilitating) the group to success. Prepare ahead of time, visualize yourself doing it and take the time to build an energized environment at the beginning of the session.  

It is said that you don't learn to swim by reading a book. You must dare to try it and learn by doing.

Have you played the role of facilitator as a project manager? What have been the keys to becoming a successful facilitator?

See more on the PMBOK® Guide.
See Jorge's prior posts.  

Does Project Management Make You Happy?

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Alfred Lord Tennyson once said, "The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions."

I think this directly correlates with project management. To me, part of the secret to happiness is being able to connect how you approach life with what you do for a living. Then your passion will come out naturally.

Let me explain: I tend to classify people in three groups. Each group finds joy in what they do in life and that is related to their approach to project management.

Searchers are always looking for the next thing. If they don't like what they are doing, they simply change their direction. They like freedom and avoid tight schedules. They approach life from a "big picture" perspective.

Searchers are better at the beginning of a project. They are passionate about thinking how to approach the project to achieve the best results. That's what makes them happy.

Wrestlers have clear, defined objectives. They don't give up until they achieve their goals. From a project perspective, they are very passionate about doing the job until they get results. That is what makes them feel fulfilled.

Balanced people are equal parts searcher and wrestler. Life has taught them that both traits are needed to get results. I tend to think that seasoned project managers are balanced.

They find satisfaction in the ability to propose the big picture -- like a searcher -- and then pursue it until they get there -- like a wrestler. They are happy because they know they are contributing to build a better world.

If you are lucky enough to find and establish the connection between what you enjoy most in life and how you approach a project, you will enjoy every second of your profession.

Perhaps it will happen to you as it happens to me: You won't care whether you get paid for your work on a project because you've enjoyed the process so much.

The only thing that you'll seek is personal and professional satisfaction with your daily duties. It makes you happy and will bring out the spark you need to stand out of the crowd.  

If you don't feel happy with your current job in project management, perhaps you should try to answer these three questions:

What are you looking for in a career?
What kind of person are you?
What are you willing to do, even if you are not going to be paid?

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