More posts in Human Aspects of PM
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?
"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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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,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.
"...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.
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.
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?