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Leading With Integrity

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A few months ago, I wrote about the essential principles of leadership, and one seemed to have really struck a chord with readers. That principle is integrity. And, as I prepared to write some thoughts on the role of integrity in leadership, several examples of why integrity is so important jumped to mind. 

Take the case of the United States senator accused of plagiarizing his college thesis paper, or the seemingly lenient penalty that the National Football League commissioner laid down on one of the league's stars over a domestic violence incident, when other comparable infractions have drawn much stronger responses. 

What these two situations have in common is a lack of integrity that, on the surface, seems to be driven by taking the easy way out. Integrity is often defined as "doing the right thing when no one is watching." I don't think that is an appropriate enough definition, though. Integrity is the act of doing the right thing, even if it is extremely difficult. 

That being said, here are a few tips on how you can lead your project teams with integrity:

1. Lead honestly. The foundation of leadership and integrity is leading with honesty. You can't tell everyone everything they want to hear all the time and still get things done. Business doesn't work like that and life doesn't work like that. So to be a high-integrity leader, you need to be honest in all cases. As Erika Flora, PMP, PgMP, told me recently, being a leader requires you to "be brutally honest and provide feedback that sometimes people just don't want to hear." You can put this to work by setting clear and realistic expectations of your team, sponsors and stakeholders at the beginning, and not allowing yourself to be tied down to unrealistic expectations just to make everyone happy.

2. Take ownership. I've been in a number of organizations that faced a challenge of ownership in their projects. What that means is people are running around with big titles and the expectation is that those who report to them will jump at their slightest utterance. And as long as everything is moving along according to plan, everything is great. But as soon as the project goes off track, the "leader" is looking to point fingers and place blame to help relieve his or her responsibility. Don't do that. Being a leader and having integrity means you have to take responsibility for your performance and your team's, good or bad. As a leader, you should always start the project by telling your team something along the lines of, "Ultimately, I am responsible for the success or failure of this project, but I can't do it without you."

3. Share the spotlight. To be a strong leader of high integrity, you need to allow your team members to receive some of the glow and adulation that comes with goals achieved, projects delivered that exceed expectations and overall high performance. Allowing your team members to receive this share of the attention will make it much easier for you to get buy-in on tough issues or tricky situations in the future because they'll see you as the kind of manager who allows them to receive recognition. By the same token, when it comes to delivering bad news and accepting criticism, allowing yourself to receive the blame and not looking to share that blame with your team will engender a great deal of goodwill. And never, ever look to use one of your team members as a scapegoat for something that is ultimately your responsibility.

How do you see integrity playing out in your current team?
To reach a global audience of project professionals, Voices on Project Management presents a blog post every month translated into Simplified Chinese, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. 

This month's post by Kevin Korterud explores four lessons learned from great leaders: World Cup coaches.

Read it in your language of preference and share your thoughts in the comments box below.

World-Class Lessons from World Cup Coaches

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Photo: AC Moraes

People around the globe are tuning in to the FIFA World Cup. Even overloaded project managers will manage to find time to watch some of the global football championship coverage and root for their team. 

I can't help but find parallels between what happens on the pitch and some of the challenges we face as project managers. Both successful World Cup coaches and project managers spend a lot of time giving direction to a team to mitigate unexpected events. Here are four lessons to take away from these coaches that could help ensure your project produces winning results in the face of the unforeseen:

1. Set starters and specialists. World Cup coaches know what skills key team members must have to win games. They also have intimate knowledge of their players' skills, capacities, endurance and adaptability to changing conditions. That knowledge allows coaches to pick the players they want to start the game as well as those specialists to enter the field when the key players need support. 

Project managers should also know who the key team members are to have at the start of a project and the specialized resources -- such as subject matter experts on the business or work planners -- needed toward project completion to ensure success. 

2. Be a coach, not a player. One of the more risky tendencies for a coach is to try to teach his own playing expertise to the team members. Yet the best World Cup coaches focus on making the team perform well as a whole, not on providing detailed instruction on ball technique. Specialized coaches (for physical training or goaltending, for example) and fellow team members should provide this detailed level of instruction, leaving the World Cup coach free to direct the overall flow of the game. 

Project managers can do the same by identifying and employing specialized resources that can assist team members with fundamentals, such as writing good requirements and creating work plans. This frees up the project manager to focus on solving risks and issues across the project. 

3. Make sure everyone knows the plays. World Cup coaches go to great lengths to employ existing plays that are a good match for their players. In addition, they spend time creating new plays that can be used in unexpected conditions that can come up during a game. The World Cup coach spends a lot of preparation and practice time with the team making sure the plays are executed in a smooth and efficient manner. 

Project managers can do the same by identifying the right approaches -- that is, methods, processes and tools -- and spending time with the team to practice the execution of these approaches.

4. Provide feedback on results. At the end of every game, World Cup coaches spend time with the team as well as the media, sharing their thoughts on the outcome of the game. In addition, they will frequently share key decisions and outcomes that resulted in a win or loss for the team. World Cup coaches do this in a manner that reflects the overall effort of the team as opposed to the efforts of a few key players. 

Project managers should provide this type of feedback at regular intervals throughout the project, especially during project status meetings. Projects also have the equivalent of media attention in the form of sponsors, so project managers should openly provide the same type of feedback on a regular basis.  

What behaviors and practices have you seen that might help project managers create winning projects?
To reach a global audience of project professionals, Voices on Project Management presents a blog post every month translated into Simplified Chinese, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. 

This month's post by Dave Wakeman, PMP, discusses three leadership skills that project practitioners should uphold, no matter how difficult a project.

Read it in your language of preference and share your thoughts in the comments box below.

Recently I wrote about the non-negotiable attributes of leaders. A lot of the feedback I received asked how we can use these skills in our day-to-day jobs, especially when we're encountering a business culture that doesn't always place emphasis on leadership and long-term thinking. Here are a few ways you can begin applying leadership attributes to your projects, even in challenging circumstances.

  1. Build adaptability into your routine. One of the great challenges of project management is conquering the ever-changing project -- the one with a fluid scope, ill-defined objectives and budgets that fluctuate constantly. This is why building adaptability into your daily routine is essential. And it doesn't have to be complicated. One habit you can adopt right away is to start or end your day with a question like, "What has changed in the last 24 hours that will require me to alter my project plan?" By asking that question, you will keep yourself in the center of the project's changing landscape and be able to react in a proactive manner, rather than having change forced upon you.
  2. Accept mistakes -- and their part in innovation. Organizations often talk about wanting innovation, but then turn around and penalize mistakes. And yet you can often only have better judgment -- and develop innovative solutions -- by making mistakes. If you feel your performance is suffering because you're tying yourself down to routine techniques, try this: Go to the sponsor and explain that you've been thinking about a new way to tackle a challenge. Outline the possible outcomes, risks and mitigation plans when you explain that you feel your team needs to try this new technique. Innovation and advances only occur through new thinking and experimentation, so mistakes can and should be encouraged. They are what enable project managers and teams to develop the judgment necessary to make huge leaps forward. 
  3. View integrity as a way of life. When I talk with project managers, executives and leaders, one thing that comes up frequently is the so-called leadership gap. This "gap" has infiltrated our organizations because we've moved to a culture that spends too much time focusing on the next quarter's profits. In a culture like this, it's difficult to act with the vision and integrity that will foster long-term results. As team leaders in our organizations, we all need to understand that integrity isn't a one-time event, but a lifestyle that shines through in everything we do. To put this into practice, it's important that you start speaking up within your organization. If your project's ambitions don't fit the long-term objectives of the organization, you have to be confident enough to point that out. If you feel that actions are being taken that aren't conducive to success, say something. Doing so isn't going to be easy, but being a leader never is. 

Are you -- and your organization -- willing to carry out these tips toward developing leadership skills? 

Take this project management leadership self-assessment to learn where you stand in six leadership areas.

Managing to Go Green

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Is it expensive to build and run a green factory? I had been wondering this before meeting Chuang Tzu-Sou, director of the new fab planning and engineering division of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. His opinion: "Not at all!"

The construction cost of TSMC's 14th semi-conductor manufacturing plant, compared to older facilities, only increased by 1 percent. And while the budget for "Fab 14" ("fab" is short for fabricating of semiconductor chips) was US$50 million, it is expected to easily recover this cost in electricity savings within the next five years.

One of the major cost savings resulted from rethinking the industrial boiler. A major part of Fab 14 would be a boiler facility costing almost US$2 million -- industrial boilers are an integral part of the semiconductor manufacturing process, but they emit a vast amount of wastewater and carbon. Yet after researching alternate production methods and taking a close look at available technologies, they managed to do away with the boiler facility. That resulted in cuts in both Fab 14's building costs and carbon emissions once operational.

Mr. Chuang, the program manager, thinks this cost-saving measure was possible only through a manager's ability to understand and motivate workers. He felt his technicians were individuals who tended to be most capable of solving problems on their own. However, being scientifically trained and aware of business constraints, they would go with what they knew would solve a problem. They are pragmatists who evolve their knowledge slowly and are not prone to experiment with new solutions. So Mr. Chuang realized he would need to inspire them, remind them of the bigger picture, encourage them to keep an open mind and give them sufficient time to search for new solutions. 

These cost-savings affected just one building of a facility that's part of a bigger factory complex. So how did Mr. Chuang and his technicians expand savings across all Fab 14 buildings and activities? He again encouraged his team to think outside the box. His technicians devised a way for the hot air generated from semiconductor production to be circulated to other buildings and work areas for their own use, such as for air conditioning. This created an additional US$230,000 in electricity savings. 

The technicians also developed a way to purify large amounts of wastewater, enough to supply half a million people with clean water for daily use. Apart from improving the efficiency of Fab 14's construction by recycling 90 percent of the wastewater (one of the highest rates in the world), this also cut supply and recycling fees. This meant a combined savings of up to US$88 million annually.

Based on this experience, Mr. Chuang and his team realized that improvements in individual areas didn't amount to huge savings. Instead, it was making sure improvements were sought across the whole factory complex and at all stages of production. It was the creation of a green supply chain that made a change toward sustainability both possible and profitable, and TSMC is now trying to put that change into place for all its Fabs. The ultimate plan is that this will help stimulate other industries to do likewise and cause improvements for generations to come.

While the vision for this program came from Morris Chang, the chairman of TSMC, it was realized by Mr. Chuang. Mr. Chuang succeeded by focusing on the bigger picture offered by the whole program, instead of getting mired in the problems of individual projects' technical difficulties or budget overruns. By relating Mr. Chang's vision to an organizational mission, Mr. Chuang ensured short-term problems and opportunities were dealt with in a way that fed strategic long-term goals.

Learn more about Fab 14 in this video, and about Roger Chou, PgMP, on his Facebook page. How have you made green projects profitable?

Read how a fellow project practitioner is making the most of advancements in sustainability in "Biofuel From Seed to Factory," in March's PM Network.
Project practitioners often get bogged down in the details of getting a project done at all costs. This can cause us to make decisions and take actions that we later regret, because they compromise our position as leaders within our organization. There are three leadership skills that we as project managers need to cultivate in ourselves and that should be non-negotiable, no matter how difficult the project.

1. Integrity: It is easy for a project manager to compromise and make decisions that are in the gray area between right and wrong. To be a strong project leader, it is important that you show character in your decision-making process. Even if compromising your principles makes the current project go more smoothly, in the long run you will lessen your effectiveness as a leader. And remember that your actions as a leader have a huge effect on your team -- if you are willing to cut corners or compromise your decision-making, how can you expect any more from your team? Maintain your integrity by setting clear operating principles for your team at the start of the project and always acting within those principles throughout the course of the project, even if it is difficult. 

2. Adaptability: As project managers, we have really strong methodologies and standards that drive our planning, implementation and review processes. And sometimes, it's easy to allow those methodologies to hamper flexibility. To be a great leader, you have to be comfortable knowing the methodology and have faith in your understanding of the methodology and your decision-making process. At the same time, you need to be flexible enough to change with the dynamics of a project. These dynamics can play out as the project unfolds: when resources are limited after allocation; a sponsor or key stakeholder makes new demands; or even having to stop work on a project because it no longer fits into your organization's strategic goals. In these cases, rely on the solid plan that you developed earlier, but be willing and able to change or scrap that plan when it doesn't fit the new circumstances.  

3. Judgment: Project managers will spend the bulk of their time acting as communicators between sponsors, stakeholders and the team. With all of this communication comes a ton of information, and a project manager must have the confidence and judgment to act on or discard that information. Beyond communication, you'll make decisions that will affect not only all stakeholders, but also your business and your organization's overall performance. Two really important points here. First, you have to be patient because big decisions don't come every day and when they do, you have to be bold enough to take action. Second, you also have to work within your organization to garner the trust necessary to make decisions and, more importantly, to make mistakes along the way. The learning curve isn't a straight line, and you need the support of your sponsors and supervisors to get the necessary experience in decision-making. Because at the end of the day, that's what judgment is all about: experience. 

By making these skills the core of your personal leadership development process, you can make all other project decisions with the clarity and confidence you need to move your project toward a successful conclusion.

What are your must-have leadership skills?

Find out what other skills you can sharpen to help your organization succeed in PMI's 2014 Pulse of the Profession®.

The Power of Happiness

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People talk about motivation, work-life balance and developing a productive team. But only a few realize the importance of happiness within this equation. 

Look no further than the recent cricket matches between England and Australia for a very interesting case study of the effect of leadership and morale on sustained team performance.

I'm not going to explain cricket other than to highlight that it's a team game and that each test match takes up to five days, with six hours of playing time each day. It requires sustained concentration, and outcomes are significantly influenced by the collective expectations and attitude within the team. Unlike many sports, a single star cannot make a huge difference without support from his teammates and the playing time resembles that of a normal workweek.

In parts of what was once the British Empire, the game of cricket reigns supreme. One of the sport's major contests is the series of five matches between English and Australian teams every couple of years for "The Ashes." The outcome of each of the five series is of significant national importance -- defeating the "old enemy" makes headline news in both countries. 

Unusually, in the last nine months, there have been two series played: the first in mid-2013 and the second in the current Australian summer. England won the first series 3-0. And after losses in India and England, the Australian team was written off as "the worst ever" by the local press. But then Australia won the second series 5-0, a feat only accomplished twice before in Ashes history, and now they're national heroes. What caused the change?

The difference wasn't in the skills of the players or the support staff (they were basically the same). It was the team's attitude. Prior to the start of the English series, Australia focused on peak performance at all costs. There were rules, curfews and strictly enforced discipline, which led to dissent, internal divisions and disenchantment. 

The Australian Cricket Board decided a change was needed and appointed Daren "Boof" Lehmann as the new team coach just 16 days before the first English test. The change was too late to make much of a difference in the England series, but by the time the Australian series started, Mr. Lehmann's philosophy had made a fundamental -- and enduring  -- change in the Australian team culture. 

With Mr. Lehmann at the helm, every team member is committed to team excellence. And rather than training drills for the sake of drills to drive performance, players want to improve and develop. The drive is intrinsic, not extrinsic. The most often repeated comment among team members is, "Lehmann made it fun again!"

The Australian team members are happy, taking genuine delight in each other's successes as well as providing support and encouragement when things don't go as planned. 

This transformation will undoubtedly be the subject of research in years to come, but my initial impressions of the key skills Mr. Lehmann has used are:

  • Respecting and trusting his players -- garnering responsible behaviors in return
  • Allowing time for life beyond cricket, resulting in a fresh enthusiasm for both the training regime and the game
  • Setting high expectations, but using a supportive style to encourage striving for excellence rather than demanding excellence 
Applying these techniques takes courage (especially under the glare of national publicity). Building a champion team that enjoys its work and challenges is the challenge for any leader, particularly if you want your team to help you push your project through to a successful conclusion. 

How do you make your team's work fun when you need high performance?

5 Ways to Build Strong Project Teams

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Voices on Project Management guest blogger Dave Wakeman, PMP, is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer and speaker. He works with businesses and organizations to focus on value, efficiency and effectiveness. Past projects include working with the U.S. Census Bureau to improve data reporting for the 2010 Census, and creating the IT infrastructure for an e-commerce site that grew from US$0 to US$4 million in less than 18 months. Find him on the web or on Twitter.

Read his thoughts on how to build project teams below:

One of the core missions of a good project manager is to build teams. You often find, however, that managing and building teams is much easier when described in courses and theory than it is in the practice of managing actual projects. 

But there doesn't need to be a gap. Here are five actionable steps that you can begin implementing today to help your teams become stronger, make you a much better project manager and create an atmosphere that breeds success.

  1. Be an active communicator. A good project manager isn't just the conductor of the project. He or she is also a facilitator for team members' performance and growth. That starts by being an "active communicator," which means you do two things: communicate with your team in a clear and effective manner, and actively listen and turn to your team members for their thoughts and experiences as related to the project. 
  2. Trust your team. You may find yourself in a position where you lack specific technical expertise. In these cases, it is only human to feel stressed, because you may have questions about how you can clearly define the project's success metrics or the performance of your team. But a good project manager turns these situations into an opportunity to build a strong team by not micromanaging and allowing your team members to use their specific job-related expertise.  
  3. Understand your team members' individual motivations. In theory, each member wants to complete the project on time and on budget, and wants to meet the project's goals. In practice, it's much more complex. As a good leader, you must take time to understand your team members' individual motivations. Comprehending their ambitions will help them trust you and will help you better understand how to utilize their unique talents. 
  4. Don't embarrass your team. In sports you hear a lot about "player's coaches." One of the characteristics these coaches share is they never embarrass their players in front of the media. They may take them aside in private and lay into them, but in public, this never happens. You can learn a lot from this. There are stakeholder demands, overruns, limited resources, etc. But no matter what, don't use these things as an excuse to make a scapegoat out of one of your team members. It's a really quick way of destroying a strong project team's morale and cohesiveness.
  5. Be flexible. This is perhaps the most important way to build strong teams. Too often the project plan becomes a rigid document that creates stress, uncommunicative environments and lack of cohesion in a team as a means to protect the project from pitfalls. But inevitably there will be bumps along the project road, so to protect the team from them, you must be adaptable. By focusing on flexibility, you will create strength, which can take many forms -- such as increased trust between team members, momentum to continue despite project troubles, and greater problem-solving abilities and initiative among team members.
What steps have you taken to build successful teams?

Translation Series: 'Join the Evolution'

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To reach a global audience of project professionals, Voices on Project Management presents a blog post every month translated into Spanish, Simplified Chinese and Brazilian Portuguese.

This month features Saira Karim's post on how project managers can become project leaders.

Read it in your language of preference and share your thoughts in the comments box below.

Go for Growth

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One of the key stakeholder management roles fulfilled by project leaders is helping team members grow and improve. Remember, you cannot be successful as a leader unless your team succeeds in achieving its objectives! 

You have four basic ways to develop team members: teaching, coaching, counseling and mentoring. Understanding the differences and selecting the right approach for each situation helps you help your entire team to succeed.


The focus of teaching is to impart knowledge and information through instruction and explanation. The goal for the student is to acquire a skill or pass a test. Learning has a one-way flow, and the relationship between teacher and student is minimal.

Effective for: Simple knowledge transfer. This can be facilitated by external experts delivering focused training sessions or asking a skilled team member to do the teaching. Your job is to make sure the right training gets to the right people at the right time.


Coaching usually focuses on skills development and performance--how to do something better, faster or more effectively. The role of the coach is to give feedback on observed performance, typically in the workplace. The coach is likely to set goals for the student and measure performance periodically as that person develops new skills. Coaching requires a close working relationship between learner and coach.

Effective for: Driving improved performance. Every elite sports team has a committed coach. As a team leader, you need to take this role seriously if you want to lift your team's skills and performance to the elite level!


The counselor uses listening and questioning to build self-awareness and self-confidence in the student. The goal is to help the person deal with something they are finding emotionally difficult. As with teaching, learning in this manner is one-way, and the relationship is minimal.

Effective for: Helping a team member deal with personal difficulties, such as when someone feels he or she has been harassed or victimized. Don't be afraid to bring a skilled external counselor.


Mentoring is a partnership between two people, with an emphasis on mutual learning. Good mentors adapt to the needs of the learner.

The role of the mentor is to build capability and help the learner discover personal wisdom by encouraging him or her to work toward career goals or develop self-reliance. Because the mentoring relationship is focused on the mentee's personal goals it should be kept separate from direct lines of management control; it is very difficult to mentor a direct report. Mentors may draw on a number of approaches (teaching, coaching and counseling) to help mentees achieve the goals they've set for themselves. Because the relationship is mutually beneficial, strong bonds are often forged, which often outlast the mentoring relationship.

Effective for: Building the capability of the learner. Carefully select the people in which to invest the effort and emotion of building a relationship. If it's not right for you, help your team member find the right mentor.

However you choose to develop in your team members, the investment is worthwhile. An empowered, motivated and skilled team is the best underpinning you can have in your quest to be a successful leader.

What combination of methods do you use to help team members grow?

Join the Evolution

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Thousands of books, quotes, advice and research have covered the topic of leadership. In contrast, there is far less dedicated knowledge on project leadership. And yet, as mentioned in the opening remarks at PMI® Global Congress 2013 -- EMEA and in a recent Voices roundtable on talent management, project leadership is fast emerging as a critical skill for project practitioners. 

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the region where I live and work, is booming with projects, particularly in construction, oil and gas. In the region, project managers have been recruited traditionally for their technical and engineering expertise. However, due to regional growth, the dynamics of the project work force are changing, and so are expectations of project managers. It is now common for a typical core project team to be made up of members aged 30 to 60, with a mix of locals and expatriates from at least five different nationalities, all working together in one location. This environment of change and uncertainty requires project professionals to become more responsive, adaptive, people-centric and emotionally intelligent.

For these reasons, I presented a lecture on this subject at a recent PMI Arabian Gulf Chapter meeting. From the discussion that evening, there seemed to be concerns about the role of a project leader versus the one for a traditional project manager.

The main points of concern that I clarified that night were: 

  • Project leadership has nothing to do with seniority, title or position in the hierarchy of an organization
  • Project leadership is more than management 
  • Project leadership is not easy 
Getting into specifics, I proposed these ways in which a project manager differs from a project leader:

  1. A project manager creates objectives; the project leader influences people and events to ensure those are met
  2. A project manager formulates plans; the project leader provides the vision and enthusiasm to achieve them
  3. A project manager monitors results; the project leader recognizes and initiates change to keep the project on track
  4. A project manager assigns activities; the project leader provides direction and motivation
  5. A project manager solves technical problems; the project leader encourages innovation
  6. A project manager puts the team together; the project leader fosters collaboration
  7. A project manager asks for feedback and information; the project leader explains how to make the information useful
  8. A project manager identifies stakeholders; the project leader analyzes and balances their expectations
Although not everyone agreed with me, I insisted that project leaders are made from experience, so building leadership skills is something every project professional can do to work through the changing business environment. To that end, leadership skills and experience can be gained by:

  • Observing the methods and skills of other good leaders 
  • Putting yourself into a challenging situation that requires you to adapt 
  • Accepting more responsibilities
  • Taking calculated risks and learning from mistakes

Finally, to help you establish a project leadership mindset, regularly ask yourself:

  1. What is working well and what isn't? 
  2. How can I run this project/task more successfully? 
  3. How can I help our client get more benefit and save money in the process? 
  4. How can I improve customer satisfaction and team motivation?  
  5.  What concerns the stakeholders most about the project right now? 
  6. If I asked team members to join me on another project, which of them would, and why? Which would not, and why? 
  7. Which parts of my project's infrastructure might I be overlooking right now? 
  8. What knowledge/skills should I gain to support me through my leadership experiences?
How can a project manager evolve to encompass a project leadership role? 

Translation Series: Culture Shocked Into Action

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To reach a global audience of project professionals, Voices on Project Management presents a blog post every month translated into Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish and Simplified Chinese. 

This month features Conrado Morlan's post on recovering from culture shock and turning it into an opportunity for professional growth.

Read it in your language of preference and share your thoughts in the comments box below.

No Need to Know It All

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Many project managers feel they need to be the expert who has every answer to every question to maintain their authority. They think it's a sign of weakness to ask for help or admit they don't know something. 

The fact is that if you don't know something and waste time and energy trying to find the answer yourself — or worse, make an expensive mistake based on false knowledge — no one benefits, least of all you. Once your bluff has been exposed, your credibility is destroyed, and with it, your ability to lead effectively.

Strangely, most people seem happy to offer help when someone asks for it, but are too embarrassed to ask for help themselves. But strong leaders, managers and team members overcome this "shyness" and take the time to clearly understand what they don't know. Then, they seek aid to build their knowledge. 

The key is asking the "right questions" — this makes you a better leader and also shows your team that it's okay for them to ask for help. Everyone wins by asking for assistance when needed. The energy wasted on struggling to solve the problem can be used for positive purposes.

The power of "not knowing" will also open up two-way communication within the team and generate all sorts of efficiencies. Here are a couple of examples on how to put the power of not knowing to work:

  • Delegating. Some tasks are simply better delegated to an expert who knows how to do the job well and quickly. I'm sure everyone could learn to use pivot tables in Excel. But is it worth several hours of struggle when a knowledgeable expert — even if it's the most junior team member — can solve the issue in a few minutes?
  • Engaging team members. Ask a team member to talk you through a challenge he or she is working on. You'll get the lowdown on the task at hand, and good insights into how he or she works.
By encouraging your team to ask questions, it reduces errors, frees up communication and enhances the information flow in a positive way. It seems obvious, but it won't happen without a push in the right direction.

Things you can do as a leader to be open to not knowing are:
  1. Stop talking to yourself and decide that you are going to talk to someone else. 
  2. Decide who that will be. 
  3. Craft the conversation. Write down what you are going to ask them and how you hope they will respond.
  4. Schedule a meeting with the person and promise yourself you'll ask him or her for help and be open to his or her suggestions. 
  5. Tell someone else of your intentions; someone who will hold you accountable for having the meeting and asking for help. 
It really is okay to know what you don't know and seek help. The skill is asking effective questions that get the right answers, and then having the knowledge on how to use the resulting information.

How do you turn a lack of knowledge as a barrier to success into a catalyst for positive outcomes?

Leadership: The Mission Is Vision

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As a project manager, you're a leader by default. And as a leader, your job is to inspire your team to achieve a shared vision. That means you create an "inspiring vision" of the future and then build the expectation that the vision is achievable.

An "inspiring vision" is not simply finishing your project, either. A great example of this was one put forth by London's Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) responsible for building the facilities for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The ODA set a much-publicized "zero harm" goal.

The London Olympics construction program completed the work on budget, ahead of schedule, to a high standard — and with no fatalities. Not only that, but the overall accident frequency came in at 58 percent below the UK construction industry average. This is a remarkable achievement, given that a total of 40,000 people worked on the projects.

After creating the inspiring vision, make sure your team can commit to and communicate it effectively. To do so, each member must:

  1. Understand it — it has to be realistic to them.
  2. Know their teammates and other stakeholders will like and commit to it.
  3. Get excited about it.
  4. Believe they can make it happen.
Framing your vision in the right context is a big part of communicating it effectively to your team and to all that touch the project. The London Olympics construction program knew that "on time and on budget" was not an exciting rallying cry to many people. (Project managers notwithstanding.) So it framed the project around the idea of looking after workmates, which was an easier concept for securing widespread buy-in. 

Looking after co-workers meant achieving a safer worksite. And for that, construction had to be well-planned, well-managed, clean and tidy — coincidentally, all the same facets for achieving a high-quality, on-time, on-budget outcome.

After framing your vision, preferably working with team members so they own it, the hard work starts. The vision needs to be communicated and reinforced at all times. No compromises. As soon as you stop living the vision, it will fade. 

In London, for instance, safety was always the first agenda item at meetings. It was continuously policed, communicated and enforced. But more importantly, safety success was celebrated. Major milestones — such as 1,000,000 hours worked with no accidents — were big occasions. There were also smaller, more personal celebrations of people contributing to the vision. 

Enforcing and celebrating the vision created a culture focused on safety and achieving the vision of an accident-free project daily.

What is the inspiring vision you can create for your team to help achieve your project objectives? How will you communicate and maintain that vision?

The Customer Mindset Is Always Right

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In most cases, project managers are assigned to projects after the development of strategic initiatives and project charters. Seemingly, we have little to do with strategic planning and more to do with operational implementation. Although I agree that the latter is an important element of our profession, it is also a reactive one. Our value proposition is not fully used in the strategic planning needs of the organization. 

I increasingly expect project management to go beyond being a reactive role and become proactive. And one method of doing so is becoming customer-service-oriented. Now, I am not referring to the traditional definition of "customer," but rather defining the organization itself as the project manager's single true customer.

Thus, becoming customer-service-oriented enables project managers to evolve into business leaders by:

  1. Reinforcing the new value proposition based on broad business acumen
  2. Expanding services with the goal of developing key approaches
  3. Aligning the customer to identify true organizational needs
The diagram below illustrates the concept of increasing the customer approach to project management. The project manager gains experiences and increased value by being customer-service-oriented. The repetitive experiences add up to knowledge that project managers need to, over time, drive customers to better outcomes and experiences.


The focus on customer service ensures project managers are aligned with the interests of a project and an organization's purpose. 

According to the research of Dr. Jay Kandampully and Dr. David Solnet, a "service vision" improves an organization's overall performance. They illustrate two case studies, Dell and Southwest Airlines, of companies that used service orientation to create a competitive differentiator in their industries. 

Project managers can do the same for the profession. Once they harness a customer-serviced-oriented mindset, they can put it into practice to proactively interpret organizations strategy, align leadership and rationalize organizations' critical projects. 

The first steps toward redefining the profession as proactive instead of reactive are to offer services with this approach in mind, such as:

  • Advisory: Become empowered by understanding the business and its needs to advise customers in aligning projects to meet objectives.
  • Facilitation: Engage senior executives in highly productive conversations.
  • Effective presentation: Establish qualitative and quantitative methods to deliver highly defined business cases.
In my own experiences in leading the business transformations of multiple organizations, I have noted they tend to begin with an initial reactive approach of a cost reduction effort. They then mature to designing a service culture to offer global end-to-end processes, with service-level agreements that ultimately enable it to achieve its strategic growth plans.

What other approaches do project managers need to redefine their role from being reactive to proactive?

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 Two

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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; 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.

In week two, Beth talks about the role that mentors can play in your career development and what she learned from them about effective team interaction.

How to Build Ethics into Your Team Culture

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Ethical behavior is just as crucial as effective leadership in persuading stakeholders to cooperate and support the work of the project manager — and therefore contributes to successful project outcomes.

Ethical behavior has been a hallmark of PMI's drive to establish the profession of project management, supported by the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.

What is less well understood is the crucial role leaders play in establishing the ethical culture of their organizations. 

One key direction ethical leadership takes is indirectly — across the hierarchy, to peers of the leader. There is also a cascading effect, with the ethics of a senior leader influencing a subordinate leader's behaviors. In turn, ethical conduct trickles down to the subordinate leader's team culture, and so on down the hierarchy.

As with any cascade, figuratively speaking, the flow is always downhill. An October 2012 study among more than 2,500 serving military personnel published in the Academy of Management journal supports two key findings from various business studies, including one published in the Harvard Business Review and one by Boston University professor Tamar Frankel:

  1. The ethical culture of a team is unlikely to be any stronger than the standard set by the team leader, and is usually slightly less ethical.
  2. The ethical culture of a less senior leader is unlikely to be any stronger than the standard set by the senior leader, and is usually slightly less ethical.

In short, the ethical framework of an organization is set at the top and standards can be expected to be similar or deteriorate as you move down the hierarchy and out into the teams.

Note that these studies were not looking at extreme ethical behaviors, such as dishonesty or discrimination — breaching these standards would offend most people. The research above focused on subtle but important aspects of ethics, similar to those found in the "aspirational" sections of PMI's Code of Ethics. These types of behaviors encourage individuals to develop as professionals, create a great place to work and urge external stakeholders to support the team.

The practical implications of these findings are that leaders need to "walk the talk" by engaging in ethical behavior. They need to create a strong ethical culture in their teams by providing the tools needed to help team members behave ethically, on a reinforced basis. 

Some tools to inject ethics into the team culture include: 

  1. Positive reinforcement, such as praising people for notifying you of a mistake they have made. 
  2. Encouragement of open reporting of "bad news" in any form.
  3. Establishment of systems that strongly encourage ethical behaviors, such as refusing to allow derogatory remarks in any form (jokes included). This would require backing by formal systems, such as clearly defined and protected "whistle blower" procedures.

Once created, an ethical culture in your team can be expected to have a strong effect sideways and downward within the organization — and outward to the wider stakeholder community. 

How do you encourage ethical behavior among your peers and teams?

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?

Foster Growth for Junior Project Managers

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How can you still use the people you currently have on your team rather than replace them?

One suggestion is to look to your junior project managers, provided that they are sufficiently skilled, to complete the work that needs to be done.

But how do you train the junior project manager quickly and sufficiently?

As project managers, we, especially those with credentials, have a strong belief in this profession and the desire to advance our knowledge and practice. Those of us who are already senior project managers have the responsibility to work with our junior project managers or team members and support them in their growth.  

As a project or program manager, you have the power to give them the tools they need to unleash their power as coordinators and junior project managers. As a project manager, you already know how to manage the project. It's up to you to help the less experienced know what they should be doing, what they shouldn't be doing and what tools they should or shouldn't be using.

For example, I worked with one junior project manager who lacked experience in working with those who were directly involved in the business operation. The solution we found was to involve her directly with the business analyst. The business analyst could help the project manager communicate her needs into "business speak." This allowed the project manager to learn, and adjust her management and communication styles.

Knowledge sharing gives junior project managers more confidence. By providing them with an experience working with you on a project, you are creating an environment that fosters growth and development and is fun and rewarding.

Are you a senior or junior project manager? What has your experience been like? How do you foster growth for junior project managers?

Project Management Knowledge Versus Technical Knowledge

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As project managers, we have to manage various tasks in multiple lines of work. At times, we operate from our technical background and impart that knowledge and expertise more than our project management knowledge.

There needs to be the distinction of when we use our "project manager hat" versus our "technical specialist hat."

Many project managers work in two common extremes: process focus or technical detail focus. This is common for junior project managers and for project managers who are new to an organization. That often happens, in my opinion, because those project managers haven't developed their management style yet or haven't adjusted to the organizational culture.

When the project manager thinks something is going wrong on a project, either with how someone is performing a task or the results of a deliverable, we often try to fix it. We do that with our strongest toolkit -- usually, that's our technical background. We often take over and hijack the task just to do it "our way," based on our experience.

Remind yourself that as a project manager, you have a different role as a leader. You also can't be a technical skills expert for your team.

Realign yourself to the deliverables. Gain a clarity of the project goal, the project management approach you are using and your role in managing the given project resources.

Project managers can be quite connected and attached to the project outcome. But when you see an opportunity to improve something based on your technical expertise or what you would do differently, stay focused on your role, which is to deliver the project according to the business requirements, aligning with the business sponsor and the organization. Let your team handle their tasks according to their experience and expertise.

Do you ever rely too heavily on your technical expertise?

Read more from Dmitri.

Project Entrepreneurship: Beyond Management and Leadership

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Project management has begun to play an increasingly important role in organizations. Projects are identified to continuously improve the existing business performance and to prepare for the future per organizational strategy. Unfortunately, many of those projects fail.

It's my belief that if you approach a project with management, leadership and entrepreneurial mindsets, the success rate of projects will improve.

A management mindset helps project managers to initiate, plan, execute, monitor, control and close projects to deliver on time, within budget and expected quality deliverables. The management mindset focuses mostly on tasks, and not much on people. Under this mindset, project managers might fail to create a vibrant or positive work environment and satisfied teams -- even though they will satisfy the customers.  

A leadership mindset helps project managers to drive the project team toward a common project goal. It also focuses both on tasks and people, allowing the project manager to create a positive and enjoyable work environment.

A project manager with both the management and leadership mindset will satisfy his team and customers, but might fail to deliver complete business value to customer. That means that although a project is delivered on time, within budget and expected quality, the customer may not feel that the value he expected out of the project was not completely realized.

An entrepreneurial mindset is like an executive mindset for the project manager. He or she would focus on delivering high value to the customer, employees and his or her organization.

Ownership of projects is at its peak, innovation flows like water and alternative project techniques are used for continuous betterment of projects. A project manager's risk appetite is high in this mindset, and he or she also builds many reusable assets to repeat the success of future projects.

Is your organization focusing on building project management, project leadership and project entrepreneurship as an integrated competency?

Read more posts from VSR.
Read more on leadership.

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?

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?

Manage The Knowledge Gaps

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To be great in project management, we can't only be familiar with our role as the project manager. We must be educated about other roles in the profession, as well as most, if not all, knowledge areas.

But project managers often do the work they like and are familiar with, rather than work that needs to be done. Even if it's work that contributes to a project's overall success, I find that many of us focus on tasks that we're familiar with or that we already know we're good at.

Regardless of how great I am with some tasks, I know that I must fill in my own knowledge gaps with team members' expertise. Because in addition to being a good project manager, the real trick to getting things done is surrounding myself with a capable, well-trained project team.

Instead of trying to learn everything and being everything to everyone, I accept that I won't always know it all. I ask for input from the team on a regular basis. This makes the team feel needed and appreciated for their contributions and makes the project execution more efficient.

Do you tackle the tasks you're good at rather than those that need to get done? How do you balance your own expertise with that of your team members?

Are Happy Project Managers More Productive?

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Fact: A happy person is more creative, productive and engaged than an unhappy person.

As project managers and leaders, we are responsible for optimizing our teams' productivity. One effective way for you and your team to achieve great productivity is to create a happy workplace.

Creating a positive environment is your responsibility as a leader. As the saying goes, "There are no bad soldiers under a good general."  

In his book, Full Engagement, Brian Tracy outlines a simple series of actions any leader can take to encourage positive contributions from everyone. These ideas are not new. Aristotle believed the underlying motive for every human action was the desire to be happy.

The golden rule for creating happiness is to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." But this requires a number of specific actions.

First, avoid destructive criticism. Destructive criticism sparks feelings of fear, rejection, anger and defensiveness. Leaders should resolve never to criticize, attack, insult or diminish another person -- including team members. Instead, look for good in everything that happens and learn to view problems as opportunities.

Second, stop complaining. When you complain about something you become a victim of the situation, diminish your self-confidence and open yourself to feeling inadequate. You hurt yourself much more than the target of your complaints.

Third, remove fear from the workplace. If you want people to be innovative and creative there has to be room for experimentation and failure. It is impossible to improve without risking failure. Remember: Fear of failure can prevent improvement.

Finally, do not condemn anyone for any reason. This can irreparably damage relationships.

Here are some positive actions you can take to develop a happy and productive project team:

  1. Smile when you see someone for the first time each day.
  2. Ask people how they're feeling. A genuine interest in your team members goes a long way.
  3. Listen attentively to others and be polite and courteous.
  4. Keep your team informed.
  5. Design work assignments so that each team member can be successful. Then acknowledge their successes.

Project Managers On The Go

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Project managers often travel a lot for work, but you don't have to disappear into some kind of black hole. It's a matter of claiming specific pockets of time based on what's most appropriate for that period.

When flying, for example, I might book myself for two hours of focused work on project documentation, like the project plan or strategy documents. If I'm stuck waiting for a connecting flight or in my hotel room, I use that time to catch up on emails.

Traveling is also a good way to network. Try to connect with people who might help you resolve project challenges or look at issues in a new way. You might even want to find out how they stay productive while on the go.

As a project manager or a team member, I can still be in action and engaged in the project -- no matter where I am. Is traveling a hindrance or a non-issue for you? How do you stay productive yet balanced during your business travels?

Creating the Right Atmosphere for Teams to Succeed

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Whether I'm the project manager or a team member, I am completely in control of the way in which I interact with people on my team.

I regard my team members as powerful individuals, regardless of their knowledge, experience or personality. With this as the context for my interactions, they can achieve results, complete work on time, support their teammates and share their knowledge.

To foster this kind of environment, I ground myself in the project goal. I determine what's required to achieve results efficiently and with great collaborative effort. Then I translate that to find a way I can help the team by being supportive, open, connected, appreciative, or being someone who consistently celebrates the success of others.

Have you worked with someone closely and over time, and found you could support each other and contribute to each other's work, without doubts, worries or concerns? That's what happens when I create an environment that allows me to be with people that way right from the start.  

How do you elevate your team to the next level of performance?

Successful Project Review Meetings

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I recently attended one of the most focused and efficient project review meetings I've ever been to. It was conducted as a workshop to review the project recommendations proposed to the team. I wanted to share why I thought it worked so well.

Picture this: There was a workshop organizer, who facilitated the meeting. We sat in a large room that could seat about 10-12 people. There were representatives from various suppliers. It was quiet and we were the only ones generating conversations in that space. No cell phones were allowed.

The rules for the review, which were developed and distributed beforehand by the organizer, outlined how we would share our ideas, record decisions and deal with issues that arose outside of the agenda. All participants were reminded that on-the-spot decision-making was required.

The purpose and the goal of the review were clarified. All participants had to either agree or disagree with each decision. If there was a disagreement, a discussion took place to clarify the requirements and bridge the gap to reach a final decision.

Having senior decision-makers present allowed us to get through all the points with velocity. We were able to not only review the proposed changes, but also make policy decisions on the spot and discuss relevant details without doubts or assumptions. We recorded anything that needed further work, like the identified gaps, as actions.

Project teams spend many hours in project meetings, especially when teams are not well connected in purpose, goals and operating as a group. As a result, these teams end up having multiple meetings before generating decisions. When sub teams within a project have their own meetings to work out their portion of a solution in a vacuum, for example, it's easy to spend a portion of a project time unproductively, without reaching important decisions.

In general, I find that many meetings are often not as productive as they could ultimately be. They take place more frequently than this type of a focused workshop. What can you take away from this? Before the meeting or workshop consider setting expectations, be clear on the rules and format, and have each participant agree on how the meeting or workshop is going to be structured and what is expected from each and every one of the participants.

What do you think is essential for a successful project solution or review meeting?

Editor's Note: Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy, Daniel Poneman, also discusses a successful approach to project review meetings in the final portion of his February 2011 podcast for PM Network® magazine.

Who's Really the Project Lead?

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On teams that work in creative services, like those found in advertising and in consulting agencies, often the person who serves as the project lead is not a project manager. 

This situation can be very tricky for a truly robust project manager who provides -- or wants to provide -- strong leadership and guidance to the team. It can lead to conflicts of interest and power struggles that can leave team morale in shreds.

When you see project managers in these environments, they've typically been relegated to a more administrative function. They essentially provide resource scheduling and reporting on data such as project profit and loss, rather than being empowered to provide much true leadership. (I discussed this in a little more detail in my first post.)

So should we eliminate the project management position and have the creative leads or account managers take on those responsibilities? Well, no.

Companies that attempt to eliminate the project management position from their ranks are ultimately just pushing this responsibility to other members of the existing team. Those members may believe they are able to take on the role of project manager, but more likely are too busy with their current responsibilities. Not to mention, they are nowhere near as knowledgeable or skilled in project management as they would like to believe.

The challenge lies in the perception of what it takes to manage and lead a project team from start to finish. If you were to ask your creative team or your account team, I'm willing to bet their description of leading teams would be inadequate. And much of the job they describe will be tasks they simply don't have an interest in performing.
So what do we do in these situations?

To me, the answer lies in accountability. If creative or account teams are going to claim leadership positions on projects, they need to be clearly identified by senior management as owning of the final, holistic project outcome. These project leaders must understand that their success -- and the project's success -- is tied directly to their ability to make all of the parts come together, even when many of the parts don't fall squarely in their functional purview.  

Have you experienced this kind of conflict? How was it resolved?

Young project managers are taking over senior management positions -- and some veteran project managers realize they're in for some changes, according to a recent article in PM Network® ("The Young and the Restless," October 2010).

The "younger generation bosses" act entitled or like they know everything, say some of the veterans. They also complained the new upstarts didn't earn their position, they micromanage, play favorites with younger workers and don't give enough direction to the veterans.

But the younger generation has plenty to offer, too. They generate a healthy mix of ideas and are usually more willing to try new ways of doing things that some veterans might consider too risky.

At the same time, seasoned pros can show young project managers a few of their own tricks. What's the game about if not about leaving the best of yourself in the hands of the younger generation?

Imagine the power of teams that emerge from this kind of cooperation and collaboration!

Both seasoned veterans and their younger counterparts can learn from each other. It's good for the organization, the project -- and your own development as a project professional.

Have you looked outside your own generation for advice? What did you learn?

Power Without Authority

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As a new project manager, you're probably not the boss of anyone.

But even though you don't have traditional authority over a team, that doesn't mean you can't get a team to follow you.

You've heard of the person who comes in with the official title, but crashes and burns when working with teams. You've heard of the person with no organizational status who flourishes in working with even the most difficult of team members. What's the difference between the two? The recognition of real power and its source.

Real power doesn't come from organizational charts, barking orders or threatening teams into obedience. Real power does come from giving and earning personal commitment.

In giving personal commitment, you must risk at least as much as do your project team members. It's up to you to be the first to show why the project is important. When team members see that you're sincerely committed to the project and processes, they're naturally more inclined to do the same.

The surest way to earn personal commitment is to include all team members in the project planning process. Your team is probably smarter than you when it comes to a few things. Recognize this and embrace it. Let team members own their areas of expertise and tell you what needs to happen, how and when.

Ownership quickly becomes an investment into the process. Use your influence as well as your leadership and negotiating skills to clear roadblocks, define requirements and refine expectations.

These back-and-forth conversations will ensure that team member investment becomes personal commitment and that projects get completed successfully -- whether you're the boss or not.

Making the Right Call

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Making decisions is a central part of any project management role, but some decisions are tougher to make than others.

Problems have one right answer that can be reached by analyzing the information you have.

Dilemmas don't have one right answer. Any solution will be at least partially wrong, unfair or harmful to some stakeholders. But not making a decision will be harmful to all stakeholders. The challenge is to minimize the damage and, occasionally, to optimize the benefit.

Mysteries are often hidden within too much information. Understanding them is closely aligned to the ideas contained in complexity theory and risk management. Accepting your inability to know the answer to a mystery is critical: Make the best decision based on the limited information available while staying prepared for surprises.

Puzzles can often be resolved through measurement and research. Gather the right information and skills, and you reduce a puzzle to a problem and can then calculate the optimum answer. If there's insufficient time to gather and analyze all of the necessary information, though, you may be forced to deal with the decision as a mystery,

When confronted with a difficult decision, recognize the differences between the types of possible decisions and then use the best approach to reach your conclusion. Many issues around decision making stem from a false hope that we just need a little more information to reduce a complex decision to a problem with just one right answer. Yet in many cases, this is just not possible.

All project managers make decisions. The difference between good project managers and great ones is the percentage of decisions they get right.

In Celebration of Project Managers

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One of the attendees at the Fifth PMI National Congress held recently in Brazil said something that really resonated with me: "I want people on my team who truly believe in the project." That statement is so simple and yet so elegant. It made me think of the project that my company is working on now: International Project Management Day 2010.

A senior consultant at IIL, Frank P. Saladis, PMP, created the idea for this day of recognition and acknowledgment of project managers worldwide.

Now in its seventh year, the event brings together project management thought-leaders in a virtual conference accessible to anyone and everyone around the world.

Gregory Balestrero, president and CEO of PMI, and Harold Kerzner, PhD, will each deliver a keynote address. The event launches on 4 November, and attendees can earn up to 11 free professional development units (PDUs) for participating. There will also be a virtual recognition booth where you can name people you think are great project managers.

This project is a joy, but often a challenge, for all of us to pull together and make it happen. We do it to help realize the goal and intention of the special day: to make sure that all of you are being celebrated. It's certainly a project that every one of us truly believes in and is proud to be a part of.

Head over now -- it's not too late for you to join in the celebration. If you can't make it, the content will be up for three months and you can still earn those precious (and price-less) PDUs.

If You Can't Keep Your Word, Honor It

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We often talk about keeping our word -- making a commitment and sticking to it, no matter what.

But we don't often talk about honoring our word -- acknowledging when we can't meet a commitment.

There will inevitably be times when we can't keep our word as circumstances change for one reason or another.

Say you've committed to meeting a milestone on a specific date, for example. To keep your word, you have to do whatever it takes to make that date. But to honor your word, you only need to follow up with the person you made the commitment to and clarify why you can't meet the deadline. I'd also recommend recommitting to a different date, time or scope.

This way, you're not simply hiding and hoping that things will work out, or that you won't be asked about a deliverable. Be confident enough to raise the issue directly, knowing that it will maintain a workable relationship.

Even if you're unable to deliver as promised, you can at least be relied upon to raise red flags early enough, without downplaying the severity, to allow the client or team time to align their activities accordingly. And that saves time and money.

To maintain a healthy relationship on your team, you must honor your word. It impacts the results of your work, your reputation, and your ability to earn a renewed trust from your clients and project team members.

Honoring your word restores your integrity and creates workability. But the better you assess estimated target dates for the project tasks and milestones and your ability to manage your day-to-day activities per your own commitments to others, the easier it will to keep your word and "do it right the first time."

A Project Manager's Call to Action

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Apart from the challenge of letting go of my 18-year-old "baby," I was thrilled and proud to bring my son to the Rochester Institute of Technology, a university in Rochester, New York, USA last week. At orientation for first year students, James Miller, PhD, senior vice president for career services, invited the 2,650 new students gathered there to create an education and a life that included three critical elements: balance, passion and making a difference.

What better message could there be for these young people, and for the rest of us as well?

Ultimately, project managers are committed to making a difference. It doesn't matter whether the project is solving a problem or filling a need, building a bridge, or creating new software that will do a job better, faster and easier. The goal of project management is always to make things work and work well. And that makes a difference -- in people's lives, communities, schools and environment.

Passion is another element that we love to see in our profession. Who among us wouldn't prefer to work on a team with people who won't stop until things get done and get done right? These are the people who are profoundly connected to, and engaged in, the outcome of the project. They keep the big picture in mind, too, and know that what they do is valued, important and worthwhile.

And then there's balance, the ultimate key to self-actualization and satisfaction in life and in work. Giving back -- when many of us have so much -- is a key part of a balanced existence. I love the way more and more organizations in the United States are excusing their people from work to do community service. I'm also inspired by the way many project managers serve as mentors to those entering the profession or in the process of earning a Project Management Professional (PMP®) credential.

Balance, passion and making a difference. These three elements can and should be a project manager's call to action. What we wake up for, what we see as our purpose in life, and what we keep in front of us as a guidepost will continually challenge and inspire us -- as well as those around us. I hope my son will learn this as his first academic lesson. And may it last a lifetime.

Go In With a Game Plan

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You and your team must have a project objective in mind at all times. Everything should revolve around it: all the team's activities, status reports, meetings, impromptu discussions, research and engagements of other outside resources.

Having a clear and focused game plan can help. It's not a forced management plan that dictates the rules, but an agreement between all the members on how the team will work together. The plan is like glue that keeps the team together, focused on the key objectives of the project and makes the environment workable and pleasant.

The game plan is therefore an agreement between the team members on how they will maintain such alignment through:

Communication: The team agrees on the basics: method, frequency, media and levels of urgency. How will they update one another with the latest status? What upcoming milestones, changes or issues may affect the progress of the project? Are there any interpersonal issues team members may encounter?

Goal setting: The team defines the goals of the plan, whether it is being customer-centric or meeting deadlines. Having these goals at the forefront keeps the team focused throughout the project as a commitment to the team. The customer gets the added value due to the enhanced quality of the project delivery, and by extension, this leads to the overall success of the project completion.

Team play: This is the actual method of alignment, making sure the team has agreed on the parameters of the game and understands how it will relate to their day-to-day activities.

We're often put on a team based on our experience and technical expertise, rather than soft skills. We are simply expected to be professional and do what we can to work well together.

Having a game plan is simply a tool for all team members to reach an agreement on overall goals, without making assumptions or trying to force an outcome. It adds the missing layer that strengthens the team and adds assurance of alignment among all the team members.

When working in teams, what approach or method have you used as a contributing factor to reaching agreements and working well together?

One Program To Rule Them All

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Program management refers to the process of integrated governance of several related projects to achieve an aggregate result that cannot be delivered by conducting these projects separately.

It may not seem like it, but you can learn a lot about the synergy available through effective program management from The Lord of the Rings.

In the novels and films, the characters of Gandalf, Theoden and Aragorn inspire and command others to be courageous and achieve great feats. Even before a battle starts, these mythical leaders inspire confidence in their men, carefully positioning them in accordance with their skills. Each man has tasks for each stage of the upcoming battle. But they are only effective when coordinated with an understanding of their individual strengths and weaknesses, and knowledge of how they can be used to support and protect each other.

Under a wise leader -- acting as a program manager -- the power of these warriors can be multiplied when coordinated properly. This synergy ensures that every battle they engage in, and every war they fight, victory is at hand. Yet if badly coordinated, the strength and courage of these bands of cavalry, archers, spearmen or swordsmen -- the leader's resources -- is wasted, despite whatever heroic skills they possess individually.

Program management is mainly concerned with managing stakeholders, which in the case of an entire program is a larger, more diverse and more complicated group of than is involved in an individual project. Their interests are different, sometimes contradictory, and their individual impacts -- whether big or small, for good or bad -- may be very significant to the success or failure of the entire program.

The daunting scale of such programs are often not fantasy -- but may appear to demand wizards and heroes to manage them, let alone manage them so that a proper synergy takes place from the different projects involved.

What kind of projects can be managed through a program?
  • Projects with a common outcome, that can create collective capability and share the same resources
  • Projects that have the same tasks, that serve the same customer 
  • Projects where their risks can be reduced when managed together
In such cases, "One Ring (Program) To Rule Them All" can bring advantages, not hordes of rampaging orcs and trolls.

Pushing the PMBOK® Guide to Include Acknowledgment

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On page 229 of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)--Fourth Edition, under "Project Human Resource Management," I'm happy to see the following:

"Project managers should continually motivate their team by providing challenges and opportunities, by providing timely feedback and support as needed, and by recognizing and rewarding good performance."

I salute and encourage this. Yet I would advocate taking this statement one step further. Teamwork is based on validating all members for their contributions and making sure they feel valued.

Rewards and recognition let people feel special and know that what they do is appreciated. Acknowledgment, however, goes right to the heart. It lets people know that they make a difference, that the success of a project would not be as great without them.

A heartfelt and authentic acknowledgment can be spontaneous or it can be planned. Send an e-mail to a team member's manager about what a great job the person is doing -- and copy that person on the message. Or just look the person in the eye and tell them how much you value his or her continuous contribution.

If you feel moved when you do it and see the person light up as you communicate, you'll know you're on the right track. You don't need to order a plaque or buy a gift card when you're overcome with gratitude to have that person on your team. Just let them know -- from your heart, in a truthful way -- and the impact will be phenomenal. They won't be able to do enough to make the project a success!

So, in the PMBOK® Guide--Fifth Edition, I hope to see a reference to the power of acknowledgment. I will even help draft it, if invited!

Clearing Your Team's Blind Spots

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Consider a team in which all members are performing at the optimal level.

You would see them engaging internal and external staff members only when necessary. They would deliver on requirements without having to consult you every step of the way, allowing you to be the chief who oversees a big project from a higher level rather than micromanages.

When team members aren't performing at their optimal level they are often constrained by blind spots. These are the internal roadblocks specific to each team member that we often label as communication issues, team dynamics, management style, and cultural and organizational biases.

Having a blind spot means not being able to see the complete picture. When we can't see the complete picture, we make up what is hidden by using context such as our knowledge, experience, goals and motivation.

Blind spots limit us because we lack the runway length required to let our ideas take off; we impose constraints that prevent us from understanding the goal, coming up with solutions and choosing the one that works best.

To expand your runway requires a well-integrated framework of communication and teamwork based on two main principles: clearing those blind spots by empowering the team to help each other and owning your enterprise.

In part two, I will expand on the power of ownership and how to tie these principles together.

Can you think of the blind spots that you were faced with in any of your previous or current projects? What was your way of dealing with them, and what was the impact on the results you produced?

How Much Proofreading Is Too Much?

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In March I introduced you to Sebastian, a highly competent, upwardly mobile executive who happens to be your boss. A very detailed person, Sebastian works from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

That post sparked quite a discussion and prompted some ideas for building a relationship with him. Now it's time to put these skills to use!

This time around, we're focusing on Sebastian's habit of proofreading. While it's a fact some people can see mistakes in documents that others just miss, his copious corrections are starting to cause issues.

Sebastian can and does act strategically. But his habit of correcting everything is causing the project managers and project management office staff in his division to spend an excessive amount of time focusing on the documents' presentation (style, font, grammar, spelling) to the detriment of the more important issues of content and strategy.

How do you advise him that his ability to see and correct minor errors might be counterproductive? And what is an acceptable standard for internal project documentation?  

Post your comments and ideas, and we'll review and consolidate the answers in a few weeks.

The Courage to Acknowledge

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Last June, I blogged about a presentation on acknowledgment that I gave to 800 project managers at a conference in Helsinki, Finland. Afterward, Agoston Nagy, a participant, shared with me a conversation he had with a senior project executive of an Indian power company.

Mr. Nagy's colleague asked the senior project executive what the most important competence of a project manager is.

"He answered: 'A project manager must have the courage to acknowledge when somebody does a good job,'" Mr. Nagy recalls.

We must consider that this executive was responsible for 16 simultaneous power plant construction projects and many other projects in his company. The team took in accolades: One project won an international award for excellence in 2005, two others were finalists in the same competition in 2006 and another project won in 2008.

I really appreciate how Mr. Nagy's example illustrated the need for courage when acknowledging a co-worker.

Why courage? Isn't it a simple thing to let someone know how much you appreciate them, how their being part of your team makes you certain you will complete the project successfully?

No, it isn't. Acknowledging others in a heartfelt and truthful way makes us feel at least somewhat vulnerable. We are not certain that they will accept the acknowledgment in the right way: What if they think we are trying to manipulate them? What if they think we are not being sincere?

That's why we need to be courageous and take the risk -- at all times. It is worth it, no matter how vulnerable it makes us feel!

What Makes a Good Project Manager?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developing Swift Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing Taiwan's Project Management Outlook

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

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

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

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

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

This became our strategy: influence the influential.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey Boss, What About Work-Life Balance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Danger of Being Too Productive?

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In the book Peopleware by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister, there's a humorous story about a project manager who--seeing the progress her team was making--knew she would deliver her project on time. With confidence, this project manager told management that she could guarantee the project would come in, as scheduled, by 1 March.

Management chewed over this unexpected good news and summoned her the next day. They told her that since she was on target for 1 March, they were moving up the deadline to 15 January.
I had a similar experience when I presented an initial update for a recent software project. I confidently explained to our stakeholders that the software enhancements for the common process tool would be delivered on time.

Sheepishly believing the stakeholders would be impressed, I waited for a compliment. 

Instead, the stakeholders proceeded to hand down a "schedule challenge" for the team to deliver three weeks early. Their rationale was that they wanted to capitalize on the team's productivity and wow the senior leadership team.
So, care to share your productivity war stories? 

Is This Your Project Stakeholder--The Conclusion

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My last post received a wide range of comments and I wanted to draw some conclusions based on those comments and my thoughts.

The majority of those that left a response said they would choose "option one." If you selected "option one" and well managed your relationship development and engagement processes, then helping "Mary"--the stakeholder in question--and her team contribute to the change should be beneficial. Why?

The first thing to consider is that Mary would be a key stakeholder at several different levels in the overall change management program.

As a long-term employee leading a group of workers, she is a stakeholder in the overall organization and is likely to have many unofficial contacts and significant influence.

As the leader of a group of workers who will be disadvantaged by a planned reorganization, she and her team are critically important stakeholders for the change manager. The group will never like the consequences of the change, but they need to be included so they at least cooperate for the good of the overall organization.

Because they can contribute knowledge and support, Mary and her team are also stakeholders of the program and particularly your project. The assumption that your team has enough knowledge to bypass her people is risky. You don't know everything that happens in Mary's section on a day-to-day basis.

The second important consideration is where the value is created. Ultimately, there is no value to the organization unless the change is successfully implemented.

Your project may deliver a key component needed for the reorganization but if it is not used, there is no value. This is something IT people in particular need to remember; 99 percent of IT projects require changes to business processes and are a complete waste of time if the business people reject the new processes.

If you selected "option two" and chose to ignore Mary, she is likely to become an active opponent of the change (no involvement equals no commitment and no support). This puts your most important stakeholder at a disadvantage: the overall change manager.

Is This Your Project Stakeholder?

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Imagine for a moment your organization has decided on a major restructure, and as a consequence has initiated a change-management process and appointed a change

The change manager develops the business case for a major program of work. The executives responsible for the organization's portfolio management approve the business case and agree to fund and resource the program.

The program manager sets up the program management team, establishes the program
management office and charters a series of projects to develop the various deliverables needed to implement the change. And you have been appointed project manager for one of the projects.

In this situation, your life as a project manager would be fairly straightforward; you have direct-line management responsibility to the program manager, and the change manager is your project sponsor. The program management office looks after most of the issues of sourcing adequate funds and resources.

All you have to do is deliver the project's outputs as defined in the project charter.

However, part of your project ideally needs the cooperative input from a group of people
who will be significantly disadvantaged by the overall reorganization. This group is led by a 20-year veteran of the organization, whom we will call Mary. At the moment, Mary's loyalties are divided--at one level she wants what's best for the organization she has worked for all her life, but she also wants to preserve her team and keep the status quo.

Fortunately, you have enough domain knowledge in your team to bypass her input and produce the deliverables anyway. So what should you do?

Option one is to work to get Mary and her team's input--if not their positive cooperation--but risk delaying your project's completion and overspending the budget.

Option two is to use the knowledge you already have in the team to produce the deliverable and bypass the problem, thereby ensuring on-time and on-budget delivery. This option also minimizes the chance of Mary interfering in the overall work of the project and program.

What would be your recommendation to the program manager? Option one, two or something different? Post your thoughts in the "comments" section and we shall draw some conclusions in my next post.

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