- Functional knowledge. Understanding the fundamental business processes that are added, changed or impacted by a project is an essential competency. An understanding of these business processes allows a project manager to make more effective decisions when it comes to design considerations as well as resolving project issues. But it is a set of skills that one is not necessarily born with. It's typically acquired through training -- many times on-the-job training, for example, in a business process analyst role or a functional role such as manufacturing operator, company accountant or human resources representative.
- Technical expertise. In addition to understanding fundamental business processes, a project manager must also understand the core technologies and supporting tools that enable a successful project outcome. As with functional expertise, we are not born with technical knowledge. Software developer, content designer or software package configuration specialist are just some of the roles where one can accumulate technical expertise.
- Project management experience. Back when I became a project manager, the only real avenue for gaining competency was by serving as a project manager. Today, there are many outlets for gaining exposure to project management in preparation for actually leading a project. Acquiring a certification such as a Project Management Professional (PMP)®, taking training courses on specialized project management practices or serving in a project management office (PMO) role are some examples of professional training opportunities that exist today.
- Leadership. Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle, once said, "I had all the necessary disadvantages to be successful." Mr. Ellison struggled from modest beginnings to lead a global software company. It is common for project managers to face uncertainty, adversity, conflict and many other challenges every day on a project. Their personal tenacity, durability and creativity can have a large bearing on the overall success of a project. To a great degree, being a leader -- the foundation of a project manager -- is born of our inherited behaviors as well as our early position and experiences in life.
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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?
Mr. Scalia simply replied that he didn't worry about that. He has life tenure, given to him by the U.S. government. He believes that tenure allows him to do and say what he thinks is right and not worry about how it will affect his career or colleagues.
This answer had a profound effect on me. I often wonder if I am "doing the right thing" when I make decisions at work. I try, but I would not be honest if I did not admit that the career survival instinct hasn't kicked in once in a while. Perhaps sometimes I compromise on issues that I know are not good for my projects or my team. But I'll give the client the answer they want to hear, or perhaps tone down the weekly status report to avoid stirring the pot when there are real issues to discuss.
I've now started applying what I will refer to as the "life tenure" rule to all of my decisions and activities. I try to look at a decision or situation through the lens of "If I did not have to worry about politics or personalities or self-promotion, would I still make this move?" I have to say, thankfully, that I appear to achieve that about 90 percent of the time. But clearly I think that can improve.
I know it is naive to think that someone could or should perform their job as if they could not get fired. Or to think that if we all had that freedom, that we would always make the right decision. But it is an interesting concept to ponder, and a fascinating test to apply.
Think about it: How would your professional life change if you had life tenure as a project manager?
1. Beyond the triple constraint
Organizations have been looking to have a good mix of project, program and portfolio managers. Organizations should re-design and build project management systems thinking beyond the triple constraint.
The combined power of project portfolio, program and project management enables delivering business results not limited to the triple constraint.
For example, if a project was delivered on time, within budget and with required quality, but the project outcome doesn't provide expected value, then in my opinion, the project should not be considered successful.
As such, it behooves project managers to expand his or her career growth to acquire new skills and experience in the areas of program management and portfolio management.
2. SMAC project management
Due to the emergence of new projects in the social, mobile, analytics and cloud (SMAC), organizations must make sure their project management approach includes new or refined project lifecycles, templates, checklists, best practices, lessons learned, estimation techniques, risk registers, etc.
Organizations must train project managers to prepare them for managing these SMAC projects by educating them on these trends and how (or if) they will affect them.
3. More projects, different business functions
Projects will start to be identified in different business functions where they might not exist very often, such as sales, marketing, alliances, human resources, etc. Marketing managers, sales managers, HR managers, finance managers and the like have to acquire project management skills to deliver better results in their respective functions.
Organizations should refine their project management strategy to include project lifecycles for all projects and training for all managers. Project Management Centers of Excellence (COE) have to focus on creating special learning assets to train managers on project management in other functions.
4. 'Project-ized' education
In academics, course curriculums will be increasingly 'project-ized.' An engineering course, for example, could have more than 40 projects in the span of four years. Implementing those projects will enable students to learn through multiple and cross-discipline subjects. Students could look back on all of the projects in those years as a "project portfolio."
5. Every employee is a project manager
Project management means having a mindset of systematic planning, execution, monitoring, controlling and closure. Every task should be considered as a tiny project.
For example, writing a software code as part of a larger IT project should be considered a tiny project. Project management principles will be applied to successfully deliver the code on time and with high quality.
Creating this mindset across an organization requires cultural change. In many organizations currently, only a few people focus on project management. With the practice of considering every task as a tiny project, the need to have 'self project management' becomes prominent.
The best way to train employees to think like project managers is through on-the-job training. Teach employees to create mini-work breakdown structures, mini-schedule, self-reviews and corrective actions.
6. Project entrepreneurship
Project entrepreneurship means project managers must develop an "entrepreneurial" mindset. This enables project managers to take on risks, foster innovation and focus on business value rather just looking at the traditional triple constraints.
7. Program management offices (PMOs) as profit centers
PMOs will be transformed from cost centers to profit centers. PMOs will build very high-end consulting skills and offer services to business units on a profit basis. PMOs will focus on an 'outside-in' perspective and move away from an 'inside-out' perspective. PMO drivers will be around customers, markets and the economy, and not just limited to internal efficiencies .
This means that project managers have to understand the outside-in perspective. They have to focus on outcome and the value to be delivered to customers.
While I haven't figured out an exact formula for having superior productivity at all times, I have noticed what contributes to both success and failure in high productivity, for me. These four elements help me stay on track.
When you are coachable, you can easily adapt. You are willing to learn something new and possibly change something about yourself in terms of how you work, react or approach tasks.
Clarity of the overall goal
When I'm working on a project, I want to be clear on what we are working on, what the ultimate goal is, or final result that is expected. With the clarity of the goal, it's easier to commit.
With clarity, commitment and coachability, you're halfway there. What gets you to the end game is two other elements: discipline and self-control. I'm not perfect at either, but I've noted that when I am most successful, these two elements are present. When I fail or get close to failing, they are lacking.
Discipline allows me to focus on the right activity and to motivate myself to do what needs to be done on a regular basis. While I might be good at "catching up" on what I'm behind on, if I have the self-discipline, most of the time, I'm on task.
Self-control is an act of controlling one's impulses to do something other than the task at hand. I catch myself now getting distracted by some activities, but ultimately, self-control allows me to avoid the wrong ones.
We have to remember that what we do is guided by how we think. Every day, I set a goal to have all of these elements in check for any specific project or task. It opens up actions and the things I need to do right away to either stay on track, get back on track or even outperform what was planned.
How do you stay productive?
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As we experience "life" in project management -- managing various projects, working with new teams and wearing different hats on those teams -- we get to see various aspects of project management in action. We add to that knowledge from our own successes and failures.
We usually refer to those experiences as growth and development. The experience alters how we see things and how we communicate with people: our teammates, suppliers, third party partners, customers and clients. It also alters how we perform work because we gain a new point of view or change in our current point of view.
As such, it's valuable to review what you already know by reading through chapters of A Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) to focus on the key areas that you work in, be it in risk management, scope management or resource scheduling.
When you review the material after having had some experience, you not only remind yourself of what you learned initially, but you see it differently. You catch some elements that you didn't see how to implement before, or you recognize how to relate to something in a way that you didn't before. Having that "life" experience in project management alters how you see the material and how you apply it in everyday work.
This happened to me when I reviewed the PMBOK® Guide recently. After reviewing the chapter on risk management, I realized that my company needed to include additional steps for how we handle a backup or restore operation. While many companies have testing strategies, ours only documented this step conceptually. I may not have noticed this if I hadn't reread the PMBOK® Guide.
I challenge you to review the knowledge in the PMBOK® Guide and see how you can apply it to your active projects. Areas that you can improve on will turn up and will add value to your project management practice.
How do you rediscover your project management knowledge? Have you rediscovered practices from the PMBOK® Guide recently?
Editor's note: From 17 February - 20 March 2012, the exposure draft of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) -- Fifth Edition will be open for public review. Find out more and provide your recommendations and comments on the draft.
Maybe you need a break after reading an intense project plan, or conversely, you need to take a break from working on a project to read the plan.
No matter the break's impetus, it ultimately comes down to having a distraction from what you were doing.
Consider taking a purposeful break -- one that isn't simply a distraction or escape from a previous activity, but, as the name implies, that has a purpose and therefore achieves a desired result. I find that doing so allows you to be more productive and to re-energize faster.
It's the same approach that we use for effective project meetings. Making sure that we focus on the agenda, follow all the topics and cover the intended elements. What works best in this case is staying focused on the task at hand, remembering the purpose and the planned or expected outcome.
To take a purposeful break, I suggest you do exactly what you want to do. For example, if you need five minutes to unwind after an intense meeting, do nothing else but listen to music. Don't try to figure out something about the project activity you were just involved in or what you are about to do next. Just sit quietly.
By allowing your mind to truly rest and disconnect, I find you are more effective at whatever activity you take on next.
When we focus on an activity completely, it reduces multitasking, and we are able to complete the activity in less time, at a higher quality and with a sense of accomplishment. It's contagious: the more you get done in less time, the more you feel you can do.
This information may seem like common sense, but taking purposeful breaks regularly is what is going to contribute to one's effectiveness in project execution and time management.
Loaded questions usually carry some form of presumed fault. Here's an example: "Why didn't so-and-so provide us a project update on time?"
When someone -- project team member, stakeholder or client -- asks you such a question, how do you react? Do you answer it directly or do you try to defend yourself or your team, escalating the situation further?
In my opinion, the fastest and most effective way to respond to a loaded question is to address its underlying concern. When you address the issue rather than what is being asked on the surface, you create a safe environment where a person is understood.
Recently, I was in a situation where my first reaction was to defend myself and completely bash the opposing view. I stepped back and looked for their concern about the incident that occurred rather than jumping into defense mode.
As a result, I was able to see more clearly why in this situation, the project process was defined the way it was, without pushing my own agenda. Instead of seeing holes in the process, I started seeing what actions I needed to take. When I acknowledged this to the person that raised the question, the original concern disappeared for both of us.
The next time someone asks you a loaded question, answer the concern and not the question. The original issue may simply disappear.
Think about a recent encounter with a project team member or stakeholder where you may have gotten a bit defensive. What would be different in that situation if you listened for the concern behind what they were saying?
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Of course we're trained to do what we do at work, which isn't always the case for everyday life. We seek out specialized training for our field, and then we get to obtain certifications and credentials, continue our education and earn professional development units (PDUs) to maintain our designation. Meanwhile, there's no training for how to live an organized life.
Having project management knowledge allows us to be better project managers in our lives -- not just in our workplace. Indeed, project management processes can be applied to life's personal projects and activities.
When I was studying for my Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® certification, for example, I realized that my knowledge of the PMBOK® Guide applied to everything I was up to -- not just the management of projects at work. I became more organized. I worked on more projects of my own and had structure that allowed me to progress faster, and with better concrete results and more confidence.
All that came from this preparation. When I obtained my CAPM®, I was convinced that every single person that worked in the office could benefit from this education and certification, including project managers, project team members or department members that don't even work on large projects.
How do you apply project management principles to your life?
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