Voices on Project Management

Results tagged “Lynda Bourne” from Voices on Project Management

Problems, Conflicts and Decisions

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While frequently treated as separate topics, conflict management, problem-solving and decision-making are interrelated and all are focused on achieving the best possible outcome.

In an ideal world, there would always be sufficient information and rational maturity to allow you to treat everything as a problem and apply the following problem-solving steps to reach the optimum solution:


  1. Investigate the problem.
  2. Define the problem; the way it is defined will influence the solution.
  3. Identify the root cause.
  4. Define the "solution space" -- the potential range of acceptable methods and solutions the options have to conform to.
  5. Generate options. This can include: group creative processes such as brainstorming, negotiation between parties, facilitated processes, and reflection and other individual processes.
  6. Decide on the solution that solves the root cause in the simplest way. 
  7. Implement the solution effectively.
  8. Review the implementation.

The trouble with this process is that problem-solving assumes there is a best answer -- that the information needed to determine the answer is available and that the people involved in the process are acting rationally. These circumstances are relatively rare!

Many of the problems that require solving are rooted in emotions. At its center, every conflict has people acting (or reacting) emotionally, and conflict management is focused on reducing the effect of emotions to allow the people in conflict to start acting rationally. Any effective solution to a conflict involves defining the problem, defining a solution space (e.g., a formal mediation), understanding the options, choosing a solution and then implementing the solution. The only difference is how these steps are implemented or imposed. The standard solution options are:

  • Forcing/Directing: The solution is imposed by a manager with adequate power or a tribunal (i.e., a judge, arbitrator or adjudicator).
  • Smoothing/Accommodating: Emphasizes agreement, minimizes the issues in dispute and allows time for emotions to cool and any residual issues to be resolved through a rational decision-making process.
  • Compromising/Reconciling: Both sides give something up to resolve the problem. Option generation is limited by the level of conflict.
  • Problem-solving/Collaborating: Also referred to as "confronting." A joint approach to the problem -- collaborative decision-making -- is used to find a mutually acceptable solution (that is, a win-win).
  • Withdrawing/Avoiding/Accepting: Allows time for emotions to cool but may not resolve the issue.
Different conflict-management processes are appropriate at different times. The primary focus is on reducing or managing the level of conflict, but eventually someone has to decide on the solution to the underlying problems.

Problem-solving and decision-making are also closely aligned. But the weakness of the problem-solving concept is the assumption that there is sufficient data to make the "right decision." Unfortunately, many decisions are not that simple!

The types of decisions you will be required to make range from "simple problems" through to "wicked problems":

  • Wicked problems are those that keep changing and involve the stakeholder's emotions and complexity. You can never really define the problem that needs a decision but still have to decide something. And every decision changes the problem -- an iterative, one-step-at-a-time approach is usually best.
  • Dilemmas have no right answer. You have to use your intuition and choose the lesser of two evils. Not making a decision is almost always worse than either of the options.
  • Conundrums are intricate and difficult questions that only have a conjectural answer.
  • Puzzles and mysteries lack adequate information to resolve, requiring your best decision based on the assessed probabilities at the given time. You almost never have enough time to get all of the information and skills you need to reduce these decisions to simple problems, but you can use processes to a point.
  • Problems just require hard work and the application of the problem-solving process described above to get to the best decision.
The challenge of decision-making is to understand and balance the following:

  • The characteristics of the problem you have to make a decision about
  • The levels of emotion and conflict in the people affected by the decision
  • The characteristics of the different types of decisions you will have to make
  • 
The last step is to have the courage to make the best decision you can, in the circumstances as you understand them at that point in time. 
Ultimately, good decision-making is firstly getting most decisions reasonably correct (luck plays a part) and then continually reviewing the consequences of your decisions to adapt, adjust and correct the suboptimal ones as quickly as possible. Generally, any considered decision made in the appropriate time frame is better than no decision or an unnecessarily delayed one.

How do you make your decisions when confronted with a problem?

Eliminate the Fear Factor

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A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) and most modern management texts emphasize leadership and motivation over directive control. 

Yet if employee surveys are to be believed, around 70 percent of managers still operate in command-and-control mode. These managers rely on authority, discipline and fear to drive performance. And their team's commitment to the organization and performance suffer accordingly. 

It's simply futile to tell people they must come up with a bright idea within the next 30 minutes or sanctions will be applied! Fear damages creativity and destroys openness; frightened people cannot work effectively in a knowledge economy.

If people are scared of being blamed, the last thing they'll do is pass on accurate information about an issue or a problem. And effective management decision-making depends on the open transmission of bad news. Project controls staff must know what's really happening and need honest estimates of future consequences to provide planning advice.

To understand how serious this problem can be, consider that one of the causes of the up to ₤425 million loss so far on the ₤2.4 billion U.K. Universal Credit program -- ultimately credited to "weak management, ineffective control and poor governance" -- was that no one in the development team felt able to highlight their problems to senior management. Fear of being blamed kept the knowledge of the problem from the people who needed to know. 

Trusting and empowering your team, open communication, leadership and motivation are all closely interlinked and in combination create high-performance teams. 

This is not a new concept. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Prussian military developed auftragstaktik (or mission command) under the core tenet of bounded initiative. The leader's role is to clearly outline his/her intentions and rationale. Assuming people have proper training and the organizational culture is strong, subordinates can then formulate their own plan of action based on their understanding of the actual situation. 

What do these ideas mean for project managers?

  • Move from a position of telling to asking. 
  • Work to build open and trusting communication; don't blame.
  • Instead of using control tools such as schedules as a target to measure, use them as a means to collaborate.
  • Be prepared to forgive mistakes -- encouraging creativity always has the possibility of the idea not working.
How do you eliminate the "fear factor" from within your team? 

Fight or Flight?

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Most points of difference can be resolved through negotiation, discussion or input from a third party. But other times, circumstances quickly descend into acrimony.

Bear in mind when a "fight" breaks out, it's always personal and emotional. If you can remove those two elements, all that remains is a difference or disagreement that can be resolved. 

Unfortunately, emotions kick in quick and are far more powerful than rational thought. Fight or flight is one of the most basic of survival strategies. As soon as a trigger matching the learned pattern of a perceived threat is sensed, the fight reaction cuts in. Some time later -- a few seconds or a few hours later -- rational thought may override the need to fight, but it always lags the instantaneous emotional reaction. 

The easiest of the conflicts to manage is where a stereotype is involved. You simply have to distinguish the specific person from the overall stereotype. For example, if a team member has an issue with the project management office (PMO), you can say: "Yes, everyone from the PMO is an interfering bureaucrat focused on wasting time by gathering excessive detail. But Mary from the PMO is different; she's really a 'project manager' and can make your job easy." In this scenario, you simply highlight Mary's positives and distance her from the PMO stereotype. 

When the fight response is more personal, you should still try to remove the emotion, but your task is much harder. Remember, emotions are instinctive, and factors such as fatigue, stress and emotional events can all shift the balance of power toward the fight instinct. 

Taking time out to cool down allows rational thinking to seep in, provided the emotions aren't triggered again as soon as the other person returns. This process can be encouraged by diversionary tactics, such as changing the focus or place of discussion, or doing something completely different. It's a good time to go down to the pub...

Mediators use a number of tactics to start a rational negotiation. One is to encourage each of the parties to let it all out and vent their anger in a controlled environment. Once a person has done this, it's very difficult to maintain the rage. Another is to hold one-on-one discussions and carry messages back and forth between the parties. This removes the trigger for fighting and allows messages to be heard. If there's any common ground, rational debate can start and, with luck and good management, continue once the parties are face to face.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) advocates keeping disagreements professional and based on rational discussions of information. While this is desirable, we're all people with emotions and sometimes those emotions will take over. A good manager recognizes this and allows time for emotions to settle before using more proactive negotiating tactics to bring rational debate back into play. 

How do you deal with conflict?

Stakeholder Victory, Without Battle

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Chinese military general Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War nearly 2,500 years ago. But his ideas still hold value on the art of stakeholder engagement. After all he did say: "The greatest victory is that which requires no battle," which should be the ultimate aim of every stakeholder engagement process.

One of the clearest messages from The Art of War is the supremacy of strategy over tactics and tactics over reaction. Yet project teams spend most of their time reacting to stakeholders with a few tactical activities, such as report distribution and progress meetings. This approach gives the initiative to the stakeholders. And, as we all know, not every stakeholder has the project's best interests at heart, and those who are supportive rarely have a deep understanding of your project's real needs.

Sun Tzu states that success is driven by strategy: "All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved." Planning your stakeholder engagement should involve far more than simply deciding who needs what information.

The starting point for a good strategy is good intelligence. "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles." Project practitioners and their teams need to understand who's important and why; what their attitude to the work is (and why); what you need from them (if anything); and what those people want from you.

After this analysis, key questions for the team include: 
  • How reliable is our information?
  • What changes do we need to create in the stakeholder community?
  • Where are the risks and threats within the community?
  • How can we make the changes we need?
  • How can we minimize any opposition and damage? 
Now you're in a position to develop a pragmatic strategy to proactively engage with your stakeholder community, focusing on those people who matter. But beware: "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat." You and your team need to first understand your strategic intent and then develop appropriate tactics to implement the strategy. 

You could, for example, produce the standard monthly report containing data on your project's environmental protection activities. Or, if you know that several senior stakeholders you need as allies are concerned about your organization's reputation, you could highlight the team's successful environmental efforts with a photo on the cover. No senior manager ever reads a report (particularly all of the boring data on environmental monitoring in the appendix). But they can't miss a cover photo -- or how you're helping them achieve one of their organizational objectives. Smart tactics, minimal effort, and now you now have some powerful friends. Similar approaches can be used to minimize the impact of stakeholders opposed to the project if you understand what's important to them. 

Sun Tzu clearly shows that engaging with stakeholders requires more than reactive responses. The good news is a well-thought-out strategy -- implemented through nimble and effective tactics -- can virtually eliminate the need for reactive responses and crisis management, resulting in an overall saving of effort. "Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win." 

Does your stakeholder-management strategy let you "win first" and then deliver an outcome that benefits your stakeholder community? What other stakeholder wisdom have you picked up from Sun Tzu?

Adjusting to Team Time Warps

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Have you ever wondered why one person is always late for meetings while another one is always early?

Chances are you're dealing with people who see time differently. For some, time flows from the future into the present and on to the past at a steady rate of 60 minutes every hour. Others see time as a river carrying them forward to an uncertain future. And while everyone is aware of the three elements of time -- the past, the present and the future -- cultures see these in different ways.

Western European cultures tend to have a strong future focus -- what's happening in the present is focused on securing a good future outcome. The past is relatively unimportant, since "you can't change history."

Cultures with a present focus let go of the past, don't worry about the future and fully enjoy the experience of the present. This focus can be a wonderfully relaxing experience, but it can also lead to the need for immediate gratification and short-term payoffs -- traits of many "youth" cultures. 

More traditional societies -- for example, those found in Africa, Asia and southern Europe -- tend to have a past focus, looking to preserve their history and respect family and society elders. For them, the present is a continuation of the past, and there's not much point in doing too much planning for an uncertain future. In these societies, the Western view of time as a strictly linear function of seconds, minutes, hours and days is seen as very limiting.

Understanding these different perspectives can help you in a project environment. For example, someone with a strong present focus will see the discussion they're currently engaged in as important and consider it inappropriate to cut it off just to be on time for a meeting. But if that meeting is organized by a forward-looking person with a strong time focus, there will be problems.

One way to decipher where you and your team members are in the "time warp" is to use U.S. psychologist Thomas J. Cottle's Circle Test. Grab a sheet of paper and draw three circles on the page, arranging them in the way that best shows how you feel about the relationship between the past, present and future. Use different size circles to indicate relative importance and separate or overlap the circles depending on how much influence each one has on the others. 

Here are two examples that illustrate the different ways people view time:

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The purple circles represent a strong future focus with the present feeding into achieving future outcomes. There's little connection to the past. This is typical for a lot of time-conscious project managers focused on planning their projects (a future focus) and then implementing the plans (a present focus).

The blue circles show a strong present focus firmly grounded in past experiences and traditions. The present is a bit more important than the past, but the future is not really connected to the present and of lesser importance. Don't expect someone with this perspective to be very interested in planning for an uncertain future or being on time for meetings. Their view of success is built on the strength of existing relationships and systems. 

The Western/project management focus on time can be effective, but it can also be dangerous, particularly in cross-cultural teams and when dealing with clients with a different time focus. The stress of missing an impending deadline can affect people's health, cause then to sacrifice their relationships and lead to shortcuts in quality and missed opportunities. Is it really worth destroying value by de-scoping a project just to achieve a deadline (especially if it's artificial)? A more balanced view may be that while the deadline is missed, there are opportunities to deliver 100 percent of the scope, identify additional hidden value, and maintain a healthier and happier project team. The optimum answer depends on the circumstances of the project and the time focus of key stakeholders.

What's your time orientation and how does it fit with the rest of your team and other stakeholders?

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?

Careful -- What You Measure Is What You Get

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"You cannot manage what you cannot measure" is a common mantra of today's business world. But to really make a difference on projects, you also have to make sure you're measuring -- and communicating -- the right things.

A policy introduced to measure the performance of our local hospitals a couple years back offers a salient lesson. Our state government decided to incentivize hospitals by rewarding good performance and penalizing poor performance using a standard set of KPIs.

The plan created many vested interests:

  • The government's desire to look good by reducing patient waiting time
  • The hospitals' desire to achieve the maximum budget income for the year
  • The administrators' desire, both in the hospital and the government, to avoid rocking the boat 
But an audit found KPI-induced behaviors, in many cases, were worse for patients than if nothing had changed in policy.

For example, one key measure was the time patients wait in the casualty/emergency area before being admitted to the hospital. So to avoid a fine for failing to admit the patient within the prescribed maximum time, some administrators were transferring patients from emergency care to the operating theater's waiting area. 

The action meant a reduction in the level of care, with the patient being moved to an area with little monitoring capability. Throughput in the operating theater was also diminished due to overcrowding and skilled staff having to spend time on patient care rather than surgery.

The government had its data and the hospital system responded to the stimulus of the KPI, but everyone forgot the key objective: enhanced patient care. 

There are a number of important lessons in this story to consider when setting up project dashboards and the like:

  • The KPIs you choose communicate to stakeholders what you think is most important. What is easy to measure is not necessarily important.
  • What you choose to measure will change behaviors. Focus on things that matter, such as value and benefits, not easy-to-measure statistics, such as time and cost. 
  • Make sure the data is validated. 
  • A KPI system cannot solve the problem, but it can be a powerful facilitator of solutions if it's set to measure the right statistics and ask the right questions. 
Simply identifying a problem and creating a KPI is not enough! Work with the project team to make sure an effective solution is crafted and then measure the effectiveness of the solution. This is far more challenging than simply processing monthly reports on easily accessible information such as schedule performance, but it can really contribute to the overall performance of your organization. 

Finally, remember that if you pick the wrong KPI, you will get behavior changes, often times for the worse. It's better to have an informed conversation with key stakeholders over value and what really matters. 

What messages are you sending with the metrics you choose to measure success?

Determining the Value of Value

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What exactly is value? A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) -- Fifth Edition suggests value is a concept unique to each organization and encompasses the total sum of all tangible and intangible value elements. 

Determining the tangible ones is relatively straightforward and can easily be reduced to a financial return. More difficult is understanding the intangible value elements the project can create -- and identifying low-cost options with the potential to create massive intangible value by creating favorable outcomes in the minds of stakeholders.

One simple example is the practice of cutting small viewing windows in construction site fences. The cost is minimal, but the practice delivers value through improved safety because passers-by don't need to stand near the gate to see what's going on. There's also the public relations value of letting the public see the actual progress of the work. 

The challenge is finding and tracking these valuable intangibles, bearing in mind most of the value will be created in the minds of various stakeholders. One useful tool is consultant Edward de Bono's Six Value Medals: 

  • Gold Medal: Covers the things that matter directly to people, including pride, achievement, praise or humiliation.
  • Silver Medal: Centers on the purpose and mission of the organization and what matters to the overall business. It considers what will help or hinder us in pursuit of our goals. Examples might include profits, market share or brand image.
  • Steel Medal: Considers the effects on the quality or fitness for purpose of what we're doing, either positive or negative.
  • Glass Medal: Looks at impacts on our ability to innovate and change to do things in a new or improved way.
  • Wood Medal: Draws attention to the environment in the broadest sense, describing positive or negative effects of our decisions or actions on the world around us.
  • Brass Medal: Asks whether there's any resulting change in the way we and others perceive or are perceived.
Based on those, we can perform a "value scan" when determining courses of action within the project and prioritize actions to achieve the values that matter most.

Take a simple example. The last office refit covered up a duct in the wall of the CEO's new office. Now your project has to rip the sidewall out to access the duct and upgrade the cabling. Where's the extra value? Some possible medal ideas include:

  • Gold: Issue an internal news item showing the CEO cooperating with the project despite the inconvenience.
  • Steel: Make sure the duct is accessible in future without demolition work.
  • Glass: Use the repairs to offer an opportunity to update the CEO's office color scheme incorporating her preferences. 
There are probably other possibilities as well depending on the actual project. How do you assess the value of your project to your stakeholder community?

Dealing with Difficult People

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Your ability to contribute to a project team depends a lot on your ability to relate to people -- your team members, stakeholders, managers. While positive and supportive relationships can propel you to success, dysfunctional relationships can destroy you. 

If you mismanage a dysfunctional relationship with a difficult person, the fallout will affect your productivity and, quite possibly, the fate of your project. 

The first step is to identify whether you're in a toxic professional relationship. Here are some signs to look for in the other person; he/she:

  1. Stifles your talent and limits your opportunities for advancement 
  2. Twists circumstances and conversations to their benefit 
  3. Punishes you for a mistake rather than help you correct it 
  4. Reminds you constantly or publicly of a disappointing experience or unmet expectation 
  5. Takes credit or withholds recognition for new ideas and extra effort 
  6. Focuses solely on meeting their goals and does so at your expense 
  7. Fails to respect your need for personal space and time 
To successfully manage difficult people, you need to set boundaries that encourage mutual respect and keep the focus on productivity. Boundaries remind people of what's acceptable to you and what's reasonable to expect from you, and prevent difficult people from taking up too much of your time and energy. Failure to set these boundaries simply allows a toxic relationship to develop.

Establishing boundaries isn't easy, however. Difficult people don't like boundaries. They want to shift responsibilities according to their mood and create work environments that mirror their personal environments. 

Here are some ways you can set boundaries:

  1. Manage your time. Set a limit on the amount of time you spend beyond the hours needed to complete the project work. For example, you should politely but firmly decline an invitation to a peripheral meeting.
  2. Express yourself. Reveal aspects of your personality that reinforce your values. Sometimes it's a matter of letting people in a little bit to help keep your boundaries intact. If aggressive behavior offends you, say so (in a firm, but non-aggressive way), but you also need to consistently act in an assertive (rather than aggressive) way.   
  3. Build your reputation, and do it carefully and consistently. Everyone plays a role at work. Your co-workers should know what you stand for and what to expect from you. Then, don't waiver. Authenticity is the key -- behave in the way you expect others to treat you.
  4. Change the conversation. Stay focused on the project and away from nonproductive behavior.  Avoid gossip, criticism and other negative conversations by simply stating: "I don't really have time to discuss that just now, but I really do need your input on this project issue." If the attack is on you personally, ask to "take the conversation off line and focus on this important project matter now."

Effective relationship management is not for the faint-hearted. But when you know how to handle difficult relationships appropriately, you'll be in a much stronger position to achieve your objectives and succeed.

How do you manage difficult people? What advice would you give for establishing boundaries?

Communicating Change

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To implement a successful change initiative, you must first create the desire for change within the affected stakeholder community. If stakeholders believe the message being communicated, the way they react and feel changes in response.

Research in Australia, New Zealand and the United States has consistently demonstrated physical changes in people based on what they've been told. Studies report people Down Under and in Canada who are told wind turbines cause health problems actually experience health problems. Similarly, in a 2007 study, Harvard researchers told some female hotel employees that their usual duties met the U.S. Surgeon General's recommendations for an exercise regimen. Four weeks later, the researchers found improvements in blood pressure, body mass index and other health indices among the informed group compared to a control group of attendants who hadn't been so informed.

What this suggests is the conversations around your change initiative will have a direct effect on how people experience the change. Gossip and scaremongering will cause bad reactions; positive news creates positive experiences.

To drive success, you need to make the right conversations. Some strategies to help include:

  • If you can't see and articulate how the change is actually going to work, it probably won't work. Explain "how" and keep explaining to everyone affected by the project's outcomes.
  • While it's painful to integrate change management planning into your project planning, it's even more painful to watch your project fail. Make sure all aspects of the change are covered in your project plan or the associated change management plan -- and that the two plans are coordinated.
  • Keep explaining the "whys" behind the change. Once is never enough! You need a well-thought-out and implemented communication plan.
  • The only antidote to scaremongering is information. And that information needs to be accurate and believed. What's actually going to happen is never as bad as the things people imagine "might happen" in the absence of easy-to-understand, well-communicated facts. 
Expectations tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. You need to communicate the expected change your project is creating will be beneficial and good for the majority of the stakeholders. If this message is both true and believed (the two elements are not automatically connected), the experience of the stakeholders is more likely to be positive. 

Communication often can mean the difference between project success and failure. A 2013 PMI Pulse of the Profession™ in-depth report shows that executives and project managers around the world agree that poor communication contributes to project failure. Of the two in five projects that fail to meet original goals, one of the two do so because of ineffective communications. The study also reveals that effective communication is a critical factor in creating success.

Given the stakes, it's time to ask: How much positive communication do you do each day?

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.

Teaching

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

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!

Counseling

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

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?

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?

What's the Story? Stakeholders Want to Know

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There is nothing like a good story to connect with project stakeholders and team members. Storytelling has been used to communicate sophisticated ideas for millennia, ranging from the parables in the Bible to the morals found in fairy tales. 

Done right, storytelling is a captivating way to explain why your project (or a decision within the project) was initiated, what it will become and the benefits that will follow. 

Creating a good story requires skill, and while you may never become the next J.K. Rowling, applying some effective development techniques can help you hone your own storytelling style.

The "story spine," a tool created by U.S. playwright Kenn Adams, helps project professionals craft well-structured stories. The outline is a series of sentence fragments that prompt the narrative elements of your story. You can even use it in a group setting -- perhaps during an exercise in which you ask team members to craft a story to explain the technical decisions made by team.

The template is as follows, with a project management example in italics on securing buy-in to solve an emerging risk issue:

The Platform introduces the issue or topic.

  • Once upon a time...
  • Example: The project risk register identified...

The Catalyst explains why this is important today.

  • But one day, something changed...
  • Example: The recent findings have escalated this risk significantly by...

The Consequences explains the journey and the "problem."

  • Because of that... (This is repeated as many times as you wish.)
  • Example: Because of this, we have had to change...

  • And then _____ occurred.
  • Example: This change caused...

The Climax is the turning point that leads to the proposed solution.

  • Until finally...
  • Example: Which means the project must...

The Resolution is the final -- and positive -- solution to problem. 

  • And the moral of the story is...
  • Example: And we need your approval to implement these recommendations.

So next time you need to sell an idea to management or to your project team, why not try a good story? 

Have you ever tried telling a story to gain buy-in from stakeholders? What technique did you find helpful? 

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?

Tailoring Communication for Top Stakeholders

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Given the amount of work involved, most of your project communication efforts should focus on the stakeholders crucial to the success of your project. And this requires answering two key questions: Who are the most important stakeholders, and why are they important? 

Determining who's important is usually straightforward, based on an assessment of the stakeholder's power and involvement in the project. Understanding why each "important stakeholder" is important helps you define the type of relationship you need to develop for effective communication.

Enter the mutuality matrix, a useful project communications tool that starts with two dimensions:

  • Each stakeholder needs something from the project to further his or her interests, or alternatively, needs nothing from the project. 
  • The project requires the active support (assistance or resources) of the important stakeholders, or alternatively, requires nothing from the stakeholder.

These assumptions create four quadrants for categorizing each of the important stakeholders:

  • Project needs nothing/stakeholder needs nothing: Stakeholders in this quadrant are usually protesters. In this case, you have two communication options: You may be able to defuse their opposition by providing better information, but this only works if the protesting is based on false assumptions. Otherwise, you may choose to limit communication with the stakeholder whilst keeping the communication channels open. 
  • Project needs nothing/stakeholder needs something: The stakeholders in this quadrant are the easiest to manage from a communication perspective. You are already providing their requirements as part of the project deliverables. All that's required is to provide reassurance that their needs will be fulfilled. If their requirements are outside of the project's scope, the stakeholder should initiate a change request.
  • Project needs something/stakeholder needs something: This group needs active management. Project communication must clearly link the stakeholder's support or resources to how the project fulfills his or her requirements. Take the time needed to develop robust relationships to facilitate cooperation.
  • Project needs something/stakeholder needs nothing: Stakeholders in this quadrant are a major risk. They're typically regulatory authorities, or people who have to inspect or approve the project's work as part of their business. Carefully build a proper professional relationship that respects the integrity of the stakeholder's position while at the same time ensuring your communications are received and acted upon.

Once you understand the mutuality matrix, the way you communicate with each of the important stakeholders can be adjusted to ensure both parties achieve a satisfactory outcome. For example, the time and effort saved by minimizing communication with intractable objectors can be invested in building relationships with your key suppliers.

Keep in mind that each stakeholder will also be either supportive of or opposed to the project. Important stakeholders against the project — typically competitors and objectors — usually need nothing from the project and your communication should be focused on minimizing the objections. Similarly, important stakeholders who need something from the project are usually either passive or supportive, and your communication should be focused on building robust relationships.

How do you identify and communicate with important stakeholders?

5 Communication Tips for Better Stakeholder Management

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Over the past few years, I have written numerous posts looking at different aspects of stakeholder management. But what really matters and what is just useful to know? 

Here are my top five things to know to achieve effective stakeholder management:

1. Know who really matters. Make sure that the majority of your limited resources are being used to communicate with the stakeholders who really matter. They might not always be the bosses, either. The most important stakeholders will almost certainly change from month to month, so you need to regularly re-assess who is a top influencer at any given time. 

2. Know why those stakeholders matter and what they need or want. Mutuality is important. If you need something from the stakeholder, you need to be able to link your needs with their requirements. Trading is far more effective and realistic than relying on charity or altruism. 

3. One size fits no one. If you want your communication to be effective and deliver the outcome you need, you must understand the stakeholder with whom you're communicating. If you want your communication to have its intended effect, you need to have the right information for the receiver, in the proper format and delivered through the channel he or she prefers. 

4. Attitudes change constantly. People change their minds all of the time. What you knew about your stakeholder's attitude toward your project last month is probably out of date. To compensate for a shift in focus, constantly re-assess the important stakeholder's attitudes and adjust your communication plan to deal with the current situation.

5. Everyone is biased (including you). When managing stakeholders, rational objectivity is nearly impossible to achieve. You are using your perception of your stakeholder's perception of your project to plan and manage your stakeholder communication effort. But perceptions are not real -- they are simply a person's understanding of what they believe to be real, filtered through their innate and acquired biases. 

To be successful, you need to be pragmatic, design the best communication plan you can with the resources available to you, and then see what happens. 

Knowing these five basic concepts and adapting as the situation changes won't guarantee success, but it will at last give you a fighting chance. Your project will always be better off if you spend time thinking about the best way to manage your stakeholder's needs and expectations. 

Motivate Stakeholders on the Project Team

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When it comes to stakeholder management, many project managers forget to consider the project team members.

Every project manager and team leader wants to direct a team of motivated people. And many team leaders probably know that the most powerful forms of motivation -- autonomy, mastery and purpose -- center around self-actualization.

So as a project manager or team leader, it's up to you to facilitate these circumstances for each member of your project team. To do this, you need effective communication in three key areas:

1. Comprehension. Make sure the person assigned to a task understands the work and measures of success, and agrees he or she can achieve the desired outcome.

Asking the team member questions and listening to his or her suggestions on how to best accomplish the work helps develop the team member's sense of ownership associated with autonomy.

2. Acknowledgement. Everyone likes to feel they have accomplished something in their workday. Facilitating this feeling is part management -- minimizing interruptions and diversions -- and part communication.

Make sure a team member's progress is acknowledged on a regular basis and "accidentally" catch the person doing something right. You have to notice and rectify errors in performance. Balance this negativity by acknowledging positives. This is a daily process to keep the team motivated and focused.

3. Purpose. Change is inevitable in project management, and it's up to you to maintain a sense of purpose throughout a project's lifecycle. The challenge usually comes when you have to move a project team member to another role or change his or her objectives. This can be especially frustrating if the team member has developed a sense of purpose around his or her overall project objectives and work.

If you simply instruct people to change, you risk damaging or destroying motivation. Instead, communicate these four points:

  1. The problem with the current situation, and the consequences of not changing.
  2. The reason the proposed change has been preferred over the other available options.
  3.  The expected benefits from adopting the change.
  4. The contribution the person can make while achieving the new objective.
This approach doesn't have to be complex. For example, let's assume you need to move John from development to testing:

  1. John, we need your help in testing. Mary is out sick and the schedule is weeks behind. If we don't catch up, the whole project will be delayed.
  2. I'm asking you to help because you have more experience in testing than anyone else.
  3. With your skills in testing and your knowledge of the development, I'm sure we will be able to recover the lost time in testing with minimal disruption to the development effort.
  4. With good management all around, I'm hoping this change will prevent a delayed completion, but we need you to make this possible. Are you willing to help?
If John says yes, you have turned a motivated developer into a motivated tester.

Above all, communicating to motivate has to be authentic to be effective, and it need not require too much time and effort. Plus, the extra time spent motivating will be more than repaid in better team performance.

How do you keep stakeholders happy on your project team?

Make Your Project Communication Really Sing

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The core purpose of communication is to share information or direct a behavior change. This is particularly true of communication with your project team members.

The challenge of effective communication is keeping a consistent point and changing your presentation and rhythm to avoid becoming boring.

Great communicators use a similar approach to great music. It does not matter if you listen to Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5" or Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." You find consistency and variety in both. Patches of high intensity contrasted with quieter movements create a memorable and complete masterpiece.

The same effect can be achieved in your communication by balancing positive and negative elements of a message or changing the direction of the information flow.

For example, if you want someone to stop an undesirable behavior, point out the problem, but also highlight the benefits of the change you want to occur. Or rather than telling the team they are behind schedule, change the direction of the information flow and ask them for ideas to regain the lost time. The point you are making is consistent, but the variety in presentation leads to engagement.

Another key element is to finish on a high note. Great music does not fade away. It builds to a crescendo!

Great communicators such as Martin Luther King Jr. or Winston Churchill had a consistent, heartfelt message they communicated in a way that would create a strong reaction in their listeners.

Both had different speaking styles, but each had a real sense of rhythm and performance. Their speeches are carefully crafted for effect, but the presentation adds enormous weight to the message.

While you may never need to 'fight on the landing fields' or 'have a dream' to change a nation, taking the time to think through how you will present the information in your communication in a way that is engaging and memorable will help you be more effective in getting your message across to your audience.

Do you spend more time drafting your message or thinking about how you will communicate the message?

Why 'What's In It For Me?' Works in Projects

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Have you ever wondered why many executives don't turn up for your steering committee meeting and those who do are usually on their smartphones?

Chances are that the only information the executives received about your meeting was the agenda and the briefing notes, which focus on the project's status and technical performance. This is abstract data that takes time to read and understand. As a consequence, it becomes paperwork that is put aside to read later, buried under other paperwork and eventually forgotten.

To be successful in attracting the attention of busy executives, focus on a 30-second 'wake-up call' that will cut through the thousands of other messages circulating in your organization and get the executives attention. You cannot communicate unless you get the other person's attention first; so your 'call' must persuade each member of the committee to be both physically and mentally present for your meeting. Only then will your more complex messages be heard and possibly acted upon.

The solution is 'What's In It For Me' (WIFM).

WIFM appeals directly to the attention and decision-making functions of the human brain. The amygdala, a part of the brain, rules much of our actions and behavior.

The amygdala determines in a fraction of a second what we pay attention to. It will pay no attention at all unless it can immediately see WIFM. To cut through each executive's communication overload, your 30-second 'wake-up call' needs to be direct and simple and appeal to the person's emotions. Pleasure and fear are equally effective emotions, so the call should worry the executive--or make him or her feel good. It should not focus on a third party, such as you or your project.

The amygdala is expert at screening everything that doesn't directly interest it, including things that are abstract, complex or about someone else. Uninteresting or confusing messages are rejected in the blink of an eye, before the rational and analytical areas of the brain have a chance to begin the thinking process.

Only after you have gained the executive's attention can you engage with the person and deal with the substance of the meeting. Strong messages start this process, but the real work of the meeting will require the use of more highly crafted forms of communication built around the concept of effectively 'advising upwards.'

Ask yourself: 'Are we getting the attention of those most important to us?' If you are getting attention, are you keeping it and building it? And if you don't know, what can you do to find out?

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