Projects don’t fail due to lack of process – projects fail due to lack of leadership. That said, there are two approaches to project management; “present & reporting” and “driving & leading”:
Present & Reporting: Far too many project leaders take the ‘present & reporting’ approach. Geared more toward the administrative side of the discipline, this approach focuses on form and function. Minutes are carefully taken and the project plan is meticulously maintained. Risks are delineated, Issues documents and project artifacts are developed and socialized. While these elements of project control are critical to success, they are not the true calling of the effective leader.
It’s not enough for the project leader to know what’s going on and to report events. This is more the role of a project administrator or project coordinator – a supporting role in the overall endeavor. The elements of ‘present and reporting’ are solid risk management tools, ensuring that team performance never falls below an established minimum but they do little to ensure the team attains maximum performance levels.
Driving and Leading: Motivating and influencing your team to achieve its maximum potential requires the ‘driving & leading’ approach. This demands that the project leader live and breathe her project. You might think of this as the ‘project Geek approach’ and that’s not a bad way to think about it. The effective project leader is constantly thinking, talking and acting in the project’s best interests, looking ahead and seeking out opportunities for the team to succeed while also removing obstacles to that success.
An effective project leader must maintain a sense of urgency on the project, constantly seeking ways to communicate to the team and motivate them to action, while not bombarding them with emails, process and administrivia. This is not an easy balancing act and requires focus, clarity in communications, soliciting and heeding feedback, and evangelizing about the goals of the project. Most importantly, it requires the project leader to set the bar high by setting a good example for the entire team.
The effective project leader doesn’t need to know everything about the project; rather, the effective project leader needs to know everything about how to get things DONE on the project and how best to keep the team motivated, informed, focused and executing on a daily basis.
© 2014, Mark E. Calabrese
As an executive, being able to communicate effectively at all levels is important. Equally important is the ability to effectively listen. If you’re a Talker like me (and anyone who knows me will tell you that I am definitely a Talker!), you have to find a good technique to balance the two and be an effective “bi-directional” communicator.
I was talking about this very topic with Mark Hall, a friend and mentor of mine. Mark likens communication to the sport fencing, knowing when to lunge, parry, feint, attack, etc. I think it’s a good analogy. Depending on the type of communication, the various aspects of the analogy have merit. For example, in a negotiation there is a time to listen but there may well be a time to cut your “opponent” off with a lunge. On the other hand, in a coaching session, one is far more likely to “disengage.” Different techniques for different scenarios.
As a Talker, I want to share a few effective techniques that I’ve learned that help me keep my mouth shut and “off the attack” when attacking isn’t helpful. The goal of these techniques is to avoid cutting someone off when they’re talking, which sends the dual message that 1) you’re not listening; and 2) that you’re not interested:
- Smoke Detector: We talkers are intimately familiar with that overpowering urge to just cut off the other speaker and SAY SOMETHING!! I refer to this as the “Smoke Detector”. Use this urge as a signal NOT to talk. The few times when this may be the wrong approach will be far outweighed by those times where this technique will benefit you. Don’t overthink it – when you “hear the alarm” get out of the building!
- Count To Three: When the urge strikes you, first wait for the other person to STOP speaking and then deliberately and slowly count to three….and THEN speak. I learned this technique from a former boss/colleague of mine, Ann Weaver and it is extremely effective.
- Finger Tap: An alternative to ‘Count to Three’ is the Finger Tap. It’s basically the same approach but you make the physical effort of tapping your finger three times on your knee. This technique came from Mark Hall.
- Remember The Goal: Remember the goal of your conversation and ask yourself, “is what I am about to say REALLY going to help me get to my goal?” (and you have to ask it exactly like that, by the way).
- Reflect: If you’re not familiar with reflective listening techniques, Google and learn them. It’s standard “communications stuff” with which most of us are familiar but if applied diligently, these techniques work. It’s a good way to make sure you are RESPONDING to the other person and not just talking about their question or concern.
We Talkers need to be on a constant vigil to keep ourselves in check and strike a balance between effective speaking and listening. Only by doing so can we be the effective communicators that our executive roles require of us on both a personal and professional basis. Whether communicating up, down or laterally, the ability to “fence” with style and grace will allow you to not only be successful in your own right but to be a strong example to your teams and colleagues.
© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese
We’ve all had things go wrong at work and at home and the paradigm through which we interpret such situations says a lot about us as individuals. I think about it as ‘bad luck’ versus ‘bad choices’.
“Bad luck” is just that – a happenstance of fortune over which you, the innocent victim, had no part. Bad luck implies circumstances beyond your control – that it was “fate” that landed you in a predicament. It says less about your character and more about the general unfairness of life and the world in general. Or does it?
Most people view “bad luck” as another way of saying that it wasn’t your fault – that you had “no control”. Reflecting on my own experiences, my instances of “bad luck” seem to have had far less to do with fate and far more to do with my own choices. Take a few moments and reflect candidly on your own misfortunes and ask yourself what part you played in setting yourself up….then ask yourself how YOU interpreted the incident – was it bad luck or bad choices?
Personally, I’d prefer to be the victim of bad choices over bad luck. While it’s true that you are 100% responsible for your choices, you are also 100% in control of whether you make such choices again. With “luck” you don’t get those kind of numbers – it’s all random and it is all beyond your control. Thus, if you caused your own grief through your own choices, that means you can also AVOID said-grief in the future. When we are responsible for our own bad situations, the good news is that we are also in control and simply chose not to make the smarter choices.
As an executive, you can use this exercise to understand the level of accountability in your own teams. When things go wrong, do your managers suffer from bad luck or bad choices? A strong leadership team knows they are in control of their choices and will act accordingly, taking ownership of both their successes and failures.
Listen to your managers as they discuss (or lament!) their own bad situations and see how they interpret the incident. Seek to empower and promote those who “are the victim of bad choices”, especially if they own up to and LEARN from them. This way, you will promote accountability and leadership that learns from (and OWNS) their mistakes.
© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese
A valuable guiding principle in business (particularly in technology) is to never “protect” your business partners from the consequences of their decisions.
I’m a big believer in what I’ll call the “price tag” approach and it goes something like this. Suppose you’re a sales associate at the local Jaguar dealership. If your customer is a first-time Jaguar buyer, it’s probably a good idea to explain that purchasing a Jaguar loaded up with options is also a purchase of more expensive service calls, oil changes, repairs and of course an increased risk that some kid will snap the cat off your hood. This way, 3,000 miles later, you don’t have an angry customer complaining about the $100 oil change he just paid for. All you’re doing is setting expectations by helping your customer understand the consequences of his decision – something he may not know and may not ask.
Too often we assume that upper management already knows and understands all the implications of their decisions and requests. After all, they ARE management. However, this is almost never the case. Management relies on the thought leadership of their teams to ensure that they have every opportunity to never make a bad business decision. Therefore, consider applying the principles below in establishing your own strong brand of transparency within your firm:
- Understand The Request: Fully understanding the request itself isn’t enough. More important is understanding the desired business outcome of the request. Your CIO wants X, but for what purpose? WHY does she want X? Understand the business problem that needs to be solved and not just the specifics of the tactical request.
- Understand and Surface ALL Costs: This includes not simply the financial costs but also the impacts to other initiatives and stakeholders. While the request may come from your CIO, there may be implications that span a broader area than the CIO’s scope of responsibility. Think in terms of impact to the business, holistically and not simply within your silo.
- Identify Risks: Make sure you identify and clearly communicate any risks associated with fulfilling the request, providing mitigation or avoidance options where available.
- Document & Deliver Options: With the desired business outcome in mind, communicate what options are available, listing pros and cons for each and documenting them in a brief but clear email with all appropriate stakeholders cc’d. Include risks and mitigation/avoidance strategies.
- Make A Recommendation: Always deliver such information with a recommendation by you and your team. Dumping a problem on the bosses desk is bad. Delivering a problem with options is better. Informing your boss of the options and making a recommendation is optimal. What do you recommend your boss do and why? Help make her successful.
- Follow Up: Respectfully and reasonably follow up to ensure a decision is made, that the “full price tag” is understood and accepted, DOCUMENT THE FINAL DECISION and then execute.
Transparency is a great buzz word that we all like to use – me included. However, transparency is a two-way street. Applying the ‘price tag’ approach to transparency will help ensure that you and your teams provide your boss and your business partners the valuable opportunity to never make a bad decision.
© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese
Documenting brief conversations may seem like unnecessary administrivia, but ask yourself this question; how is a brief conversation – especially one that results in an agreed-upon decision – any different than a meeting? The number of versions about what was decided at a meeting can be calculated by adding the number of attendees + 1. This is why meetings are documented with minutes that include decisions reached and action items assigned. Brief conversations that result in a decision are no different. Document such conversations by writing to the key stakeholder with other stakeholders cc’d. Keep it simple and to the point, as in the example below:
Example: As we discussed, the end date for the current project will be moved from Friday, September 6th to Friday, September 27th to accommodate the additional three weeks required to address agreed-upon changes in scope. Please note that this date change will also impact project Y, which depends on deliverables from our efforts. I have cc’d John on this email to ensure he and his team are informed.
This date change will be reflected in the next project status report, to be delivered this Friday. Please let me know if there are any questions, corrections and additions.
The key components here are:
- Clearly communicating the decision(s) made
- Providing brief details as to why the decision was made
- Including any pertinent details regarding how the decision will be communicated to others, carried out, etc.
- Communicating any impacts to other projects, stakeholders, work, etc., as a result of the decision
Make sure to also set (or re-set) expectations with all stakeholders such that you avoid any unpleasant surprises. Documenting one-off conversations is a simple way to ensure that all stakeholders are provided the information they need in order to do their jobs and to make their teams and the firm successful.
© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese
Another thing worth mentioning about project management in an agency model; things tend to get busy during Q1! After quite a few weeks of business-imposed hiatus, I’m back to finishing up this post.
To get us caught up, in reviewing Project Management in an Agency Model we’ve covered the opportunity available to project managers, what it means to manage the project experience and how knowing the business impacts your ability to add value to your client, your firm and your own brand/career. In this installment, we’ll talk about what it means to act as a steward to your client and your firm.
A quick check of www.dictionary.com defines ‘steward’ as “a person who manages another’s property or financial affairs.” This is your role as the project manager. You are responsible for advising your client on how to best manage their project investment to successfully solve their business problems. By so doing, you are also helping manage your client’s reputation within their firm and, depending on the scope of the project, within their industry.
As trusted advisor and steward to your client, the best approach is to treat their problems, their investment and their reputation as if they were yours. Your knowledge of the product or service you are implementing, as well as your understanding of their business and industry puts you in a unique position to help your clients achieve success. Partner with them, taking the attitude that this is also your project and while you are aligned with your client, their interests and yours are one in the same.
Likewise, you are a steward and advisor to your own firm. As noted previously, every word you speak or write, every conversation, every meeting, even how you hang up the phone at the end of a conference call builds on your firm’s brand and reputation. As with your client, treat your firm’s brand and reputation as your own.
The same is true with your firm’s money. As the project manager, you have an opportunity to drive profitability (especially in a fixed fee model) by managing your project in such a way as to make the best use out of every hour spent. By managing your project efficiently, you not only maximize the output from the team but you can also free up enough time to allow team resources to focus on other billable work.
You also are in a good position to leverage the firm’s primary investment – talent. How you manage your project team, how you deal with conflicts and issues internally, all help brand you, your PMO team and your delivery organization within the firm. By focusing on making not only your project, but everyone associated with the project successful, you contribute to making your firm a great place to work. This is how you can help keep your firm’s top talent WITH YOUR FIRM.
Ultimately, the best thing you can bring to your clients and your firm is your solid commitment to uphold and live out your values as a project management professional. Acting as a steward and trusted advisor makes you effective at delivering on your specific tactical objectives, but also makes you a major strategic asset to your firm in retaining both clients and talent. Act as a steward, focusing on making your peers and clients successful.
© 2011, Mark E. Calabrese