How To Make an Enemy of Your Project Manager

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Worst Nightmare

So you’ve decided to make an enemy of your project manager.  You’ll be surprised at how little effort will be required on your part to achieve your goal.  Here are four easy steps to quickly reduce your value to your team and your PM: 

  1. Silence: Never let your project manager know if you see any risk in making a deliverable date (particularly if your deliverable is on the critical or one of the controlling paths).  Things might clear up on their own and let’s face it, the project manager will just get mad if you tell her.  Also, don’t bother yourself with informing the owners of any predecessor or successor tasks of the risk as this will only make you look bad.  The less you say, the better.
  2. Task Information: If you break radio silence, don’t let your project manager know which task or deliverables will be impacted.  If you’re using a project plan, don’t provide task IDs or any other information that might help the project manager track the risk back to specific work-streams in the plan.  Giving your PM this information will only result in his going off to model the potential impact of the delay and start taking mitigation actions.  Better to be vague and maybe tell a few other team members and let things “trickle up” to the project manager on their own (PMs know everything, anyway).
  3. Estimates: If you go soft on providing task information, avoid providing estimates of how significant the delay might be.  This will only allow the project manager to model the impact, set expectations with project sponsors and take mitigation steps to keep the project on track.  And let’s face it, you’ll be held accountable for your estimates.  This smacks of the injustice of team members getting blamed for everything they do.
  4. Thought Leadership: Ultimately, the key to making an enemy out of your project manager is to provide absolutely zero thought leadership on mitigating or avoiding any impact to the project plan.  Don’t get creative and provide ideas.  Try “thinking for management” by filtering out any idea that you are “absolutely certain will be rejected” or that might make you look bad by appearing to question management.  As with estimates, your idea might be implemented and if it doesn’t work out, you could be held accountable.  The smart move is to sit tight and wait for someone to tell you what to do. Remember – inaction is action when it comes to making enemies on your project.

By following these four easy steps, you will not only alienate your project manager but also position your team for failure.  Communication, accountability and planning can be stressful and who knows – you may even prove to be an example for other who want to avoid this type of stress.  Only by failing to lead can you ever hope to lead others to failure.  Good luck!

© 2014, Mark E. Calabrese

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Present & Reporting or DRIVING & LEADING?

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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

ATTENTION “TALKERS”: Learn How To “Fence With Control”

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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

“Bad Luck” or “Bad Choices”?

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Bad LuckBad Choice

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

Project Status Reporting – A Radical (?) Approach

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Business sponsors know what they are “expected to expect” from a project status report.  Likewise, most project managers know what is “supposed to be” in a status report.  While much of this standard information is relevant, oftentimes status reports can be less about “information I need to do my job” and more about “information that, by God, is just supposed to be in a project status report!” (optional ‘harrumph’).  We don’t produce status reports to satisfy the Gods of Project Management; we produce status reports to communicate information relevant to the business sponsor.

With that in mind, I’m going to propose something radical here.  Rather than start with a template approach, I’m going to propose that the project manager sit down with the business sponsor and ask a few simple questions, such as:

  • After you read the status report, what do you need to be able to do?
  • What information do you need at your fingertips to effectively communicate with your peers and your own management?
  • Help me understand how you are going to use this data.
  • What do you need to be able to do AFTER you read the status report that you simply cannot do BEFORE?
  • What are your major concerns about the project from a business perspective?

You get the idea.  Your goal is to understand your specific desired outcomes your business sponsor may need to engineer using the data in the status report.  You also want to understand what information she needs in order to do her job and how she will use this information.  In a word, you want to understand what she needs in order for her to be successful.

One size fits all isn’t necessarily the best approach and long, busy status report may end up providing lots of data that is of no use to your business sponsor.  The result is extra work for you, status reports that aren’t always read (resulting in frustration for the project manager and the team) and ultimately, poor transparency and communications from the project up to the business sponsor.  A good status report is lean, clean and content-rich making it a quick read and a powerful, complete and effective tool to communicate key data points your business sponsor needs.

So my radical proposal is simply this – identify and keep the end goal in mind before you determine the best way to communicate status toward achieving that end goal.  This way, you can make effective use of both your and your business sponsor’s time in communicating status while significantly improving the chances of your mutual success.

© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese

Two Simple Things You Should Be Doing At Work TODAY

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Brand Networking

Most people agree that managing your brand is an important part of managing your career.  Books such as David D’Alessandro’s Career Warfare outline strategies to do this very thing.  Most of us also realize the value in building, maintaining and leveraging a personal network and we do so with LinkedIn, networking groups and through events within our professional communities.  But how often do we apply this thinking to our day-to-day activities in the office?

Ask yourself whether or not you are doing two key things:

Managing Your Brand:

You’ve established your brand outside of work, but are you also managing your brand inside your current firm?  First off, what IS your brand at your current firm?  Do others associate you with success?  Are you viewed as a strong team player, who will do whatever it takes to get things done?  Are you sought out at your firm as someone who knows how to deliver results, both personally and through your teams?

Ask a few “trusted advisors” within your firm to give you their candid perception of your brand and LISTEN.  Is your internal brand the same as your external brand?  More importantly, is it the brand you want?  Be conscious not only of how you are perceived within your firm but whether your words and actions exemplify the brand you wish to establish.  Seek  congruence!

Managing Your Network:

Your ability to get things done at work relies not only on your scope of authority, but more importantly on your scope of influence.  Having a strong scope of influence is the result of having a strong internal network.  Are you taking the time to get to know people who do not report to you and who are not your peers, making sure you understand their roles, goals, and pain points?  Are you making sure that you know who is who before you need to ask someone for a favor?  To turn it around, do others know who YOU are and what YOUR role, goals and pain points are?

Making sure you build, maintain and leverage your personal network is important in getting things done and in establishing and strengthening your brand.  Your ability to successfully influence others to achieve both your and their success says a lot about your ability to manage both your brand and your network inside your firm.

Thus, in the choice between authority and influence, always choose influence.  Authority is given and taken away by others but influence is yours to earn or lose.

© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese

YouTube Channel – Do or Don’t?

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One of my mentors here in Carmel has suggested I set up a YouTube channel.  A few other people have encouraged me to do the same.  Now it’s not that I don’t like to hear myself talk.  Many friends and one spouse will most likely readily acknowledge that.  I have double concern about how I will come across in video and having video of me “holding forth” out on the web.  But I have another question – will it add value?

My goal with this blog is to produce ideas, frameworks and tools that others can steal and use themselves.  I also like getting the feedback on if it worked and I really like it when people share back how they’ve modified some of my material and how it worked for them (letting me “steal back”).  I like this kind of stuff.  So I ask myself, how valuable would a video be as opposed to the written word?

Anyway, I’m open to thoughts if anyone cares to share them.  Let me know what you think.