Category Archives: Career Management

How a project manager can manage his/her career

Are You Realizing Project Value?

Realizing Project Value
Are yYu Realizing Project Value

I have a lot of friends who have Fitbits. They’re those wrist watch-like things that people wear to measure their heartbeat and the number of steps they take per day. Many of them compete with each other on how many steps they get in each day.

The implication of this is that the steps are making them healthy (fit is in the name of the device after all). But they should also consider aspects such as the number and type of calories they consume. If all they measure is their steps, there’s a risk of limited health benefits.

The same goes for project managers in the effort of realizing project value. You can have all sorts of metrics and measurements, but if achieving the targets of those measurements doesn’t translate into project value, you’re likely just wasting your time.

How to measure value

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“I am the CEO!” Leading without Authority

Leading without Authority
Leading without Authority

I once worked for a man who believed that his title gave him authority. He was the CEO of the company and never hesitated to let people know. He always introduced himself emphasizing his title and listed the C-level positions he had held in the past.

If anyone disagreed with him, he would scold them, telling them “I am the CEO of this company!” as if that gave him omnipotent authority and knowledge.
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Do you take credit or demonstrate value?

Demonstrate Value
Claim credit or Demonstrate Value

Have you ever watched a president’s State of the Union Address? Regardless of the president or his party affiliation, the President tends to describe utopia. If you knew nothing else about what was going on, you would believe that that particular president was accomplishing all of the problems in the world.

If you think about it, the State of the Union Address is essentially a status report. The President is submitting a status report to Congress. Congress is, in a way, his steering committee. They may not be the President’s superiors and approve his initiatives. But the President is required by the constitution to present this status annually.

The State of the Project Address

A project manager presents status to management, usually on a weekly basis. Status can be presented to an executive steering committee on a bi-weekly or monthly basis. The presentation of the project’s status is a chance for the project manager to demonstrate to management how much value the project is adding to the organization.
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Do you have a leadership personality?

Leadership Personality
Presidents and Leadership Personality

Every president’s leadership personality

As some of you know, I listen to audiobooks and podcasts in the car as a way to pass the time on my long daily commute to and from work. I recently finished listening to the podcast series “Presidential.” This is a 44-episode series of podcasts that focuses on every U.S. President from George Washington through Barak Obama. There is a final episode recorded the day after the election discussing the outcome.

It piqued my interest enough that I’ve decided to listen to a full biographical audio book on each president. I’m working on the assumption that an audio book exists for presidents such as Millard Fillmore and James Buchanan.

My interest is based in history. I’ve always found American history and the political process intriguing. I also find it an interesting study in leadership. We’ve had great leaders and not-so-great leaders running our country. Because of the way our political process works, it usually takes many years for opponents to admit that a president from the opposite party might have been a great leader. Eisenhower despised Truman when he took office. They later became close again when both were out of office.
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The Communication Skills of a Project Manager

Communication Skills
Communication Skills of the Project Manager

I’ve often mentioned that a project manager is the CEO of his or her project. Knowing that a CEO needs to be able to communicate in many ways, the project manager has to have a wide variety of communication skills in order to be effective.

Verbal Communication Skills

The most obvious and critical communication skill is the ability to speak. The project manager spends most of his day speaking to people. I’ve known a lot of people who can talk. But sometimes they say very little. The project manager must be able to speak concisely. Why say seven words when four will do.

When reporting to an executive on the status of a project, she doesn’t want to hear every detail. Talking in circles and never getting to the point can be even more annoying. When describing an issue or situation to an executive, the PM has to determine how much detail to provide. It is important to know how to build it into an understandable story that gets the point across as economically as possible.

I’ve found it better to provide just enough details to get the basic point across. If the executive asks for more detail, provide a few more details until they are satisfied. It always depends on the executive. Some want as much detail as possible. Others want the bare minimum.

When talking with team members, it is important to speak to them as equals.  Assuming a superior attitude may intimidate them. This could result in receiving less information than you need. It also creates poor relationships on your project.

Written Communication Skills

Just like verbal communication, a project manager’s written communication must be concise. Co-workers receive emails, reports, and many other forms of written communication. When someone opens a 10-page email, their eyes are likely to roll back. Their likelihood of reading what you wrote is just as unlikely.

A project manager should also write clearly. Proper grammar is of the utmost importance. It is distracting and unproductive for someone to read and reread a sentence trying to figure out what the author is trying to say. A strong vocabulary is also essential. Do not mistake having a strong vocabulary with having knowledge of long and confusing words. A good vocabulary means knowing the right word for the right situation.

Graphical Communication Skills

Whether you like the tool or not, MS-PowerPoint is a staple of the business tool kit. It has a reputation of being overused and, to many, boring. One of the main reasons that people dislike PowerPoint is that people don’t use it well to communicate.

We’ve all seen PowerPoint slides with more text than a page from a Shakespeare play. And most of us have seen diagrams with the complexity of a nuclear submarine design.

It is important for a project manager to be able to create clear and concise PowerPoint slides that have the proper mix of text and graphics that make it pleasing visually, while communicating a point.

If you must show a complex diagram, it should be broken down into manageable pieces on subsequent slides so that the audience can break it down mentally and put it together easily when you are done.

PowerPoint is the tool of choice in most business settings. The Project manager’s job is to learn how to use it as an effective communication tool.

Technical Communication Skills

Many project managers work in technical arenas. Industries such as information technology and health care rely on technical language and complex details.

A project manager often plays the role of liaison between technical workers and business people. It is important for a PM to learn how to translate business requirements so that they are understandable to technical people.

It is even more vital for a PM to understand technical issues that have been explained by the technicians. Once understood, these issue need to be translated into understandable terms to the project sponsors. This description should also address how the technical issues affect the business.

Know your audience

As I addressed above, who you are talking to determines much of your communication. You obviously communicate to executives in a much different mode than to technical team members.

Each level within the organization needs to be considered. Copying a director on an email to one of her direct reports may be acceptable on a regular basis. Copying the vice president at the next level may not be. If there is an acceptable time to do that, extra scrutiny should be taken. You may want to have it reviewed to ensure it is clear and uses appropriate language.

Knowing your audience includes having a flexibility of tone. If you are communicating with a business associate with which you have a close personal relationship, it may be appropriate to joke around and discuss personal issues. This would be inappropriate with someone you don’t know well. The formality of the language you use is determined by the rank and familiarity of your audience. It is also is governed heavily by the culture of the organization.

Conclusion

One of the most important skills a project manager develops is the ability to communicate. It requires many modes depending on how, why, and to whom you are communicating. It also requires being a liaison that can explain issues between people with different skills and education levels.

What communication issues have you experienced on your projects?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thinking a Step Ahead of the Project Owner

one step ahead
One step ahead of the program manager

In my early days of managing projects, the tasks ran the show. I was the man with the to-do list. I filled it out every night before leaving work. Every morning I religiously reviewed it, verified the priorities, and executed each item for a successful day.

The disappointment I felt if I wasn’t able to complete the list was measureable. It wasn’t just my own tasks that I managed that way. Every member of the team had their tasks, if not for the day, at least for the week. I felt it was my job to make sure everyone got their tasks done for the good of the project.

The tactical mind

By following that task-mastery approach, I know that I got a lot done. The team got a lot done. I felt like I was managing the project effectively by following this tactical approach. And to some degree I was. I was identifying what needed to get done and driving it to completion.
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Process and Consistency – Not Always the Same

Process and Consistency
Process and Consistency – Not Always the Same

I once worked for a man that had a defined process for everything. He tracked everything with a spreadsheet. Everyone was expected to follow all of his processes to the letter. People became so bogged down following process that they got little else done.

It was also a drain on morale. They did so much mindless administrative work that their brains never really got a chance to create anything meaningful.
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Are You a Driver of Your Career or a Passenger?

driver of your career
Be a driver of your career

We’ve all heard of back seat drivers. They sit in the car and criticize the driver. They tell the driver when to turn, when to slow down, and when to speed up.

Not all passengers are like that. Some just sit back, close their eyes and nap through the ride. It is indicative of how we manager our careers. A driver is one who takes control. The driver of a car has to monitor how fast traffic is moving and adjust accordingly A good driver will look ahead to see if there is a slow down or an obstacle in the distance to be able to adjust before there is a problem.
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6 Ways to Turn Your Job into a Career

Turn your job into a career
Turn your job into a career

Whether you went to college, trade school or jumped right into the work place. Your initial goal was probably to get a job. It may have been in your area of study. You may have gone in a different direction depending on the job market.

Once someone gets into their job, they get comfortable, complacent even. He learns the job well. He gets an annual pay increase. He eventually gets married, buys a home, and starts a family.

Soon, he has so much at risk, that he becomes risk averse. With a monthly mortgage and mouths to feed, he doesn’t want to jeopardize anything. He goes to work every day, keeps his head down, and survives.
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Applying the 80-20 Rule Every Day

Applying the 80-20 Rule
Applying the 80-20 Rule Every Day

I recently met a college student who was studying psychology. He was one of the brightest and most ambitious young men I’ve met. He had dreams. He wanted to own his own business.

“Not just a little sole proprietorship,” he told me. “I’m willing to start small. But I want to grow this business and someday have something on a national scale.“

“That’s great. How do you hope to do this?” I asked.

“Well first, I want to get my PhD in psychology.”

“Why do you want to do that?” I asked, trying not to sound too incredulous.

“I want to be the best I can be.” Was his response. “So I want to get the best education I can get.”

It occurred to me that he had the idea that the more education he got, the more he would be successful. More is better. I talked to him about the fact that, unless you are going to go into research, there are diminishing returns to education at some point. I suggested that once he gets his bachelor’s degree, he may want to get some experience.

I asked him if he was familiar with the Pareto principle.

The 80-20 rule

The Pareto principle, also known as the 80-20 rule, stipulates that roughly 80% of value comes from 20% of one’s effort. You want to prioritize your work so that you are always doing that 20% that produces the top 80% of outcome. I explained to him that he could get a lot of value from earning his bachelor’s degree. That is focused on the 80%.

Someday, maybe a master’s in business administration (MBA) will be helpful. But probably not until he’s had some experience in business, either working for a company or running his own.

I told him that getting some business experience would probably be more focused on the 80% of value than a PhD.

Applying the 80-20 rule to big decisions

It’s normal to apply the 80-20 rule to major business decisions. In a consulting environment when we consider selling to a client. Are we spending 20% of our time seeking a client that will give 80% of long term value through additional business?

A manufacturer may identify that 80% of their customers buy 20% of their products. This can help them make decisions about whether to introduce a new product or to discontinue one.

For more information, checkout Career Management Tips for Project Managers

Applying the 80-20 rule to minor decisions

Those of us who apply the 80/20 rule, tend to use it for major decisions. But it can also be used for everyday decisions.

Planning: When you start a project of any size, it is important to spend time on planning. That is an area that provides 80% of value. I have always been a pretty organized person. I always have a daily to-do list. And I usually put it together the night before. I know people who don’t use a daily to-do list. I’ve found that they aren’t usually as productive.

Planning your day, whether it is through a to-do list or another means, allows you to lay out everything that needs to be done. But more than that, it allows you to prioritize.

Once you have listed everything you want to do, you can compare the tasks. You can identify the “80% items” to make sure you are working on the right things.

Perfectionism

I have spoken to people who call themselves “perfectionists.” It almost always turns me off. I’d probably never hire someone who calls himself a perfectionist. I’m a firm believer that perfect is the enemy of good.

Instead of doing the 20% of work to get 80% of value, a perfectionist will go well beyond the 20% trying to get 100% of value. That last 20% of value is not nearly as valuable. And the effort expended to get it could most likely be spent getting the 80% of value of some other task.

Conclusion

Applying the 80-20 rule should become a regular habit. Everything you do, everything you say should have some Pareto in it. Before you start anything, ask yourself “Is this an 80% task?”

It is important to do things right. But it is more important to do the right things.

Are you applying the 80-20 rule in your everyday decision making?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net