Category Archives: Leadership

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.
Continue reading Do you take credit or demonstrate value?

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.
Continue reading Do you have a leadership personality?

Defining the Project Escalation Process

Project Escalation Process
Project Escalation Process

It has probably happened to you at one time or another. You’re sitting in a meeting with your boss present when an issue comes up.

You’ve been trying to resolve that issue for a week. It’s the first time your boss is hearing about it. He asks why he wasn’t made aware of the issue. If you had defined a project escalation process, he might have already heard about it.

Having a project escalation process can help guide a project manager through the decision-making process to communicate effectively to leadership to ensure that they are informed in an accurate and timely manner. It is a matter of knowing the what, when, how and why of issue escalation.

What to escalate

Certainly the project manager shouldn’t escalate every single issue that occurs on a project. It is the PM’s job to track, manage, and resolve issues.
Continue reading Defining the Project Escalation Process

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.
Continue reading Thinking a Step Ahead of the Project Owner

Can You Estimate Like Your Team Members?

 

Can You Estimate Like Your Team Members
Can You Estimate Like Your Team Members

Project managers have a certain notoriety with their teams. They push team members to reduce their estimates for work. Once an agreed upon estimate is reached, the PM pushes the team to beat the estimate.

If the estimate can’t be beaten, it certainly has to be met. And there will usually be hell to pay if the estimate can’t be met. Now the task is behind. Because there are dependencies for other tasks, the entire project may fall behind.

This of course is scandalous. Project plans need to be updated. Change requests need to be completed. Executives need to be notified. Team members can be made to think that a one-day delay on a task could bring the entire organization to its knees.
Continue reading Can You Estimate Like Your Team Members?

Managing Projects with Respect

Managing Projects with Respect
Managing Projects with Respect

Over the years I’ve written about many project management skills, techniques, and approaches. Project managers need to be organized. They need to be able to plan efficiently. Project managers need to be able to communicate and customize their communication for their specific audience.

The project manager needs to have many tools in her toolbox. One tool I haven’t written about is respect. Effective project managers know that treating others with respect is one of the key things that allows them to get things done.

Respect for team members

The project manager needs to have respect for the individual team members in many ways. She should respect their time. Team members generally work hard and it is important for them to be productive.
Continue reading Managing Projects with Respect

How a Project Manager Can Be a Good Team Player

good team player
A PM needs to be a good team player

I occasionally talk to fellow project managers. I’ve found that one of the most common things that PMs complain about is getting people on our teams to be team players. I’ll admit that it is important. I often wonder whether the project managers that I talk to are good team players themselves.

I believe that if project managers demonstrated some team player skills, it might set a good example for the team they manage.

That’s not my project

Project managers often complain about employees who are simply heads-down. They worry about their own tasks and nothing more. Certainly it’s better to have people on the team that have the backs of their fellow team mates.

Project managers, however, have the same tendency as the team members that they complain about. A PM gets focused on his or her own project and tends to ignore other projects within the organization, even if the two are interrelated.

I’ve actually heard PMs claim, “That’s not my project.” When another project’s issues come up. If the PM won’t help his own peers, it’s hard for him to expect his team members to do the same.

Micromanaging

PMs can become task masters. They stay on top of things by being on top of their team members. “Are you done with that task?”, “When will you be done?”, and “Why are you behind?”

By nagging and micromanaging, they take away any ownership the team member may have had. The PM isn’t being a team player, and takes away any desire for the team member to be a team player.

The need to be right

Some managers don’t think they’re actually leading unless they are the ones coming up with the ideas. If someone else on the team comes up with an idea that is different from what the project manager has in mind, the PM can always find a way to shoot it down.

This approach to management takes away any form of collaborative spirit from the team members. The team members eventually give up on trying to contribute and only focus on their immediate tasks.

When a project manager discourages collaborative participation from the team, they stifle the very behavior that they want the team members to practice.

Look at it my way

I was once on a project where the PM sent out daily updates on how far developers were behind on fixing defects. He told the team that part of his evaluation criteria from his management was based on the team’s ability to resolve defects in a timely manner.

Anyone who has taken an elementary marketing class understands that you put things in terms of your customer. When you advertise a product, you don’t try to convince the consumer to buy it by telling them about your revenue targets. You provide benefits that the consumer will receive from buying your product.

As a project manager, you can try to convince team members to accomplish something based on the criteria by which management measures you. Or, you can create team incentives that will motivate them to achieve accomplishments for the benefit of the team.

For more information, check out The Importance of Leadership in Project Management

Passive aggressive behavior

Some project managers avoid confrontation. When someone does something detrimental to the project, they avoid confronting the individual. Instead of immediately sitting down and addressing the issue upfront, they let it slide for a time. Then, a half-joking sideways remark about it is made. Maybe a new policy is emailed to the team, which is intended to stop the behavior.

Some managers don’t like the confrontation of holding people accountable. But people would rather be held accountable. It is much better to have that one awkward moment of confrontation than many awkward moments through passive aggressive behavior.

Having the confrontation of holding people accountable results in team members working to please their manager with quality work. Passive aggressive behaviors cause team members to seek to avoid displeasing their managers.

Are you a good team player PM?

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.

5 Ways a Project Manager Can Remove Obstacles

A project manager trying to remove obstacles
How a project manager can remove obstacles

One of the project manager’s key responsibilities is to remove obstacles. Many see management and leadership as an oversight task. Instead, a project manager should strive to balance being informed with getting involved when necessary. The role requires more leadership than management. This means not only knowing when to get involved, but how to get involved.

What follows are five examples of typical obstacles a project manager may face and how to remove those obstacles.
Continue reading 5 Ways a Project Manager Can Remove Obstacles

The Secret Sauce of Project Management: Beyond Art and Science

The Secret Sauce of Project Management
The Secret Sauce of Project Management

Brian Williams became the NBC Nightly News anchor in December of 2004. In February of 2015, he was suspended for six months for incorrectly claiming that he had been in a helicopter that came under fire in 2003.

The incident created a firestorm of debate regarding news reporters, their ability to tell the truth, and viewers’ ability to believe what they hear. Once a news reporter is known to fabricate stories instead of provide facts, the public will question whatever that reporter says in the future.

This issue is not unique to news reporters. Many professions have to be concerned with their credibility. Project managers are just as susceptible to being believed as any other profession.

The science of project management

Many people see project management as a science. The project manager collects estimates and creates a timeline. She tracks the progress of each task from each team member. She monitors and records risks, and develops mitigation strategies for each. She records each project issue and drives them to resolution.

Project management can also be seen as an art. A project manager must be creative in finding solutions to work within defined constraints. The project manager must be a leader. She must understand what drives each project stakeholder and develop strategies to communicate and incentivize each individual uniquely. She must also develop creative approaches to combine all of the statistical metrics to deliver value to the end user.

If a project manager can skillfully combine the art and science of project management, she increases her odds of success exponentially. However, if the project manager can stir in the secret sauce, she increases her chances of success even more.

The secrete sauce of project management is credibility

Like a news reporter, a project manager must ensure that her stakeholders trust her. The most literal part of credibility is believability – do the business stakeholders believe what the project manager says and have confidence that she can do the job?

For more information, check out The Importance of Leadership in Project Management

Credibility is built on many things

Confidence. Does she speak with certainty or does she come off as unsure? How often does the business ask a question that she can answer instead of saying, “I’ll have to check on that for you?”

Details. Does the project manager know the nuts and bolts of the product she is delivering? Has she learned just the “surface facts” or has she delved down to know specific bits of information, how they are related and the consequences decisions will have on them?

Respect. Does she treat the stakeholder with respect? Does she show up on time for meetings? Does she listen to the business’s problems and act on them?

Decisiveness. Dovetailing with confidence, can the project manager make decisions and justify them when the stakeholder disagrees? Or does she shrug off decisions and defer to others on the project?

Credibility is the perception of being capable. There are many who believe that Brian Williams should have been fired rather than suspended. That’s because they no longer see him as capable. He no longer has credibility with a large segment of his stakeholders.

If any stakeholders lack the confidence in your ability as a project manager, you will lose credibility with them. Once credibility is lost, it is hard to regain.

What do you do to earn and maintain credibility with your stakeholders?

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 Imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net