Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

PostHeaderIcon Passion, Creativity, Excellence

What gives meaning to accomplishment? In the end, it is the journey that often matters more than the destination. How we get there and most especially, how we are led there, is what instills color in our memories – and most notably in our project and organization experiences. Superlative leadership inspires, motivates and brings meaning to what we do. As individuals, we also find our own way of facilitating a meaningful journey.

I live my working life by three themes, whether leading or contributing. Steve Jobs illustrates how these mattered at Apple:

Passion

My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary.

Creativity

Our job is to figure out what they’re (the customers) going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’” Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.

Excellence

I figured it was always my job to make sure that the team was excellent, and if I didn’t do it, nobody was going to do it.

I believe each of these themes are vital to every project and to every organization.

PostHeaderIcon Seven Habits of Effective Project Sponsors

Is Your Sponsor Qualified?

Much of the dialog and content of project management improvement is focused on increased knowledge, better processes and the right tools for the project manager. Project by project however, there is another, oft-overlooked element – the project sponsor. This leadership role can, quite simply, make or break a project. If you have ever had experience of working with a great sponsor and separately with a poor sponsor, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Good Behavior for Smoother Projects

The reality is that, much like many project managers, sponsors are frequently unprepared for their role. Yet the quality of sponsorship can make all the difference to a project and its outcomes. Adhering to the principles below can help to steer a smooth course:

1 – Align the Team

Describe the purpose of the project and its context. Articulate the rationale and summarize the business case. Express the vision of what will be different after the project, what the benefits are and how any stakeholder concerns have been addressed. Unify the team around a common goal and avoid being fluffy on what you want (and don’t want). Focus the team on the tactical objectives and be clear about the boundaries – what will and will not be covered. Not getting sufficiently involved and specific up front almost guarantees excessive involvement later on in resolving issues and fixing problems.

2 – Validate the Plan

It’s the responsibility of the sponsor to approve the plan for execution. This means knowing what a good plan looks like versus a bad plan (i.e. don’t sign anything unless you know what you’re signing). Have you reviewed the WBS with the project manager? Is it sufficiently detailed? Does it cover all required aspects of scope? How confident are the team in satisfying the objectives? How were estimates derived? Have all resources and their managers agreed to the schedule? If in doubt on how to validate, seek input from an experienced and trusted project manager or from the PMO.

3 – Demonstrate Commitment

An effective sponsor is THE champion for the project. This means being accessible and available, sticking to scheduled meetings, touching base with the team regularly – even if it’s a working lunch, keeping the project visible with senior stakeholders and advocating the interests of the project in management forums. Clearly explain the rationale for tough decisions that might be misinterpreted or risk alienating the team – (business considerations sometimes outweigh pure project interests). Showing real commitment and a passion for executing the project well, in person, week in, week out – this can be a real energizing force for the team.

4 – Inspect what you Expect

The sponsor should be an advocate for effective project management. Insist that the project team adheres to processes and provides the data that you ask for. This is especially important where the organization’s maturity in project management is still low and new processes are being introduced. Review process issues, for example in planning, technical lifecycles, tracking and reporting. Determine if anything is not working and take action to resolve it. Ensure information is timely and accurate. Poor decisions are a common consequence of bad data resulting from inadequate (or, sometimes, too much) process.

5 – Ask the Right Questions

Ultimately the project needs to deliver results – it’s the job of the sponsor to ensure the project is not only on track to deliver those results but also to verify those results are still relevant and worthwhile. This requires courage to ask tough questions and take adaptive action – possibly changing course, re-planning or even terminating the project. It also means proactively exploring options and alternatives with the project manager and understanding both the business and tactical impact of changes.

6 – Define Success and Measure It

Lay out what ‘success’ will mean for the project right from the outset. What are the ways in which the project can be judged a triumph rather than a failure? Consider who will benefit and how. What does success mean from a people standpoint? A deliverable standpoint? A process perspective? What about for the team? The organization? Use each review meeting as an opportunity to gauge how well the project is tracking to these measures – not just at the end.

7 – Acknowledge Accomplishment

As the overall project leader, the sponsor must be in touch the team’s achievements, especially when the going gets tough – which is no time to be remote. Be interested in progress, recognize both individual and team contributions and express thanks for extraordinary commitment and significant accomplishments, openly and publically. Putting in extra hours is common enough on projects but if your sponsor is an inspirational leader, genuinely empathetic and rewards high performance, it’s a whole lot less painful for the team to go the extra mile.

How effective is your sponsor?

PostHeaderIcon Making Team Meetings Productive

Avoid a Disappointing Outcome

Much time can go to waste in project review meetings. Mostly this is due to: (a) poor agendas, (b) poor control and (c) poor preparation. The project manager has responsibility for each of these and should recognize each meeting as an opportunity to improve project performance, enhance personal credibility and motivate the team – all as timely and efficiently as possible.

A fine balancing act is typically needed in maintaining meeting focus on project status while ensuring an appropriate environment to re-align the team and foster a positive outlook. Here are some guidelines to keep meetings productive, on-point and on-track.

Agenda

Set a clear agenda and stick to it-
e.g. Review the:

  • Schedule
  • Changes
  • Issues
  • Risks

Preparation

Ready the data before the meeting-

  • Don’t waste valuable meeting time getting status updates from team members. Collect this information one day beforehand to allow time for updating the schedule, analyzing variances and identifying specific items needing team review, all in advance of the meeting. Provide team members with any pre-reading that could reduce meeting duration.

Attendance

Make attendance mandatory-

  • Allowing members to skip meetings without a really good reason will hamper decision-making, dilute communication and weaken the team. Ask the Sponsor to send out a message reinforcing expectations on attendance – and let him/her know how well they’re being met.

Focus

Keep meetings relevant and concise-

  • Keep control of discussions, stick to the agenda, ensure cell-phones stay off and stop any side-conversations promptly. Actively solicit inputs from the team on their perspectives of likelihood of success – and probe any concerns thoroughly. Secure clear commitments on actions and due dates.

Approach

Rigid or relaxed to suit the culture–

  • It’s a subtle thing but get it wrong and your perceived credibility as an effective leader will be impacted…as will the team’s motivation and commitment. Some cultures respond better to informal meetings, lots of humor and a relaxed environment than others. Know your team members and your organization’s culture.

Virtual Teams

Additional considerations-

  • If the team includes foreigners, speak slowly and avoid using idioms. (Obvious perhaps, but rampantly ignored). If time zone differences are severe, consider rotating weekly meeting times to spread the pain of early morning or late night calls. Consider asking virtual participants to connect into the meeting individually and separately to avoid the risk of co-located groups getting into their own side-conversations while ‘on mute’.

Gratitude

Give thanks-

  • Be sure to take time to express appreciation for any and all noteworthy efforts honestly, openly and consistently. Whether for the efforts of a single individual or a group, conveying words of thanks and using simple positive reinforcement rewards are powerful motivators.

PostHeaderIcon Project Management and the Four Cultures

Project Management and Culture - not always love at first sight

One of the most critical success factors in implementing project management is ensuring the right fit of processes and systems with the culture of the organization. Yet culture is such a wonderfully complex and seemingly amorphous thing that it can be hard to know what “fit” really means if we can’t define the characteristics and boundaries of the firm’s culture.

The Re-Engineering Alternative by William Schneider provides both a fascinating insight into organizational culture as well as a practical toolkit for determining your own company’s core culture. This is not a new book but it is a gem. Designed as an aid to improving organizational effectiveness by leveraging cultural norms and behaviors, Schneider describes how peeling back the layers of any organization will yield one of four dominant culture types.

Understand Your Culture

Each culture is defined in fine detail by comprehensively describing the leadership and management styles, strengths and weaknesses, structure, relationships and decision-making attributes that characterize them. Discovering the differences will help explain why organizations operate the way they do and, by extrapolation, why project management has to be tailored to be sustainable. Schneider terms the cultures as:

  • Control – structured, domineering, task-oriented
  • Collaboration – trust-based, empowering, people-centric
  • Competence – achievement-oriented, impersonal, excellence-driven
  • Cultivation – potential-fulfilling, creative, informal

If you’ve worked in a variety of culturally diverse organizations, you’ll quickly recognize the distinctive traits of each of these four cultures that are described in the book so clearly and with plenty of examples.

Culture Limits Execution of Strategy

As Schneider rightly points out, culture limits strategy. And since culture sets expectations, priorities, managerial practices and communication patterns, it also limits the execution of strategy – and therefore projects. Culture ultimately defines how work is planned, organized and managed – which is why it is such a crucial consideration in any effort to improve enterprise project management.

PostHeaderIcon The Art of Giving Thanks

It doesn't have to be complicated

It doesn't have to be complicated

It shouldn’t be hard but giving thanks to team members doesn’t always come easy to project managers. Yet those two small words “thank you” can sustain an individual’s drive and enthusiasm long after the project is completed.

Whether for overcoming adversity, going the extra mile for the customer, infusing the team with drive and energy or just plain hard work, thanking contributors for all forms of outstanding performance should be high on the daily watch-list of any project manager.

Acknowledgement should be expressed in the following ways:

Honestly

  • If it doesn’t come from the heart it won’t be valued. And mixed messages, such as conflicting verbal and non-verbal communication, imply insincerity – thanks that will be quickly discounted by its recipient.

Consistently

  • Recognizing one person’s achievement but overlooking another’s is the swiftest way to divide a team. Staying in touch with the challenges on the ground and paying attention to what’s really going on in the team is crucial.

Openly

  • There’s no point in keeping gratitude behind closed doors. Proclaim it, proudly. Thanking someone publicly, in front of the team, demonstrates how important it really is and sends a meaningful message that inspires and motivates.

A little thanks goes a long way.

PostHeaderIcon Satisfaction is not Guaranteed (the 5th Law)

Projects exist in dynamic environments, where change and risk are the only constants and where the delivered outputs are dependent on a team of imperfect individuals. Which is why – whatever the customer may have been told – projects do not carry guarantees. This reality is what I call the Fifth Law of project management.

Success and stakeholder satisfaction depend on a trio of crucial enablers – competence, commitment, and communication. Respecting all the preceding laws will count for nothing if this threesome is lacking in some way, both at the project manager level and at the team level.

Competence

First among our three equals, competence is what gets the work done right. It is founded on knowledge of concepts and methodology, embedded through hands-on experience, and evidenced by the quality of a project manager’s actions (how they lead and manage), artifacts (such as plans) and, to a far lesser extent, accreditations (think PMP, PRINCE2).

Commitment

Excellence in any field has to be worked at and earned. Natural talent helps of course but to be really good at something, to be recognized and respected, plenty of dedication and passion are essential. Commitment is not hard to detect – it does mean putting in those extra hours but its as much about right focus and attitude.

Communication

Great project managers are outstanding communicators. I think of outstanding to mean mastery of multiple modes of expression – spoken, written or visual – in combination with exactly the right mix of human skills and behaviors for interacting with both stakeholders and team. Done well, its reflected in a team that exudes its own buzz – look for healthy relationships, confidence and humour.

The Core of Success

The right combination of competence, commitment and communication is an energizing force for the project, its customers and its contributors. It is at the core of project success and drives stakeholder satisfaction.

Want to do a quick pulse-check of your project? Start with an honest appraisal of the 3Cs – competence, commitment and communication – and do it for both the PM and the team.

(See all 5 Laws summarized in The 5 Laws of Effective Project Management)

PostHeaderIcon No Truth, No Trust (the 3rd Law)

The interdependence of truth and trust is a powerful force in projects. When both are prominent, we have a strong basis for effective team dynamics – a key ingredient of project success. Overlooking, ignoring or concealing certain realities inhibits team cohesion and severs trust – as sure as the sun rises. I call this force the Third Law of project management.

Creating an environment of truth helps build trust. This means straight talk, smart leadership and attention to good process. It also means reinforcing positives and not holding back on bad news. (Pop quiz: What’s worse than giving your sponsor bad news? Answer: Giving bad news late).

15 Truth Checks

Here are a few checks to test whether important project realities are being detected, acknowledged and acted on:

  • Has a trustworthy process been used to plan and manage the project?
  • Is project progress being tracked and reported accurately?
  • Are team member status updates consistently submitted in a timely fashion?
  • Are issues being aggressively managed?
  • Are risks being reviewed at each progress review meeting?
  • Are new risks being proactively identified and managed?
  • Is outstanding performance being acknowledged, directly and publically?
  • Is under-performance being dealt with effectively?
  • Are people rewarded for behaviors that promote effective teamwork?
  • Have gaps in expertise or credibility been identified and resolved?
  • Is the team aligned with a common sense of purpose?
  • Are morale and commitment being nurtured proactively?
  • Have conflicts been acknowledged and addressed effectively?
  • Are team members executing, communicating and reporting as required?
  • Is a flexible leadership style in evidence, building trust across individuals and cultural differences?

Promoting open communication and instilling a sense of shared purpose are the starting points for any effective collaborative effort. But they need to be backed up by solid process and savvy leadership. Managing the project includes monitoring both the project and the project environment. It involves responsiveness to the unexpected in both project and human performance. Acknowledge the truth or face the consequences.

(See all 5 Laws summarized in The 5 Laws of Effective Project Management)

PostHeaderIcon Eight Questions to ask your Project Sponsor

This might have been alternatively titled “Questions we are Occasionally Afraid to Ask”. Here’s the situation:

You’ve been appointed to project manage a new initiative. You know that effective project sponsorship is a critical success factor and so you set up a meeting with the project sponsor.  You want to be sure you’re starting out with the right kind of backing. The sponsor wants to discuss the budget (or maybe golf) but first, you have some big questions you need answers to…

1 – Do you understand your role?
Its a fact – many project managers I meet complain that their sponsor has little idea about their role and responsibilities. You may need to help them out here.

2 – Do you know what you want?
There’s not much more frustrating than a sponsor who isn’t sure about what should or should not be included in the project. A fuzzy sponsor means you could be in for a long road trip of about-turns – do, undo, redo, …

3 – Can I count on your support?
Or more specifically – will you truly champion our project? This means advocating the project at higher levels, helping maintain visibility and interest in the project with key stakeholders, providing adequate funding and obtaining resources.

4 – Will you be available?
No doubt about it, sponsors are typically busy executives. This means their time is limited and they may be hierarchically or geographically remote. You DO need those face-to-face meetings. Lock them into their calendar.

5 – Can you give me clear priorities?
What are the primary project objectives? Which is least flexible – schedule, scope or resources? (Hint to sponsor- you can choose only one). Which is most flexible? Why?

6 – Do you understand that project management is a discipline?
In pushing to ‘just get it done’, countless projects ignore the importance of proper planning and systematic tracking… and pay a high price. A sponsor who doesn’t appreciate this means we’re already in trouble.

7 – Do you know what a solid project plan looks like?
The sponsor has to approve the plan that lays out what will actually be done- so it might make sense to ensure they actually have an understanding of what a good plan looks like. If necessary, give them a Plan Review checklist and an ‘Executive Briefing on Tactical Planning’ (so they know a WBS from a critical path).

8 – Will you inspect what you expect?
Not much point in a sponsor’s list of expectations if the relevant questions are never going to be asked. Generating information, reports and updates that don’t get reviewed is a fast track to morale hits and trust breakdown.

If the sponsor answered these questions correctly, you’re likely to be in good shape. (Hint for sponsors- the correct answer is “Yes” to all questions). If not, then you just identified some additional risks to the project…