The Goal of Collaboration is Not Necessarily Collaboration

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello is a Solution Lead for Program & Project Management based in Chicago who enjoys exploring how to tightly couple the art and science of project delivery with business operations.

Co-written with Jack Walser

“The purpose in life is to collaborate for a common cause; the problem is nobody seems to know what it is.”
–Gerhard Gschwandtner, international sales and marketing guru and CEO of Personal Selling, Inc.

Recently, Professor Morten Hansen of UC Berkley gave a fantastic snapshot of corporate collaboration in a Harvard Business Review IdeaCast in which he stated that it is very hard for an organization to succeed in the business world today–with its highly fluid, informal, and often non-traditional relationships–without collaborative leadership. In Slalom’s experience, we have found this to be very true, especially as it relates to the pharmaceutical industry and Pharma 3.0. Read more of this post

The Slalom Difference…

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello is a Solution Lead for Program & Project Management based in Chicago who enjoys exploring how to tightly couple the art and science of project delivery with business operations.

“If all responsibility is imposed on you, then you may want to exploit the moment and want to be overwhelmed by the responsibility; yet if you try, you will notice that nothing was imposed on you, but that you are yourself this responsibility.”
–Franz Kafka

One of my favorite ways to think about the Slalom difference is that our consultants are always tuned in to do more.  While we are brought in to our clients and trusted to deliver what they want, we always leave a little bit of our capacity to think about what else we can do for them–even if they have not specifically been asked.  In a 2009 version of PM Network, the PMI’s global glossy publication, Roberto Toledo wrote his viewpoint.  I’ve borrowed heavily from his short essay.

Project managers are constantly told our sole responsibility is to Read more of this post

Scope Creep

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello is a Solution Lead for Program & Project Management based in Chicago who enjoys exploring how to tightly couple the art and science of project delivery with business operations.

“Scope Creep is out to get you, and your little dog too…”

It’s true. Scope creep, change requests, gold plating…all are issues that challenge a project’s delivery. Some impact the project from the onset; others impact the project throughout its life.

Scope Management begins with a clear statement of what is and what is not included within the boundaries of an initiative. As one of the nine PMI Knowledge areas, scope management is clearly a key for driving proactive project management.

This area is composed of project initiation, scope planning, definition, verification, and change control. Initiation is where the project begins with the outline of what [one wants] to accomplish and the processes that are required to make any alterations to the scope. (PMP Exam Cram 2, Francis & Horine, 2004, p. 20)

To break free from reactive management, one needs to clearly establish the Read more of this post

Do What is Right – Always!

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello is a Solution Lead for Program & Project Management based in Chicago who enjoys exploring how to tightly couple the art and science of project delivery with business operations.

“Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it.  It is what the client or customer gets out of it.”
Peter Drucker, “Father of Modern Management” (November 1909 – November 2005)

At Slalom we have embraced Mr. Drucker’s quality focus with our key values, which revolve around the simple mandate: Do what is right for the client – Always!  If our customers are not realizing value, then we have not delivered quality.  To be certain though, there are always challenges to quality delivery.  As top consultants, Slalom teams need to be masters of quality delivery, and therefore need to understand the potential for under-delivery.

There are many ways a project can under-deliver.  Initiatives may go “off the rails” temporarily or may never complete successfully.  Projects may extend significantly beyond established budgets and schedules – sometimes with and sometimes without approval.  The project may complete on time and on budget, but Read more of this post

Say What? Lewis Carroll’s Cautionary Tale about Communication

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again.

“They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”

Through the Looking-Glass, by Lewis Carroll

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello is a Solution Lead for Program & Project Management based in Chicago who enjoys exploring how to tightly couple the art and science of project delivery with business operations.

Through The Looking Glass and Alice in Wonderland are two of my favorite books.  In fact, I have an annotated version of Lewis Carroll’s classics that tells the story behind the story, highlights the hidden meanings, historical significance and political references.  These were no simple children’s books! Alice’s conversation with Humpty Dumpty is a word lover’s tangle.

The attraction goes beyond logophiles. For example, in college my computer programming professor used Humpty’s dialogue to help illustrate the difference between data and meta data.  Really! Meta data in child’s book!  It is a great illustration.

However, my challenge to you now is less about programming and more about the care that needs to be taken in business communications. We understand what we mean to say, but we are obligated to take care that the messages we deliver are understood in the way we intend.

Project managers need to ensure that their communications are effective.  We should be mindful to change the method of communicating to maximize the likelihood that the message will be understood (see Linda Bourne’s piece entitled “The Right Words” in PM Network, March 2010, p.22 for a short article about this topic, complete with Humpty Dumpty reference).

Alice and Humpty Dumpty had some interesting challenges in communicating

The following is an exercise I have used in training classes and presentations that I have delivered to illustrate this point:

Think about the first thing that pops into your mind when you read the following word: DOG.

Did you think of your first dog? A Great Dane? A cute puppy? What about Cat?  Hotdog? Steven King’s killer Cujo? Benji, Lassie, Rin Tin Tin?  Randy Jackson from American Idol?

Notice how many possible interpretations there are of one simple word.  Now imagine that you string together a series of complex words and ideas (e.g., “intuitive user interface”) as a means for updating your stakeholders, discussing strategy, establishing a set of requirements, or designing a complex solution framework.  Have you been clear and unambiguous?  Have you left room for interpretation or have you nailed down the message for singular meaning?  Beware the convoluted: I know that you believe that you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.

When our communications fail, it is rarely the fault of the recipients.  Lest we end up like Humpty Dumpty of the Nursery rhyme, in un-repairable shape no matter how many resources the King could use, it is incumbent upon experienced PMs to verify that our messages are understood as they are intended.

Lessons in Stakeholder Management not learned from Bram Stoker’s Dracula

 

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

“Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises” William Shakespeare, All ’s Well that Ends Well

For project and program managers a “stakeholder” is not a colorful reference to vampire killers, like Dracula’s arch-nemesis Abraham Van Helsing, wielding their weapon of choice. Project stakeholders are those within or outside an organization who sponsor a project, or who have an interest in a project, or who may have a positive or negative influence on a project.

Who are the Stakeholders?

In order to manage stakeholders effectively and ensure that their needs are being addressed, it is first necessary to identify all the stakeholders. Stakeholders may include executives, coworkers, customers and suppliers.  They are basically anyone who is impacted by or may be impacted by the project.  The key is to find as many stakeholders or stakeholder groups as early as possible in the project.  As large projects may have hundreds of stakeholders, it is often necessary to identify stakeholder groups and those individuals that are in position to speak on behalf of the group.  As individuals or groups are identified, stakeholder needs and requirements can be flushed out.

Slalom Consultant Amit Patel

Slalom Consultant Amit Patel is known for his excellence in creating spend management reports and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (depending upon who you talk to).

It is important to flush out those requirements early. Finding stakeholders late in the project will add to project costs, create delays and/or missed functionality in the project.  The cost of “fixing” missing requirements after development begins can be 100 times as high as it would have been during the initial requirements gathering stage.  If stakeholders are missed, or identified late in the project, requirements will be missed.  Late requirements identification can lead to added costs, missed milestone dates, and/or missed functionality.  If a more complete set of requirements can be identified early, project planning is more accurate and it will therefore help you to reach a successful conclusion of your project. Read more of this post

Tips for Project Managers Managing Global Teams

 

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello is a Solution Lead for Program & Project Management based in Chicago who enjoys exploring how to tightly couple the art and science of project delivery with business operations.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion it has taken place” George Bernard Shaw

Advancements in technology, corporate globalization and an increased reliance on offshore resources can result in today’s project manager leading not only a virtual but a global work team.  While project managers can expect an increase in the amount of juggling required to plan a schedule across multiple time zones, managing a global team also means anticipating an unique set of communication and linguistic challenges as well.

Establishing effective communications is a critical component in managing a team’s success. Below are some common challenges and potential solutions to assist a PM in facilitating effective communications.

It’s Official

English is the official language of many countries and is used to conduct business worldwide.  However,  multi-national teams using English as their backbone may be lulled into a false sense of common understanding when it comes to project concepts and terminology.  This may ultimately lead to mis-communication among team members.

Slalom Consultant Beverly Lieblang

Slalom Consultant Beverly Lieblang has significant experience in managing global teams, project management, finanancial services, and health care.

Tips:

  • Validate what you heard by asking questions or repeating your understanding of the conversation.
  • Ask the team, often, if the verbal communication is clear; be aware that some people who may be at a loss may also be unwilling to admit it.
  • Speak slowly and clearly.  This does not imply demeaning your audience; just slow down.  When speaking in one’s native tongue, it is easy to forget that others may not be as fluent.
  • Avoid using slang, metaphors and colloquialisms.
  • Summarize the key discussion items and distribute to the team in writing.
  • Develop a project glossary to define common terms and acronyms.

The Mother Tongue

Non-native English speaking team members may revert to their native language when discussing complex ideas in a group setting, or when trying to have a conversation that they don’t want anyone else to follow.  This will create a separation among team members as it excludes all participants from the normal “give and take” of discussions. Tips:

  • Redirect team members to hold their discussions in English.
  • Schedule separate meetings with a limited number of participants to discuss complex issues that are country or region-specific.
  • Establish a team blog to allow all team members to have access to discussions regarding project questions and decisions.

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T”

In some cultures (e.g., the Middle East and in Asia) business protocol and the perception of respect reigns supreme.  For example, “Yes” may not mean agreement, but instead may be a polite acknowledgment of the person speaking.  In fact, the person responding with the traditional affirmation may be in total disagreement; however, respect demands that they not disagree.  As the PM, work to break down barriers and build mutual respect within the team. Tips:

  • Post team bios that include details regarding background, country, and languages spoken.  This also allows team members to get to know their peers without being intrusive.
  • Recognize and embrace the different cultures present in your team by asking people to share a bit of information about themselves as a form of an icebreaker early in the project
  • Be aware of and avoid prejudices and stereotypes.
  • Be considerate of religious beliefs. For example, when scheduling meetings, understand time commitments that may supersede project meetings (e.g., daily prayer for Muslim team members, ending work prior to sunset Friday for Orthodox Jews).  Also be sure to consider vegetarian meals when planning working lunches and dinners for multi-cultural teams.
  • Display common consideration towards team members at all times.

Location, Location, Location

Team members are not only dispersed among time zones, but across continents as well.  Therefore, a document due by end-of-day today Chicago time can mean tomorrow in Australia.  By using specific date and time references (global teams often use GMT), unclear messages – like close-of-business or end-of-day – can be avoided. Tips:

  • Meet face-to-face as early and as often as possible to develop trust and team relationships.  Think about a trip abroad.  Leverage video conferencing solutions whenever possible (e.g., Microsoft OCS)
  • Establish a project team site ( e.g., SharePoint) to store work products and templates for easy access for all team members.
  • Know time differences to identify  “normal” work hours among regions.
  • Schedule meetings when most participants can attend
  • Schedule meetings using  a 24 hour time clock and ensure there is clarity on which time zone is being used (be wary of Outlook, as cross-time-zone meetings are sometimes a challenge to schedule).
  • Identify local holidays early in the project planning process.

By anticipating and mitigating communication challenges across cultural and geographical divides, one can capitalize on the rewarding benefits of managing  a global team.

All the world is certainly a stage (yes, yes, that was Shakespeare and not Shaw).  As project managers, our role as global “directors” grows increasingly important.   Ensure that you know the rules, the customs, the norms and are open, honest and clear with all your team members.  Don’t be fooled by the illusion of communication; ensure the messages are understood and you will raise your odds for success.

Authors: Beverly Lieblang and Carl Manello

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