Avoiding Blustery Project Management Days

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.

“One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries.”
– A. A. Milne (1882 – 1956)

Project Management is typically nothing like The Tales of Winnie the Pooh. However, like the whirlwind adventure of The Blustery Day, it is far more exciting to manage-by-the-seat-of-one’s-pants, than to layout articulated plans, processes and frameworks that support delivery. I’m a seasoned PM, and I too get tired of the rigor of project plans that are hundreds or thousands of lines long. Yet, to fundamentally improve the way companies operate, PMs need to apply some order to the chaos.

The proactive approach treats project management as more than the sum of project plans, methodologies and the certification of project managers. It is a process for moving from reactive project management techniques to proactive value management. The value is realized through acknowledgement of and effective development of project management competencies, the recognition of the value contribution of project management centers of excellence (aka: PMO’s), and the implementation of Read more of this post

How to spot a good PM…

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.

“Superfluity comes sooner by white hairs, but competency lives longer”
– William Shakespeare

At Slalom we have lots of roles:  Business Analysts, Change Management Specialists, Developers and even Project Managers.  But since project management is still not widely recognized as a “profession” with its own distinct capabilities and skills, how does one know if PM is the right role? To answer that question, I’m borrowing from Brad Egelands May 7, 2009 article “Five Signs You Aren’t Cut Out to be a Project Manager”, but have spun his messaging to a more positive perspective.  These are some of the criteria against which Slalom assesses its own PM’s.

Let’s look at five signs that indicate you may make a good project manager.

1.  You Like People more than Technology

If you like working with people, organizations and yes…politics, then you may make a good project manager.  PMs are often thrust into customer-facing roles and are looked upon to lead a team of skilled resources on projects.  They must be ready to Read more of this post

Understanding Your Environment

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 environment is everything that isn’t me.”
Albert Einstein

At Slalom, we are all seasoned experienced consultants.  And although none of us is quite an “Einstein,” it is important to understand what the good doctor was talking about regarding the environment in the context of project management.

As consultants, we constantly find ourselves in roles with new clients and unfamiliar environments. Often, when we start a new engagement, we hear statements like “our business is complex” or “our company is very different from all the other companies.” The way a project manager responds to these challenges can greatly impact their ability to lead a project to successful delivery.

To be successful, knowing project management terminology and theories isn’t enough; soft skills make the difference between a taskmaster and an effective leader.  A project manager needs to understand the environment within which they operate in order to be effective.  And, as Einstein implies, the term “environment” encompasses many things.  To narrow the definition, there are three major areas to focus on: Read more of this post

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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