Welcome to My Project Delight

welcome to MPDI became a project manager by accident. Quite an intro, i can hear you say. Bear with me. More than a decade ago,  the only opening at an organisation i wanted to work for was mysteriously called ‘project manager’. I applied, successfully passed the competition and they offered me the job. I hardly realised back then what  the job is about and what to expect. I was all smiles on my first day at the new job. The organisation did its best, but it was also new and in the process of organising itself and the newly arrived team. I continued to put on a brave face. Very soon an avalanche of a multi million Euro projects portfolio, i was supposed to “manage”, challenged my smile with a smirk: “Let’s see your talents now”. Needless to say that as soon as my previous employer got back to me, I returned to the job I felt comfortable at.

In time, project management became a professionally delightful, although accidental, love. This perspective made me cherish my first experiences. I wish back then I had a mentor or coach to talk to, a source of info which would explain the tips and tricks of the trade.  This blog is inspired by my younger self and the every day learner I am aspiring to be. I manage projects mainly in the development management environment and it offers numerous transferable skills and competences for both private and public sectors.

The kings and queens of project management are always welcome to share a tip or two.  “Tips are like hugs, without the awkward body contact” I once read next to a tips box in a Juice Bar in an airport. So are the tips on this blog. Sometimes they are just my two cents :). Anyway, let’s get tipping for a delightful project management experience!

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Integrity in projects: conflict of interest

Accountability demands a strong conflict of interest policy to be in place, in both the public and private sector. PMI defines conflict of interest as “a situation that arises when a project management practitioner, PMI volunteer or employee is faced with making a decision of doing some act that will benefit the practitioner or another person or organization to which the practitioner, volunteer or employee owes a duty of loyalty and at the same time will harm another person or organization to which the practitioner owes a similar duty of loyalty”. 4108

Basically, the conflict of interest arises when the project manager has a private interest, which is such to influence the impartial and objective performance of his/her duties. Private interests are not an issue in themselves. Conflict of interests do not necessarily lead to damages or unjustified benefits. It is when they go unmanaged that harm is done.

The management of the conflict of interest has a number of features, among which:

  • identification and disclosure of a conflict of interests on a regular basis and through a clear procedure;
  • awareness of all corporate, personal, and family business interests and relationships that may involve or relate to the project manager and the client;
  • a procedure for solving conflict of interests;
  • training on preventing and solving conflict of interest in projects.

For a project manager, the potential areas of conflicts of interest could be related to:

Business Associations

Owning a business or a share in a business likely to be selected as a vendor or service provider for a project you manage can be a source of conflicts of interest.

The proper thing to do in situations like this is to let the customer and  your company/organisation know of your affiliation so that decisions can be made jointly on how to handle the process.  Likely, the project manager will need to step out of any part of the decision-making process on procurement, starting from needs assessments, planning, design to tendering and evaluation and audit. The process must be documented for a record of the way it was handled should any questions arise later from any sides: audit, shareholders or the general public.

Example: the project needs consultancy services on insurance of goods to be purchased. The project organises a call for offers and the project manager’s spouse, who managers an insurance broker, submits an offer. The project manager shall declare the conflict of interest and do not participate in the procurement of services.

Affiliations

Family, relatives, close friends, your children godparents (in some cultures), alumni, clubs and leagues memberships and other affiliations are potential sources of conflict of interest.

This requires the project manager to know of his/her family and relatives affairs and interests and act in an appropriate way, once the potential conflict of interest arises. Some organisations require candidates to declare the positions/business of family members before hiring the project manager. It is a good practice in particular in small jurisdictions, where everyone is “related” to everyone.

Same is valid in hiring processes. Helping a friend or family member landing a job in the project you manage necessarily hurts the chances of people you do not know and thus the interests of the project in getting the best expertise on the market.

Example: a project manager is often seen spending his evenings on private time in a certain restaurant, which is managed by his childhood friend. The town is small and the usual suspects are in the usual places. The procurement notices  that the restaurant was constantly proposed as a venue for project’s events in the last months and no call for offers was organised.

Stakeholder Influence

Another potential area for conflict of interest comes from stakeholders, in particular in development management, when the project addresses public authorities needs and interests.  Stakeholders can be individuals with authority and important positions in an organisation. That in itself is not a harmful issue. It is the using of their ability to reward or promote certain people or interests for the project manager’s own personal/private gain. Personal interests shall not prevail over the interests of the project.

A project manager has be to aware of the stakeholders influence on all members of the project team, as it can be very direct – through statements – or indirect and subtle.

Example: a consultant on a project had a car with a driver to drive him around for business and private purposes offered by the Prime Minister office. The project manager had to stop that practice as it was influencing the balance of the consultant’s loyalty towards the politics of the Prime Minister, which was against the independence required to carry out policy advice.

 

 

Relationships in projects

It is not unusual for members of the project team to come close and to get romantically involved with clients/beneficiaries or between each other. It happens in particular, although not exclusively, in projects of duration, when interaction lasts and/or is frequent.

A fellow project manager shared a story: a project had been ended by the sponsor because the team leader and the deputy team leader were engaged in an office romance. The project manager saw no problems and took no measures to prevent the conflict of interest. Also, conflicts with other members of the team followed shortly. The result was for a team of 20 to remain without a lucrative contract.

Could things have been different if the project manager would have reacted? The answer is often in the integrity framework of the project team and the commitment of team members to behave accordingly.

Story:

Sammy (not the real name) told the project manager that she knows that Peter is romantically involved with the top guy in the client’s organisation, who was also married. Peter had a support function in the team, with little to no interaction with the client. The project manager – Max – asked Sammy not to share her thoughts with other members of the team.

Peter knew Sammy knows and he was fine with that. Max asked for HR advice and analysed all potential consequences in terms of project information flow to the client. It was sensible not to get into a private matter between two adults, was the HR advice. Max redesigned the information flow as to avoid the sharing of information ahead of the project schedule and to prevent any potential conflict of interest. Sammy was in charge of monitoring that. She assumed the role and delivered well. Peter was reminded of the Code of Ethics of the organisation and the values the organisation stood by. No conflict of interest occurred and the project run smoothly to its end.

Do:

  • set a clear integrity framework and ethics rules;
  • place ethics at the center of the project’s culture;
  • prevent and solve conflict of interest;
  • prevent office politics and mis-perceptions;
  • involve Human Resources and professional advice.

 

Re-post: The Feedback Fallacy

“The way we give and receive feedback is all wrong. We need to focus on strengths — not dwell on what we perceive as shortcomings” from The Feedback Fallacy by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, March–April 2019 Issue of the Harvard Business Review.

https://hbr.org/2019/03/the-feedback-fallacy?utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=hbr&utm_medium=social&fbclid=IwAR1T73OA8iiarlJAYJ5zKRjpaYU3jXyKPuCqkC3p0-puqaOjXi8cjMj1ruY

Are projects managed by men different?

The title is deliberate. Comparing men and women seems a new wave in the equality  debates on all sorts of professional walks. The project management world, like any other, is not immune to that.

It seems senseless to me to categorize project managers as male or female. There are studies out there showing that projects managed by women are more successful. The point of this is elusive to me. I am also aware of the bias and prejudice still surrounding women in many cultures in respect of their abilities and skills. At the same time, we have to admit that thanks to generations of women before us we have come a long way in dealing with the phenomenon known as the “likability conundrum.”

Coming back to the project managers profession, if you have the skills, the passion, the commitment, responsibilities, and the work ethic necessary to hold the position then you are a project manager.

By focusing on gender, we miss the point. We shall focus on talent, rather than gender, shall we?

What I learned in numerous interactions is that when you face the likability conundrum, it is important to remember that it says quite a lot about the other person. Do not hold it against them, they might be utterly unaware. Teach them, with your passion and skills.

If you are interested to delve on the issue, PMI has done some research and studies in the field: https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/gender-project-managers-nasa-8988 ; https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/gender-project-management-workplace-dynamics-5609

 

 

 

Risks? What risks?!

Development management professionals looked in wonder at the U.S. Supreme Court case against IFC. In brief, America’s top justices handed down a landmark ruling in favor of a group of Indian villagers looking to sue the International Finance Corp. — the private sector arm of the World Bank — for its support for the coal-fired Tata Mundra Power Plant. The villagers said the project contaminated groundwater, killed marine life, and ejected coal ash into the air. IFC did not contest that the damage occurred, but argued it is immune from liability under U.S. law. Tata Mundra – named “India’s first ultra-mega power project” – gave already in 2015 some indications of headaches to come, if you read The Guardian article at that time. The World Bank projects go through internal assessments of impact and risks. The Guardian’s investigations seem to suggest that the standard assessments of social and environment impacts have been carried out.  Those affected had used the available remedy of applying to the Compliance Ombudsman who also looked into the matter (http://www.cao-ombudsman.org/cases/document-links/documents/IFCresponsetoCAOAudit-CoastalGujaratPowerLimited.pdf). If you are interested, there are further details on the case https://www.devex.com/news/calls-for-stronger-accountability-after-ifc-supreme-court-ruling-94387

This post is not about the legal implications of the ruling on whether it will open or not the floodgates of litigation against International Organisations. Reading the above analysis reminded me of the importance of accountability and the related risk management in project design and implementation.

With due consideration paid to the accountability framework of the organization/client, a project manager works for, the risks assessments are an inherent part of the latter’s job. While project managers are not (always) magicians with abilities to foresee the future, taking time to do a proper risk assessment from smallest internal projects to largest (infrastructure) projects is worth every second of it.

It is not unheard of to tick the boxes and fill in the risk logs (or risk registers) with standard information at the projects design phase. How much time and thought is dedicated to risks assessments and diligently answering to the question “what could go wrong” depends on a number of factors, including the risk threshold of those who design the project and the context of the project. Not taking time to do a proper risks assessment results in project delays or even damages. And no project manager wants to have to recover a troubled project or the client/organization to pay for that.

Risk logs are live documents. They are like growing children: need to constantly keep an eye on them throughout the entire project management lifecycle.

Do:

  • identify risks as early as possible in projects;
  • consult stakeholders on the risk assessment and risk management plan;
  • apply rigor to risks assessments and risk management plans;
  • complement qualitative methodologies with data-driven approaches to risk assessments (see OECD (2019) Analytics for Integrity http://www.oecd.org/gov/ethics/analytics-for-integrity.pdf);
  • avoid ‘blind spots” and biases by means of third party monitoring and evaluation, if/when possible;
  • be mindful of and monitor eventual third party risks, which could impact the project; take legal/administrative steps to reflect them in the agreement with the third party;
  • constantly monitor risks and apply remedies.

There are a variety of project risk management tools available on the internet. I found this risk log of practical use in some projects. Feel free to download it. Template_Risk Management Plan_EN

Job descriptions and roles in projects

– What roles?! There are only three roles in this project: project manager, assistant and financial officer!

This was a response from a participant in an “Giving positive feedback training for managers” at the point we were discussing how to get the best from team members to achieve success. And that answer made me sad.

“She should resign from this position. She is more of the creative type”, I heard the other day in respect of a team member of a diplomatic mission.

What the two above have in common? The missed opportunity to look beyond and to put to use the best of everyone for the common good.

Job descriptions are necessary. No doubt. They offer clarity and a certain protection to staff. As it was the case of a driver in a project team who was asked by a consultant to deal with his expired driving license. “Sorry, Mark, it is not his work duty. If you need help, we can talk about it outside working hours and see if I have private connections to guide you through the right procedures”, was my response back then, to protect my colleague and also offer clarity on roles in the project.

Back to roles and missed opportunities. People are different and this makes their skills and competencies complementary in a project/team. It is the project manager’s job to ensure this complementarity. To do that, he/she needs to learn what each member of the team is best at, ideally before the start of the project.

There are a variety of ways to do that. I remember a team building retreat we had at the World Bank, when each was asked to describe the skills he/she brings to the team. Through a skillful moderator we realised how many various skills we bring individually to the team and how, as a result, we make the team collectively strong and unique.

Do:

  • take time to learn about each team member skills and past experience;
  • look beyond the CV and/or HR file;
  • give roles to match skills: if a person has good social skills, let her/him talk to the client; if a person is an introvert and prefers quiet time to reflect, given him/her to do the research and behind the scene work; and alike. Picture1