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 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. Myprojectdelight.com is my Giving Pledge!

I manage projects mainly in the development management environment, which fosters 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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Unethical Behavior? The psychology behind

“Playing with the numbers “just this once” may well be the CEO’s intent; it’s seldom the end result. And if it’s okay for the boss to cheat a little, it’s easy for subordinates to rationalize similar behavior.” (Warren Buffet, Letter to Shareholders, 2018).

Paraphrasing the above in the project management context: playing with the numbers “just this once” may well be the project manager’s intent; it’s seldom the end result. And if it’s okay for the project manager to cheat a little, it’s easy for team members to rationalise similar behaviour.

Merete Wedell-Wedellsbort explains the psychology behind unethical behaviour in her article published in Harvard Business Review (12 April 2019). I very much recommend to read the article. It raises the awareness of own behaviour and explains others’ behaviour next time you find yourself in an environment prone to unethical démarches.

As Merete Wedell-Wedellsbort puts it “three psychological dynamics  lead to crossing ethical lines. First, there’s omnipotence: when someone feels so aggrandized and entitled that they believe the rules of decent behavior don’t apply to them. Second, we have cultural numbness: when others play along and gradually begin to accept and embody deviant norms. Finally, we see justified neglect: when people don’t speak up about ethical breaches because they are thinking of more immediate rewards such as staying on a good footing with the powerful.”

In project management, your “audience” is neither experts of any sorts nor politicians/commentators. Your audience are the tax-payers (in development management) or the shareholders. The numbers that flow up to you as a project manager should be the ones you send on to those who gave you the money to implement the project. They send auditors to attest to that. The above applies not only to money. It also applies to relationships with stakeholders; communication with the public; rewards for team members and many other aspects of project management.

Case in point:

Upon arrival on the team as a new project manager, Avril (not real name) learns that the donor will send an audit in two months. The last financial report raised a number of questions. She realised the report was made to match the numbers and did not reflect accurately the actual spending. Avril knew the report was done to please the previous project manager, who believed the rules of accountability do not apply to him (omnipotence). After discussing it with the financial assistant, it became clear that the later admired the project manager (cultural numbness) and played along (justified neglect).

Avril prepared all the supporting documents required by the auditors in advance. Upon the arrival of the auditors in the morning of the appointed day, she acknowledged the mistakes made in calculations, exchange rates and the like. There was nothing to hide and the numbers had to be corrected before the final financial report. The auditor tuned in Avril’s readiness to correct it with “you are glad we are here”.

As a result, the implementing organisation was spared of the need to repay a six figure amount and the reputation of the project was restored.

Ivan/Getty Images

“Quiet influence: the introvert’s guide to making a difference” by Jennifer B. Kahnweiler PhD

I found the book valuable from a number of perspectives. It is well-researched and anchored in real-life experiences of introverts in different lines of businesses. Yes, introverts do work in sales and project management!

I am an ambivert, so the book spoke to me, as the narrative is respectful in the sense that the author does not re-educate the introverts. The book rather builds on introverts’ strengths and skills to help them maximise success with a clear call to stop acting like an extrovert. The basic idea is that you do not need to raise your voice or exude passion in excess in order to make a difference. The author offers towards that goal a number of tools, strategies and inspirational stories. I find many of them relevant in the project management world, as we aim at making a difference within and through projects.

I have successfully applied some of techniques, as I was reading the book. For instance, developing an influencing project plan, preparing LAQs (Likely Asked Questions) before a meeting, AEIOU technique, “the eyebrow test” and many more.

Enjoy reading it and share what you liked, as well as what other books you read on the topic.

“Getting Past No” by William Ury

“Getting past No” is one of my favourite books on the art of negotiation. Its author, William Ury, is the cofounder of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard University.

Cooperation is one of the most effective means of achieving the objective of any project, hence my interest in the art of negotiating and breaking barriers to cooperation.

The value of the book is in the techniques it offers and the explanations behind their efficiency and effectiveness in different power relations. So, if you are looking for inspiration or help in difficult situations, I highly recommend the book.

Case in point: how I used one of the techniques offered by the book to breakthrough in a difficult situation. The technique is called “don’t escalate: use power to educate”. The author used a quote from Sun Tzu to anchor this technique: “The best general is the one who never fights”. In one of projects under my responsibility, the team was confronted with a client whose desire to exercise power was notable. It manifested in the smallest project’s details, up to the desire to veto the selection of service providers. The team kept explaining how service providers are selected based on the legal agreement the project had with the sponsor. Nevertheless, many activities remained blocked as the client kept insisting.

I travelled to the project’s site for a face-to-face meeting with the client. We had one hour. I started the meeting with “easy to digest” stuff, were we achieved together considerable progress. My colleagues, noticing that 50 minutes into the meeting we have not tackled the contentious issue, started showing signs of worry.

I was waiting for the right moment. When the body language of the people on the other side of the table told me that they begun to relax, I brought up the issue. First, I reiterated what they already knew from my colleagues (to show that we act as a team and they can trust them). Secondly, I used our power to educate by explaining the administrative and legal consequences of an additional clearance mechanism, which was not in our initial agreement. I also knew how important for them was to complete the project on time, as any delays would have been costly. We concluded the meeting with the client by sealing our initial agreement and no further demands in this respect were made.  Upon the project’s completion, the client wanted to continue to do business, which is a clear sign of “win-win”.

A project manager on vacation

I wrote this piece in August 2016. I fully subscribe to each word to this day. I have also accumulated in the meantime a number of additional useful tips.

***

– Will the sky fall if I take a two week leave, boss? I asked my former programme manager some years ago.

– Yes, he responded abruptly.

He still let me go. I suspect it was because I mentioned I am traveling to France, his home country.

And the sky did not fall. To the contrary, stars were brighter upon my return as I came back refreshed. My happy brain and the creativity inspired by new sites renewed my vows. My productivity increased. It lasted for a good half a year, a critical time for the change management we were implementing.

In 14 days we travelled 2000 km from Paris to San Remo and back, visiting 3 countries, stopping overnight in locations on our route, enjoying the hospitality of new hosts every evening. It was a travel in time, as our itinerary included the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct that crosses the Gardon River in southern France and Arena of Nîmes, a Roman amphitheatre, built around AD 70. Visiting ancients sites puts things into perspective. For example, is that internal chatter about the perfection of the new marketing strategy important in the big scheme of things of giving to the clients the good product they expect? These lasting monuments reiterate what we know and tend to forget: things that last are not build in one day and not by one person.

A change of scenery uncluttered my busy brain. Colours took over numbers. Scents and sounds put office chatter to sleep. Deadlines surrendered to sunrises and sunsets.

Research shows that a busy mind requires a busy vacation. Project managers do have a busy work life, no doubt about it. So, why not get passionate and be a good project manager of your vacation? Apply the best of your planning skills and bring it to a successful completion, with satisfactions to last. And make it on budget, if possible. If not, it’s no trouble. Your recharged batteries will soon repay it in full.

Here are a few tips I collected throughout years:

  • Plan well. Do not leave things to chance.
  • If you absolutely must check on the projects, schedule time to do so. Either early morning when your family is asleep or after they go to bed. It will prevent the feeling of guilt for having stolen from the time with your dear ones. It will also organise those back at work. They will know when to expect an answer from you, if you absolutely must.
  • Have a clear out-of-office message so that those who try to reach you by email know what to expect.
  • Do something new. Something that would take you out of your comfort zone and get you a positive adrenaline shot.

stock-photo-hawaiian-vacation-sunset-concept-two-beach-chairs-at-sunset-98725346I run into this article and gladly share it: 5 Rules for a Vacation that’s Truly Worth It by Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, Harvard Business Review June 05, 2015, https://hbr.org/2015/06/5-rules-for-a-vacation-thats-truly-worth-it