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, a network of beginners who faced the same “smirking face”.  This blog is inspired by my younger self and the every day learner i am aspiring to be.

The kings and queens of project management will find this blog boring, and they 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: Receiving gifts

“Oxana, the boxes of chocolate and tea are more for you”, read the email I received from the big boss of the organisation I worked for. It was after a meeting between top management and the project team. One of the consultants on the team offered to the chair of the meeting the famous chocolate.

“Thank you very much. I’ll pick them up and open the boxes for everyone to enjoy in the coffee/kitchen room” was my immediate response. I knew the ethics rules this Organisation had. And I was committed to apply them.

It was also an example for other team members who were puzzled at the meeting and watchful of management reaction.

A box of chocolate is a small thing, right? the temptation jumps in. Better check your client’s and your organization’s policies on Receiving gifts. If you are a free-lancer, check your professional quarters’ guidelines. PMI for example, https://www.pmi.org/about/ethics/code

Some guidelines are more gifts-tolerant and set a maximum value for gifts which can be accepted. They range from USD 30 or equivalent (UNDP) to 100 Euro of equivalent (Council of Europe). More important than the value are the intention and or perception of influence that gifts may carry. Some Organisations are outright intolerant to gifts, regardless of the value and source, in particular for staff involved in procurement. As project managers, we are involved in procurement.

I’ve seen guidelines which contain a permission to accept gifts, which otherwise would be insulting to the offerer, for cultural or local customs reasons. In such a case, the gift shall be immediately disclosed and transferred for a decision to management.

Once in Ukraine, at a dinner paid by the project at the end of the project, I was offered two traditional cakes by the client. I declined politely. “We know it is below the value of gifts you can accept. We checked.”, they insisted. “I will pass it to my colleagues in the local office, to enjoy it”, was my response. And so I did the next morning.

If I cannot refuse the gift, I make sure that offerer understands that I act in accordance with the gifts receiving policies I abide by and that I accept it on behalf of the team. And I share it with the team: be it a box of chocolate, traditional sweets, a bottle of spirits, an invitation to a cultural event, a tour, etc. I know it is given to me only because I am on this project and I am already paid for doing my job.

Some Guidelines prohibit gifts from certain sources: Government, for example, or vendors, as these carry the risk of being seen as a “downpayment” for a future favour on behalf of the organisation/company you work for. Money gifts are a No in literally all professional conduct guidelines I saw. No explanation as to why is necessary.

“What about gifts post-project?” you may ask. I can only congratulate you for having succeeded to transform a business relation into a friendship. Nevertheless, I would be watchful over how much time elapsed after the project, if you are not in a project design phase and if no strings are attached from either side.

Keep it professional and maintain your integrity watchful!

From the series “Integrity in project management”. To be continued.

Motivation

I was having a conversation the other day with a colleague about motivation. I am a believer in self-motivation. She strongly believes in external motivation and the managers’ ability to motivate staff.

A recent research shows “Psychologists have been considering the question of our “locus of control” since the 1950s. Those with an external locus of control have a sense of life happening to them; they believe their lives are primarily influenced by forces outside their control.

Those with an internal locus of control, by contrast, feel in charge of their own destiny and attribute success or failure to their own efforts. An internal locus of control yields vastly superior results. 

knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/the-new-science-of-productivity/

At the end if the day, it is about what works best in each team, the degree of emotional intelligence of each manager/leader and the individual’s choice. Self-motivation is a choice and, even better “news” it is a learned skill.

Thought of the week: Preparation

Thought of the week: “prep unto others as you would have them prep unto you” borrowed from top chefs advice.

Every kitchen has a Kitchenhand. Their tasks include basic food preparation such as washing salad and peeling potatoes. Yet rheir role is essential for the whole kitchen. If they do not come to work or stop doing the preparations, the whole kitchen stops. The chef might remember their names only when the supply is not at hand. Yet, he/she will pay the price if the kitchenhand is not looked after.

I find similarities in the project management world. Picture a big and important decision making meeting, for which the interpretation equipment was not tested and prepared. Or a new service launch day for, which the clients’ applications are not ready. Or an interoperatibility module which has two systems in test mode to connect to.

Basically, any of the above are tasks performed by what is tempting to see as “little people”: an assistant, an IT staff without a corner office, a liaison officer, etc. By my book, these are the most important links in the chain of a project.

Therefore, as a project manager Do:

– check regularly on them, to identify any difficulties they may have;

– help them with anything beyond their control:

a reminder to the supplier/contractor of its obligations under the contract for that interpretation equipment

a meeting with other departments/members of the team on that interoperability,

a cup of coffee or tea if they run out of breath doing all they can for the big project day.

Thought of the week

“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities” Stephen R. Covey.

It might sound strange coming from a project manager who loves standard operating procedures and

streamlining. Some recent and not so recent manifestations showed me that by

listening to a different point of view,

embracing it and

acting on it together, in spite of our differences

is what makes a project great to work on.

Size and teams

Size matters. Not only in architecture.

How many people on a team is just right? Shall we go for a big team or small is the new big in projects? are questions popping up at the design phase.

The biggest team I managed had 20 people and the smallest – 3. The Palm Jumeirah Island mega project had teams commensurate with the scale of the project.

On the face of it, larger teams get more done. Yet, there is evidence that individuals in big groups actually perform worse. It is the “social loafing” syndrome: “someone else will do it. why bother?”. It is known as “Ringelmann effect“. Although it may not manifest in a construction project, I would think, when your client is a Sheikh .

So how many is just right? Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has the “two pizzas rule”: if a team can’t be fed by two pizzas, it’s too large. According to Katherine Klein from Wharton University, the widely accepted ideal size for a working team is five people “If you go beyond five people the team starts to lose individual performance, while teams smaller than 5 people can experience awkward team dynamics and skills gaps”.

Smaller groups appear more agile, robust and pro-active. Yet, research shows, disagreements happen more in smaller teams than bigger teams. It could be the frequency of interaction. Or just the fragility of egos.

Through trial and error, I noticed three rules of the thumb valid on my mind in approaching the decision on the number of team members:

1. If the project needs legal advice and financial services/accounting and a candidate is competent in both, take him/her on both roles, for a blend of skills. It will save time and effort, which will be otherwise spent on collaboration or its failure.

2. The size of the team may not be a constant during the lifespan of a project. Each stage may need additions or downsizing. It does not preclude you from inviting everyone to celebrate the project completion and you can order more than two pizzas on this occasion.

3. Size matters, but more important are the quality and performance of the team members. Stay humble in expanding your kingdom and bet on quality. Find the best and nurture them. Not with pizzas. At least not only 🙂

team_size_97151_strip_print

Gender mainstreaming in projects: a case study

Project A was designed to respond to institutional strengthening needs of an association of professionals – let’s call it Stars Alliance – and to contribute to improving the quality of the profession. Gender mainstreaming was included in the Project’s Work plan as a cross-cutting theme, yet its practical implication remained to be investigated and followed-up. The Project indicators were not gender-disaggregated at the start of the Project.

During its inception phase, the Project team used the stakeholders’ analysis to understand their roles, needs and situation. At the start of the Project, 30% of the Stars Alliance members were women. Yet, there were no women on its board and there were less than 10% of them in other internal management committees. Women have organised themselves into an association, let’s call it WLA.

WLA was established in March 2015 by 8 women lawyers. It was a young and small association with high aspirations to promote gender equality both within Stars Alliance and on the legal services market. The WLA was marginalised within the Alliance and its voice was weak. None of its initiatives, including gaining equal treatment of women professionals within social security, were supported by the Alliance.

The Project’s Stakeholders Analysis increased the understanding that for the gender mainstreaming to be successful, the WLA voice had to be heard and its capacity had to be strengthened. Moreover, including WLA in the Project meant that it would have the same effects and impact on men and women, both at the level of capacity and skills. A number of gender sensitive indicators were introduced, for example the number of women in the Bar pool of trainers; the number of women candidates to management positions and the number of women elected/selected in management committees.

Thus, the Project team pursued a pro-active role in involving WLA in the Project. The Project insisted on including WLA in all consultations organised to prepare the Stars Alliance Management Road Map, draft it organisational Strategy for 2017-2022 and its Communication Strategy. The Project also included consistently WLA representatives in all Project workshops, conference and seminars, breaking down little by little the isolation previously experienced. WLA was also included in the Project’s Steering Committee enabling the organization to make contributions and participate in decision making.

In addition to that, the Project implemented a number of activities designed specifically to strengthen WLA capacity as an organization.  As a result of these, WLA prepared its own Strategy for 2018-2023, started to collaborate with a similar organisation at the European level, organised its general assembly on a regular basis, multiplied by ten the number of its members, gained space on the Alliance website (where it can regularly publish its news and make itself visible and heard); presented an alternative report on women rights situation in the country at the UN Committee for Social, Economic and Cultural rights in Geneva.

All of the above contributed to making the WLA voice heard within the Alliance and externally, empowering it to take gender mainstreaming forward to the benefit of the  profession.

The Project’s approach to increase the capacity of WLA brought two lessons learned:

a. the Project had to be ready to mitigate risks of occasional disengagement from the Alliance management in Project activities, when WLA lead-activities were perceived as challenging to the institutional culture that existed since its establishment.

b. helping WLA to form partnerships – e.g. with the European women professional associations – was an important part of the sustainability of the action, as it anchored it in a network of organisations, which share similar challenges and aspirations.

A difficult or just messy project?

A difficult project is usually a result of external influences and circumstances, beyond project team control.

Chaotic processes, blurred roles and responsibilities between team members, unrelated and stand alone resource-consuming activities, scattered resources make a messy project.

Mess is usually self-created and contributed to by team members in a laisser-faire type of project management. “Do not do today what can be done tomorrow” leisurely style.

What can you do if you find yourself in charge of a messy project?

For a “change”, you can create your own MESS:

Measure/monitor

Evaluate

Solve

Submit

Measure what can be measured: time to task completion, delivery delays, number and price of units for inputs etc.

Evaluate why is it taking so much time/ resources. Why things do not work in the team. Where is the bottleneck.

Solve things that can be solved quickly, for a team motivation boost.

Submit results to sponsor/client.

Keep doing it until sail is on course.

A project story: a project was dragging its feet for eight months, in a 18 month timeline. It had:

– three team members,

– a beginner project manager, with very little experience and no coaching,

– no activities in sight and lots of email traffic,

– an abundance of frustration between field and headquarter’s team members,

– a client left to wonder why it wanted the services in the first place.

After a quick MESS by the new the project manager, the project was recovered and reached 96% of spending. It delivered the promised on time. The solution was to facilitate the team’s access to inputs (international expertise in this case). The client was happy and asked to continue the collaboration. From MESS to mission accomplished.

What’s your experience with messy projects?