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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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?

Nice project teams vs Respectful project teams

confirmation-bias
image credit Ted Bauer

– This is the nicest project team I worked with, my fellow colleague shared enthusiastically.

– What makes it ‘nice”? my curiosity jumped in.

– It’s the harmony. We think alike, act alike, talk about the same…

I could notice that they even wear similar glasses frames. Those black, thick, square looking frames. It’s just the fashion trend, perhaps.

I worked with very nice project teams and not-so-nice project teams. The former give you the feeling of daily comfort, cosiness even. The latter are like a good hot bitter -sweet coffee, with a long-lasting after taste. I prefer the latter.

These teams tend to be more productive, focused, diverse, authentic, out-spoken and result-driven. They are exactly the type needed to deliver projects on time, within budget and with lasting effects. The culture of these teams is of respectful openness and unbiased information sharing of any kind. They are truthful to themselves and the project’s sponsor/client.

I wondered what is behind, what makes them the way they are. The article by Jonah Sachs “At work a respectful culture is better than a nice one” offered insights and answers to my questions.

As a project manager, one has to ask him/herself: do I want it nice or truthful? Do I create and maintain a culture of safe sharing of information? Do I tune in my emotional intelligence to react to all kind of information coming from all members of the team? Do I have a ‘confirmation bias”? What effects these have on the project team members?

As Jonah Sachs puts it: “Those further from the centers of power risk more and have little to gain in terms of increasing group harmony by speaking up. So they don’t. To make matters worse, women, more than men, have been raised with cultural expectations that they will be always be nice, further silencing important but perhaps inconvenient contributions they might make. Nice workplaces thus quickly become tyrannies of conformity and inequality. ” more https://work.qz.com/1260571/at-work-a-respectful-culture-is-better-than-a-nice-one/

Measuring impact

I literally absorbed the article “AEI’s President on Measuring the Impact of Ideas”, which appeared in Harvard Business Review. The author Arthur C. Brooks, the President of American Enterprise Institute—one of the oldest and best-known think tanks in the USA – gives many insightful perspectives on measuring the success of think tanks on the ideas market.

I drew parallels to the development work where demonstrating impact was a challenge even before the “golden era”. Donors need to show evidence to the tax payers that they’re creating value with what they give. They need to see data. Having an intangible product or a number of short lived outputs impresses no one. The (hopefully positive) change needs to be seen and felt.

The article helped reminding that a clear and genuine metric for success is a good start in any development project. Yet, one tends to turn it, for a variety of reasons, in a formal ticking-the-box exercise or toss it all together on the “no-one-reads-it-anyway shelf”.  I found that by simply asking the members of the team “why are we doing this? how will we report against it in one/two year time?” helps in crafting a realistic and committing metric.

Thanks for the inspiration, Harvard Business Review! The link to the article: https://hbr.org/2018/03/aeis-president-on-measuring-the-impact-of-ideas?utm_campaign=hbr&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social

Strategic planning explained to kids and not only

– What are you going to do on this mission, mom?

– Help an organisation with Strategic planning, sweetheart.

– What’s strategic planning?

Explain this to a five year old. And then to a group of 20 board members, all of whom are lawyers.

So the strategic-planning-explained-to-kids-and-adults-story goes like this:

You are happily building your legos. At some point you’ll hear me “Dinner is ready!”. You know you want to finish building your lego-that would be your aim/objective in strategic planning. Dinner time is your timeline, same in strategic planning.

You follow your lego instructions-that would be your activities in achieving your objective. Your lego bricks are your resources. If the time to dinner is too short and you want to finish on time, you may need to call for help. That would be your parents/partners’ support.

Your satisfaction with the lego built and its compliance with the picture on the box would be the criteria/marks to assess your result.

That in short, my dear, is strategic planning.

Thought of the year

2017 felt as a year of resilience testing more than before. Constant demands. Changing circumstances. It brought the knowledge of thyself and others to a new level. Humanity was put to test. Relationships evolved. All these are precious gifts of knowledge.

Thank you, 2017!

2018, let’s make the most of it and continue to thrive!

Inspired by “Those leaders with strong self-knowledge – who have a clear understanding of their skills and shortcomings, their frustrations, and their core principles – are more likely to sustain those needed reserves of resilience to thrive through adversity and change.” Ron Carucci, The Better you know Yourself, the More Resilient You’ll Be, Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2017/09/the-better-you-know-yourself-the-more-resilient-youll-be?utm_campaign=hbr&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social