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!

Advertisements

Nr 1 investment: professional relationships

If there would be one indefinite investment I would be asked to make in my professional life it would be human relationships.

In projects, even if short-lived, relationships matter the most. Project’s success rarely, if ever, depends on one person only. Relationships can make or break a project. As project managers, we have a double task of building our relationship with the team and creating/nurturing the environment in the team. And you should not forget about the relationship with yourself.

Relationships with team members start with developing rapport. I learned over years that developing rapport needs action on a number of levels:

A. “Knowing your self”, your triggers, your fears, your inner voice…

B. Taking time to learn about team members. What they like, what they dislike.

C. Opening yourself to others. The degree of openness depends on your introvert or extravert type of personality. Do not expect however the same from others. They will open when they are ready to trust.

D. Creating opportunities for team members to get to know each other. At a cooking class with colleagues, a team member exclaimed “you are surprisingly funny” addressing a colleague. Their work relationship flourished since then. This, in turn, brought large dividents to the project.

In a project team I managed, egos were big and complaints against each other – rampant. After a Christmas party, where each had to bring a gift to the team representing the country they were from, complaints ceased and the project could benefit from the unity of action through the diversity of background.

E. Making communication thoughtful and purposeful. In other words, think before talking and talk for a reason. Water cooler chats are fine, as long as no gossiping is involved.

F. Doing no harm to hamonious relationships between team members. Even if divide et impera worked in the short term, in long term it did not save even an empire.

G. Being consistent and practicing what you preach.

H. Giving credit where credit is due: in direct communication with the team member and also in discussions about what they do part of the project.

If you are wondering where to start, I found the profil4colors tool useful.

Another useful “getting to know each other” exercise is “Tell me about your favourite spot“: each team member is asked to describe their favourite place in as many details as possible. It tells many thanks about how creative people are, if they value the process or the result, how important are other people in their story etc.

 

View at Medium.com

Nr 1 ability of a project manager

If there would be only one ability of a project manager I would choose from it would be resourcefulness. Resourcefulness is the ability to explore options, connect dots, step outside the comfort zone and think outside the box. It is to find water in a place others call “desert”.

Yes, projects are resources based. They have human and financial resources, and they are often seen as scarce. You know the story: not enough budget, not enough people, not enough time, not enough of something else …

Resourcefulness is connected to the mind set. The mindset is usually of scarcity or abundance. Some call it a “growth mindset”. See also “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” from Harvard Business Review https://hbr.org/2018/05/what-it-takes-to-think-deeply-about-complex-problems. 

In Romanian, we say “Fa rai din ce ai” – make haven from what you have. Sure, there can be times when you genuinely think things through and still can’t find a solution. Yet, often just taking a step back, changing the perspective, will open the road to the solution. There is always a source of information to access, a door to knock on, a dormant budget line, a collaborative hand, an expertise to reach, even a chance remark by someone we value. It might be as simple as saying STOP to excuses and justifications, for a start.

If you need a change of perspective, there are a number of techniques in the world of psychology to acknowledge, validate and reframe how you see a situation. You can take a break and watch “Sing” – the part in which Buster Moon turned the ruins of his theater into the greatest show in the town.

Case in point

When I started working on a project, it was at month 18 and had 6 more months to end date. It had of number of symptoms of a troubled project. The delivery rate was 50%. A number of milestones were not achieved and unfinished tasks “rejoiced” in the backlog.

The organisation had only a national consultant on the ground and no other support staff in the country the project had to be implemented, 6000 km away from headquarters. Each deliverable was painful for those who organized it before me. At that rate, we could have as well closed the project upfront.

A quick review of the modus operandi made me realise the biggest bottleneck was linked to the organisation of events in the country. Each activity required a venue, transportation, catering, interpretation, translation, printing, accommodation for consultants. Performed individually, these tasks ate up all of the previous project managers’ time and efforts.

The solution was an events management company to deal with all the logistics on the ground. A tender was organised to choose the best value for money on the market. Once the contract with the winner was signed, the project team was able to fully focus on the content and milestones of the project.

As a result, the delivery rate increased in 5 months to 85 percent of the budget, all products were delivered and the project’s objective – achieved. All – to the clients and donor’s satisfaction.

Things we do in projects: managing conflict between team members

It was my first week in a new project manager’s job. I got a phone call from Avery – a consultant on the team – who sounded distressed and wanted to urgently meet. I agreed immediately and we met that afternoon.

Almost sobbing, she told me that her male colleague undermines her position and makes her efforts futile. She went on and on. The word “harassment” was in the air. From her narrative, it seems that it was happening for months, if not years. I asked her if she talked about her experience with the previous three project managers this project had. “No”, she admitted, and said she was “not able to take it anymore”…

I offered her a number of options, including to involve human resources, as she mentioned harassment.  She agreed with the option of both of them meeting in my presence. I called our other colleague and we met couple of days later over a cup of coffee, on a neutral territory.

– Avery has something to tell you, Nick.

Avery was hesitating but it was too late to retrieve from the face-to-face. With some encouragement, she voiced her concerns. I could see Nick was in shock.

After the meeting he came by my office.

– I am shocked, he said.

– Yes, I saw.

– She spent her Sundays in my house, having wine with me and my wife, over the last two years. We work on a daily-basis… Now to hear all that and the bitterness in her voice…

I listened to his account of events. We agreed that he will think about what he can do on the points she raised. He was to remove all issues she could have potentially thought of as red flags in her communication with their common client.

As a project manager, I reassigned the assistant they shared, so there would be no suspicion of unwanted information passing from one office to another. Nick also arranged for the client to give her an honorary award. Needless to say, they did not have wine together after that. As things evolved in next months, we could see she liked her victim’s role and was soon after another colleague.

Two years later, Nick died of cancer. I always wondered if that story did not trigger it.

This story taught me many things. It taught me empathy and its dark side. It also reminded me to:

  • Observe the interaction between team members and stay informed.
  • Listen to both sides.
  • Do what you can to help overcome the conflict by giving both sides an equal opportunity to voice their concerns.
  • Do not allow for self-victimisation on the team. It serve no purpose.
  • Take things seriously and involve Human Resources or mediators when there are indications of inappropriate behaviour and disrespect.
  • Stay alert to the need to revisit team members’ communication needs and channels and eventually redistribute roles within the team.
  • Last but not least, act with integrity.

 

* names are changed.

How to maintain collaboration between project team members who do not like each other

A very good colleague of mine – Peter – told me once “At work, there is professionalism, respect and chemistry. It is ideal when you have all three. You can still work with the first two only though”.

Indeed, chemistry is valuable and rare. Not all project teams have it. Sometimes it is possible to create it. Sometimes it is not. We all have examples of “cats and dogs” teams or “implosive teams”. Regardless, the project has to be delivered and the client – satisfied.

As a project manager, you might find yourself in between. The tension might be silent or loud. Team members might want you to deal with it or just, quite the opposite, to not get mixed up.

Over years, I learned that there are a number of things a project manager can do:b2d06893c54fd55be2c739138ea5f712

  1. Observe to be able to prevent and to react, as appropriate.
  2. Learn about what’s behind the tension by listening. Truly listening to both sides.
  3. Clarify what’s in your power to change. Can you:
  • redistribute roles based on team members’ strengths?
  • offer space for people to get it off their chest?
  • give other channels of communication between the “belligerents”? for example, communication through Slack, if they cannot talk to each other, or encourage more face-to-face communication, when misunderstandings arise from written communication.
  • replace irreconcilable members of the team on areas which are essential for the project’s success?

4. If the organisation has training opportunities, offer to the members of the team to go to inter-personal and communication trainings.

5. Remind everyone of the common objectives the entire team works for. Focus on what the team members have in common, not their dividing lines.

6. Organise informal team gatherings, over a beer or a bowling night or even a battle of any sorts (rap, dance, storytelling). It will offer team members an opportunity to know each other from other perspectives.

7. Above all, lead by example. Team members will often mirror the project manager’s preferences or dislikes. Keep your integrity in check.