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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Thought of the week: productivity

“Productive people and companies force themselves to make choices most people are content to ignore.”  Charles Duhigg in ‘Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business”

Trust and Teams

We often hear ‘I trust X” or “I do not trust Y”. I discovered that the level and manifestation of trust affects the team performance and ultimately the achievement of the project’s objective.

Members of a project team – be it a NASA project or a local community street cleaning project – need to trust each other. And trust is a feeling. It can be individual or shared. It comes from a variety of sources, including but not exclusively from

– knowing that someone has your back,

– believing that your team mates will deliver on time their part and their belief that you’ll take it from there and move it forward,

– being certain that they will show up at the product launch on time,

– having faith that they will tell you in good faith when you make a mistake and help you either own it or remedy it together.

Trust has come to stay when there is integrity, consistency of words and deeds, commitment to the project goal and genuine investment in building relations. Trust is not built by sharing gossips at the water cooler.

You may want to read more on the topic: “Trust: does it impact team performance… or not?” by Wendy Hirsch https://scienceforwork.com/blog/trust-impact-team-performance/

Lion’s Cage: things we do in projects

It was breakfast time. I was wondering whether our trainer – Alex – will show up. My brain was analysing options, in case he will not. I would have understood. The day before was tough.
When Alex got into the breakfast room, he had a poker face so I was prepared for anything.
– It feels as if going into a lion’s cage, said Alex.
– We are the lions, I said, meekly.

He smiled back, took a sip of coffee and went to prepare the room for the day.

How we got there: A client wanted a two day training on a matter they said it was important for the future of the organisation and they wanted to do it only with us. They did not have to pay for it. We had a sponsor. We agreed, found the right trainers and organised the logistics. It was not a small thing, as the audience was of 100 people representing over 30,000 of the organisation’s members.

When day 1 unfolded, a strong sense of opposition to the concepts to be tackled became obvious. The matter was more sensitive to the members of the organisation than we anticipated from the preparatory work with their management. Their internal divisions became also obvious. Not an ideal environment for learning and advancing the interests of the organisation.

But this is the nature of projects – they are not needed in ideal environments. We had to put together our conflict resolution skills, networking skills, positive feedback and the ability to help people find common ground. It also required a ‘is there anything I can do?” question whispered to the chairperson of the organisation, who seemed to enjoy the fight her fellows were putting on with the trainers. She got my point and helped change the tone of the event.

Finally, we managed to put the training on the right track and by the end of Day 2 we could smile and be proud that people were engaging in group work, making presentations and interacting in a civilised way with each other and trainers. They took away a great deal of new and important perspectives for their organisation’s future. Those who stayed to the end and the management of the organisation were fully satisfied and send a Thank You letter afterwards.

We could have stopped after day 1. A note to file would have done the job. Payments would be partial, according to the work and services actually delivered… . Still there was something to it, for us to learn.

My take away:
– be prepared to recover projects at any time;
– trust your members of the team;
– act on prevention with the information you have at hand;
– build alliances and rely on then.

Integrity in projects: offering gifts

– I would buy that painting for the minister. She seemed to have liked it when she visited our office.
– Would you buy it if she was NOT a minister?, asked our Ethics Officer.
That conversation in the conference room of an international organisation stayed with me for years.

We are often tempted to offer something to projects’ partners – a small gift, a token of appreciation, an invitation to an event… .

Then comes the WHY. Why would we offer gifts and things, in addition to the services/products delivered? The reasons might be multiple. “Why not?”, “What harm would it do?”, “It’s just a gesture”, we can hear in response. Still, would you offer the gift to X if he/she was not a decision-maker or a gate-keeper? Most probably not.

Offering gifts carries an intention of some sort, even in the most selfless among us. From a gesture of attention on a birthday or an anniversary of some sort to the implicit or explicit intention of getting advantages and influencing the decision-making for a project’s or personal gain.

Paying bribes is outright illegal and unethical and that is cut in stone for any project manager committed to integrity and accountability, respective of the sector he/she operates in. Projects are often unpredictable beasts and even more so in environments where bribery is a fact of life for making things happen. Taming the beast requires a thorough knowledge and understanding of the local laws and practices, as well as legal preparatory work in forms of incentives, which could be provided in a safe legal arrangement. U.S.A. government contracts sometimes include incentive payments for early project completion, for example.

Project performance depends on people behaviour. And human behaviour can be incentivised provided people health/safety, environment protection and/or laws and regulations are not being infringed.

Many years ago, to ensure presence at meetings, which could only take place outside business hours due to the client’s work programme, I provided tea and snacks to all who came. The offering was for all and all could benefit from it. This way we managed to decide on project’s milestones and move forward. In today’s remote projects environments, decisions can be taken on-line and at each individual’s pace, within an agreed timeframe.

Finding and applying the right and ethical incentives is both an art and technique in a project. What worked in your project environment?

To sum up/Do:
– abide by laws and your Code of Ethics and professional conduct;
– use incentives for performance motivation within legal and social norms;
– check your ‘why’ behind the impulse / desire to offer a gift.

Drawing by Sofia.

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

Thought of the week

Dear cliché answers “I did not know” or “I do not understand” get ready to meet “What did you do to get to know?” or “What do you need to understand?” or “We each contribute with what we can”.

Take your pick.

7 Tricky Work Situations, and How to Respond to Them by Alicia Bassuk – Re-post

We tend to be poised after holidays and cheerful as we start delving into 2019 plans.  As work proceeds, I find the article by Alicia Bassuk “7 Tricky Work Situations, and How to Respond to Them” by Alicia Bassuk (Harvard Business Review, October 11, 2017) a good reminder at the start of the year. Link here https://hbr.org/2017/10/7-tricky-work-situations-and-how-to-respond-to-them?utm_campaign=hbr&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social

Alicia Bassuk analyses seven work situations and offers a few phrases to keep in your sleeve, when you have to say “no” or someone takes credit for your work/idea or you need to push back on a decision you believe is wrong.

I would like to add a situation from my experience: when someone is giving you credit for something you/your colleagues did not do. They might be misinformed or trying to add to your workload.

Response: Thank you for giving credit to me/my colleague for this, which we cannot accept. As it stands, … (bring in facts, numbers). Then, depending on the reason behind, say We all learned from it. Can we work through it together? (if their aim is to unload the work on your team) Or direct the person to the team in charge (if they were misinformed).