Month: March 2017

“Make Time for the Work That Matters” – re-post

Project managers are the servants of the Goddess of Time. Things need to be delivered by a certain deadline. Time management is the project manager’s best friend who comes with another friend – the tasks management. The contract needs to be signed, the event – organised, the equipment – checked, the building permissions – secured, the meeting – attended, the plans – drawn, the email traffic – organised are only a few of the daily project manager’s tasks. Experiencing a feeling of being overwhelmed is not unusual in projects. There are number of ways to deal with it or, even better, prevent it.

One tool I find helpful is this Self-Assessment tool for Identifying Low-Value Tasks from “Make Time for the Work That Matters” by Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen from the September 2013 Issue of the Harvard Business Review.

The results of the self-assessment will give you a clear idea of what to drop, delegate, or redesign.

Next, look at the things you should be doing but are not. And commit to what you delegated and the tasks that matter to the company/organisation, the project and to you.

If you are not a fan of self-assessments, there is another simpler way to manage your tasks at hand: “The Not-To-Do List” by Sage Grayson.









Or just try 🙂 whatever works for you and your projects.

Human resources management dilemmas: a story

Everyone was pushing for his dismissal. His client, the project sponsor, the implementing agency. All except for me. I’ve dragged on the file for four months, for as long as I could, given the pressure from all sides.

A letter from the client to the project sponsor put an end to his contract. We settled for a mutually agreed termination of the contract and a bit of extra paid days.1.4

In the three weeks that followed from his resignation letter, he displayed the model of best professional behaviour. He was cooperating in his hand-over to a remarkable extent. I tried my best to respond to all his e-mails (up to seven a day some days), his telephone calls. I knew it was important to him. To talk to and to listen to him.

There was no blame. Just a set of circumstances.

A farewell coffee, a farewell note, cc-ed to entire team and a recommendation letter. A warm shake of hands and an eye contact to last throughout years. The least I could have done.

I often missed his honesty, integrity, eloquent communication style and a sense of humour to envy. Rare qualities these days.

My takeaway lesson from this is simple: As project managers, we need to look beyond strict client-consultant relations and understand the numerous complexities involved. Thanks to this mindfulness, I would like to believe, he was fully supportive of all management interventions that were required.


his last e-mail to me                                                                                                                                   10 June 20xx

I hesitate to say, “You’re an absolute darling”, for obvious reasons … but you are.



The simple art of confidence in projects and beyond

One of recent birthday cards from my dear colleagues read “We are happy to have such a confident colleague!”. I am thankful they let me see the way they see me. Especially, after a year of self-doubts, lows and struggles.
Some think confidence is built-in, genetic. Some think it’s about habits and choice. Might be both.
What I do is no rocket science, just a few tricks:self_confidence A. I know that fear and doubt are good signs. They save me from complacency and push my boundaries. I know I made it last time and there is no reason I cannot do better.
B. I say a polite “No, thank you” to my comfort zone. I have a public speech anxiety? I’ll ask my manager to book 15 min in our next meeting for an intervention. Once on the agenda, noblesse oblige.
C. I breath. I listen to my body. To its signs. I feel my heart racing? Good. My brain and body get more oxygen.
D. I move. I am relentless. I get things done. Procrastination? Fine, allowed sometimes. Bothering? Get off my *… and do something. Bake. Prepare home-made chocolate. Water my plants. Go to colleagues and ask if they need help.
E. I have fun. Once I drew a funny face carrot on a flip chart in a difficult Carrots-and-Sticks policy dialogue.
F. Some say confident people don’t care about what others think. I do. As long as I can learn something from it. Confidence in others strengthens my confidence.
One time, I had to share the feedback from an important partner with a consultant. It was very good to excellent but he did not know it. I handed it over in a sealed envelope with a grave face. “Is it bad?” He asked. “Yes, it is”, I answered and watched him turning red as he took off the papers. One minute later: “I knew you are bad. But you are very bad!”And we laughed. I took his point. Confidence does not need to be associated with bad.
G. I am staying on a judgement-free territory. Judging and gossiping are a waste of time and energy. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, even if this was a hiring mistake.
H. I am resourceful. I know I do not have all the answers, but I have ideas where to look for solutions, whom to ask. I learned this from my first Human Rights professors. “A good lawyer does not need to know the law by heart. Knowing where to find answers makes a good lawyer”. I practice the same with people I work with. There are clear “Who’s monkey is this?” rules and I always ask if problems people face come with solutions and options to consider together.
I. Comparison is the thief of joy. I admit to the sin of comparison only with better and seek inspiration from most unexpected sources and people.
J. I build a network of friends and supporters. Sorry, negative perspectives and people with tendency to drag back are not part of it. I also know I cannot please everyone in life.
K. I keep trying. A failure? Good. Learned something. A mistake? Is it an interesting mistake? Oh yes, come in, and teach me. I am ready to try again.

Thank you Alden Tan for inspiration.

Gender mainstreaming: a ladder

I was in gender mainstreaming training some time ago. Two hours into the learning, a participant exclaimed: “but we deal not only with women in our projects!”. You can picture the facepalm of the trainer.

Quite often I also hear what a hurdle it is to ‘mainstream gender” and other cross-cutting issues into development work. There are a number of simple approaches to befriend what became a standard requirement in projects.

Use a “ladder” for instance.

Step 1. Find out if gender matters. A gender impact assessment (GIA) will bring the answer. GIA will identify answers to:

  • is the project objective linked with gender inequality patters? The most common patterns relate to differences in the: access to decision-making, representation; access to resources; social/legal/financial status and entitlements.
  • will reaching the project objective affect women and men in a different way/women and men of different age groups in a different way?
  • will the above cause inequality? if yes, take Step 2.

Step 2. Get data. I know, “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”. And it is not about numbers. It is about the way they influence things and decision-makers.  “Figures often beguile me” wrote Mark Twain. Yes, numbers can charm or deceive. Triangulation can help break the charm sometimes.

Step. 3. Prevent/solve inequalities at the levels they manifest themselves. It can be project organisation matters (for example, the membership of Steering Committees) or policy matters influenced by the project (for example, through expert opinions on a draft law).

Across all three steps, check you assumptions. Is what we know true/valid? Is this what both genders want/aspire to…? I came across “Testosterone Rex” by Cordelia Fine. See if this review ““Goodbye, beliefs in sex differences disguised as evolutionary facts. Welcome the dragon slayer: Cordelia Fine wittily but meticulously lays bare the irrational arguments that we use to justify gender politics.”—Uta Frith, emeritus professor of cognitive development, University College London” will serve as in invitation to read it.

Each project/development work is different and many gender complexities will arise. And it is rare to reach the 100% gender mainstreamed target. It is still possible to bring a meaningful change/two and by starting small. Sometimes, it is about giving the floor or creating a forum for all voices to be heard equally. It reminds me of an organisation 50% made of women who had less then 10% representation in decision-making bodies. Supporting an inclusive strategic planning exercise for both the organisation and the women association helped put a first stone into the road towards a more equitable representation and and inclusive decision-making.

Standard Operating Procedures

Projects are busy beasts. It is their very nature. Lots of processes running in parallel on the critical path. Soon you start noticing a déjà vu feeling. Hiring consultants. Procuring goods. Communicating on the 5th event the project organises. Organising the 3rd board/steering committee meeting. Handing over project results….

Here is where Standard Operating Procedures, also knows as SOPs, come in handy. They are nothing glamorous, but are very practical. SOPs may exist in the organisation or the Project Management Office. Or may be crafted by the project team.

In a Project Management Office I once worked, I was in charge of developing SOPs. I found that SOPs served well at least three purposes. They:

  • give clear instructions on ‘What to do When…”;
  • organise and record the information and its flow;
  • simplify the communication within and between teams.

See for example, a SOP for the Acceptance of the Project’s results/deliverable. Feel free to use it and/or adapt it to your project’s needs.

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