Month: April 2017

No – the project manager’s best friend

– “I have a change request”.

– “We want these new features to the product. And by the way, why doesn’t the software have these new reporting tools we just adopted?!”

– “We need the center to host 150 people, 50 more than initially planned, which means building one extra wing.”

– “We liked the study visit. We would like to go on one more by the end of the year.”

These are not Christmas letters to Santa. But it is pretty close. In the course of project implementation, beneficiaries tend to try to get more than initially planned. And it’s normal for them to try, for different reasons. I usually do not questions their motives. Not my job. My project manager’s job is to give them what we agreed, when we agreed and for the budget we agreed, without jeopardising the expected quality.

Because the project manager is not Santa, it’s ok to say “No”. There are a number of ways to say “No” in a project by considering the repercussions on the project and ultimately the beneficiary. The most important part is to have the beneficiary understand why the project manager says “No”. Reference to facts or similar past experience may support the understanding of pragmatic beneficiaries. One approach is to show what would happen if “yes” would be the answer.  Let’s take one of the wishes from the above list. “Yes” to an extra wing would mean delayed opening of the temporary detention centre (due to reopening the construction authorisation procedure etc.) and increased risks of revolt at the current facilities, which hold 100 people in less than acceptable conditions. Data shows that over the last three years the number of incomers is stable and the documents processing rates have improved. Therefore, the centre’s capacity is aligned with the demand. It worked in a project I managed years ago with a data-adept beneficiary.

When the beneficiary is guided by emotional or more personal motives, he may not hear /want to hear a reasoned “No”. The costs of “No” can be also high. For example, it asks to choose a certain consultant/service provider. A “No”, even if demonstrated by strictly adhered to procurement procedures and open competition rules, can have the beneficiary complain to the project sponsor and/or lead to the rejection to work with the chosen consultant/service provider. Each project is different and each beneficiary’s powers are context specific, so careful consideration is warranted. What I found important in such situations is to be as open and transparent about these kind of requests with all concerned. It cost me once a friendship, but then it was not perhaps the kind of friendship I would keep.

A “No” does not need to be brutal and cutting-off. One soft way of saying “No” is to help the beneficiary find another project who can accommodate the request. It will bring value added through networking to the relationship with the beneficiary, in addition to the opportunity for a good collaboration with another project/partner.

 

The Most Important Job Interview Question

A good project team starts with a meaningful and human centred job interview. I loved the human face this article puts on the job interview process http://blogs.hbr.org/tjan/2012/09/the-most-important-job-intervi.html from Harvard Business Review by Anthony K. Tjan. 

It reminded me about my marriage proposal, when the “Will you marry me?” question received the ” Will you?” response.

It was a two word sentence meant to cement the mutual agreement and articulate the presence/or absence of a common vision. True for marriage. True for business. True for project teams.

I usually know at the end of an interview that I would not like to hear back from an employer when he/she:

1. is taken aback when I actually have questions as a follow up of his/her ‘Do you have questions” question. It closes the opportunity to find the match.

2. literally reads from a sheet of paper the questions to ask. If an interviewer cannot articulate one sentence, how he/she is able to assess the response? It is often a sign of simple lack of interest in the response.

Too often, I feel, employers forget that they want or need the candidate as much as the candidate needs them“, writes Tjan. And I subscribe. Not treating the job applicant as a valuable customer is a certain recipe for driving away the best. I’ve noticed it in a year of 15 international competitions and an equally high number of local recruitments. It showed me that the job interview is a two-way process. Flexing muscles as an prospective employer helps only if you hire a gym instructor and even then it can be seen as a competition rather than interest in the candidate’s talent and skills.

The job interview is the basis for building trust and a mutually fulfilling work relation and team work. “If you were given this opportunity, would you take it?” is THE interview question proposed by Tjan to test the foundation.

I would follow it up with “Why?” and let the candidate talk.

 

“Managing Development. Understanding the Inter-Organisational Relationships” book

I often go back to this book I got during my studies for the Development Management degree at The Open University. I offers insights from  twelve professionals in a variety of development management fields. It is edited by Dorcas Robinson, Tom Hewitt and John Harriss.

The book essentially answers the question: how can relationships between organisations be managed so as to build the public action and outcomes desired from development interventions? It explores the diversity of inter-organisational relationships which exist in reality and the array of relationships which are being promoted by policymakers. In this book, partnership is taken to be just one form of inter-organisational relationship amongst many. This book is enlightening on other forms of engagement  between organisations captured by terms such as alliance, network, federation, coalition. It makes you more aware of important forms of non-engagement or dis-engagement at times when you wonder what happened to what you though as a strong partnership.

The 3 Cs of inter-organisational relations – competition, co-ordination, co-operation – are debated and analysed. The book concludes with a case study and practical advice into making inter-organisational relationships work.