Month: October 2018

Integrity in projects: Receiving gifts

“Oxana, the boxes of chocolate and tea are more for you”, read the email I received from the big boss of the organisation I worked for. It was after a meeting between top management and the project team. One of the consultants on the team offered to the chair of the meeting the famous chocolate.

“Thank you very much. I’ll pick them up and open the boxes for everyone to enjoy in the coffee/kitchen room” was my immediate response. I knew the ethics rules this Organisation had. And I was committed to apply them.

It was also an example for other team members who were puzzled at the meeting and watchful of management reaction.

A box of chocolate is a small thing, right? the temptation jumps in. Better check your client’s and your organization’s policies on Receiving gifts. If you are a free-lancer, check your professional quarters’ guidelines. PMI for example, https://www.pmi.org/about/ethics/code

Some guidelines are more gifts-tolerant and set a maximum value for gifts which can be accepted. They range from USD 30 or equivalent (UNDP) to 100 Euro of equivalent (Council of Europe). More important than the value are the intention and or perception of influence that gifts may carry. Some Organisations are outright intolerant to gifts, regardless of the value and source, in particular for staff involved in procurement. As project managers, we are involved in procurement.

I’ve seen guidelines which contain a permission to accept gifts, which otherwise would be insulting to the offerer, for cultural or local customs reasons. In such a case, the gift shall be immediately disclosed and transferred for a decision to management.

Once in Ukraine, at a dinner paid by the project at the end of the project, I was offered two traditional cakes by the client. I declined politely. “We know it is below the value of gifts you can accept. We checked.”, they insisted. “I will pass it to my colleagues in the local office, to enjoy it”, was my response. And so I did the next morning.

If I cannot refuse the gift, I make sure that offerer understands that I act in accordance with the gifts receiving policies I abide by and that I accept it on behalf of the team. And I share it with the team: be it a box of chocolate, traditional sweets, a bottle of spirits, an invitation to a cultural event, a tour, etc. I know it is given to me only because I am on this project and I am already paid for doing my job.

Some Guidelines prohibit gifts from certain sources: Government, for example, or vendors, as these carry the risk of being seen as a “downpayment” for a future favour on behalf of the organisation/company you work for. Money gifts are a No in literally all professional conduct guidelines I saw. No explanation as to why is necessary.

“What about gifts post-project?” you may ask. I can only congratulate you for having succeeded to transform a business relation into a friendship. Nevertheless, I would be watchful over how much time elapsed after the project, if you are not in a project design phase and if no strings are attached from either side.

Keep it professional and maintain your integrity watchful!

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

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Motivation

I was having a conversation the other day with a colleague about motivation. I am a believer in self-motivation. She strongly believes in external motivation and the managers’ ability to motivate staff.

A recent research shows “Psychologists have been considering the question of our “locus of control” since the 1950s. Those with an external locus of control have a sense of life happening to them; they believe their lives are primarily influenced by forces outside their control.

Those with an internal locus of control, by contrast, feel in charge of their own destiny and attribute success or failure to their own efforts. An internal locus of control yields vastly superior results. 

knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/the-new-science-of-productivity/

At the end if the day, it is about what works best in each team, the degree of emotional intelligence of each manager/leader and the individual’s choice. Self-motivation is a choice and, even better “news” it is a learned skill.

Thought of the week: Preparation

Thought of the week: “prep unto others as you would have them prep unto you” borrowed from top chefs advice.

Every kitchen has a Kitchenhand. Their tasks include basic food preparation such as washing salad and peeling potatoes. Yet rheir role is essential for the whole kitchen. If they do not come to work or stop doing the preparations, the whole kitchen stops. The chef might remember their names only when the supply is not at hand. Yet, he/she will pay the price if the kitchenhand is not looked after.

I find similarities in the project management world. Picture a big and important decision making meeting, for which the interpretation equipment was not tested and prepared. Or a new service launch day for, which the clients’ applications are not ready. Or an interoperatibility module which has two systems in test mode to connect to.

Basically, any of the above are tasks performed by what is tempting to see as “little people”: an assistant, an IT staff without a corner office, a liaison officer, etc. By my book, these are the most important links in the chain of a project.

Therefore, as a project manager Do:

– check regularly on them, to identify any difficulties they may have;

– help them with anything beyond their control:

a reminder to the supplier/contractor of its obligations under the contract for that interpretation equipment

a meeting with other departments/members of the team on that interoperability,

a cup of coffee or tea if they run out of breath doing all they can for the big project day.

Thought of the week

“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities” Stephen R. Covey.

It might sound strange coming from a project manager who loves standard operating procedures and

streamlining. Some recent and not so recent manifestations showed me that by

listening to a different point of view,

embracing it and

acting on it together, in spite of our differences

is what makes a project great to work on.

Size and teams

Size matters. Not only in architecture.

How many people on a team is just right? Shall we go for a big team or small is the new big in projects? are questions popping up at the design phase.

The biggest team I managed had 20 people and the smallest – 3. The Palm Jumeirah Island mega project had teams commensurate with the scale of the project.

On the face of it, larger teams get more done. Yet, there is evidence that individuals in big groups actually perform worse. It is the “social loafing” syndrome: “someone else will do it. why bother?”. It is known as “Ringelmann effect“. Although it may not manifest in a construction project, I would think, when your client is a Sheikh .

So how many is just right? Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has the “two pizzas rule”: if a team can’t be fed by two pizzas, it’s too large. According to Katherine Klein from Wharton University, the widely accepted ideal size for a working team is five people “If you go beyond five people the team starts to lose individual performance, while teams smaller than 5 people can experience awkward team dynamics and skills gaps”.

Smaller groups appear more agile, robust and pro-active. Yet, research shows, disagreements happen more in smaller teams than bigger teams. It could be the frequency of interaction. Or just the fragility of egos.

Through trial and error, I noticed three rules of the thumb valid on my mind in approaching the decision on the number of team members:

1. If the project needs legal advice and financial services/accounting and a candidate is competent in both, take him/her on both roles, for a blend of skills. It will save time and effort, which will be otherwise spent on collaboration or its failure.

2. The size of the team may not be a constant during the lifespan of a project. Each stage may need additions or downsizing. It does not preclude you from inviting everyone to celebrate the project completion and you can order more than two pizzas on this occasion.

3. Size matters, but more important are the quality and performance of the team members. Stay humble in expanding your kingdom and bet on quality. Find the best and nurture them. Not with pizzas. At least not only 🙂

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