Month: July 2019

A project manager on vacation

I wrote this piece in August 2016. I fully subscribe to each word to this day. I have also accumulated in the meantime a number of additional useful tips.

***

– Will the sky fall if I take a two week leave, boss? I asked my former programme manager some years ago.

– Yes, he responded abruptly.

He still let me go. I suspect it was because I mentioned I am traveling to France, his home country.

And the sky did not fall. To the contrary, stars were brighter upon my return as I came back refreshed. My happy brain and the creativity inspired by new sites renewed my vows. My productivity increased. It lasted for a good half a year, a critical time for the change management we were implementing.

In 14 days we travelled 2000 km from Paris to San Remo and back, visiting 3 countries, stopping overnight in locations on our route, enjoying the hospitality of new hosts every evening. It was a travel in time, as our itinerary included the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct that crosses the Gardon River in southern France and Arena of Nîmes, a Roman amphitheatre, built around AD 70. Visiting ancients sites puts things into perspective. For example, is that internal chatter about the perfection of the new marketing strategy important in the big scheme of things of giving to the clients the good product they expect? These lasting monuments reiterate what we know and tend to forget: things that last are not build in one day and not by one person.

A change of scenery uncluttered my busy brain. Colours took over numbers. Scents and sounds put office chatter to sleep. Deadlines surrendered to sunrises and sunsets.

Research shows that a busy mind requires a busy vacation. Project managers do have a busy work life, no doubt about it. So, why not get passionate and be a good project manager of your vacation? Apply the best of your planning skills and bring it to a successful completion, with satisfactions to last. And make it on budget, if possible. If not, it’s no trouble. Your recharged batteries will soon repay it in full.

Here are a few tips I collected throughout years:

  • Plan well. Do not leave things to chance.
  • If you absolutely must check on the projects, schedule time to do so. Either early morning when your family is asleep or after they go to bed. It will prevent the feeling of guilt for having stolen from the time with your dear ones. It will also organise those back at work. They will know when to expect an answer from you, if you absolutely must.
  • Have a clear out-of-office message so that those who try to reach you by email know what to expect.
  • Do something new. Something that would take you out of your comfort zone and get you a positive adrenaline shot.

stock-photo-hawaiian-vacation-sunset-concept-two-beach-chairs-at-sunset-98725346I run into this article and gladly share it: 5 Rules for a Vacation that’s Truly Worth It by Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, Harvard Business Review June 05, 2015, https://hbr.org/2015/06/5-rules-for-a-vacation-thats-truly-worth-it

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When facing a conflict: advice from a coach

A team member rushes into your office, breathless and emotional. Words pour in. You try to respond. Another avalanche follows. You have 5 seconds to choose your conflict management strategy.

Here are few tips a coach shared with me, to invest in healthy relationships at work:

  • Focus on your breath. Breathe in. Breathe out.
  • Adopt a neutral posture. Watch your body language.
  • Postpone the discussion if you cannot manage the situation.
  • If you can manage the situation, then listen.
  • Say “I know”, if you know. Or “it is possible”, if you do not know.
  • Use the broke record technique – keep going with “I know”/”It’s possible” until the spirits calm down.
  • Adapt a neutral attitude: stick to facts, leave emotions out, focus on “Let’s find a solution”.
  • Use re-phrasing “Did I get it right that X and Y….?”
  • If the atmosphere is still hot, express feelings and allow the other person to do the same. Explain with calm the consequences on the person(s) concerned and the project: “Your late delivery of the product, made the test team anxious about them meeting the deadline set by the Board. They want to solve this, together with you”.
  • Do not accept victimisation and/or self-victimisation. Keep the dialogue at adult levels. Do not get into the game of people who live from conflict.
  • Find or agree to find a solution: (a) win-win, if possible; (b) compromise, as responsible adults; (c) agree to differ and come back latter; or (d) ask for help (management, Board, Human Resources, experts).
  • End on a positive note and make sure there are no hard feelings and unspoken messages as much as possible.

 

Training: here we come again

We learned from Harvard Business Review, that in 2018 U.S. companies spent roughly USD 90 Billion on learning and development. Some entire countries only aspire to reach that amount of GDP. According to the same source, the average American employee received training at a cost of around USD 1,000 per person. For a company of 50,000 employees, that’s an annual USD 50 million per year.

In development projects, capacity building and training are often an intrinsic part of the intervention. Question about the efficiency and effectiveness of the investment in training  are not new. Yet, the answers continue to come with delay or in part only. Tax- payers want to know what changes are brought by development money. What changed for victims of violence after police officers or social workers were trained in country X?

Back to the private sector, a survey in the U.S. among 1,500 executives found that one in five organisations do nothing to measure the impact of trainings.  Of those that do, only 13% calculate quantifiable results. I have yet to see similar data on development projects.

Measuring the impact of trainings is often seen as an extra activity, which is not part of the scope of the project. There are reasons for that. There are also good arguments for revisiting that view. Measuring the impact of the training will show where, when and what kind of training is needed in the context the project works in. This will maximise the effect and support the sustainability of the capacity building.

To measure the impact of trainings in projects, specific activities can be introduced at a number of levels at certain intervals. The Kirkpatrick model of training evaluation is a useful tool. According to this model, the training can be evaluated at four levels:

  1. reaction (post-training evaluation by participants);
  2. learning (knowledge and skills acquired at the training);
  3. behavior and job performance changes after the training;
  4. impact on the performance of the entity/organization.

For 1 and 2 pre and post-training questionnaires are appropriate. For 3 and 4, co-operation with the client’s organisation will be necessary. Some organisations have performance management systems, where recommendations for training and post-training follow-up on skills’ upgrade are included.

For further inspiration:

Data based on “You learn best when you learn less” by Laszlo Bock, 17 June 2019, Harvard Business Review.

“An investigation into the relationship between training evaluation and the transfer of training” by Alan M. Saks and Lisa A. Burke, in International Journal of Training and Development 16:2