Category: Room for reflection

A space for the reflective practitioner, inspired by Donald Schön.

Thought of the week: Communication

The alternative to “I challenge your view” is “I would like to bring to the discussion another point of view” 🙂

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Nr 1 investment: professional relationships

If there would be one indefinite investment I would be asked to make in my professional life it would be human relationships.

In projects, even if short-lived, relationships matter the most. Project’s success rarely, if ever, depends on one person only. Relationships can make or break a project. As project managers, we have a double task of building our relationship with the team and creating/nurturing the environment in the team. And you should not forget about the relationship with yourself.

Relationships with team members start with developing rapport. I learned over years that developing rapport needs action on a number of levels:

A. “Knowing your self”, your triggers, your fears, your inner voice…

B. Taking time to learn about team members. What they like, what they dislike.

C. Opening yourself to others. The degree of openness depends on your introvert or extravert type of personality. Do not expect however the same from others. They will open when they are ready to trust.

D. Creating opportunities for team members to get to know each other. At a cooking class with colleagues, a team member exclaimed “you are surprisingly funny” addressing a colleague. Their work relationship flourished since then. This, in turn, brought large dividents to the project.

In a project team I managed, egos were big and complaints against each other – rampant. After a Christmas party, where each had to bring a gift to the team representing the country they were from, complaints ceased and the project could benefit from the unity of action through the diversity of background.

E. Making communication thoughtful and purposeful. In other words, think before talking and talk for a reason. Water cooler chats are fine, as long as no gossiping is involved.

F. Doing no harm to hamonious relationships between team members. Even if divide et impera worked in the short term, in long term it did not save even an empire.

G. Being consistent and practicing what you preach.

H. Giving credit where credit is due: in direct communication with the team member and also in discussions about what they do part of the project.

I. Staying humble and letting go when there is noting else you can do to keep or foster  a relationship.

If you are wondering where to start, I found the following three tools useful:

  1. Profiling by colour

profil4colors.com

2. Personality Types test

See https://www.16personalities.com/personality-types

3. “Tell me about your favourite spot

Another useful “getting to know each other” exercise is “Tell me about your favourite spot“: each team member is asked to describe their favourite place in as many details as possible. It tells many thanks about how creative people are, if they value the process or the result, how important are other people in their story etc.

View at Medium.com

Relationships in projects

It is not unusual for members of the project team to come close and to get romantically involved with clients/beneficiaries or between each other. It happens in particular, although not exclusively, in projects of duration, when interaction lasts and/or is frequent.

A fellow project manager shared a story: a project had been ended by the sponsor because the team leader and the deputy team leader were engaged in an office romance. The project manager saw no problems and took no measures to prevent the conflict of interest. Also, conflicts with other members of the team followed shortly. The result was for a team of 20 to remain without a lucrative contract.

Could things have been different if the project manager would have reacted? The answer is often in the integrity framework of the project team and the commitment of team members to behave accordingly.ext

Story:

Sammy (not the real name) told the project manager that she knows that Peter is romantically involved with the top guy in the client’s organisation, who was also married. Peter had a support function in the team, with little to no interaction with the client. The project manager – Max – asked Sammy not to share her thoughts with other members of the team.

Peter knew Sammy knows and he was fine with that. Max asked for HR advice and analysed all potential consequences in terms of project information flow to the client. It was sensible not to get into a private matter between two adults, was the HR advice. Max redesigned the information flow as to avoid the sharing of information ahead of the project schedule and to prevent any potential conflict of interest. Sammy was in charge of monitoring that. She assumed the role and delivered well. Peter was reminded of the Code of Ethics of the organisation and the values the organisation stood by. No conflict of interest occurred and the project run smoothly to its end.

Do:

  • set a clear integrity framework and ethics rules;
  • place ethics at the center of the project’s culture;
  • prevent and solve conflict of interest;
  • prevent office politics and mis-perceptions;
  • involve Human Resources and professional advice.

 

Are projects managed by men different?

The title is deliberate. Comparing men and women seems a new wave in the equality  debates on all sorts of professional walks. The project management world, like any other, is not immune to that.

It seems senseless to me to categorize project managers as male or female. There are studies out there showing that projects managed by women are more successful. The point of this is elusive to me. I am also aware of the bias and prejudice still surrounding women in many cultures in respect of their abilities and skills. At the same time, we have to admit that thanks to generations of women before us we have come a long way in dealing with the phenomenon known as the “likability conundrum.”

Coming back to the project managers profession, if you have the skills, the passion, the commitment, responsibilities, and the work ethic necessary to hold the position then you are a project manager.

By focusing on gender, we miss the point. We shall focus on talent, rather than gender, shall we?

What I learned in numerous interactions is that when you face the likability conundrum, it is important to remember that it says quite a lot about the other person. Do not hold it against them, they might be utterly unaware. Teach them, with your passion and skills.

If you are interested to delve on the issue, PMI has done some research and studies in the field: https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/gender-project-managers-nasa-8988 ; https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/gender-project-management-workplace-dynamics-5609

 

 

 

The holy trinity of projects

Every project has a

  • Scope,
  • Budget and
  • Timeline.

This is what differentiates them from routine/regular business. Project management literature calls this trinity ‘the triple constraints”.

This trio also serves as a success measure. Truly successful projects deliver what is required, within the budget and on time.

I also believe the Trinity is in good company when Quality and Integrity butt in.

Some trade-offs might be necessary between the scope, budget and time. If the sponsor or client want a closer launch date of the product/service, additional resources and reduced scope might be necessary.

Sometimes, the project manager will have to have the courage to say No to trade offs. Saying No at the right time to anything which risks creating a scope creep is a project’s manager duty. It can be No during the design phase, before the commitment. It can be No during the implementation phase, when the client’s appetite increases. This requires some business acumen.

In the business world, some use the “law of two-thirds” to decide the trade-offs. It offers criteria for decisions about what will define a product or organization (inspired by Tyler Kleeberger, A Technique for Deciding When to Say No, Medium, published on Medium, January 2019). Essentially, you can’t do everything so what should you do?  It will not surprise you that the three criteria are (again):

  • Quality
  • Speed
  • Price

You must consider all three, but you can only choose two. For example, a manufacturer wants to deliver quality and wants to be fast? Then the products are likely going to be more expensive. A business desires to offer its services at low prices, but also wants to maintain quality? Then, it is likely that the speed is going to be reduced. Those who want something that is fast and cheap, will have to compromise on quality.

It will be important to keep an eye on the perspective and the short, medium and long-term benefits, along with a good risks management strategy. I would never compromise on integrity though.

It takes humility, strength, and fortitude to acknowledge your project’s, your team’s and your own limits. It also takes visions and leadership to choose and to focus on priorities. It is not unusual for me to ask my colleagues and my client: “So what are the 3 big things this project shall deliver?”.

IMG_1374image credit StamfordGlobal, 2008.