„Fail-Safe Management: Five Rules to Avoid Project Failure” by Jody Zall Kusek and Marelize Goergens Prestidge

New to the job, I had a silent prayer in my head: “Please don’t let me fail”. This fear of failure was almost paralyzing. I only conquered it when i learned to learn from failures. It took a number of failures to get there. Then I learned that i am not alone thanks to a number of books, among which a World Bank publication i would like to share with you.

Fail safe mngt

The book gives insights into five rules the authors advise to follow for a fail-safe project management:

Rule 1. Make it about how.

Rule 2. Keep your champions close and your critics closer.

Rule 3. Informal networks matter – use them.

Rule 4. Unclog the pipes.

Rule 5. Build the ship as it sails.

This book is both a good acquisition and an inspiration. It might not be eye-opening on all accounts (as it depends on your level and extent of project management experience) but it still contains a number of important lessons to take away for mindful managers. Here are a couple of mine:

A. In many cases failure is „baked into” the project almost from the start by managers and team members who simply fail to be mindful of the details and who focus on avoiding the obvious problem spots that any project will face as it goes along.

B. „Build the ship as it sails” suggests to start on a smaller scale and pilot whenever possible. Keep learning.

C. The definition of success will vary, depending on who assesses it. Making a difference to people on the ground is a mark for projects making progress in development.

D. Regardless of whether the stakeholder is a champion or a critic, these relationships must be managed to avoid project failure (the book includes a tool to manage stakeholders relations).

***

It would be rather boring, I would say, to have a fail-proof project.  From time to time I let some failures occur. For a variety of reasons. One of not-so-distant-in -time failures of mine was to draft the project’s work plan based on an overly estimated partner’s commitment. An unexpected management change in the partner organisation demanded a serious rethinking of the implementation approach through for example resource- consuming  alliance building and bottom-up approaches. I have on my desk a brochure with the nice faces of the previous management of the partner to remind me not to let my over-optimistic outlook to take over pragmatism in project planning.

Failures are the learner’s best friends in projects life and in time i learned to identify and address them. Reasons for failures in projects are multiple and the approaches to deal with them differ. They therefore deserve a separate post, to which i’ll return. In the meantime, a fail-safe and learning rich project management!

A little bit of project management for charity events

I was once at a meeting with a royalty whose lifestyle is charity-driven. Her name is Marina Sturdza. Apart from curiosity about her past linked to a communist era, the audience got interested in her charity endeavours. A friend of mine asked her about how she approaches, organises and delivers charity events. All these are competencies of a project manager.  She offered the following very common-sense advice, which very much resonate with any project’s life cycle:

  •  watch your expenses to avoid spending more than collecting;
  • communicate well the reason the event is organized for;
  • follow-up and openly report after the event to build trust.

I also noted, from personal experience, that charity demands peculiarities from project managers.

During holidays, with the generosity spirit in the air, we see charity events popping up on our facebook pages, through email advertisements or friends’ invitations. I’ve made it a tradition, over the last years to organise something in support of the cause I adhere to. And to put my project management skills to work. These come down to resource identification, organisation of meetings, networking and communication.

Couple of mere examples: organise a group of friends of mine to craft Christmas decorations that were sold at a fair. Together with other nine groups we collected funds enough to support daily needs of 10 child-single mother couples for a year. A pretty good output. The next year I organised at my place a 5 o’clock tea with the objective of spreading the word about the cause of single mothers and collect funds. After the event, my guests made donations to the cause. It was an undisclosed amount. Purposefully. I wanted to preserve the intimacy of the moment, especially for those disappointed by charities in the past, an important sensitivity to bear in mind. Another year, I joined with friends of mine a charity event for about one hundred people gathered to craft hand-made toys to be sold at a fair to support a shelter for orphan single mothers. A friend of mine, to whom I am profoundly grateful for accompanying me at this event, called it ” finally, a fakes-free event, with humanity, from people to people”. An awesome outcome, i would say.

That dear friend of mine gave a perfect definition to a charity event that stays faithful to its objective. To stay true to my evaluation culture, i noted down couple of lessons I’ve collected on my charity events organization journey.
These events are about people you want to support. An individual, a group, a community. These are what we call “beneficiaries” in projects. Those organising and taking part in the event are mere means to an end (me included). Lavish charity dinners or galas are not my thing for this reason mainly.

charity events
I also got to learn something important in terms of sponsors and charity projects partners. It might happen that those with means might not necessarily be willing to be the means to an end referred to above. They might want to steal the spot light and let you down at the last moment after offers generously made but not honoured. There might be reasons for that I am not here to judge. It’s important to remember that the cause you support dearly might not instil the same enthusiasm in others. And it’s ok. We all support some causes, in one way or other.
Often the humblest person are more likely to respond to a call for contribution. It might be as simple as making a phone call that paper is accumulating in the office for recycling, knowing that these will allow napkins and toilet paper to be bought for those who cannot afford even these “benefits of civilization”. Or taking part in crafting Christmas decorations to be sold for a good cause.

Picture taken at Diaconia Christmas Charity Fair ‘From Mothers to Mothers”2013 /”De la mame pentru mame” Campaign. You can learn more about the organisation and the campaign here http://diaconia.md/?l=en

Ted Talks on Project Planning and Team Management

I grew to understand that you can learn about how to manage a project from a variety of sources, even from watching ants in the process of building their nest.

If you are still not convinced about this less conventional source of knowledge and your learning style is more visual or if you just want to listen to a good talk here is a selection of 6 Must-Watch Ted Talks on Project Planning and Team Management, by . Enjoy!

6 Must-Watch Ted Talks on Project Planning and Team Management

“Stress free sustainability. Leverage your emotions. Avoid burnout and Influence anyone”by Adam Hammes

A useful reading for anyone involved in advocacy and campaigning for good causes. Project managers might find it handy, when implementing change and dealing with stakeholders. Contrary to first impressions, this is not a biology book. Animal images are metaphors the author uses skillfully. The polar bear is an image of a survivor in spite of harsh conditions it lives in. The Killer Bee gives a clear sense of why aggressiveness does not work well with sustainability. The description of a Sea Otter gives a sense of playfulness to learn from.c60fbc7e0fa4273ce10b5b8714e7a983

The book is centered around the author’s personal journey from sadness and loneliness to pride and arrogance and invasiveness. All to the detriment of causes he believed in, but failed to secure the support they needed. As the book unfolds, evidence from science comes in smoothly. The big secret he shares is to leverage your emotions and listen to people. Make your passion less about you and more about communities. Anger and pride cloud judgment. Courage and acceptance have a funny way of leading to truth and mastery. This book is about how to create positive change for someone.

“Focus. Be selective. Work smarter not harder. Be more strategic. Leverage your emotions. Do not be taken over by them. Avoid burn out. Eliminate stress” advice which is very much valid for the project management world.

Part Two of the book is about How to eliminate stress by understanding the three stages of influence people go through – Contempt, Curiosity, Commitment. Strategies for moving from one stage to another: showing, sharing, shaping, are explained. Many aspects are based on science of how people make changes. This book made me discover or rediscover a number of highlights:

– Focus on similarities instead of differences to understand.

– Change and organisation need each other.

– Change is difficult, even when it’s positive.

– Practice active listening.

– Maintain integrity while building trust.

– Be playful, not pushy.

– Story telling is a critical skill.

On couple of instances, I missed the interpretation of exercises’ results and an analysis of what to expect from them. At the same time, the book offers free tips via eco-influence website and real world, easy-to-use examples. The author uses neurological science to prove his points. And for more, warmly recommend to immerse yourself into a stress-free journey for anything you’d like to achieve. Happy and Stress-free sailing to all!

What to expect: on your first work day as a project manager

I asked my fellow colleagues about their first day as a project manager. Brand new, I mean. That very first day. New role. New position. New organisation. Plenty of fun stories. Here is Simon’s story:

[pixabay, klimkin image]cactus-1059633_960_720

“On my first day as a project manager I brought a cactus to work. Small, round, spiky. It mirrored my sentiments that day. It was too small to notice on my desk, yet once you touch it, you’d not know what to expect. I had a meeting scheduled in an hour with the programme manager. I was in the dark as to what this title meant. My smiling young colleague, with whom I was to share the office, offered to give me a tour. The tour turned into a “learn- to- manage–the-coffee-machine” exercise on the office kitchenette. The coffee machine was not very collaborative. It probably sensed my cactus mood that day. Luckily for both of us, a lady arrived to the rescue of the poor machine. Ten minutes later I was in the office of the programme manager and I noticed the dark green coffee mug I just saw in the kitchenette. I realized in a sec that the earlier rescuer is my boss. “Do you manage all your projects the way you handle the coffee-making?”, she asked me. “I am jobless”, i thought to myself. “No, you are not” she said, as if reading my mind. “If you evaluate the situation and tell me your lessons learned”.  And he did.

Just in case you are curious about Simon’s lessons learned: Your first day at work does not need to be a blind date. Unless you like to be fully surprised. You were hired for the job, so, probably, your planning skills mattered in the decision. So use them to build self-confidence. Picture your first day. In as many details as you can. Re-reading the job description from the perspective of the job holder will help. Visualize yourself with rolled-up sleeves. Refresh your memory with faces from your interview. Your supervisor was very probably there.  It will prevent awkward moments as the one Simon faced.

Make an office tour with the objective of introducing yourself to colleagues, at an appropriate pace. The coffee machine can wait.Feel the office atmosphere.

A meeting with your superviser on your first day is an advantage. I can testify to that. And not all get it. So make full use of it.  It will give you answers to the four basic Ws:

What projects you are given to manage.

Who are your project team members.

When is the first milestone.

Where is your project in the programme and/or the organisation/company’s strategy.

Upon return to your desk:

a. make an inventory of docs on files.

b. start reading project documents. Make side notes.

c. schedule meetings with your team members. Let them know in advance your questions or the framework for discussion. It will give you and them a well prepared meeting.

Finally a golden advice I got from my first job: remember – you manage the projects. And not the other way around. Smile, be pro-active and enjoy your first day, dear new project manager!

 

“The project manager who smiled” by Bob Taylor

-What are you reading now, Oxana?project manager who smiled

-“The Project Manager who smiled”.

-Did you write the book? asked my good friend Frank.

-I wish. It’s Bob Taylor’s book, i smiled in response.

-See, it could be easily about you.

I do smile. Indeed, a lot more than at the beginning of my project manager’s path.

I believe now in the value of fun in project management. Walt Disney’s saying “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible” resonates with my believes as project management is often about making the impossible possible.

I discovered the book 3 years ago. I wish i met it and Bob Taylor at the beginning of my project management path. Hence the reason I share it here.

It is one of my favourite books so far on project management.

The book is about having fun and being productive. In its Foreword, it brings the evidence of linkages between fun, good mood and healthy atmosphere and, ultimately, productivity.

Some personal notes I made:
It is unorthodox in a tools-templates-square–linear thinking project management world. Nevertheless, the book talks to you on pragmatic levels, from project manager to project manager, regardless of the size or location of your project.

It relies on a wealth of other project managers experience for things tried and workable approaches.

It puts a smile on the reader’s face and makes sure it stays there till the end.

The author is brave enough to give personal examples and stories, showing that there are gains in vulnerability. For example, in a moment of despair walking out of a room full of team members, closing the door and in a loud voice pretending to be a boss firing him in a very loud voice.

You’ll not often find “expectations management” tackled in project management books. It has its place in this book. The book gives workable approaches to the management of expectations through e.g. constant feedback mechanisms.

It gives reassurance that creativity has its place and role in project management, making it thus appealing to more creative spirits who want to do project management.

Each chapter on Fun Inspiration, Fun Jokes, Fun Motivation, Fun Status, Fun Ideas, Fun Theme Tunes, Fun Team is followed by a PM Celebrity Gossip, sharing reputable project managers’ experience and projects’ successful fun stories. You can really relate or have an aha! moment in these gossips.

Recommend it! Works both in project management and in overcoming storms at home. My kid will certainly respond with a smile if, in a moment of unhappiness, I’ ll point a finger at her with ”don’t you dare smile, do not even think about smiling”. Enjoy the book!