Your professional journey as a project manager | APM – re-post

I liked this presentation, even if it seems to paint a rather rosy picture of the project manager’s life https://www.apm.org.uk/news/how-to-become-a-project-manager-video/. Not that the project managers’ life is dull. Quite the opposite on some days. I know a project manager who was once introduced by her boss as “this is our project manager who was greeted with a kiss by the deputy minister at our last steering committee’s meeting”. You may call it “perks” of the job.

From what i’ve seen so far, project management is for anyone who enjoys the action and aims higher, is ready to serve others and plans the details to the devils’ envy so that others relax.

Anyway,  if you are doing project management or plan to do it, love it – wisdom by Alfredo, Cinema Paradiso. d677799126be2a5e64c9ec72e286b296

 

The future is here. The future is here?

The title “Are Chatbots the Next Project Managers?” of a linkedin post drew my attention. “For now, project managers can remain calm as their roles are safe, but they should be weary of chatbots slowly stealing their jobs from right under their nose.” https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/chatbots-next-project-managers-aaron-montemayor-walker?trk=v-feed&lipi=urn%3Ali%3Apage%3Ad_flagship3_feed%3BJjB5wpQXj4RNeQKbCfjJzg%3D%3D

The article seems to imply that project managers’ job is to chat, a function that can be replaced by chatbots. I wish my job would be about mastering the skill of chatting only. Light chatting, water cooler conversation, coffee room chat….  I’ll maybe try doing that. Chat for a week and then look at the project’s dashboard and show it to the project sponsor and board.

The above article also brings some good news as well: AI replaces professions with a high degree of professionalisation. “In fact, as time goes by, it becomes easier and easier to replace humans with computer algorithms, not merely because the algorithms are getting smarter, but also because humans are professionalizing. Ancient hunter-gatherers mastered a very wide variety of skills in order to survive, which is why it would be immensely difficult to design a robotic hunter-gatherer. Such a robot would have to know how to prepare spear points from flint stones, find edible mushrooms in a forest, track down a mammoth, coordinate a charge with a dozen other hunters and use medicinal herbs to bandage any wounds. ” from http://ideas.ted.com/the-rise-of-the-useless-class/

That shows that project managers are not in danger of loosing jobs to AI, given the variety of skills they need to master and apply. Not as physically intense as those of an ancient hunter, but still. One more study shows that “workers who successfully combine mathematical and interpersonal skills in the knowledge-based economies of the future should find many rewarding and lucrative opportunities.” https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/09/jobs-of-future-and-skills-you-need/. for instance, negotiating with a difficult client and delivering for a financial and performance audit are project manager’s duties, which go right into this categories.

Still, no time to rest on laurels, while chatbots deliver and develop. The only way to keep a job and to continue to love what you do is to keep learning. People smarter than me know it and do it.

See my talk with Alex/Siri today

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.