Celebrating the team members doing magic behind the scenes:
Tag: human resources
Are project managers allowed to take a vacation?
“A project manager on vacation?!” Unheard of! Tight deadlines, impatient clients, critical paths, strict sponsor, plenty of adrenalin, which keeps you going, and plenty of other imposed or self-imposed excuses.
My first year in project management, I used to dread taking time off. In time, I understood that with some good planning and prep I can manage it well. I put my project planning skills for vacation preparations.
So if you still worry about taking time off, do yourselves a favour and be a good project managers of your own vacations. If you are not convinced, vacation planning tends to bring happiness as shown by research in the journal “Applied Research in Quality of Life”. People actually derive most of the happiness from their vacations in the planning phase (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/18/opinion/what-your-vacation-says-about-you.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0). Let’s see though if new research will confirm the same in the times of pandemics.
You can easily guess who plans and organises my family’s vacation. I love to search for new destinations, read hotels reviews, organise ‘hotel tenders’, book, make a list of things to experience, argue with my family about what not to put in the luggage (gadgets, for once). It is fun and it pleases the protesting “brain on duty”, so it can deal with deliverables, milestones and other demands it is used to.
In addition to that, a well done pre-vacation prep will bring you the peace of mind with which you can leave the project temporarily. The purpose is to assess and prevent any foreseeable issues, to the extent you can. Here are couple of strategies I collected and applied throughout years:
- Announce your planned vacation as soon as you know. I trust you’ll not take time off on a product is planned to go-live or there is a risk of missing a milestone on the critical path.
- If feasible, consider is anyone from the team can take charge in your absence. If yes, leave clear instructions on matters to follow-up and a list of “in case of…” in a hand-over note, which is also communicated to anyone important who might be looking for you. If no one can stay in charge, make sure your out-of-office automatic reply is clear about it and gives directions to people who still need your input/feedback.
- Decide if you be available by email/phone. A wealth of studies show that it’s best to fully disconnect. Dropping ‘accidentally’ your mobile device in the pool can help disconnect. There are other less financially costly ways though. If you still need to check your email, make a deal with yourself to check it only at a certain period of the day for a certain amount of time (e.g. 1 hour after kids go to sleep or during their siesta). If you stick to it, reward yourself with a large ice-cream or cocktail you fancy. Or both.
“No” – the project manager’s best friend?
I remember my first change request: “We need the center to host 150 people, 50 more than initially planned, which means building one extra wing.” That would have increased the budget by 30%. It was unrealistic, given the budget cycle. I had to ask another colleague from the regional coordination to say “No”. Then I came across Peter Taylor’s book ““The project manager who smiled” where I read: “The most valuable and least used word in a project manager’s vocabulary is ‘No’.
Project managers get often requests like: “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?!” or “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. Yet, 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” 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 of 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/she 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.
“Corruption in public projects and megaprojects: There is an elephant in the room!” – re-post
As announcements of unprecedented economic responses rolled on, public procurements worked in an emergency regime. Economic relief plans opened the door to opportunities. Opportunities put to test both the business integrity and the integrity of public institutions. International organisations – such as Council of Europe, OECD – started publishing warnings of corruption risks across industries.
I have not managed investments and/or big infrastructure projects yet, although many years ago I was in charge of overseeing a portfolio, which included a number of infrastructure projects. I remember the complexity of those projects and, in consequence, how high maintenance they were. There was no corruption involved, as reported later by auditors. Yet, my state of alert was constantly high. And understandably so. Seven digit invoices, delays, explanations and justifications, demands for additional budget were some of the red flags. Plus, rubber boots and dusty construction sites came in a package.
The article “Corruption in public projects and megaprojects: There is an elephant in the room!” by Giorgio Locatelli, Giacomo Mariani, Tristano Sainati, Marco Greco equips project managers with a number of valuable insights, both at the planning and at the implementation phase. As the executive summary of the article states: “This paper leverages the institutional theory to introduce the concept of “corrupt project context” and, using the case study of Italian high-speed railways, shows “the impact of a corrupt context on megaprojects.”
In addition to that, the article analyses the salient facets of corruption and characteristics of projects which make them more or less prone to corruption. One can use them as red flags. Authors raise an important number of issues, which are to be paid attention to, in particular as the topic of corruption can still appear as highly controversial in some project management contexts, in particular in times of emergencies.
“Corruption in public projects and megaprojects: There is an elephant in the room!” by Giorgio Locatelli, Giacomo Mariani, Tristano Sainati, Marco Greco, published in the International Journal of Project Management, volume 35, Issue 3, April 2017, pages 252-268, available here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0263786316301090
The story of a book which saw the light in lockdown
On a bright April day, as I was casually browsing Linkedin for updates, I noticed a post by Peter Taylor:
A month into full lockdown, my brain jump at it with delight. “A legacy-book to be published in 21 days? Phew! Why so long?!” I thought to myself. So, I responded to the challenge and so did 55 other project managers across industries from around the world.
“The Projectless Manager: Inspirational Thoughts from a World of Project Managers” is now on Amazon, both in paperback and for Kindle.
It is dedicated to “A global community of health carers and key workers. Its proceeds go to NHS. The book is, as Peter puts it, “unique ‘in the moment’ and ‘of the moment’ book.”
It was such a by-the-book project by itself: on time, within budget and objective – achieved, all this with members of a tribe who basically only know each other by Linkedin profiles.
I have to mention kids here. Those who know me, know that I am a full-time kids’ advocate. The cover is a result of a challenge for 9 year olds. So, it is also an inter-generational act of contribution and sharing. Kudos to kids!
Managing the “No”
Learning to say “No” can be a vital skill for a project manager. Learning to deal with “No” on the receiver’s end is equally important.
There are many “No”s a project managers finds him/herself obliged to deal with. It could be a “No” to additional funds, or to budget revisions, or to deadline extensions. Or a “No” from a service provider to a request to speed up the delivery. Or a “No” from a team member.
How do you deal with “No” on the receiving end? Is it “I do not take “No” for an answer? Or “How could you, after all I’ve done for you?” Or “Wait until your boss learns about it!” Or a blanc staring, Scarlett’s style?
With experience, you’ll learn to anticipate “No”s coming your way and you’ll deal proactively with it.
Here is a story:
The project sponsor asked for a project on three sites in three different countries. Each had a resident rep of the sponsor. As we started work, the representative of the sponsor on one of the sites changed and with him – the expectations.
We re-entered into negotiations, with some heavy weights on our side. During an intense exchange, it became clear that we are moving nowhere. They said “No” to all our proposals. We dropped that site. We still kept the two other project sites with plenty of opportunities to do good. It also freed some of our resources, thanks to which we launched a regional platform.
We kept the loyalty of our clients from the dropped site. And to compensate the local stakeholders for the lost opportunities, we invited them to the other sites to benefit from the products we delivered.
Couple of years later I met the sponsor’s rep and it gave me great pleasure to share all the good things we did on the other two project’s sites and the regional spin off.
Emergency exit? Make it organised
As deconfinments start making room around the world, with some degree of clarity, it is time to put in place project management measures for an organised, to the extent possible, return to office work.
Over the past week I kept getting fellow colleagues questions about exiting this emergency. While my advice matched the situation of each particular project, I noticed are a number of common approaches across industries.
Here are 9 tips for an organised exit:
1. Focus on team members. People will come out of this changed in one way or another. Bear that in mind and pile up on your compassion resources. You may also want to know more about their families and the struggles they went through during this period.
2. Make use of your notes over the past two months. Did you notice new skills and abilities of team members? Is perhaps a rethinking of your traditional project roles timely? For example, if a team leader became more productive during the confinement, he/she might be wanting a more executive role. Or if a software developer manifested leadership skills, he/she might be ready for a team leader role. Did the project assistant outgrow his/her role and is ready for a different role? Look around with your talent-seeking eyes.
3. If you had to cut corners in procurement, which I hope you did not, make sure proper justifications are on record and well filed. Integrity should never be compromised, even in times of emergencies.
4. If you and your teams return to work, you may want to get to there first, to greet and welcome them. If it is your responsibility, make sure all safety and hygiene conditions are met. If there is an Organisation-wide policy, make sure all team members are aware about it. If your team returns to a location different from yours, you may want to order something online to greet them. It could be as symbolic as a new office plant or coffee from a nearby coffeeshop. Good for local business. Great for team’s morale.
5. Revisit the communication channels and see together with your teams which are to be kept and which will be ditched.
6. Make plans. And make plans B. Here is still a lot of uncertainty around the situation. Planning to hold meetings and go on business trips? Leave them for later and watch for border policies of countries of your clients. Some countries have reintroduced visas (e.g. Kazakhstan). Check on those as well.
7. Have a clear plan for priorities on the critical path of the project. Check on your first milestone after deconfinment. Communicate clearly to your sponsor, clients and other important partners.
8. Scan the environment for eventual “under water mines”. Video and audio was great in remote work. Yet these means of communication are prone to breed misunderstandings and frustrations. Simply because the screen makes it harder to interpret visual clues, such as body posture and physical gestures. Make sure there is no conflict in the air. Or if there is, manage it pro-actively.
9. Decide on what kind of leader you want to be from now on: an effective manager who gets the job done or an innovative anticipator?
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