Tag: stakeholders analysis

What to expect: when taking over a project run by a colleague-friend

I have to say that I was never in such a situation. I witnessed a few such cases though in different work environments. Each case was pretty  specific, yet some general patterns were there. Here is Rosalia’s case: a young professional who was given responsibility beyond her experience, with the “bonus” of her work friendship at test.

Rosalia was booming when, upon return from a long vacation, she took over the project’s files.  She found out that she will be given this project two months ago.  Her best friend and colleague, Michael, left for another job in another country. Rosalia was very enthusiastic at first. She idealised her friend and everything he did so her usually active critical sense was put to sleep. Two months later she paid dearly with her health. Her joy soon turned into a depression fueled by a stream of difficulties. A surprise kept popping up after another. A consultant was paid for a product of unacceptable quality. A statutory evaluation was skipped with no explanations in the file. There were no contacts established with the project donor and the project was at its final stage. Large amounts of budget remained unpaid and the budget lines were guarded rigidly by the sponsor.

Could at least some of these have been prevented by knowing what to expect and preparing to act? A proper hand-over, to start with, would have given Rosalia a clear status quo. She did not  want to ask her friend any questions of fear to be perceived as challenging his authority. If you find yourself in such a situation, there a few strategies which you could try.

First, ask for a tri-lateral meeting with the departing project manager and your supervisor. It can be over coffee or another less formal set-up.  Follow-up the meeting with a note and send it to both to get confirmation on what you were told. It will give you a baseline and your friend will not feel as reporting to you.

Time permitting, organise a joint introductory meeting / a conference call (in case of teams located in different places), where both you and the departing project manager could participate. Follow the meeting with minutes circulated to all concerned.

Agree with your departing predecessor for how long and on what you estimate to still be needing to get back to him/her with questions you might have.

While friendships come in different forms and many complexities might arise, some of the above might allow to set the boundaries between personal and professional relations so that you can continue your friendship unaffected, to the extent you can. Sometimes you’ll have to choose. Sometimes you’ll have to compromise. It’s important not to compromise your professionalism though. A true friend will not ask you this.

Project assumptions:  national and international regulation of commercial activity – from will to done deal

Idealists among project managers are not a rare species. We want to fix it all, in one go, in a year and within a budget. We pencil in our partners support, commitment and will to respect human rights as firm assumptions. And we proceed, sometimes with a big noisy launching event. I, for one, am guilty on all above accounts.

It’s no news that projects operate in more and more complex environments. When events like the Bhopal industrial accident hit the global news, we start wondering about that complexity, and where on Earth are the traces of the good governance, corporate responsibility and rule of law. Then the question of where are our firm assumptions now crawls in. There are many views on events and project assumptions such as the above. Here are the two cents of mine:147470096

The degree of effectiveness of legal regulation of commercial activity is at the mercy of individual states. Given that the role of international law is still limited in this regard, those in countries with poor governance substantially remain disadvantaged in a global market.

The objectives at a project design phase would be to explore the development of the legal regulation of commercial activity on a national basis and consider the limitations of this for multinationals operating in a global market. The effectiveness of domestic legal regulation in this area needs to be considered, along with limitations of any international approach to the issue. The industrial accident in Bhopal and the extractive industry in Nigeria could be considered among relevant case studies.

Projects designed for Commercial activity have repercussions on fundamental human rights, including the ‘right to life’. More people are killed worldwide by industrial accidents and diseases each year (2.2 million) than are killed in wars (Slapper, 2011). With the progress of globalization the effectiveness of individual jurisdictional safeguards against crime, projects designs need to embed the understanding that financial malpractice and health and safety dangers become severely attenuated, because risk can be simply shifted to the jurisdiction of least resistance (idem). As a consequence, hazardous enterprises move into developing parts of the world, with daunting consequences. This was the case of the defective chemical plant in Bhopal.

The Bhopal case study is illustrative on a number of accounts, showing an interplay between projects and public policies.  It shows that such projects can have a far-reaching and detrimental impact on people and on the environment. It provides insights into Government and corporate behaviors, important for stakeholders analysis. The company in question was able to distance itself from the operations of its subsidiary in India. This was also possible due to a certain reluctance of and procrastination on behalf of the government to enforce laws against it in order to protect their citizens. The fear of discouraging inward investment on the part of multinationals was seemingly among factors explaining the government attitude.

The picture becomes even more complex due to a combination of legal, jurisdictional, political, diplomatic and commercial reasons for which the governments and courts of developed nations rarely hold multinationals based in their countries to account for their foreign misdeeds. The arrest of management with their subsequent release, officials’ press statements condemning the management were soft responses to a tragedy of such a scale. Overall, the success in holding those responsible legally accountable has been limited and adequate financial compensation for the victims has not been achieved in Bhopal case.

In such situations, the question whether the international community can provide more effective protection for the vulnerable through the implementation and enforcement of human rights obligations arises. Governments do adhere to international instruments and international organisations. The government of India was no exception in this case. The Indian government had acceded to the United Nation’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 1979 and so at the time of Bhopal the Indian authorities were in theory bound to ensure the implementation of the rights contained in these covenants. These rights include the right to life (Article 6 ICCPR), the right to enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (Article 12 ICESCR) and the right to an effective remedy (Article 2 ICCPR). India committed to minimum standards for health and safety by being a founding member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) since 1922. These are all nicely articulated aspirations. The reality is that as it is ultimately the responsibility of each state to incorporate international human rights obligations into national law, and this can be a challenge for the governments of most nations. Political and economic considerations may drive courts and governments into exercising a fair degree of latitude in the implementation and enforcement of these rights, impacting the effectiveness of protection for future generations from the risks of another Bhopal.

The extractive industry is another area to dwell on the effectiveness of regulation of commercial activity. Leading economies rely on oil and gas and this renders oil and gas companies very powerful, leading to an asymmetric relationship between developing countries and these companies. In Nigeria, e.g., this asymmetry is further exacerbated by “administrative neglect, crumbling social infrastructure, high unemployment, social deprivation, abject poverty, endemic conflict (Amnesty International, 2009). Local communities have a double disadvantage: the tremendous wealth generated from oil is not benefiting them and they suffer from the resulting pollution caused by oil spills, dumping of waste and gas flaring. This kind of commercial activity impacts people’s ability to enjoy their livelihoods, as fishing and farming is affected, the soil is contaminated and thus many dimensions of human rights e.g. to health, to food, to water, to a healthy environment, to work get abused (Amao, 2011).

Community complaints were directed not only at the activities of corporations, but also at the government for not effectively protecting their interests as stakeholders and not controlling the multinational corporations in question (idem). The Government in his case was openly siding with the foreign oil companies (deploying military forces to protect their infrastructure and personnel e.g. in return for arms supplied for government security forces). Amnesty International in its 2009 report places the responsibility for the human, environmental and economic damage on the Nigerian government for failure to regulate the oil industry effectively despite the many statuts that potentially give the government the legal muscle to do so. The fact that the government is a partner of oil companies and benefits from their activities leaves people and communities without effective access to redress. Even the legal recourse to protest through the ballot box is more theoretical than real given that patronage, political clientelism and populism are underpinning the system in Nigeria (Oxfam, 2009). The government there needs to first meet basic governance prerequisites to be able to effectively protect its citizens. Greater transparency, operating systems and public institutions to monitor and ensure accountability, a free media are needed for a start. In such circumstances, corporations commitments to “comply with applicable laws and regulations … and… give proper regard to health, safety, security and the environment’ (Shell 2006:6) leave the door open to selectivity and allow them to escape oversight (Amao, 2011).

Nigeria signed the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It still does not lead to an automatic and effective enforcement of human rights, as in India’s case above.

States have the duty to protect human rights. It may be ideal, but still aspirational to conclude that government failure to enforce laws or to implement international human rights obligations does not diminish the expectation that corporations honor human rights. And these assumptions need to be subjected to close scrutiny in any related project.

My thanks to Rianne C. ten Veen for the inspiration in the WB822 course at The Open University.

„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).


From time to time failures occur or we let them happen. For a variety of reasons. I once drafted 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 resource- consuming  alliance building and bottom-up approaches. I have on my desk a brochure with the nice pic of the previous management of the partner to remind me not to let my overly optimistic outlook to take over pragmatism in project planning.

Failures are the learner’s best friends in projects 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!

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, in change management and in 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 the 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:


“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”.  “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. 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 Peter 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 Peter 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 discovered it at the beginning of my project management path.

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, Peter recalls a case when he walked out of a room full of team members, closed the door and pretended 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.

I warmly recommend it! It works both in project management and in overcoming storms at home. My kid will certainly respond with a smile when, 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!