Project managers CAN win friends and influence people!

imageDale Carnegie’s famous book offers timeless lessons in getting things done and forming productive relationships. His section on leadership is particularly valuable for project managers as they have to win the hearts and minds of their team members in order to successfully deliver projects.

Begin with praise and honest appreciation

If you have to deliver constructive feedback to a team member, while it is never a good idea to send mixed messages or use the “sandwich” approach, recognize the good work done by them before letting them know what needs to be improved. While it may not entirely eliminate any hurt feelings, the team member is much more likely to be receptive to the feedback.

This is especially crucial if you are working in a matrix environment where project managers may not possess any formal authority over their team members.

Ask questions instead of giving direct orders

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

You might get grudging cooperation by directing a team member to resolve an issue or worse, by telling them exactly how you’d like it done but you are unlikely to make them feel empowered. Instead, if you can call their attention to the issue through questions such as “Do you feel that X is likely to impact our timelines, and if so, what could we do to resolve it?” they will be more likely to take ownership of the situation.

Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to

Whether you are trying to motivate a team member or are providing performance coaching, if you can inspire them by expressing the respect you have for their abilities, they will be much more likely to challenge themselves to do better.

On a long running project, drive and enthusiasm often flag as time passes, but instead of criticizing team members for reduced velocity, remind them of how well they had delivered the first few milestones and ask open ended questions to understand what you can do to help them continue to deliver in such a quality fashion.

Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest

It’s not manipulation – it’s answering the natural WIIFM question which everyone has when asked to do something. Yes, your team members have to work on your project because that’s their job but why should they give you anything more than a good day’s work? While it may seem easier to do this when there are financial incentives attached to successful project completion, authentic, heart-felt recognition and being able to make a meaningful difference will be more compelling motivators. Engage your sponsor or project customer to help inspire your team members by showing the impact their work creates.

So what’s the WIIFM in this for YOU?

John D. Rockefeller’s quote from Carnegie’s book sums it up the best “The ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee. And I will pay more for ability than for any other under the sun.”

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How do you know that your project plan is fully baked?

burned-cake“It’s the question that drives us, Neo. It’s the question that brought you here. You know the question, just as I did.” 

No, it’s not “What is the Matrix?” but rather, how do you know when your team has done enough project planning to feel confident that commitments can be made to your customer?

Isn’t there an app for that?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was the equivalent of a meat thermometer that could let you know if further planning is required or if you are at risk of realizing business value shoe leather?

There is no expert system which codifies the shared knowledge of the world’s project management experts to help you know when enough is enough. The essence of projects is uncertainty, and it is that uncertainty which stymies the best efforts of project teams to find the sweet spot.

While we may not be able to perfectly time it, here are a few tell-tale signs which could tell you that it’s either too soon or that you may have gone too far.

When should you put your project plan back in the oven to bake some more?

  • When more than just your risk averse team members are expressing concerns
  • When you are not sure that you have identified and assessed needs and wants of all key stakeholders
  • When there are still some shaky assumptions supporting the foundation of your plan
  • When a second (or third) pair of fresh eyes hasn’t reviewed key elements of the plan
  • When resource estimates are based on the work being done by very specific individuals and their availability is still questionable
  • When each day brings new information resulting in meaningful shifts to approach or estimates

When is your project at risk of getting burnt from too much planning?

  • When team members are dwelling on details of activities which are in the distant future
  • When only your risk averse team members are feeling concerned that it’s still not quite ready
  • When a variety of different techniques support the estimates where commitments are going to be made
  • Once response plans have been successfully implemented for all key risks
  • Once commitments are in place for all key resources
  • When the number of new revelations impacting estimates is few and far between

Professional chefs are able to use a dash of this or a splash of that while novice cooks must practice strict adherence to recipes. With experience, our intuition for knowing when we are ready to get started improves. However, introduce sufficient change into the scope or context for a project and even seasoned project managers will need to fall back on signs such as these.





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The grass is not always greener in projectized organizations

slavedriverFor those of us who have worked most of our careers in companies with functional or matrix power structures, projectized organizations can appear very attractive in comparison.

This is understandable given the many challenges project managers can face when their roles are poorly defined or when they have no little authority over team members or decision making. I can recall countless cases of project managers escalating concerns over individual team member behavior to people managers only to be told that perhaps the project managers themselves are the problem.

Support for project managers can also be limited.

If they are lucky, they might report into a PMO which provides professional development opportunities and they can benefit from the support of their peers but unless the company is at a higher level of organizational project management maturity, the role of the project manager might still be a thankless one at times.

In a projectized company, the role of the project manager is well defined, they usually possess formal authority (including hiring and firing power) over their team members, and they are likely to have greater decision making authority than in matrix or functional organizations.

Seems like Nirvana, right? Unfortunately, formal authority is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Just because you have the ability to directly impact someone’s performance evaluation, annual bonus or even their job, doesn’t mean that will automatically motivate them to give you their best efforts. Possessing formal authority over team members can be a curse – you have to work twice as hard to capture the hearts and minds of your team members through vision, influence and persuasion as it is all too easy to fall into the habit of saying “It’s my way or the highway!”.  In functional or matrix organizations, that approach isn’t even possible, but in projectized organizations, team members will listen because they fear the consequences of not doing so, but you will get their support at the cost of true engagement and commitment.

In projectized organizations, the project manager can also bear the brunt of negative project outcomes. They possess the authority, but with that comes the risk that if the project fails or the customer is unhappy, they are more likely to be impacted than in a functional or matrix organization where decision making authority and accountability is diffused.

Finally, what happens when your project ends and there is no more work? Project managers in functional or matrix organizations might lose their jobs if they are unable to find a lateral role. In a projectized organization, lack of new projects could mean that not only the project manager, but their team members could also be negatively impacted, and the project managers will have to bear the resulting emotional stress.

Can projectized organizations be better than functional or matrix ones? They can, but caveat emptor.




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