Lost your ‘Pause Button’ ?

A couple of years ago we lost our power supply on Christmas Eve. Within an hour or so we had re-planned how we would cater, relax, and remain safe. As project managers we think nothing of stopping and replanning for the sake of our team, our stakeholders, and all those who rely on us. It is what we do well. So how come it is so hard for us to do this for ourselves?

One of our 5 Ts of Extraordinary is Taking Care of Yourself’ – learn more here.

What would it take for you to take just 10 mins to plan how to find your ‘Pause Button’ over the coming break? What will be the boundaries you set in place so that you get to re-charge your batteries too??

What is the best gift you can give yourself this holiday break?

Common Sense – how to reclaim it

Delivering a project full tilt towards ever challenging deadlines can drive us into the weeds. Demands of ‘do more, with less, faster’ challenge us to roll up our sleeves and be super-heroes. Our instincts can lead us to rush to hone our scope and focus on landing whatever we can. Later our reflective hindsight can leave us wondering how and where we lost our common sense – ours and that of our team?  Although frequently counterintuitive, the simple answer is to stop and think. Really……..just stop and think but do so properly.  Step back, take stock, look at the wider situation. Breathe and think…and common sense will come flooding back.

Who is covering your back?

Extraordinary Project Managers build teams and create Tribes of followers to help deliver their Target and navigate the uncertain Terrain of the business and political world that surrounds us. Seth Godin defines a Tribe as a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. Building our Project Tribe is just one of those things we do instinctively but need to remember to do consciously in the seemingly ever-increasingly resource-constrained project world.

Our Tribe will inevitably span a range of levels and functions in the business we operate within and may well include our customers and other external sponsors. Thinking about our Tribe, meeting their needs, and knowing we can count on them for is an integral part of operating at an exceptional level as Project or Programme Manager. Being mindful that our Tribe is wider than both our Project Team and our stakeholders, we will purposefully build those connections in a steady and collaborative way. Our wider Tribe will help us to have support we can call on when we need it, and also eyes, ears and perspectives that we might not otherwise have benefitted from.

Once we have worked out who is in our Tribe, who we are continuing to connect to, and who is connected to the idea or change we are delivering, we can start working out how they sit in their Attitude towards us and where we need them to be. Albeit totally subjective and risking bias, we can assess which if the 5 Attitude As are most appropriate for our Tribespeople and decide what to do about it, if we need to do some Tribe-building. The 5As we use are Advocate, Ally, Associate (neutral), Adversary and Abdicators….. and then there is ‘Captain Chaos’ who delights us all in flipping from Advocate to Adversary and back again.

We often don’t get to choose our team but we do get to choose who we connect to and how we build our Tribe. Extraordinary Project Managers are mindful and intentional but you won’t see that in a job description!

Project Sponsors – Advocates or Abdicators?

They say a leader without followers is just someone talking a walk in the park. A project manager without a strong and interested sponsor can be like a small boat cast adrift in a storm.

Great sponsors know just how to challenge in a very supportive way, and exactly how to support when the project is in one of its particularly tough phases. They keep their heads above the parapet looking for the icebergs on the horizon that their project managers may not have sighted yet and they play an essential role managing the stakeholders at their level and above. They get how projects work, they understand the importance of good governance, and do not use the dreaded phrase, “Could you just…..” as they are ever mindful of scope creep and resource and time constraints.

Project sponsorship can make the difference between a successful and a failing project. I once used to think that an interfering, overly challenging, time-absorbing project sponsor was just the biggest hindrance in being able to get on and deliver the project or programme. Once you have experienced a sponsor that has had no exposure to project thinking and who spends the minimal possible time getting close to the detail and to your concerns and challenges in navigating your project to success you begin to understand what it must have felt like to be the spaceman left behind on Mars in the film The Martian…..yes, it can be a lonely place.

Project sponsors – you really matter and can make all the difference in the world to the success of the project and to the sanity of your right hand person managing your project for you. Get close enough and appreciate sufficient of the art of project management so you can have maximum positive impact.

Join us at Project Management UnPacked to become a great sponsor…

Project Management Unpacked

Pivoting into a 2nd career in the project management world with out having to return to ‘Start”

Bridging the gap between the current career and a move into project management continues to be a challenge unless doing so as a subject matter expert who then gets the opportunity to take on a project. There are many people, particularly women, who have amazing skills and have excelled up the career ladder into various roles including EA, operational roles in Finance and Purchasing amongst many. These talented individuals have the skills of getting on with people from all areas, skills of persuasion, delegation and collaboration, problem solving, being practical….and many more which have been developed and honed.

The problem that many face is that they can’t move sideways as they don’t have the experience and the typical project methodology courses are at best very dry, difficult to engage with without some experience of working in a project and can be, at worst, a mechanical process to help you show you know the tools pass an exam so you can add the letters to your CV. I do concede that my last comment might be a bit harsh….so please forgive….but you probably do get the point which is that days of project methodology is probably not the best introduction to the project world.

We have a fabulous resource pool of talented and experienced people who know how to make change happen and how to ‘get things done’, often through quite tricky organisational terrains. It is hard to help them leverage those skills into the project word without being sent back to ‘Start’. And what makes this even worse is that the place you often are sent to as ‘Start’ is the PMO assistant where the very skills you have that would make you a fabulous project manager or work stream leader are not best matched to what you need to run the Risk Log effectively.

That’s why we have developed a one day seminar and workshop that can help you start your career pivot into project management. The next course will run on Saturday 15th July in London.

Project Management Unpacked

Listening to what is NOT being said

In a recent Extraordinary Project Management webinar, we covered one of the five key tenets of extraordinary project management: Target, which covers how we hone and improve our skills at being very clear about what outcomes our projects will deliver both to our stakeholders and to our teams and – importantly – why those outcomes are desirable.
I wanted to take some time to reflect on a small but significant aspect of that conversation in which we talked about listening to what is NOT being said.
This sounds like nonsense – after all how can we hear something that isn’t audible – however Extraordinary Project Managers will quite often find themselves operating in an environment where people in an organisation either can’t or won’t voice their opinion.
The reasons for this will be complex and vary from company to company, however an Extraordinary Project Manager is constantly scanning the room in a meeting or presentation seeking to identify those whose body language suggests that they are aching to contribute but are holding back.
Sometimes the signs are relatively obvious things such as leaning in to speak but then withdrawing as somebody gets their point of view in first. Others will be less obvious such as body language becoming ‘closed’ when decisions are being made that they may not agree with or they perceive time is being wasted on unimportant matters.
In the webinar, our Extraordinary Project Managers (EPMs) shared the variety of tactics they adopt when they identify people such as this as there is often a great deal of value in what they have to say as they will provide a different perspective to the status quo or “accepted position” and begin suggesting alternatives. Interestingly (and perhaps a little worryingly!) more than one EPM said that quite often simply showing an interest in what a person has to say generated a response along the lines of “Nobody has ever asked me before”.
Additionally, the EPMs noted that very frequently they go on to enlist these people as project champions as they can be an untapped mine of talent who simply want to help bring about success for the organisation and become crucial allies in helping us reach our target.
Projects are delivered by people – not spreadsheets, nor methodologies – therefore in understanding how we achieve our Target we must understand how our people will help us to do this.
This kind of thought-provoking conversation and real-world tactic sharing is what makes the EPM programme so powerful. So why not join our next course starting in September where you will meet like-minded people who are good at project management and start making that journey to being Extraordinary?
Interested? Register here
[mailchimpsf_form]
With thanks to Chris Crawford-Gray of Project Black Hole

Terrain, one of the 5Ts of Extraordinary Project Management

The project has its Terrain (Internal) which sits within the Terrain of the Business and the wider world (External).

EPMs maintain awareness of the Terrain within the project and the Terrain external to the project.

They focus on the few things that must have attention at this point in the project.

They ‘keep an eye open’ for those things that will need attention in the next period and note the speed they are approaching.

……… a bit like driving on the motorway….

“Dealing with the surprise of unexpected disruptions is central to being a manager of projects” but “Why is plain English and common sense so complicated?”

I am just reading an article in the latest International Journal of Project Management which I receive as part of my membership of the Association for Project Management.

I was really excited to read that the unexpected can happen and that these are not indications that something has gone wrong nor are they occasions for a Project Manager to feel self-doubt. Yay….a scientific paper stating that stuff happens sometimes, of course, and it is OK.

Great stuff!!

But why is the title of the paper need to be “The wisdom of conversations: Existential Hermeneutic Phenomenology for project managers” ????

What’s your WHY???

Ask any Project Manager, Why does your project exist?”  and their answer will usually have a laser like focus and clarity: For example:
“The project will consolidate three production facilities into one state of the art location enabling synergy throughout the supply chain as well greater quality control, resulting in a reduction in operating costs of £million per year as well as greater customer satisfaction.”

“Failure to make the business compliant with “important” legislation by the end of the year will result in a fine and our licence to operate being revoked.”.

As we can see projects exist in order to bring about some benefit to the business, or to avoid a liability.

Sometimes the heart of the WHY is missing though. There is often a much bigger WHY that sits behind what is being done and identifying that WHY, that TARGET, is so important. You have probably heard the story of President Kennedy visiting NASA in 1962 and asking the broom-holding janitor what his role was. The reply was, “Well, Mr President, I am here to put a man on the moon.”

Defining the “Why” for your project is part of the project process. We go through the steps of defining project outcomes, making sure all the stakeholders are aligned, working out what risks we face, figuring out how much effort and resource is needed and then calculating the cost in order to develop a fully costed business case.

However, ask the same project managers “Why are YOU working on this project?” and I’ll wager that only a few will be able to give that same level of clarity for themselves as they can for their project.

We all know that projects are tough.  We start new projects full of enthusiasm but know that at some point it will become more difficult to get out of bed in the morning and face the stakeholders or the customers or the team, asking ourselves why do we do this?

Extraordinary Project Managers have a focus not only on making sure that they do the very best job on the projects that they are currently working on; they also have a clear focus and purpose as to WHY they are putting all of that effort and resource into doing their best work. They have analysed the impact on their life (e.g. working away from home for a time) and the risks associated with it all going wrong and then weighed these up against the personal benefits that being involved will bring.

If you wouldn’t run a project without a sound Business Case why would you choose to run your career without something similar?  So if you are smart enough to define a ‘Why’ for the projects you are involved in, why are you not doing it for the most important thing: YOU?

At Extraordinary Project Management (EPM)  we dedicate a significant amount of time to helping project management people discover and understand their own “WHY” (Hint: It’s very rarely purely financial) and how they can expect this to change throughout the course of their career as they begin to mature and understand what is really important to them.

The next EPM course starts in September and space is limited so to find out more and sign up visit https://extraordinarypm.com
Got questions or just interested in finding out more? Email extraordinarypm@gmail.com

Project Assurance – Help or Hindrance?

It takes courage to encourage your stakeholders to bring in an external auditor/assurer and  have the spotlight shone into all the nooks and crannies of your project. It is so difficult to contain the frustration of having to divert resource to compile comprehensive documentation the reviewer inevitably requires whilst keeping the delivery on track. And then there are so many questions and sometimes mis-understandings that result from being an outsider to the project. Over the years I have had a number of my programmes audited and I have concluded that we have really benefitted from this process 50% of the time whilst the other 50% has been a tick box exercise by people who just don’t seem to get what the project is really about or the context in which it is being delivered or who are simply serving their ‘Will we get our bill paid?’ objective. It feels rare to find a truly challenging ally who really knows how to undertake a professional assurance audit and who really helps the programme or project manager rather than adding to their burden of work.

What’s your experience been? Have you been involved in an audit and how did it help you?