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Monday, January 31, 2005

More random thoughts

The last several months have been challenging for me as a project manager. In fact, if I think about it my entire career in project management has been a challenge. Some days are better than others, but as I look back over the last eighteen years I'm glad I chose the profession of project management.

Over the course of my career I have met many people that call themselves project managers, but when questioned about their processes, they don't have much to say. Without a repeatable project management process in place, I'm not sure what you are doing, but it isn't project management.

You will find as I have that many people are promoted to have the title of project manager because of their organizational, business, or communication skills. Others are promoted because they are a highly valued employee and with good technical skills, but their personality isn't geared towards managing people. For project managers to be successful, keep in mind what I have repeated in the past - focus on process, communications and results in everything you do. Any person that is well skilled in these three areas will be successful in what ever endeavor they seek.

As PMI says, project management is both a science and an art. We must continually improve our skills (Sharpen the Saw) and always be aware of our communications. Dealing effectively with challenges and adversity will ultimately define who we are as project managers (god or bad). More times that not you will be judged and assessed on your personality, not your performance. Keep that thought in mind when dealing with your peers, your manager, and your customers.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Skills, Reputation, and Performance

As with any profession, your career prospects improve with ever increasing skills. Project Managers must have the skills to do the job, but also must have success in managing projects. One key to success in any field is to set goals. Ensure that your manager has bought into your goals and will use them as a basis of your performance review.

We must be ever mindful that our reputation affects our careers. A good reputation is earned and takes years of effort. You must be known first as trustworthy, an effective team leader, a person that works well with others, and for your resourcefulness. A project manager's job is unique because not only do we have to be great communicators, but we must also manage to the triple constraints. In addition, we must instill confidence with those we work with, and let them know that our project’s objectives are attainable, relevant, and important to the success of the organization.

When you take on a new project people’s perceptions will be based upon your performance, your results, and your communications. This falls in line with my view which says that all employees (including those at the top) should be measured (equally) on the Processes they use, the Results they achieve, and their Communications. What good are results when you have violated many or all of your department's/organization’s processes or have communicated poorly, which caused descent and ill will among your peers? Results are always important, but not at the expense of Process and Communications.

Remember, you don't need a high profile to succeed. You can achieve more with a very low, but exceptionally successful profile. You will know you are on the right track when management comes to you with the really hard work that needs to be done quickly, but efficiently without sacrificing you or your manager's integrity.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Don't take it Personally

Many people have fallen into a bad habit of taking things too personally because they want to protect the smaller picture (self) instead of the big picture (other people, relationships, the situation, and sometimes the truth). How do we get through the times where having a positive attitude seems impossible? Well, we can always choose to act as if the positive feelings/attitudes are still there. It is that simple, and it is always our choice.

We choose all of our feelings and actions. No one else is at fault for what we think, what we feel, and how we act. As Project Managers we can't let others dictate how we feel about ourselves. Project Managers by nature need to have thick skin and can't let the opinions of a few dictate how we feel and act.

It isn't a radical idea to believe that we can choose how to behave, regardless of how we feel. Additionally, by changing our behavior we might just discover that behaving differently can change how we feel. This changing of behavior knocks aside the notion that feelings help us find truth, especially when we are trying to assess an important business or life situation.

I feel that the old saying "Perception is Reality" is destructive. Many people act solely on what they perceive. Perception is only Perception. We can argue about what Reality is, or is not, but basing Reality on what we perceive can really screw up Reality for us and everybody else.

Mental Note for Slow Learners: Sometimes it seems like you can't change anything. Sometimes by changing yourself you change everything.

Monday, January 10, 2005

To the Idiot Mobile!

Here we go on another project journey. You have met with your stakeholders and all of them are in agreement as to where the project is going (objectives), what the journey will look like to get to the project’s destination (plan), and what can be expected when the project is complete (deliverables). But wait, your project (like a journey in a car) has been taken over by somebody else and is now out of your control. You have just found yourself in the back seat (no longer driving and in control) of the Project Idiot Mobile. You discover quickly that it is careening out of control and you are on a white-knuckle ride to who knows where. What do you do?

I have taken a ride in the Idiot Mobile more than once and here are some tips you can use to avoid this mind-numbing ride.

Be the Leader of the Team From the Start. Control the keys of the Idiot Mobile and don’t let anyone drive it and make sure you always leave it in the garage. Don’t assume anything unless it is documented in your project charter’s assumptions section. Don't allow stakeholders to take over your project and direct it onto a path that wasn't agreed upon in the Project Charter.

Understand Politics is a Way of Life on Your Project. Understand you will have to deal with people who don't want you to succeed. As Tom Peters said be aware that your project can fail because of "...people that are envious, people who feel their turf is being invaded, people who have a b-i-g stake in the status quo, people who are just plain afraid of change. Therefore, you will need ... Herculian (Clintonian) political skills to ... nuetralize ... finesse...and in some cases just plain outsmart-surround-coopt ... these naysayers".

Have Thick Skin. Be smart up front and try to recognize who will be unsupportive of your efforts. Be prepared with a response. Be able to accept criticism and bounce back quickly. Know when you are on the wrong path and get on the right path quickly.

Make Strong Allies with Those that Have the Power. Remember that those with the power make the decisions. A good project manager is a good politician, and also keep in mind that Politics is The Art of Getting Things Done.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Project Ethics

An ethical Project Manager is a successful Project Manager. The PMI has established a Professional Code of Ethics that all Project Management Professionals (PMP) must adhere to. These ethics are meant to ensure that all PMPs abide by a set of values, and they live up to those values in pursuit of their careers.

Project Ethics won't ensure you are a successful project manager, however not behaving ethically will almost always ensure your project will fail. As stated in the PMI Code of conduct, which in my opinion is the most important ethical behavior, a project manager must accept responsibility for his or her actions. This means admitting to all your stakeholders when you are wrong, learning from your mistakes, and putting actions into place that will help you to avoid making the same mistake twice.

A project manager is responsible for all activities that occur or fail to occur on their project. It is unethical for a project manager to blame others for mistakes that were clearly the fault of the project manager.

Do you have the ethics to accept and take responsibility for your mistakes? Are you willing to do this in the face of your harshest critics? If not, you need to leave the project management profession because you aren’t a mature, responsible professional, and as such you are hurting the profession of Project Management.