It is exciting and fun to blog about innovation and the value in always keeping an open mind in your projects. The smallest idea from the least likely of sources may lead to toward incremental value and innovation or truly substantial change. But somewhere along this path of continuous improvement, you need to find the lines in which to hold your project team. That is where your various management plans and PMP will come into play.
The time spent developing a collaborative PMP with your team will help them come to understand the constraints and goals of the project. Without having to reign in their creativity too often, their buy-in up front will pay dividends from that standpoint. It is also important to encourage them to use the PMP guidelines as a tool just like any other. Without stifling their problem solving capability, you have to keep things within reason. Your PMP will help to guide the team, but like all guides, they are meant to point you in the right direction only yet let the team decide where to take each subsequent step.
At the end of my decision making process, I will typically err on the side of an open mind. Whether your style as PM is to start with strong project controls and definitions and then relax them as needed or to firmly make every decision within the agreed-upon constraints of your PMP, your approach can work well. My style is to innovate along the way using every possible resource. Without a doubt, I have found at times that I would have been better served to have adhered more diligently to the original course. However, more often than not, I have found that a great team can handle change if they want to; that is, if they believe in the innovation or change, and you do to, then make it happen. Period.
Every PM is going to be caused to find the balance between their delivery constraints and goals and their desire to maximize value through innovation. This balance will be unique to every PM and perhaps on every project. There is no right answer, but it is a balance that every PM should be conscious of because managing this balance is a large, unspoken role of a great Project Manager. Good Luck!
As a project manager, negotiations may be a daily occurrence for you in one form or another.
Are you negotiating with a stakeholder the terms in which an element of the project must be contained? Are you negotiating with a team member the manner in which their input will be incorporated? Are you negotiating with your senior management for the resources your team needs to succeed?
These negotiations may take many different forms and often play out in many different forums. In a number of ways, we are trained as PM’s to set ourselves and our teams up for success through strong strategic planning and tactical execution of our Plans. However, one often overlooked element of negotiation or overall project management is the need to give a little from time to time. You will find yourself in a situation soon enough where you have an opportunity to let your position relax in the face of another. We all know the hard-charging, never-take-no-for-an-answer PM. Overall; do their success rates trend higher than your own? What is your style?
Your ability to instantaneously assess the pros and cons of standing down on occasion may well be determined by your ability to evaluate and capitalize upon the value of the goodwill your concession will earn. Try to involve the consideration of what positions you might sacrifice on equally as deeply as your consideration of the items on which your position must prevail. Once you have this in mind, take a dive once in a while.
You may find that upon receipt of this goodwill that opposition for what you truly desire has vanished. And even when it hasn’t, the truly exceptional PM will be able to leverage that goodwill for far more than had it not been earned. So take a step back before you rush in and consider where your pawns lie in every conversation. Don’t trade them away for nothing, but don’t let your project go off track because of your inability to compromise!
I have had the very good fortune to be involved in some highly innovative projects, breaking paradigms and implementing technologies and concepts never before seen in the region. Exciting, attractive stuff that makes headlines. In the process of sharing the successes of these projects with others and highlighting the innovative decisions which were made and led in large part to our successes, I have found myself back in the weeds, considering the smallest choices which were made and led to the grand innovations. Searching for the next little idea to contribute to incremental change and ultimately a transformation.
That is where I wanted to focus your attention for today; not always reading blogs online regarding the most nationally exceptional, leading edge industry innovations, but rather, contemplating the most simple and most near, next decisions on your project…and how your team can find incremental innovations and value in that singular next step. The big picture isn’t for everyone. It can be daunting, annoyingly over-simplified, and excessively dramatic toward the negative or the positive. Such extremes often can lead project managers and organizations as a whole to steer clear of innovation base in large part on the extrapolation of the inherent possibility of failures that innovation includes. As an antidote to that anxiety and a suggestion on how to stimulate innovation at the smallest levels within your project team, ask them at your next meeting to propose three alternative approaches or solutions to their current task. The smaller the task the better and the less dramatic an alternative approach the better. Simply asking them to take that baby step toward the outer edge of the box will get everyone more comfortable in that region. The next step may just be to the outside of the box and that is how you begin to create a culture of innovation!
While the big, sexy projects are fun, they all started with nano-steps and some frustrated innovators looking for incremental improvement. Never lose sight of the true origins of your success and when you are looking for the next big thing, turn your hat around and look for the next little thing first!
It doesn’t take a single week in project management until you are introduced to the all-powerful concept of the Project Management Plan. The opposite of a one line vision statement or strategy, your PMP may consist of double digit number of sub-plans, each with multiple pages themselves. Suddenly, this PMP may seem like a mini-thesis outlining how each of the members of your team should conduct themselves. The question in my mind can become, “don’t these folks already know how to deliver a project? Certainly they know better than if you tell them how to do it?”
The fact of the matter is that your team members hopefully do know how to deliver a project better than you do. That is why you chose them for your team, because they are smarter than you. So your role needs to be to solicit and incorporate their input into the PMP. Guiding them within the known constraints of the project and asking probing questions to help define the boundaries, metrics and goals. With your expert team’s full input and buy-off, you are more than half way toward success!
The problem is that this last step can be fairly involved with no rewards in sight. Many a great project has been delivered through on the fly consensus between a strong group of open minded individuals. Why put in so much effort into a PMP when it may not be needed?
This point is hard to appreciate until you see the value of a plan realized through execution. It is only well after the PMP is developed and endorsed by the Team that you often begin to see the tremendous benefits of the thoroughly understood and agreed-upon constraints, metrics and goals. Furthermore, it is easy to lose sight of these agreed-upon elements of the PMP during the interim time. Consistent reference to and emphasis of the PMP milestones will keep your team aligned and ultimately will show all of your team members the Value of a Plan.
I have spoken before about the spotlight that the Project Manager may often find themselves in, for better or worse. How your team members may look to you for direction in even the slightest and most obscure ways. Also, for better or worse, each of you PM’s have a boss as well. What messages are you sending them?
First let’s start with the positive. In project management, we often talk about stakeholders, sponsors, and senior management support. Are you conveying your appreciation for your senior managers’ support for your projects? Without belittling your teams’ or your own contributions to the project’s success, do you realize that all may have been for naught without the strong support of your top management? More importantly, does senior management know that you know this? It is a careful balance between “sucking up” and giving credit and respect where it is due. You will find that balance on an individual level and within your organization. The important point is that it is consistent. Across all of your actions and statements, to your friends and to your enemies, it is important to send a consistent message at all times.
On the flip side, let’s consider the alternative. First, the subtle ways your actions can be misinterpreted. If, for instance some of your words or actions have placed a glimmer of doubt in the minds of your senior management. This glimmer will taint their viewpoint on many of your actual words and actions. Statements you make may be taken with a grain of salt or actions you take may be interpreted in a more negative way than you had intended. Simply because of the frame of mind that you allowed to be introduced. Second, the risk of an inconsistent message. Many of us may say one thing and mean the other, most commonly, we may verbalize the company line publically, but in semi-private conversations and in many of our not so private actions we are telling others that we are not aligned with the company on this topic.
Not only will your team pick up on this in a heartbeat, but so will management. You’re not fooling a soul so you are probably better off to be as transparent as possible.
If you are doing a good job as a project manager, you are accepting responsibility for failure, taking constructive criticism to heart to lead to meaningful change, and celebrating your projects’ successes as a function of your team’s individual contributions. Humility in general, I believe is an important trait for a successful project manager. For every story of a selfless leader, there are ten of the arrogant, self-centered PM who is quick to blame and even quicker to take credit.
In this post, however, I want to take a moment to encourage all PM’s to look inward once again and this time with a more congratulatory approach. In our incessant efforts to improve, exceed expectations and succeed we can get a little light on our own perspectives related to achievement. This isn’t to say that we should rest on our laurels or become complacent in any respect. In fact for many, that desire or competitive spirit or simply passion is what must be stoked to reach our potential. However like refreshing a resume after a major project closeout or prior to an interview, it is just as important personally to take stock in our achievements as it is to applaud and praise our team members.
So take a break today, if even for a moment and reflect this week on your journey. All of the obstacles, milestones and successes you have experienced over the past weeks, months and years. Are you giving yourself enough credit? At least personally? Life will not be getting any easier, but you wouldn’t have it any other way. What’s just as important is that you take a step back once in a while and recognize that even though the treadmill keeps spinning faster and faster, that you are now sprinting and many of your colleagues are still thinking about breaking into a jog.
WORK HARD AND KEEP IT UP!
Many of you started as interns or have worked your way up through the ranks to where you are professionally today. Still more of you have moved companies for a promotion, changed careers significantly or climbed the ladder with leaps and bounds. Good for you. Today I wanted to offer an opportunity to take a step back a little and spend some time in those long forgotten roles or positions never experienced.
As with many great suggestions within the PMBOK or other pieces of advice out there for the project manager, time often can be the great eroder of these opportunities. There is just never enough time to put the top priorities on hold for those which might add value but are truly unnecessary. For many of us who maybe didn’t climb every rank with our organization one by one, taking a step back is a tall order logistically. However, for every ounce of benefit per minute such an experience may offer you, I propose that it is actually undervalued by half without taking into account the value gained from those you hope to lead.
Having an opportunity, or rather making an opportunity to experience a day (or preferably more) in the life of one of your team members is worth every minute! You will learn more about how what the project constraints mean to these folks and how changes ripple through their purview. You will a more robust understanding of what it takes to reach these milestones which you arrogantly impose on your staff. Most importantly, if you truly embrace this opportunity, you will gain respect from your team members.
Not because you are trying to better yourself or because they feel like you have improved your understanding of what goes into making a better product, but selfishly (as we all are) they will feel like you now have a firsthand appreciation for how hard their days are. Ideally, you will gain a tremendous amount of understanding (and empathy) and your team will gain respect for you due to:
- Your willingness to TAKE the TIME
- Their perceived vindication
Just by taking the time, you show these team members that you feel what they do is important and hopefully, they feel like that your experience has proven to you that what they do is truly difficult and their resistance to change is justified.