Author Archives: Kimi Ziemski, MBA, PMP, CSM

Align Projects with Organizational Goals?!?

misaligned projects

Align Projects with Organizational Goals?!?

Aligning projects with organizational objectives seems like a basic practice, really kind of intuitive, right? And yet, how many organizations do or even encourage it?

It seems odd on the surface given that we easily understand that badly aligned tires on our vehicles can cost us fuel, create steering struggles, not to mention causing damage to the tires.

Is it because people don’t always understand how the misalignment of any project from its objectives affects a company? As with the tire analogy, misaligned projects waste valuable resources and wear out staff. The metaphor falls apart once we think about how people are not tires. Let’s face it – tires can be replaced without having to re-engineer the car. People leaving? It can cost companies a lot more than just money. Think of the institutional knowledge that they take with them and the work delays while you’re trying to find and hire their replacement.

Your organization is a suite of systems, structures, people and processes all operating at multiple levels simultaneously.  Cultural, political, regulatory, financial, technical, and social considerations need to be carefully coordinated to keep everything headed in the right direction.

Alignment can get even more complicated when pet or political projects are pushed forward without clear and measurable organizational benefit.

Conflicting organizational objectives can also make it worse. Think about how the Sales department’s objectives might be different from Manufacturing’s goals, and how Accounting may disagree with both. And let’s face it, even the most dedicated folks are faced with distractions as daily or weekly activities wield the tyranny of the urgent rather than importance. Higher-level organizational activities should be getting their attention, but how?

Then there is the in-fighting, political positioning, and the everlasting struggle for resources – both human and physical – that interfere with even the most capable of project leaders.

But, and bear with me, here’s the thing. A measure of in-fighting and the battles for project positioning can be a good thing if managed well. Setting up inter-divisional competition can be a very effective way of keeping managers bringing forth their best while moving towards project alignment and organizational goals.

Regardless of how you generate new ideas or a better portfolio structure, successful project alignment relies on a minimum of these six factors:

  • Balanced, comprehensive objectives
  • Specific, long term objectives (you know, more than a year, durable through changes because it’s based on the cultural values)
  • Hierarchical framework
  • Measurable objectives
  • Stakeholder agreement
  • Environmental and organizational assumptions

An organization that focuses on these factors is well on the way to becoming a more productive company and radically reducing wasted time, talent, and finances.

The Wizard Behind the Curtain

The Wizard Behind the Curtain

Your Image and Its Effect on Good Project Leadership Focus

Project managers (PM) have an image problem. Many projects managers come out of the disciplines they now manage. Engineers become project managers of engineering projects. Systems architects become project managers of computer projects. They used to be subject matter experts (SMEs), but now they’re not. Now they manage, they lead.

The thing is, a PM’s primary strength and value comes from staying above the day to day implementation and keeping a perspective on progress.

The PM is the wizard behind the curtain. She has to be able to see when a project is in trouble and correct it as quickly and completely as possible.

Loads of people believe a person with the birds-eye view of everything should have plenty of extra time to take on some of the project tasks. That may sound good in theory but it’s a terrible practice.

For one thing, the project manager cannot be a subject matter expert (SME) in all aspects of the project. PMs and their leadership teams have to realize where their values lie – in leading the team.

If he is both team leader and task owner, the PM is managing himself in addition to the rest of the team. Aside from the added work, doing this is like self-medication. It yields spotty leadership and higher possibilities of bad task performance. It’s a bad idea.

When the PM is performing project activities, time and focus are diverted from their primary role in the team. And a team without leadership has a greater chance of going off the rails.

But let’s move our focus from the team for a minute. A big part of a PM’s role is managing the communications and expectations of the stakeholder community.

This is one of the most challenging, time-consuming, and risky aspects of project management.

Executive management and a good project sponsor can help or hinder the project manager’s ability to successfully execute the management of stakeholder relationships. Well defined processes, a positive corporate culture, and early stakeholder engagement allow project managers to spend more of their time managing the project rather than dealing with conflicting stakeholder expectations.

So what to do?

Get your stakeholders identified and aligned fast. Get clear about what the key stakeholders – and that includes your executive sponsor! – expects.  Check in with them because, well, change happens.

This way, you can keep a white-hot focus on managing the project and leading your team to success.

All the World is a Stage – with apologies to Shakespeare!

All the World is a Stage – with apologies to Shakespeare!

When you enter the world of project management you are taking on a world full of the kind of challenges that either keep you young or age you in a hurry – I like to think it’s done a little bit of both for me.

One of the things I love most about project management is that it is, fundamentally, a service profession. After all, nearly all of the projects we execute are in service of someone’s objective, someone’s target – and our own objectives and targets are tied up in helping them achieve those things. What we may be less aware of is how many people – our sphere of influence – can be affected by not just what we do but how we do it, who we talk with and how we interact with them.

This is not going to be another take on leading by example – although that is one of the central points of understanding your sphere of influence.  Instead we’re just going to start the conversation about it.

Your sphere of influence affects how you work as a project manager – a project leader – regardless of what your favorite approach is, your special gifts of team leadership or whichever specific area of project management is your passion. Are you a real fiend about schedules? Have you made a name for yourself balancing reality, risk and rationale to effectively manage project risk?

Your sphere of influence can really impact your work.  This is because your work is dependent upon the other people in your team as you travel together towards fulfilling those objectives and targets that others count on you for.

This illustrates how you can more accurately estimate your sphere of influence:

Picture a series of concentric circles.

In the center are all of the people that you’ll have direct contact with on a regular basis – you know, conversations, meetings, emails directly between the two of you or two or three of you.

In the next ring are those folks that you have a less direct level of contact with.  These are those people who might reasonably be called witnesses.  They’re in the room but not necessarily in the conversation.

The next largest ring has the people who are in direct contact with your direct contacts. It might also hold the people that you have immediate but indirect contact with. (Try saying that 3 times in a row – whew!)

If we want to, we can keep going and going – and in a world where so many people are connected on social media, whether or not they are connected emotionally, those circles can get pretty big and pretty crowded.

So let’s think about taking another look at how we know people, connect with people and are of service to people. Let’s be more present and aware of our potential impact.

Does this mean that you can’t be spontaneous? No – what it does mean is that you have a greater impact than you might have understood – it means that you can really affect so many. So cool – and, for the evolved leader, a great opportunity – a great responsibility.

How will you use your sphere of influence?

Connections – That Count

Connections – That Count

Recently I watched a TV show about people who have been separated by circumstance. In the present day, one of them is now actively looking to reconnect.  It got me thinking. Some of these connections were made due to circumstances and, in some cases, a series of accidental or coincidental events. We can never tell which meetings with which people will become large influences in our lives.

Many of us have loads of connections – especially when you add in social media. But which ones are those that truly count?

I believe there is more than a good business rationale for getting out there and making new connections.  But then I wondered, how many of us view networking events as dreadful or at least nerve racking? So many new people, so many conversation starters needed, and meetings with the hope of starting relationships with……..

There is a different dynamic to connections we make in person – and that means a difference in our level of comfort as we go out there and begin.  Still, take comfort – there are others out there that are also uncomfortable. You can, if you’re up to helping as one way of working out your own nervousness, help them feel more comfortable by approaching them first. You might even just say “Hi – I’m a little nervous and you seemed to be easy to talk with….I’m _______, and you are?” One of the most human instincts allowing us to connect to begin with just might be rooted in a gesture to help put someone else at ease – a real and human generosity.

In each of the TV show’s episodes recording the marvelous meetings that changed lives there was a lovely nugget – not one of these people who had such a profound impact thought of themselves as heroes or someone who was unusual.  Each person was someone who did what they thought was right, what they thought mattered because of the kind of person they felt themselves to be.

Who are you when you’re the best version of you?

Have you thought about and reconnected with people who have made a difference for you?

Yikes! Did I miss an announcement?!

Yikes!  Did I Miss an Announcement?!

Ok – the third or fourth time I get this kind of message, I stop thinking it’s a prank and by the end of the week I was truly puzzled.

What on earth were people asking me about?

Then it hit me.  Recently a post from one of the valued members of the KSP team, Vicki White, was published. It made a great point about how easily our habits of communication can actually shut people out – and I loved it!


Opening with “My husband owns” but – and here’s the kicker – without attribution (richly deserved) to highlight Ms. Vicki. Her name wasn’t to be found. Understandably, folks thought I had a new husband.  Those who know that I’ve been widowed for a time were sending messages – ‘Anything you’d like to tell me, hmmm?’

So – having the experience of painful irony – let me point out that sometimes our own enthusiasm for a message can actually create more confusion. It can also obscure the heart of what we are trying to get across.

Once more with feeling! Are your communications habits creating a bit more confusion than clarity?  Have a great weekend!



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