Author Archives: Kimi Ziemski, MBA, PMP, CSM

8000 Risks – Really?

In his great book “The Body” Bill Bryson explores all of the amazing things that, together, comprise our bodies – but not necessarily us. If you touch on life, death will also be a topic and he quotes a very impressive document* in telling us that there are ‘slightly more than eight thousand’ things that can kill us.

Eight thousand.  Now THAT is a risk manager’s nightmare.

Yet, in every project, we know – we know – that there will always be threats we cannot mitigate.  We also know – we know – that there are opportunities we will not be able to take advantage of.

This can make it easy to slip oh-so-gently into an attitude of reactive risk management.

You can address this concern in a leadership driven project management© approach more easily than some others –

  • Model behavior and decisions that reinforce the importance of risk management – both threats and opportunities. How? Make it a part of the conversation, make it safe to bring up concerns or suggestions.
  • Encourage the team members who have a reasoned approach. We can’t always do anything about 8000 risks but a reasoned approach includes prioritization – a thoughtful assessment of probability and impact and timing.  Is this a risk that will have its greatest probability now or later?  If now, support your teams in acting upon it.  If later, record and retain the information so you can address it later.

Any other suggestions folks?

If you want to learn more about how a leadership driven project management© approach can move the needle on your teams’ culture and productivity!

*The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems compiled by the World Health Organization.

Are Your 2020 Resolutions Mean to You?

Theme: Compassion

IDEO published an article called “Company Say, Company Do” about how the language we use affects the way that we behave – and therefore promotes or XXX the culture of our organization.

Don’t you think this probably happens on a personal, individual level as well?

In my new year’s message I wished everyone compassion, courage, comfort and curiosity – and stressed that we deserve compassion ourselves as well.  So, examine your intentions for the coming year – are they supportive or corrective? Are they encouraging you or mean to you?

Leadership driven project management is as much about the way you lead as the way your team manages the project. Interested in an assessment to establish the baseline of how your team currently operates, your team’s current culture? We’d love to offer you a free survey!

If you want to read IDEO’s full article you can find it here.

Culture by Choice

They say that everybody needs a hobby.  A colleague claims that one of my hobbies is kind of a guilty pleasure.

Because project failures fascinate me. Not, may I point out, in the way we tend to slow down by a car accident to see the crushed bumpers and crumpled car doors. Mostly I like to stop so I can hunt through the rubble to see how things might have turned out differently. Of course, there’s another prize in this treasure hunt – were there moments when this mess could have been averted? How can we recognize these moments so that there’s no ‘next time’?

Sometimes you just have to face an uncomfortable reality.  Project rescue becomes necessary not because you have a bad project or bad team, but because your team has a cultural environment that stymies rather than supports. And when the team’s environment gets in their way the project is way more likely to jump the track than follow the route to success.

You might be thinking ‘WHAT cultural environment?’

Well, that’s kind of the point.

There is always a team culture – an environment and unspoken ground rules that are specific to how that project team works on that project.  And even if you don’t carefully craft and nurture one, you’ll still get one. What are the odds you will get what you need from that accidental culture?

When we are called in to help a team rescue a project, we start with a diagnostic survey and series of interviews to discover the root cause. Sometimes you need new eyes, and while we’re looking around, we move right past the symptoms. Don’t get me wrong -  they’re interesting – sometimes a bit scary, but somewhere in there is a root cause (or two!) that’s responsible for the problem.

Find, then confirm, the root cause(s). THEN the team, with a bit of support, works to regain ground, whether it means some training, individual coaching, or even facilitating a re-launch of the project.

Now, you might think that we’d immediately start training people on our Key Success Parameters but no.

The secret power of a leadership driven project management approach lies in the interconnections between each of the seven parameters – each parameter is an element of higher performing teams and their cultures.  It’s the way they work in concert with each other that drives the evolution of teams into ensembles.

The debriefings we conduct with leaders are focused on what they need to do differently to get the result they want. And then we show them how to take this into other projects going forward.

This means when we work with every level of stakeholder - from sponsors to technologists, this is how the team develops a more productive cohesion.  We don’t necessarily rescue their project.  We help them rescue their project. They learn – and sometimes relearn – how to strengthen their ability to avoid the same kind of situation.  Instead, they learn ways to work together to create fewer cycles, stronger deliverables, and shorter schedules.

By doing this, the project is rescued, the team is stronger – and (shhhhhh – don’t spread it around) the new and reshaped team culture will begin advancing the entire culture of the organization - one team at a time.

If you are interested in starting the conversation let us know and we’ll arrange for your team to take a complimentary survey – have a great week!

Human Kevlar

Human Kevlar

Think of an ideal team environment. Got something?

I suspect we can all come up with a physical environment conducive to great teamwork. But have you thought of the ideal psychological environment?

Both are necessary and yes, both are crucial.

As Project Manager, you have to do your very best to keep the team working smoothly and on schedule. Part of that task is protecting them from the sound and occasional fury from the client.

Every project has its challenges and it’s your job to ensure the project team is able to keep working without distraction and unnecessary stress.

As Project Manager, I am the one wearing the Human Kevlar Vest. I take the incoming fire from the client and mediate any issues.

Do I leave the project team in the dark about the issues? No, of course not. But I distill the issues down and, if necessary, suggest a shift in direction or adjustments. And I manage to do that without making the hairs on their collective heads stand up.

Protecting your team from the client is a good practice. So why isn’t it done more often?

I think I know why. It’s lonely being the only one communicating with the client. It can be frustrating not being able to share it with the very people who understand.

Find some colleagues outside the team circle to vent with: maybe some fellow Project Managers. Your cat or dog would do fine, in a pinch. Anyone really but your project team.

Do not throw them off their game. They need to focus on the actual work without histrionics undermining their progress. And unfocused stress can throw a spanner into the engine, shifting team dynamics and as such, workflow. In short, it can have long-term disastrous effects on the project.

If I take all the client’s issues and frustrations and spew them directly back at the project team, I am essentially abdicating my role as a leader. They don’t need to know every little comment or concern expressed at a client meeting. Breaking down the wall between client and project team creates an environment where the focus is lost and the project shifts based on the whims of nervous clients.

You’re the leader. You take the hits, protect your team while moving the product forward with client suggestions and adjustments.

Do you wear a Human Kevlar Suit? If not, maybe it’s time to get suited up….

What better way than to rev up your leadership approach? or call 925-639-4564 – let’s talk about the next step.

Project Managing the Holidays…

Project Managing the Holidays...

It’s upon us. The beginning of the holiday season. A long weekend with family, friends and even a few in-betweens!

If you’re the one who lost the family coin toss and face a throng of your loved humans at the door, then your project management skills are going to come in handy.

You are not going to do it all. No way. You’re going to manage it!

The time-honoured parallel path method of project management is a great skill to call upon. Ask everyone to take on a task suitable to their skills, then leave them to it.

Okay, it may not be that easy with Uncle Rob and his arthritis and Aunt Lucy with her bad leg but you get the idea.

You’ve given the potential turkey gobbling guests jobs. Now trust them. Do not give them new directions or interfere with their tasks. Just leave them the hell alone! They’re capable people!

It’s like an Instant Pot or any slow cooker for that matter. You put the ingredients in and turn it on. Every time you crack open the pot, you stop the process and have to reset it. And don’t even think about adding new ingredients. That slows the process entirely.

Being an exceptional project manager is sometimes about what you don’t do as much as what you do.

Sure, you hire a team, assign roles, set a timeline, deliverables and such. Those are the basics.

If you develop a team and their professional relationships are clicking, then you have to do something that seems counter-instinctive. You have to have the discipline to step back and let the team congeal and work together.

Sound easy? Well, it isn’t. But it calls on your skills as a project head far more than just routine pushing, cajoling and repeating.

Let me be specific. Increasingly I want teams to use peer review as part of their process on a constant and ongoing basis. To be realistic, I want them to do it on an informal basis at first and then develop the skill so they perform it in a non-threatening way.

I introduce it to them in one of the first few meetings we have and hope that a few of them commit to trying it. I monitor the first few reviews to guide them and add pointers and such.

Crucially I don’t chase them around to be in on every single damn review session! To be successful, they have to integrate it into their development process. I’m not going to be around all the time and for good reason. I have to let them evolve and work with this on their own.

They know I'm around but they want to develop an autonomy of their own. No one wants the teacher coming in to mediate every issue that arises for a very simple reason. They may not like the outcome!

You built this team: trust that you did a good job and let them work together with the mechanisms you put in place. Teams have organic energy all their own. Mess with it and you can ruin it.

Just let it be.

This isn’t about the team, it’s about your leadership. You have to be sure enough of your leadership and skill at building the team to know when you’re not needed. Teams want to work and move a project forward. Trust that your presence is felt. They know where you are when they need you. But they just may work better if you give them the room to work together.

During a speech at the Harvard Business School in 2015, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said: “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence."

As I said at the beginning, leadership is as much about what you don’t do as what you do. Trust yourself by trusting your leadership skills. And trust the team.

But back to the turkey crew. You’ve got the skills to turn them into a team! You’ve got this and crucially, they do too! Trust them!

Have a great Thanksgiving holiday – and if you don’t celebrate the holiday? Here’s to a terrific start to the holiday season!

If the crew-to-team-to-ensemble development pattern sounds intriguing give us a shout – – we’d love to have that conversation with you.

Upcoming Events

  • Strategic Planning in the Federal Environment April 7, 2020 – April 8, 2020 Session no longer open for registration Confirmed 26 March 2020
  • Culture by Choice : Productivity by Design April 13, 2020 at 1:00 pm – 4:30 pm Private event
  • How Important IS your Statement of Work? April 15, 2020 – April 17, 2020 Private client engagement
  • Customer Service - Critical Support April 20, 2020 at 1:00 pm – April 21, 2020 at 8:00 pm