Running Project Management workshops, I turn a few heads by suggesting additional skill sets for Project Managers.
Negotiations, Public Speaking and Sales usually don’t show up as required skills for Project Managers. They should.
Consider this: Project Leaders have to deal with conflict – in the team and with the stakeholder community. It’s to be expected. Bright people have various ways of communicating with others and, since that means you, it means you need to be ready to take on the role of peacemaker.
Conflict resolution is negotiation. Getting people to agree to a way forward is negotiation. And, let’s face it, you know how important it is to ensure a project stays on track.
The bottom line is this: Enhancing your team’s skill levels is a key part of being a strong leader. Adding negotiation to their array of skills is essential to their development as a team and your skill at managing.
Your team is the most valuable aspect of every project. Tapping into their growth potential is key to smoothing the bumps on the road to completion.
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What is the foundation for your leadership’s strength?
Recently there was a splash in the news about someone whose leadership is based in fear. People were informed that their jobs were on the line if they sided with facts and science over statements – true or not – based on the source of those statements.
If that person’s leadership is founded on fear of consequences if crossed there will continue to be strongly worded editorials and quietly expressed concern about the impact this will have.
So what is your leadership founded on?
KSP’s leadership driven project management is founded on the principle that leadership of any project team can be based on many different things. We suggest a basis of mutual trust and the establishment of safety will, in the end, be more productive – and therefore more profitable – than a basis of fear and negative consequences.
A common cause for resource conflict lies in understanding the answer to a deceptively simple question: how much is enough?
A staff member may become an overachiever in an attempt to please his or her boss, or to satisfy their own pride by applying ‘more’ to a project than it deserves.
An electrical engineer may try to make an amplifier “just a bit more sensitive,” or an IT specialist may keep working to get a few more messages per second out of a processor. These are both examples of work that doesn’t deliver any appreciable benefit to the company.
A good project manager must know when to push for more performance and when to stop and move onto the next activity. This type of judgement call is how organizations’ financial and marketplace health either thrive or start a downward spiral.
Measurements and metrics offer everyone clear guidelines for balancing project objectives.
When you offer clear and specific metrics, you enhance the project designer’s ability to develop a project plan that supports the organization.
A favorite framework that accommodates the iterative approach of Agile or Scrum lays out three achievement levels for organizational or project objectives. These include: minimum, target, and stretch metrics as defined below:
Minimum acceptable metrics tell project designers the lowest acceptable value for an objective. They may drop to this measurement under pressure to achieve balance in other areas. By definition, if the project or product cannot meet this minimum criterion, the project should be rejected or abandoned.
The target metric represents the strategic plan’s goals for the area. Once this target is achieved, project designers can focus on other areas. The target metric is the normal, steady-state metric portfolio and project designers should attempt to achieve it.
Stretch metrics are objectives the organization strives to achieve to capture innovative ideas or unplanned opportunities. Frequently, these may represent upper limits that the project designer should not exceed to prevent overloading the resource pool. Achieving stretch metrics should not be the norm. If every project designer attempted to achieve stretch metrics, resource shortages would impair the chances of strategic success.
This model can be employed for all of the categories of objectives: schedule, cost, resource, technical, and quality.
Establishing a framework for balanced objectives allows you to distribute resources based on strategic direction, keeping the entire organization moving ahead.
A company has only so many resources. A good project manager ensures that resources saved in one area are more effectively used in another.
While the Project Manager oversees and manages the big picture, the Team Leader deals with the nuts and bolts. By being more involved in the day to day work, the Team Leader also develops a more direct knowledge of the personalities of both the team members and the outside sources and conditions that may positively or negatively impact the end product.
Having had the experience of working in both positions in a large corporation, I can speak with some confidence as to the differences and similarities between the two.
As a team leader I was an integral, working member of the team. I was their first “line of defense” and the buffer between them and the project manager and the stakeholders. It was my job to keep them on track, to praise when needed and to escalate issues when it appeared deliverables may be impacted. I felt it was very important, particularly as a woman in a technical field at that time, to maintain a “just one of the guys” attitude with my team. This made it easier for them to be comfortable coming to me with issues. It was my responsibility to make sure the issues were escalated to the Project Manager and also to suggest possible ways in which they could be resolved and determine the cost, if any, associated with those resolutions.
I knew the strengths and weaknesses of each of my team members. Who would enjoy and excel at a knotty problem. Who could quickly crank out code. Who got bored once a solution was found and was then eager to go to the next challenge. Who hid their lack of confidence by using jargon in meetings with the stakeholders. With this knowledge I could juggle and monitor assignments to allow them to excel in their tasks, increasing the likelihood for overall project success.
By knowing and treating the team members as individuals, as people, the team developed a tightly knit bond which was evident in their production.
As a team leader I was still able to remain “in the trenches”, helping with debugging, overseeing testing, and picking up some coding when needed.
Once in the Project Manager role my concentration was on the bigger picture of the entire project’s progress. The Team Leader dealt with the “nuts and bolts” and had more one-on-one contact with each member of the team. While I relied on the Team Leader to identify issues and escalate them to me, it was ultimately my responsibility to make sure the team had what was needed to keep the project moving in a positive direction, whether it was answers from another area or additional personnel.
Sometimes a Project Manager may not have the hands on skill set that a Team Leader most likely has and as a result needs to rely on the Team Leader’s knowledge of the team’s makeup and the individuals’ strengths and weaknesses. Developing trust and confidence in the Team Leader is crucial to a successful project.
Returning to the earlier question of how do they relate? Using a very simplified football analogy, the Team Leader is the quarterback and the Project Manager is the head coach. Both must exhibit leadership to different degrees and in different areas to lead the team to success.
Flying is simply part of how I “commute” to work. Sometimes, just like on highway 88 in Illinois or 101 in California, you can run into really interesting examples of human behavior.
In Los Angeles, the other day, I had an opportunity to witness some of it.
At the rental car return 7 of us, then 11 of us, were waiting for the shuttle to take us to the airport terminal. Then it was 12 of us. One of the twelve was quite vocal about the annoyance this was causing her. Her voice, her complaints, resonated with most of us. Then she kept demanding answers from a manager who didn’t have any answers.
Another car rental company’s shuttle driver approached the drop off area for a second time, assessed the situation and chose kindness.
“I’ll take you,” he offered. “Come on – I have a couple of people waiting to get back to the airport that I need to pick up around the corner then I can take all of you.”
We swarmed down to his bus and, with many “thank you’s!” we boarded.
Along the way, the same traveler suggested he change his route – it would, she asserted, be faster. He politely declined; he had a route mandated by his boss. On the third time she tried to redirect him, he asked, looking up at the ceiling of the bus, “do you want to drive too?”
I was one of the last people he dropped off. I gave him a tip as a thank you for going out of his way. He was pleasantly surprised and, almost as an afterthought, said that this was the only tip he had been offered.
I was embarrassed on behalf of my fellow travelers. I muttered something about how I appreciated what he did and walked into the terminal, shaking my head.
Many of the travelers that driver helped out were easily wearing more on their backs than he would make in a week. But that was not the heart of my distress.
What really bugged me was this:
Have we become so entitled that we believe that saying ‘Thank you’ to people covers it all? – even when people go out of their way? That’s it?
I hope not. In this increasingly divided economic reality fewer and fewer people struggle to get to the end of the month without facing hard budget choices. I mean hard decisions like “how much can I spend on groceries without having to call a few friends to see if we can carpool to work?” It may mean going in a couple of hours early or staying late but it would save critical money.
I don’t mean choices of “I really wanted to buy those shoes, that suit, that backpack, but I’m also saving for a Caribbean cruise so maybe I should hold off”.
When you choose not to be kind or generous in return for treatment that has been kind and generous it tells me something. It suggests that you are pretty sure that you are more important than they are.
Are you? Are you just in too much of a hurry to turn your attention away from yourself to a gesture of appreciation?
So what is it that keeps civility and good behavior going? Sometimes it’s the way we were raised. Sometimes it’s the surety of a “heaven or hell” type of choice. Sometimes it’s being aware that the extreme focus on whatever we care about in that moment is making us blind to our fellow human beings. And, while we may not always realize it, sometimes it’s our mirror neurons kicking in when we are around civil and well-behaved people.
The scary part is that those mirror neurons also pick up on patterns of behavior that, if we really think about it, we don’t actually want to adopt. So I am taking a stand.
I don’t waste time and energy being frustrated by people who are self-centric, dismissive of the needs of others, or simply oblivious to the guidelines of ethical and humane treatment of others. I have decided, instead, to view those experiences as object lessons.
Your example reaches further than you may realize – you don’t get to choose how many people your behavior will affect but you do get to choose what effect you make.
It only takes a moment, a few dollars you may not even miss by the end of the day, to show appreciation for service you’ve received that was above and beyond.
Reach for the ‘anti-goal’. I take it as an example of what I do not want to become – not even accidentally – and commit myself, as I will likely have to do a number of times, again, to a standard of kindness and generosity I can be proud of….even if it might get kind of lonely.