Saturday, March 30, 2013

Act now, time is limited and it's all in your mind!

I’ve come across this question posted on the Hub: “What are your thoughts about welcoming young talents/new talents in the field of project management?”

Because this question is very often asked, I have decided to share my thoughts, together with one of my colleagues' answer. Have a great Easter! And start doing something instead of waiting for someone to welcome you! Act now, time is limited and it's all in your mind!

Ian Whittingham, Programme Manager,Thomson Reuters: “This is a dilemma for many aspirants to the role of project manager.  But the important thing to remember is that a project manager is a role and not just a job.  I know that for practical (& HR) purposes project managers do the job of project managing.  But being a project manager is more about fulfilling that specialist role.  What this means is that in practice, someone who has "another" job can fill the role of project manager on a project.  I have seen this happen throughout my career, where a project gets started without a project manager being appointed and then someone steps into the role.  This is how so-called "accidental" project managers start their careers: they were doing another job and then found themselves doing the job of a project manager because no-one else was doing it. I know that today it is much harder to find opportunities to do that i.e. fill the role of a PM on a project as we are much more formal in how we structure and organize the projects we work on……”

I agree with Ian that a project manager is a role and not just a job and being a project manager is more about fulfilling that role. I’m an accidental project manager and when meeting people interested in pursuing pm career I always stress that I was not given my first project but had found it – knew how to complete a difficult activity, that no one wanted to do, used my good relationship with the client and motivated a team to work with me. 

I’ve read an interesting book on project management leadership: The Strategic Project Leader: Mastering Service-Based Project Leadership by Jack Ferraro, where the author explains 3 excuses why not to become a project leader: the lack of authority, the inability to lead and organizational resistance. And these excuses are usually rooted in fear. Let me quote the author’s advice here as I believe the same applies to a project manager role.

I Don’t Have Authority. Successful leaders do not attain their leadership positions by waiting for superiors to appoint them. Leaders don't wait for someone to tell them to lead. They start the process; reach for more responsibility, and create opportunities for themselves by serving the interests of others.

I Don't Have the Ability. Another common excuse is lack of leadership competencies. Some convince themselves their brain is not wired for leadership work. Fear is often at the heart of this excuse, unless one truly believes leaders are only born. Because leadership opportunities are abundant and come in all shapes and sizes, developing leadership competencies should be a life-long goal for any professional. Leadership competencies can be improved through the proper feedback mechanisms and use of emotional intelligence skills. The journey is unique since everyone has different formation experiences.

The Organizational Culture Must Change First. Some convince themselves the organizational culture will not allow them to be a successful leader even if they had the authority. Waiting for the organizational culture to change is too risky. Opportunities are floating past you every day, and you must act upon them. Organizational cultures are changed by change agents, who first transform themselves. People transform organizations; organizations don't transform people.”

Let’s come back to our question: how to become a project manager if I do not have experience in project management? Very often I hear this excuse: “Because I do not have project management experience I will not get a PM job” and “If I do not get a PM job I will not gain experience”. First thing comes to people’s mind is a vicious circle, so not much can be done. But if you really want something, first of all you need to stop thinking that way – similarly to leadership excuses this is only an excuse and is rooted in fear!

My advice would be:
Do not wait to be welcome? Instead:
  • Lead or sign up to be a member of a team other than your own that is working on an addressing a requirement, enhancing systems and processes, or meeting an objective.
  •  Work streams such as charity, diversity, green team and others create a great opportunity for future project managers - join and lead a project on their behalf!
  • Join local project management groups – find one in your area. That might be a local PMI chapter or other PM interest groups. Take part in PM events and projects!
I do not agree with Ian in this: “I know that today it is much harder to find opportunities to do that i.e. fill the role of a PM on a project as we are much more formal in how we structure and organize the projects we work on.” 

Look around, there are a lot of opportunities, just put some effort to find them. Be proactive, that’s one of the most important attributes of a successful Project Manager! Please note that all English Camps’ project managers and some other team members are certified now or to be certified soon (PMP or CAPM) and are in pm roles and mostly because they got involved in this charity initiative.

If you are from Tricity, you are lucky as you can join PMI Gdansk Branch now!  

Thursday, March 28, 2013

PM Take Aways from Progressteron

Last Sunday I was invited to the 27th edition of Progressteron – the development festival for women, to deliver a workshop on project management. This time (delivered a session during the previous edition) I have titled this 3 hour workshop: Project Management in a nutshell – a few planning tools. In 3 hours you cannot really learn much about project management, but hopefully at least I had managed to inspire and motivate the delegates (not only women, we had one man) to further learning and exploring. In this post I would like to share 3 take aways.

  1. Spend some time to discuss and agree your goal – remember it must be SMART!
As PMs we define goals/ objectives very often: project objectives, our personal goals etc? And we all know they need to be SMART.

Time bounded

Easy? It looks like, but in the reality it’s not so easy. And the project/ personal success very often depends on how we define and understand our objectives. Well done the teams – your project goals were very smart, even though we started from something like: motivate…, develop an innovative product (not sure what we mean by “innovative” and is anyone going to buy it?) “,etc. And finally the consensus was reached: “Increase the profit of the English School to 20K PLN / month within one year”. Very smart, isn’t it?

What a coincidence? Just have received an e-mail from The PM Coach with the new post: “5 Project management secrets You Can Use”. And the goal is the first secret: “No goal, no success”. Need to mention  that had drafted my post a day before. Maybe it’s not the coincidence? Just a proof that the goal is so important!

  1. Stakeholders? Who are they? What are their roles – responsibilities & authorities?
Identifying, analysing and then managing project stakeholders (simply keeping them up to date and happy) is another so obvious thing, but not really taken care of. In my 15 years' project management career I’ve noticed that many organizations neglect it and the result is the project failure. Have you got your Communication Plan ready?

And last, but not least is  what I always stress during my sessions. Believe or not, but this is also one of the 5 secrets!

  1. Projects are people – not equipment, materials or PERT diagrams!!!
I cannot dare to quote PM Coach here: “It’s not about projects, it’s about people.
This is one the biggest secrets of project management. Technical knowledge and certifications are important, but they are also secondary. Project management is people management. If you are already helping, pushing, and herding groups of people towards a single goal, then congratulations: you already are a project manager.”

And again I agree with PM Coach: “While project management does employ specialized knowledge and strict procedures, it uses key principles that everyone can use, regardless of your industry”.

To summarize: No matter if you plan your wedding, holidays, a new house, a family weekend or a construction or a software project use planning techniques and have fun!

Friday, March 8, 2013

How much risk should we take?

I’ve just finished reading the book by David Hillson and Ruth Murray-Webster “A Short Guide to Risk Appetite”. This post dedicating to all Women around the World. Wish you to make good decisions in risky and important situations! Happy International Women Day!

Ruth Murray-Webster is a highly-qualified and respected business consultant, with broad experience in managing organizational change in a cross-cultural context and across a wide range of sectors, and a particular interest in the human aspects of effective change management.

I really like her concept of a hamburger expressed in a book from the same series: “ A Short Guide to Facilitating Risk Management” written together with Penny Pullan (another great expert on risk management). They propose a burger model for facilitating the risk process where the meat represents the work content (the actual risks), the bun – facilitation process and some lettuce and slices of tomato represent the knowledge of risk management and the ability to challenge risks. Great risk facilitators stay vegetarian. They focus on the facilitation process and the risk management process, but stay out of the “meat” of the work content.

After a short presentation of these two great ladies let’s introduce David Hillson, a recognized global authority on risk management, with a reputation and track record of blending leading-edge thinking with practical expert application.

And for me David is the risk management Guru, number one in the World. I can even call him my mentor – have a chance to meet him in person on a few occasions and now follow him virtually (webinars, presentations, interviews) and through reading his books. What I like the best about him is his talent to talk about complicated concepts in a simple way – watch the interview recording and you will understand what I mean.

SWOT - my first lesson by David
When I teach risk management I always quote David or present his concepts. What do you think about this risk definition? Great, isn’t it?
risk = uncertainty that matters (can affect project objectives)
Hillson and Murray-Webster, 2007

I always try to encourage people to indentify positive and negative risks, as they both matter and need to be managed proactively. I’ve used the word try because have failed on a few occasions.  
And without his risk meta language I would not be able to explain the difference between risk, risk source and risk impact, as it’s easy to confuse risk with cause or effect.

Example: The project is using the new technology (cause/fact). This means we might not be able to assess the project duration properly (uncertainty/ risk). The project would/could take longer than the Sponsor expects (effect/possible result). Helpful? I think so, especially for less experience PMs. I have seen many risk registers with wrongly defined risks – for sure these people did not know the risk meta language.

Let’s come back to the “A Short Guide to Risk Appetite” book, which I recommend for everyone, not only for Project Managers. We all need to answer “How much risk should we take?” and other risky questions in our lives.We can apply the same concept of decision taking, no matter if this is “My decision”, the “Operational Decision”, the “Strategic Decision” or the “Community Decision”. In the book a practical RARA Model has been presented, which explains the complementary and crucial roles of Risk Appetite and Risk Attitude.

When I started reading this book I got lost with all these regulators’, standard bodies’, professional associations’ and consultants’ definitions of risk appetite and other risk–related concepts – believe me, most of them very confusing. Almost wanted to give up, but because trust David decided to continue. And do not regret it, as the authors walked me through all these complicated concepts in a simple manner, giving so many examples, and in the end of the journey I was able to explain it myself. And what’s the most important I not only know the definitions but also understand how to use it in my life, so my next risky decision will be taken with the support of RARA.
  • How much risk do we usually like to take? = Risk propensity (skłonność in Polish) – tendency of an individual to take risk in general / Risk culture – shared beliefs, values and knowledge of a group about risk.
  • How much risk do we want to take? = Risk appetite – the tendency of an individual or group to take risk in a given situation.
  • How much risk can we take? = Risk capacity – ability of an entity to bear risk, quantified against objectives.
  • How much risk do we think we are taking? = Risk perception
  • How much risk do we think we should take?= Risk attitudethe chosen response (that’s the main difference between attitude and appetite, which in not chosen) to a given risky situation, influenced by risk perception
  • How much risk we are taking? = Risk exposure
Some more definitions:
Risk preferences = those aspects of an individual’s personality and motivation that influence their risk propensity
Risk thresholds = quantified measures that represent upper and lower limits of acceptable uncertainty against each objectives.
Risk tolerance = the acceptable variance around an objective (an alternative expression of risk thresholds)

Hopefully this book will help you to make good decisions in risky and important situations!