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It’s About Risk; NO it’s About Communication

project-management-proactive-mindWhen I teach project management and I’m talking about risk management with my class I tell them that project management is risk management. When I talk to them about communication management I tell them that project management is really focused around communications. Of course after I have told them both of these things I have to joke with them about being schizophrenic. I don’t think I am. (Would I know if I were?) The truth is I want everyone to consider walking around with a mindset of thinking, “What could happen?” When your team member tells you they’re going to finish an activity early don’t just thank them and move on, think “What does that mean, what could happen because this piece of work is completed early?” If it’s on the critical path of course it means we have the potential to complete early. If it is not on the critical path you have the opportunity to take that resource and perhaps place them on a critical path activity or have them help someone else who’s having a difficult time. In that way you are practicing risk management because you are recognizing an opportunity. In the same way if a team member approaches you to tell you that it looks like some materials that have been ordered are going to be late you want to think to yourself  “What could happen because these materials are going to be late, what can be done about this?” I really am asking you to develop a proactive mindset. Another way that I say this is when you have a colleague who is managing projects and it looks like her projects always go very smoothly, you might be tempted to think that she always gets the easy projects to manage. That is probably not the case. Your colleague is probably very good at risk management and she walks around with a proactive mindset. She makes it look easy because she has identified and determined responses for many threats and opportunities that her project team will face. Now what does any of this have to do with communications management? What good is a completed risk register if nobody sees it? Not only do you want to walk around with a proactive mindset you also want to add to that phrase, so that the full sentence is, “What could happen and who needs to know about it?” There you are, on a job interview... Your potential future employer looks across at you and asks you what is the most important Body of Knowledge? You can say all of them. But this person is really looking for you to make a decision. Go ahead and start out by saying that the PMBOK Guide has many important processes and that all of them should be considered when running a project. Then narrow your focus and pick just one. If you could only use one Body of Knowledge on your project which one would it be and why? Make a strong case for your Body of Knowledge. Many times the interviewer has a preconceived notion as to what they want you to say. Often someone is looking for you to say either risk management or communications management. You can try to second-guess the interviewer and give the answer you think that they want. Or you can just do an excellent job with your answer. It’s best to just give your answer, that’s where you will be the most convincing and authentic. I still remember an interview where I was asked which Body of Knowledge I thought was the most important. I responded with communications management because I felt that so many projects suffered communication breakdowns. My interviewer listened to me carefully. When I finished he told me that he thought risk management was the most important and he told me why. We talked a little bit more and the interview ended. On the way home I told myself  “Well there’s one job I won’t be getting.” Guess what? I did get the job. I got the job because that particular manager needed someone to balance him out. He needed someone who came with more of a communications perspective, to balance out his more scientific risk-based approach. Now you see why it’s so important to just tell the truth. As much as you may want that job offer, you really don’t want to work someplace where you don’t fit in. Cheers, Margaret
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How to Lead Like it Matters

I received a copy of this article and I thought, “There are some good ideas here, maybe I should write something about this.” Then I realized, I don’t need to write something about this, I just need to share it with you. Enjoy!

How to Lead Like it Matters

by Roxi Bahar Hewertson Lead like it mattersWhether you’re a manager, executive, or CEO, your leadership style matters. Whether you’re running a large global firm, a small project team or an entrepreneurial venture, it’s the way you communicate and connect to other people that can, and will, make or break your success. The key lies with making each and every connection count—to develop and leverage your skills and play on your strengths—in order to lead like it matters…because it does.

There are problems, pressures, and pain points that plague managers at every level—and most of them are solvable. Understanding that each and every leadership choice you make has some kind of a ‘ripple effect’ throughout your team and organization at large is critical to your success. As leaders, we need to know how to ensure that the ripples we make have the intended impact, whether it’s running meetings, handling conflicts, making confident decisions, or instituting needed changes in the workplace. When leaders approach and execute effective leadership correctly, they often gain greater control of their organization’s future, build highly productive teams, and can institute changes that “stick.

In my book, “Lead Like it Matters...Because it Does," I focus on these 4 core tenets of leadership that, when mastered, best assure the desired “ripple effect” that can revolutionize the way one leads and succeeds: 1. Personal Mastery: It’s imperative to discover exactly who you are as a leader and draw on your strengths to influence others—to know and grow the leader within. Personal mastery is discovering who YOU are as a leader, your purpose, values, and vision, how you affect others, your style, preferences, strengths and challenges—it all starts with you.  

Begin by: getting direct feedback from your boss and anonymous feedback from your peers, direct reports, and even clients about your leadership style and impact.  Then you can be certain of how you are perceived in your role and discern what’s working for you and what’s not. Play to your strengths and work with trusted colleagues and/or a business or executive coach to mitigate your blind spots and challenges. 2. Interpersonal Mastery: A powerful leader has excellent communication and people management skills that engage, motivate, and inspire employees. These leaders know how to listen deeply and communicate effectively with others, how to constructively provide feedback (including to one’s boss), and how to manage conflict successfully. 

Begin by: practicing deep listening as if your life depends on it. Most of us know how in theory, so be mindful and tactically apply it. At the end of every conversation, ask the person talking to you if they felt fully heard and understood by you, and then ask them why they felt that way. It’s also a good idea to practice demonstrating empathy in every conversation, no matter what the subject. 3. Team Mastery: The most successful leaders harness the power of group dynamics to build stronger, more productive teams. No matter why a team is formed or who is on the team, the “not to’s” of building and maintaining effective teams do not vary. Leaders who want to succeed need their teams to succeed. And of course, teams are made up of individuals.  The reality is, people are messy and groups are messy.  It takes awareness, attention, time, and skill to get the best out of your teams.  And it’s worth every ounce of investment, when done well. Begin by: making the time to establish “ground rules” or “rules of engagement” for new or existing teams. These are the things that each team member NEEDS to feel safe, be fully heard, believe that they belong, and feel that what they have to offer matters to the leader and the other team members. With an established team, you might put this topic on the agenda as a simple “checking in on our team process,” “housekeeping” or “revisiting our team norms” line item. Employ whatever positioning work for you and your group. Then, make sure the group maintains accountability to the ground rules for themselves and each other to ensure the effort is not in vein. 4. Culture and Systems Mastery: Take the lead in assessing your organization and make the changes you need to succeed—on every level. To understand leadership we must understand the cultures operating around us because culture affects us much like the air we breathe, and it is almost as important to our well-being. An organization’s espoused values may or may not reflect the real operating culture of the organization. You need to know, not guess or project, what the culture really is and how it actually affects your people and overarching business results. Begin by: walking around the organization and really observing the lay of the land, as if you were in a foreign country. What language are they speaking; how are they dressed; what do their work “homes” look and feel like; how do different groups interact; how high or low is the smile meter around the workplace? This will get you started, but it certainly isn’t the whole story. For that, you have to delve deeper, and ask more questions. Just remember, never ask questions about the workplace if you are not prepared to hear the answers in a non-defensive manner or actually address issues brought to your attention. When leaders excel at these four core facets of effective leadership, they will reap quantifiable rewards, including, but limited to, increased employee engagement, reduced turnover, and enhanced productivity. No matter the decision at hand, whether cutting wasteful meetings, addressing conflict, or better aligning decisions with tactical business needs, each and every choice a leader makes will have a ripple effect. It’s the leader’s approach, attitude, and skills that will determine if the resultant effects of seemingly singular choices will be helpful or a hindrance as each one cascades through the system. Leadership authority Roxi Bahar Hewertson, CEO of Highland Consulting Group, Inc. and AskRoxi.com, brings over three decades of practical experience in the worlds of business, higher education and non-profits. She is an entrepreneur, consultant, speaker and author of the acclaimed book, “Lead Like it Matters...Because it Does " (McGraw-Hill October 2014) (www.tinyurl.com/leadlikeitmatters), which provides leaders with a step-by-step roadmap and practical tools to achieve great results. 

Source: 
http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/research/ExecutiveIntegration.pdf
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You SHOULD Know That

workplace-manager-employeeDo you ever feel like people give you too much credit for knowing things? These are the people who look at you and say, “But YOU should have known that!” Or the ever popular “I should not have to tell you that.” On a good day perhaps you just smile and nod or say, “Sorry.” On other days your response might be a bit stronger, “If I KNEW everything then I would KNOW the winning lottery numbers and I would not be standing here right now.” Perhaps it really is a compliment. Someone considers you to be knowledgeable. Or they believe that you know them so well that you can and should be able to guess what they are going to say or do. It might be that most of the time you are able to do exactly that. Subject matter expertise or strong working partnerships do not take the place of good clear communication. It is better to encourage your team members to tell you something you already know than it is for them to assume that you know. Of course that means when they do tell you something you already know you don’t cut them off by saying, “ I KNOW THAT!” This does not mean that your team members need to tell you everything. You do not need to be bombarded by information about coffee breaks and lunchtime and every detail of the project. What then, is the deciding factor? If something might change the course of the project that should be shared. If something might upset your customer or sponsor or other stakeholders that is something that should be shared. Whether you SHOULD know it or not. If there is an issue that requires resolution or the resolution to an issue causes risk or will lead to conflict, that should be shared. What exactly does ‘upset’ mean? What does ‘lead to conflict’ mean. This might be different for each of us. We each have a different tolerance level for surprises or for upset stakeholders or conflict. You do not want to assume that your team members know what they should tell you and they should not assume that you already know something. YOU want to teach them what they should tell you and in turn you want to make sure you do a good job sharing information with them. Let’s replace the assumption that someone SHOULD know something with the knowledge that they do actually know it. You know?  
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It’s a Plan NOT a Guarantee

“What is the point of all of these estimates and plans if you cannot promise me with 100% certainty that the project will complete by December 15th?” project-sponsorThis question came from the project sponsor. The team had just completed presenting their plan to him. He seemed happy enough, that is until he asked the question, “So you’re willing to guarantee me 100% that we will meet our target date of December 15?” As the project manager, Shane wanted to tell him yes. Of course he wanted to please his project sponsor and of course he was committed to meeting the date. But a 100% guarantee? Not with the type of risks he and his team had identified. Shane knew that to just say yes without emphasizing the risks to the schedule and budget would be wrong. Almost like a form of false advertising. Other project managers might have just gone ahead and said yes and engaged in that false advertising. But Shane had seen that backfire for others in the past. He knew that he would rather risk some annoyance upfront then to be accused of lying or making false promises later. He had also experienced the anger and disappointment that can come with issuing careless guarantees. Just last year he had a first hand encounter with false promises during a remodel to his house. It all could have been avoided if his contractor had presented a more truthful scenario. Instead Shane had been provided the most optimistic case, with no mention of risks or most-likely estimates. Carefully, Shane replied, "This is our plan for meeting the December 15th target date. We have every intention of hitting that date. The risks that we have shared with you represent some of the challenges, which would prevent us from meeting this date. The opportunities, which we have shared with you, if properly recognized can make it much more likely that we will hit the date. As the project progresses we will know. I will continually confirm our progress with you and continually assess our plan. I will include you in strategy discussions and you will not be blindsided." His sponsor stared at him for hours. Not really. His sponsor stared at him for about a minute. To Shane it felt like hours. Then his sponsor leaned back in his chair and said to him, “I don’t like it. I don’t like the idea that we could miss our date. But I do like the idea that you have a plan and that you know the challenges we face. And I especially like it that you told me the truth. I know there are no guarantees, and now I know you are the right person to run this project.”  
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KNOW the Rules, THEN Say NO to the Rules

Know the rules, then say no to the rulesHow do you teach people when it is acceptable to break or bend the rules? I will be the first to tell you; “If you ignore a best practice and your project does not go well, you need to go back and pay attention to the best practice.” I also know that those of you who experience success don’t always play by the book. You understand the rules and what the rules should represent. You know that navigating the rules and breaking the rules when necessary is an art, it is not a science. Try as I might to explain this to people, the truth is I can’t really teach you when to break the rules. Learning when to break the rules is not a function of intellect. It is a function of wisdom. Wisdom comes from experience and from how you learn from that experience. Consider the following stories. These stories come from Barry Schwartz and his discussion on our need for practical wisdom. (See: http://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_our_loss_of_wisdom) The job description for a hospital janitor is very detailed. There are many tasks. The tasks are probably what you would expect, sweeping floors, cleaning bathrooms, emptying trash, restocking shelves, dusting, the list goes on and on. All of the tasks described are for work that does not involve interaction with other people. It is as if the janitors could work completely alone. And yet there is an element of the job that involves people and how to deal with those people. It also involves breaking the rules. Consider these scenarios: A janitor cleans the floor of a comatose patient two times. He does this because the patient’s father did not see him clean the floor the first time and the father is angry because he believes his son’s room is not being kept clean. Another janitor skips vacuuming the visitor’s lounge. She does this because it is occupied by the family of a patient. This family has been in the lounge all night, waiting to hear about their loved one. She does not vacuum because they are all now finally sleeping. There is no part of the job description for the hospital janitor that discusses or teaches how to balance the work of cleaning against the art of compassion for hospital patients and guests. Some of the janitors would absolutely NOT clean the floor a second time to make an angry father feel better and many janitors absolutely WOULD vacuum around the sleeping family. The wise janitors understand when to follow their job description to the letter and when the rules just don’t make sense. Notice that the decision to break the rules stemmed from an understanding of the rules. It also stems from a respect for those rules. Neither of these janitors broke the rules because they thought the rules were unfair or because they were trying to be rebellious. They made a decision that was grounded in wisdom and compassion. Let’s bring this back to project management. There was once a new program manager who inherited a program that was already down a path and already at risk of being late. A team of experienced project management consultants were brought in to help the program manager assess the true nature of the program and to assess whether or not the tight deadline was achievable. As part of this effort the deliverables created by the project teams were reviewed. In every case it was found that all of the teams had scope documents, but NONE of the teams had project charters. One of the most experienced consultants pulled the program manager aside and told her that she had to place the program on hold so that all of the project charters could be written, reviewed and approved. It was a best practice to have a project charter. The program manager knew that this consultant had far more experience than she had. She knew this consultant was really smart. She understood the importance of following the best practice. She also knew that placing the program on hold to create documentation that should have been created at the beginning was NOT a viable option. Drawing upon her knowledge of the best practices, the current situation on the program, and her knowledge of company culture, so told the consultant no. No the program would not be placed on hold; she would take the risk and continue. This turned out to be a wise decision. You were not born wise, either you allow yourself to become wise as you learn and grow or you do not.  
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