Posts Tagged ‘projects’

Add to the C-Level

June 22, 2017

The following is an extract from my new book ‘How to get Fired at the C-Level: Why mismanaging change is the biggest risk of all’ in association with my friends at Tailwind Project Solutions – the extracts follow a series of 5 Challenges that I think every organisation should consider, and consider very carefully:

Challenge 3 – Invest in a Chief Projects Officer

Well it starts with strategy formulation which is no longer the annual exercise it used to be – nowadays it is an ongoing iterative activity.

And since each strategy gives birth to one or more projects this adds to the portfolio constantly. Often, it should be honestly admitted, in some form of infinite capacity model – just keep adding projects and we will sort out the resources later.

The idea of a chief project officer is not new but it can be described as ‘emerging, with more organisations investing at this level in one person to represent the change programs at the highest level. If you think about CEO’s being most often fired for mismanaging change then it is a ‘no-brainer’ you would have thought if your portfolio is a significant one and – based on Challenge 1 – Invest in the right portfolio management – it is often more significant than you might think (see previous blog).

When project management, projects and change are elevated to the ‘C’ level of importance, one of the distinct advantages is it can no longer be viewed as optional, distracting, annoying, special or unimportant by all the other business functions. A Chief Projects Officer, or whatever title you may wish to bestow on this position, should make it easier to manage change initiatives across an organisation, should reduce that organisation’s exposure to the impact and potential; realisation of major risk, and can drive lower costs through economies of scale. All of which should deliver better results across the board, with higher engagement of all stakeholders and impacted employees.

A Chief Projects Officer (CPO) is typically responsible for providing governance over an organisation’s internal projects – external, or customer facing projects can be also covered but that is entering a slightly different world – with a focus on:

  • Ensuring all projects support the current strategic objectives
  • Managing the overall portfolio risk to the organisation
  • Driving efficiencies in delivery and economies of scale
  • Managing resource requirements across the project portfolio
  • Ensuring that all change is led by a skilled professional project management community
  • Leads, and is aided by, the PMO
  • Reports to the executive team

And how can you get a ‘CPO’?

Well why not fast track one through the project world?

I have seen in the companies that I have worked for, and I am sure that you have all seen it as well, the special ones amongst us that are on a fast track up through the organisation destined for the hallowed ground of ‘C’ level appointment. We all watch in awe and wonder at the skill and ability in acquiring new skills and mastering new responsibilities and generally doing a whole better than us.

And there is nothing wrong with that at all. They experience the company as broadly as possible with experiences in finance and in sales and in marketing and in manufacturing and even sometimes in services perhaps. They get first-hand experience of the component parts of the businesses that they will one day lead and this is a valuable preparation. These are the ones identified as having future leadership potential and any company will invest in such people for their joint futures.

Sadly, I have yet to see a future ‘C’ work their way through the project arena, the PMO, the project management practise. It seems as if, when it comes down to it, that the project side of the business (as opposed to the operational side of the business) is maybe a little less important, a little less attractive?

There is a danger of course in putting a non-project person in charge of projects.

A comment from my recent PMO Survey summed it up with ‘the management in charge of the PMO are highly experienced operational managers, each with a significant and solid track record. Unfortunately, that expertise does not translate into projects where the deadlines, delivery management and interaction between different role-players are significantly more acute than in operational management’.

So perhaps the ‘C’ is not immediately destined for the PMO leadership role but surely there is a critical need for such future leaders to understand the nature of their ever increasingly project based activities.

Take an action all of you executives – talk to the ‘powers that be’ and to the fast track talent development agencies in your companies, and open up your PMO with an invitation to ‘come on in and enjoy the experience’.

In the long run it will only benefit the PMO, your projects, you yourself and, of course, the organisation. Projects are here to stay and with the increase in project activity inside organisations then really the next generation ‘C’ level should understand as much as they can about our world.

 

Tailwind Project Solutions was formed in 2014 to provide a bespoke approach to project leadership development. Owned by Director & CEO Alex Marson, the organisation works with large FTSE 250 clients including some of the biggest companies in the world in the Asset Management, Professional Services, Software, Automotive, Finance and Pharmaceutical industry.  The company has a team of world-class experts who provide a bespoke approach to the challenges that our clients have, and the company was formed because of a gap in the market for expertise which truly gets to the heart of the issues clients are facing – providing a robust, expert solution to change the way that companies run their projects.

At the time, the market was becoming flooded with training companies, providing a ‘sheep dip’ approach to project management, and the consensus was that This didn’t solve the real challenges that businesses and individuals are experiencing in this ever-increasing complex world of project management. The vision was to hand-pick and work with the very best consultants, trainers and coaches worldwide so that Tailwind could make a difference to their clients, to sit down with them, understand their pain points, what makes them tick, and what is driving their need for support.

These challenges being raised time and time again are in the project leadership space, from communication issues, not understanding stakeholder requirements or having the confidence to “push back”, lack of sponsorship support, working across different cultures, languages, levels of capability and complexity. We expect more from our project managers – we expect them to inspire, lead teams and be more confident.

Tailwind’s experience is vast, from providing interim resources in the project and programme management space, supporting the recruitment process, experiential workshops, coaching – from project managers through to executives, providing keynote speakers, implementing PPM Academies, PM Healthchecks and Leadership development. The approach is created often uniquely – to solve the real challenges of each of their individual clients.

http://tailwindps.com/

A View from the Top

June 7, 2017

The following is an extract from my new book ‘How to get Fired at the C-Level: Why mismanaging change is the biggest risk of all’ in association with my friends at Tailwind Project Solutions – the extracts follow a series of 5 Challenges that I think every organisation should consider, and consider very carefully:

‘Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future’ John F. Kennedy

Challenge 1 – invest in the right Portfolio Management

Knowing the value of your investment in change, and the consequential cost of failure to deliver this change, is critical.

So how can you get across the message that executives need to stop failing their projects without looking like a project manager with a chip on their shoulder?

Fear is one way, so why not try this simple exercise when you get the opportunity. Putting a price on something works well, I find.

Start with your company project portfolio value (this should be a reasonable reflection of the strategic investment). For the sake of this example I am going to use pounds’ sterling but of course it works with any currency. I am also going to use a small portfolio value of say £20m; again, please insert your own figure here.

The next step will depend on the type of industry you are in but if we choose a typical regulated commercial model for a business it can be said that out of that total portfolio some projects are compliance driven and some business driven. In this example, we will use 40% as compliance and 60% as business growth projects. Therefore, in this example we have £8m invested in compliance projects and £12m in business development projects, again insert the appropriate figures for your organisation. A regulatory light organisation may devote only 20% of portfolio to compliance, with 80% devoted to growth.

You know your business so I will leave it up to you to decide.

But we don’t stop there. For each project to be sanctioned there must be a ‘value added’ benefit. For compliance projects this might be expressed better as cost impact. So, failure to deliver ‘X’ will result in a potential fine of ‘Y’, and/or a potential loss in self-certification of ‘Z’ and so on. All such failures have cost impacts. This may be a 2:1 ratio calculated as the potential penalties for non-compliance plus the actual project-investment costs. In our example this would be £8m multiplied by 2 plus the original £8m, which equals £24m.

Now for the rest of the portfolio, the business growth or development projects. There would be no point in investing £1 to gain £1, there must be a return on investment. In terms of a ratio that typically might be at around 4:1 (apply your own business factor here you should be able to find relevant figures in your business case approval process). Therefore, investing £1 would gain a return in investment of £4. Using the same maths as the compliance projects we now have in our example a total of £12m multiplied by 4 plus the original £12m, which equals £60m.

We now have a ‘true’ project portfolio value of £24m plus £60m which gets us to a chunky £84m.

And guess what? We haven’t even considered disruption of business costs during the projects. What shall we say here, maybe another 20% of the total portfolio investment, so about £16m or so? But the two types of project don’t behave in the same way. I suspect that the 40% we allocated as compliance project investment has a greater success ratio than the other projects. It is not that these projects are any more ‘healthy’ but the fear of non-compliance ensures that the company throws resources at these projects in a way that it doesn’t with the 60% that are business development projects, ensuring ‘success’ the hard (and costly) way.

Now if the compliance projects are ‘successful’ (he says smiling knowingly), then the other 60%, the growth projects, must carry even higher levels of potential failure.

Work out these figures now. In our example, we will use 10% across the whole portfolio for simplicity.

Can you work them out?

Do you have the data (the accurate and real data) to do this? If not, does that worry you? (It should.)

Looking back at our portfolio we said 40% was compliance activity and 60% was business growth but think about it, on balance how many of these growth projects represent real clear blue strategic change?

I bet that most are just to keep pace with your market and perhaps only 10% of projects represent real change. So again, if failure is the ‘norm’ and the focus on success tends towards the compliance end of the project scale, how successful is this 10% – the true change projects you have underway in the organisation?

I realise that these figures are open to interpretation and maybe my maths is a bit rough but you can see the general idea. It is a little like fantasy finances but the underlying points are that a) your portfolio is bigger than you think it is and b) unless you are in the special minority you probably don’t have a good insight into how this portfolio investment is being managed and how the organisation’s money (and future) is being protected.

In our example this takes a £20m base portfolio right the way up to £105.6m.

Extensive investment in strategy through projects needs to be backed up by real commitment to successful delivery and, whilst the development of good project managers backed up with appropriate processes and methods is critical, it is the clear responsibility of the executive leaders to connect such strategy to project activity and to sponsor these projects in a competent way.

Hopefully putting a value on the portfolio will have woken up the executives (or even you).

 

Tailwind Project Solutions was formed in 2014 to provide a bespoke approach to project leadership development. Owned by Director & CEO Alex Marson, the organisation works with large FTSE 250 clients including some of the biggest companies in the world in the Asset Management, Professional Services, Software, Automotive, Finance and Pharmaceutical industry.  The company has a team of world-class experts who provide a bespoke approach to the challenges that our clients have, and the company was formed because of a gap in the market for expertise which truly gets to the heart of the issues clients are facing – providing a robust, expert solution to change the way that companies run their projects.

At the time, the market was becoming flooded with training companies, providing a ‘sheep dip’ approach to project management, and the consensus was that This didn’t solve the real challenges that businesses and individuals are experiencing in this ever-increasing complex world of project management. The vision was to hand-pick and work with the very best consultants, trainers and coaches worldwide so that Tailwind could make a difference to their clients, to sit down with them, understand their pain points, what makes them tick, and what is driving their need for support.

These challenges being raised time and time again are in the project leadership space, from communication issues, not understanding stakeholder requirements or having the confidence to “push back”, lack of sponsorship support, working across different cultures, languages, levels of capability and complexity. We expect more from our project managers – we expect them to inspire, lead teams and be more confident.

Tailwind’s experience is vast, from providing interim resources in the project and programme management space, supporting the recruitment process, experiential workshops, coaching – from project managers through to executives, providing keynote speakers, implementing PPM Academies, PM Healthchecks and Leadership development. The approach is created often uniquely – to solve the real challenges of each of their individual clients.

http://tailwindps.com/

Challenging Change

April 25, 2017

The following is a guest article from my friends at Tailwind Project Solutions:

In his new book – How to get Fired at the C-Level: Why mismanaging change is the biggest risk of all – Peter Taylor challenges the foundations of organisational change, asking if the c-level executives out there are truly ready for change to be successful in their own businesses?

You can read more about this at SME www.smeweb.com/sme/how-mismanaging-change-is-the-biggest-risk-of-all – where Peter describes the four-year study by LeadershipIQ.com which found that the number one reason CEO’s got fired was …. wait for it …. mismanaging change.

He talks of business growth, even business existence, being built increasingly from such change; strategic change – new markets, new products, change driven through regulatory demand, change driven to maintain market share, change driven by mergers and acquisitions, changes driven by new executives, and so on.

And he argues that by putting those two parts together, a world where executives get fired on a regular basis for mismanaging change and a business world of increasing change, then you have a high-risk scenario it seems in many board rooms across the world.

Worrying!

But Peter, ever the pragmatist, offers some practical advice through his 5-5-5-5 model for assessing change foundations and making improvements to such foundations in his book.

 

And at the project level Peter offers some advice on the 10 Things People Often Get Wrong When Managing A Project (or change) as you can see here in Female First http://www.femalefirst.co.uk/books/peter-taylor-how-to-get-fired-at-the-c-level-1045268.html

He explores the most common things that people do wrong when trying to manage that tricky temporary endeavour that is designed to bring about a positive change i.e. a project.

Perhaps there is a solution to the worry after all. Why not talk to us at Tailwind Project Solutions to see if we can help http://tailwindps.com/

Tailwind Project Solutions was formed in 2014 to provide a bespoke approach to project leadership development. Owned by Director & CEO Alex Marson, the organisation works with large FTSE 250 clients including some of the biggest companies in the world in the Asset Management, Professional Services, Software, Automotive, Finance and Pharmaceutical industry.  The company has a team of world-class experts who provide a bespoke approach to the challenges that our clients have, and the company was formed as a result of a gap in the market for expertise which truly gets to the heart of the issues clients are facing – providing a robust, expert solution to change the way that companies run their projects.

At the time, the market was becoming flooded with training companies, providing a ‘sheep dip’ approach to project management, and the consensus was that This didn’t solve the real challenges that businesses and individuals are experiencing in this ever increasing complex world of project management. The vision was to hand-pick and work with the very best consultants, trainers and coaches worldwide so that Tailwind could really make a difference to their clients, to sit down with them, understand their pain points, what makes them tick, and what is driving their need for support.

These challenges being raised time and time again are in the project leadership space, from communication issues, not understanding stakeholder requirements or having the confidence to “push back”, lack of sponsorship support, working across different cultures, languages, levels of capability and complexity. We expect more from our project managers – we expect them to inspire, lead teams and be more confident.

Tailwind’s experience is vast, from providing interim resources in the project and programme management space, supporting the recruitment process, experiential workshops, coaching – from project managers through to executives, providing keynote speakers, implementing PPM Academies, PM Healthchecks and Leadership development. The approach is created often uniquely – to solve the real challenges of each of their individual clients.

http://tailwindps.com/

Big challenge: Getting your project team to work as a team!

February 17, 2017

A guest post by my friends at Genius Project

teams-picture

A project team is a group of people who work together on a project with a common goal. They have different skills and specializations but their work all culminates in the delivery of the project.

Numerous studies have shown that a project progresses effectively when the team is working on activities that are clearly defined and planned. While it is important to set a timetable and targets, some companies are confronted with cultural differences, dispersed geographical locations and different working methods. Teamwork is not always so simple!

Here are some tips to increase collaboration in your project team.

  • Roles and responsibilities must be set from the get go. It’s necessary for everyone to know their objectives and mission to be able to work in their role effectively. In addition, it’s important to define the project leader and who to contact in the event of a problem or change.
  • Encourage employees to share their opinion. It’s important to provide input during meetings and discussions. The team is more dynamic and responsive when the players propose solutions and share any difficulties. A team always benefits from the discussion and the different opinions are enriching.
  • Organize useful meetings. We cannot say enough that transparency is essential in project management. This transparency makes it possible to have a positive dynamic within the group. Collaborators are informed, instructions are clear and information is distributed. A meeting should only be held if there is a need. The meeting should have a simple and precise objective. It may also be recalled that the project kick-off meeting is also important for a project team. It allows team members to get acquainted.
  • Spend time as a team. Team members need to spend time together informally. Activities outside the office are essential for strengthening group dynamics. Whenever possible, this reinforces the feeling of being part of a team. Team lunches are easy to organize and equally effective.
  • Communicate. Communication is an essential criteria for successful projects. Meetings, emails, online discussion groups … there are many possibilities to ensure optimal communication when delivering a project. Email is not always an indicator of the quality of communication, and that’s where project collaboration tools come in. Genius Project offers a “wall”, akin to most social media platforms which is integrated into the project management software to facilitate communication within the team.

A connected project team is essential to successful project delivery. Organization, communication and planning enable employees to gain a global vision of the project, to understand the issues and to be more effective in their respective roles.For more information about Genius Live!

You can visit the Genius Project website.

The Open Door Policy

September 23, 2016

The importance of being accessible but in a controlled way

I’m all for being there for people, honest I am. It’s just that people take advantage of it if I am.

So for the ‘productive lazy’ project manager I would suggest that it is perfectly acceptable for the lights to be on and for no-one to be at home; not all of the time obviously, and at critical times access and visibility are all too important. But for the rest of the time, why not let the whole of the team work a few things out for themselves, take some degree of responsibility and decision making, and generally get on with the tasks at hand.

Being there when you are really needed and being there all the time are very different things indeed.

Being reachable in a controlled manner, and within an acceptable timeframe, to answer appropriate questions (and not stupid ones) is equally important. The last thing you want is a long line of people queuing up at your desk waiting to ask advice, and you phone flashing with an ever increasing number of messages, all the time whilst you inbox is reaching capacity with incoming demands for your attention.

This can lead to the ‘lights on all the time’ syndrome, a very dangerous condition:

‘What should I do now?’

‘Breath’ you might reply

‘In or out?’

You have so many other more useful things that you could be doing, like reading a good book in the comfy chair for example.

Avoid the swamp

This is linked in so many ways to the communication topic already covered. If you create a communication plan that guarantees to swamp you from day one, what is the benefit; to you or to the project?

None!

The plan should ensure you are not seen as the oracle for all matters, nor that you are the bottleneck for a constructive information flow within the project team. Most projects develop communication plans in a certain way; that is as a plan that is the documented strategy for getting the right information to the right people at the right time. We all know that each stakeholder has different requirements for information and so the plan defines what, how and how often communications should be made. What project managers rarely do is consider and map all communication flows, official, unofficial, developmental or complete, and do a load analysis across the project structure of these communication flows. Of they did they would spot bottlenecks much earlier on that they normally do, usually this is only identified when one part of the communication chain starts complaining about their workload.

Consider the open door policy

The ‘open door’ policy has become a real management cliché.

‘Of course’ managers pronounce in a firm voice’ my door is always open to you all, day or night; I’m really there for you’.

Empowerment in this way has become more an entitlement for the project team than a project manager’s choice; they just expect you to be there when they want you to be (and not even when they need you to be there either). An ‘open door’ policy can easily transform a project manager’s role from that of an authority, and managing, figure to that of a subservient accommodator with little chance for exercising control on those that demand access to them.

Be a good manager

The best manager is the probably the one who reads the paper or MSN every morning, has time enough to say ‘hi’ at the coffee machine, is isn’t always running flat out because they are ‘late for an important meeting’. By that I mean that a good (an obviously ‘productively lazy’) manager has everything running smoothly enough that they have time to read the paper or MSN and so on. This is a manager who has to be confident in their position and capabilities.

A good manager will have time for their project team, and being one who has everything running smoothly, will allow that to happen.

A good manager does not to be on hand twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. They do not have to have the answer to every question nor do they have to be the conduit to the answer to every question. There is a whole project team out there – go talk to some of them – they probably will have a much better answer to hand anyway.

Think about number one

You honestly want the best for yourself as well as for the project; I understand that, so give yourself that chance. Have you ever met a project manager who has put themselves down as a project risk? ‘Yeah, well I am just too nice a guy, can’t say no, can’t turn someone away, love to chat’ – likelihood 80%, impact 100%, mitigate now!

But hopefully by now you also want to apply the productive lazy approach so consider this; let the team deal with 80% of the communication, 80% of the questions, 80% of the issues, and let the 20% come through you for consideration and guidance. You don’t even have to ‘solve’ that 20%, I would further suggest that only 20% of this 20% are likely to be answered by yourself in an adequate manner, there are always others that can better advice.

Think about the rest

OK, you have dealt with the ‘thinking about number one’ thing, now what about your team? Well by dealing with ‘number one’ you will have already done the team a huge favour. You will be accessible when you need to be accessible. The lights will go on as and when they are really needed – it is a kind of ‘green’ project management policy.

The worse thing that can happen is that just at the moment when there is a ‘clear and present’ need for someone to speak to you, whether that be on a project or on a personal matter, you are just too tied up with a whole pile of nothing to even give them the time of day. Remember the whole ‘respect’ and ‘reputation for team support’ team thing we spoke about earlier, well this is a major contributor the that.

Analyse and reduce

And this is not a one off action; you need to keep on top of this as well. Projects change, communications develop, and roles flux. Do a quick analysis of what information and queries flow through you, and how and regularly re-assess. Can others deal with some of this? What are the important components that you should be involved in? Are there too many questions and communication from certain sources? And so on.

Make sure that everyone knows that the lights will go on and when and how they can turn that light on fast if they really need to.

A project manager’s tale about the importance of position

This one is not my tale; it is the story of a friend of mine, a friend who is, of course, a project manager. A project manager who I know to be very good at team building, a real ‘people’ person.

Picture a new project with a new project office. Apparently the company my friend was working for had reserved some brand new office space in a building that they were going to move other departments in to in the coming months. In the meantime the project team could take over one floor.

Now, I have been in many project offices over the years ranging from a single desk to a temporary office unit (grey boxes that get lifted in to place by a crane and officially described as ‘relocatable and modular accommodation’ apparently). But, by all accounts, this new building that my friend moved in to with his project team was superb.

He chose a nice new desk by a window and with a view facing the doors so that he could see all that went on, people coming and going, working (or not working I guess), and so on.

And so life was good and thus did the project move forwards in a pleasing way.

The only feature that was lacking was a decent coffee machine. They had a temporary one to begin with but the team waited with baited breath for the new, top of the range, super-dooper, hot beverage dispenser.

It arrived one week day morning, wheeled in on a trolley barrow. My friend was elsewhere at the time on important project business. When he arrived back in the project office he was somewhat surprised to see that his desk now had a new neighbour. A coffee machine.

‘Hey, grab a coffee, its great’ was the general cry from the project team. I am sure that that is what he did, before walking the two feet back to his desk.

The project office was full now and so it was too late to move desk. Oh well, a great project office with a great coffee machine was not something to make too much fuss about.

And then things went downhill:

Day 1 – People started saying ‘hello’ each time they lined up for a coffee at the machine by his desk.

Day 2 – People started conversations as they waited for their freshly simulated brewed cup of java by his desk.

Day 3 – People started sitting on his desk, whilst they waited for coffee, said ‘hello’, engaged in conversation and were generally sociable.

Day 4 – People asked him where the spare coffee cups were and what ‘error 54g’ was.

Day 5 – People asked him what the telephone number for the coffee repairman was so that they could report ‘error 54g’ and get the coffee machine fixed.

Day 10 – People started using the phone on his desk whilst waiting for a coffee etc.

Day 15 – The project manager left the building.

In actual fact he did move desks, he manage to secure a small space across the landing from the main project office. It wasn’t ideal as he was now removed from the project team but, on balance, it was better than the alternative.

It doesn’t matter that you want to run an ‘open door’ policy in order to be as accessible to everyone, if you want to get on with your job you do need some ‘space’. To be right at the centre of everything all of the time is not conducive to being a good project manager.

It was the coffee machine or the project manager, and the team made it clear that the coffee machine won hands down!

A final comment

So for the ‘productive lazy’ project manager it is perfectly acceptable for the lights to be on and for no-one to be at home; not all of the time obviously, and at critical times access and visibility are all too important. But for the rest of the time, why not let your project team work a few things out for themselves, take some degree of responsibility and decision making, and generally get on with the tasks at hand.

Being there when you are really needed and being there all the time are very different things indeed.

‘You never know till you try to reach them how accessible men are; but you must approach each man by the right door’. Henry Ward Beecher

Peter Taylor is a PMO expert currently leading a Global PMO, with 200 project managers acting as custodians for nearly 5,000 projects around the world, for Kronos Inc. – a billion-dollar software organisation delivering Workforce Management Solutions.

Peter Taylor is also the author of the number 1 bestselling project management book ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, along with many other books on project leadership, PMO development, project marketing, project challenges and executive sponsorship.

In the last 4 years he has delivered over 200 lectures around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’.

His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

More information can be found at www.thelazyprojectmanager.com – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.

Bringing a whole new meaning to ‘Business Casual’

September 2, 2016

The other day a work colleague made the following observation to me ‘You bring a whole new meaning to business casual’ was what they actually said, and they most certainly were not referring to the clothes I was wearing at that particular time.

men-tie

Let’s start with what exactly is ‘business casual’ in the general meaning of the phrase:

noun: business casual – relating to or denoting a style of clothing that is less formal than traditional business wear, but is still intended to give a professional and business like impression.

Business casual has become the standard in many work environments in recent years but there is no general agreement on the definition of the term itself, ‘business casual’ seems to be reliant in finding the right meaning based on several factors; industry, company, number of employees, culture, internal role versus customer facing, geography, climate, local culture, age and probably a whole lot more.

But we all know someone, in the workplace, that seems to be confident in whatever they are wearing. Capable of carrying a presentation, a meeting, a conversation regardless of how the clothes that they are wearing fit, or perhaps align, to what the others in the same presentation, meeting or conversation are wearing. They have in some ways transcended ‘business casual’ or even ‘business formal’ (I am presuming that is the correct term for the opposite of business casual by the way).

I personally found myself in a situation where I had to ‘transcend’ in this way, and it didn’t immediately feel comfortable and it was as a result of a tie, or lack of tie, or more accurately a tie being in the wrong place.

I had to do a presentation at a company that I had been working at for some time as a project manager/consultant and the dress code at this organisation was ‘business casual’. But the presentation was a more formal one with some senior stakeholders from the board attending and therefore I concluded that in this situation it was more of a ‘business formal’ occasion and required a tie to be wrapped around me in a manner that I had longed enjoyed it not being wrapped.

Anyway, I selected a tie from my limited options (can you tell I am not a tie lover?) and placed it carefully over the chair in my home office the night before I had to travel up to the company location just to make sure I didn’t forget it.

As a result of my careful planning I naturally grabbed all of my necessary belongings in the early morning, phone, laptop etc, and headed up the motorway only to realise when I arrived at the visitor’s car park, and went to put the tie on, that it was in fact still safely hanging over my chair some 120 miles away. Forgotten.

Despite a panic search amongst my colleagues for a spare tie I had to enter the room with an open necked shirt and deliver my presentation.

It went very well, thank you for asking, and in the post-speaking period I was happily answering questions and generally holding court with many people, including the senior stakeholders (who wore very impressive ties I have to say) without any detrimental effect.

I, of course, tie lover that I am not, felt this proved the fact that ties are the clothing of the devil and not to be trusted near one’s neck in any situation. Christian Grey can keep them as far as I am concerned, whatever the colour.

Now of course if the dress code is say shirt but no tie, jacket optional and you turn up in torn jeans and a t-shirt this would be a really hard act to carry off but I have certainly seen some great speakers on the circuit for example who dress exactly like that, and conversely I have seen a lot of suited and booted (and collared and tie’d) speakers who were really bad. Really, really bad in some cases.

But back to where we started, the observation to me ‘You bring a whole new meaning to business casual’.

I take that as a compliment. Productive laziness is perhaps the performance related soul-sister of ‘business casual’. Being comfortable and confident in what you do, in the safe knowledge that you are indeed effective and efficient without the constraints of the organisational ‘tie and collar’ rigid processes is a good thing I believe.

So please break free and act ‘business casual’ in what you do.

Occasionally you have to follow process, there is a time and a place for casualness, and occasionally even I have to wear a tie (November 2015 was the last time I believe) but mostly you don’t and life, the business you work for, and you, are all the better for it.

 

Peter Taylor

Peter Taylor is the author of two best-selling books on ‘Productive Laziness’ – ‘The Lazy Winner’ and ‘The Lazy Project Manager’.

In the last 4 years he has focused on writing and lecturing with over 200 presentations around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’.

His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

More information can be found at http://www.thelazyprojectmanager.com – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.

Life or Laptop

August 12, 2016

In my bestselling book ‘The Lazy Project Manager[1]’ I have one chapter entitled ‘Breathe Normally’ where I describe the following situation:

You are on yet another flight, either to or from your latest project engagement, somewhere in the world. Maybe you have been lucky, maybe the flight is on time and you know your luggage is safely stored in the overhead locker, you are not seated in the middle seat between two sumo wrestlers with body odour and this flight does offer complimentary in-flight beverages.

You settle back in your seat and begin to drift in to that ‘yet another flight’ snooze, vaguely aware that the cabin crew member is, for the one thousandth time, explaining to you how to complete that complex conundrum of buckling and unbuckling your seat belt. You begin to disengage from the world around you…

But wait! The lady in the uniform, vainly talking to everyone but knowing no-one is listening in return, is about to utter a supreme piece of wisdom.

In the event of an emergency, an oxygen mask will drop in front of you from the panel above. Place the mask over your mouth and nose, straighten out the strap, and pull the strap to be sure it is tight on your face. After you are wearing it securely, a tug on the hose will start the oxygen flow. It makes sense to put your own mask on first, before helping others. Breathe normally.

Breathe normally.

To begin with I used to think that this was the craziest thing possible to say. If I was ever on a flight where the oxygen masks were to drop down you can be sure that I would place the mask over my face, pull the strap as tight as possible, tug the hose until I felt the sweet taste of oxygen flowing. But the last thing I would do would be to breathe normally. I would breathe like it was my last moments on this earth (or air at this point, earth presumably about to enter the equation in a rather nasty crashing, crushing, exploding sort of way).

Breathe normally.

Not a hope in hell!

But actually breathing normally is really, really good advice. Being calm, wasting less energy, wasting less oxygen, thinking clearly and considering the situation in a reasonable, objective manner is absolutely what is most likely to help you to survive.

In the project world when all around you are going crazy with panic then breathing normally will allow you to consider the situation, assess the core issues, plan a response and carry out the actions with the minimum amount of effort and to the maximum effect.

Emirates_logo_svg

 

I was sadly reminded of this advice when I read about the crash of Emirates Flight 521 which was a scheduled international passenger flight from Thiruvananthapuram, India, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, operated by Emirates using a Boeing 777-300.

On 3 August 2016, the aircraft carrying 282 passengers and 18 crew crashed while landing at Dubai International Airport. All 300 people on board survived the accident and were safely evacuated from the aircraft. This, of course, is an excellent outcome considering what happened to the aircraft very shortly after the evacuation had been completed, and all credit to the crew for managing this situation.

Emirates is one of my preferred airlines and I have only positive experiences from the many miles I have journeyed under their care.

But there were some disturbing images recorded in the smoke filled plane with passengers attempting to retrieve luggage from the overhead compartments instead of focusing on the clear priority of getting everyone off the plane as quickly as possible. Perhaps this is human nature, certainly this is not the only example of this behaviour – other plane emergencies have experienced similar actions.

The thing is we all face priorities, daily, and we all have to make decisions, sometimes difficult ones, but rarely can you be faced with such a simple decision as in the case of EK521. There is nothing I own that outweighs my own life. Simple. And there is nothing I own that outweighs another person’s life either. Simple.

Breathing normally is critical and sometimes those decisions that you have to make, for yourself, and for those around you aren’t even decisions at all, there is only one answer.

Thoughts

Whilst no passenger died sadly Jassim Al Baloushi, a firefighter, died while battling the flames aboard Emirates flight EK521 and my thoughts go to his family for their loss.

Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, commented ‘We offer our condolences to the family and friends of the nation’s martyr and we pray Allah grant them patience and solace’.

Saif Al Suwaidi, director of the General Civil Aviation Authority, said: ‘I salute his ultimate sacrifice that kept many from harm’s way. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family’.

 

Peter Taylor

Peter Taylor is a PMO expert currently leading a Global PMO, with 200 project managers acting as custodians for nearly 5,000 projects around the world, for Kronos Inc. – a billion-dollar software organisation delivering Workforce Management Solutions.

Peter Taylor is also the author of the number 1 bestselling project management book ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, along with many other books on project leadership, PMO development, project marketing, project challenges and executive sponsorship.

In the last 4 years he has delivered over 200 lectures around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’.

His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

More information can be found at http://www.thelazyprojectmanager.com – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/dp/1908984554/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_x_1LxRxb8Y62D8J

What did the Project Managers ever do for us?

November 20, 2015

There is that famous scene in Monty Python and The Life of Brian where the rebels are demanding action against the oppressive Romans and ask the question ‘What did the Romans ever do for us?’- The answers came back over and over again as the rebels listed the many things that the Romans brought with them … medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health. So, quite a lot!

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I sometimes hear of project management and project managers being challenged in much the same way … ‘what has project management done for us (the organisation)?’ The thinking presumably goes that there are projects but if the business keeps doing projects then they become (presumably) less unusual and less risky and therefore they don’t need this elite band of project managers to constantly be ‘on the case’. Or perhaps it I less a matter of thinking and more a matter of memory loss, forgetting what project based business life was like before project management was in place and making a real difference.

There are two ways of looking at this, or answering the challenge. One is to consider what would business life be like without project management in place. Assuming that projects continue to get commissioned then you might hear a few executives mumbling things like:

‘Our stakeholders really love us, so they don’t care if their projects are late and don’t work.’

And perhaps:

‘We figure it’s more profitable to have 50% overruns than to spend 15% on project management to prevent them.’

And I am sure you have come across the classic:

 ‘Project management is too expensive… on top of the all the rest of the project costs’

The real question that needs to be put on the table to answer these challenges is ‘What is the cost of failure of this project?’ balanced by ‘What, therefore, is the value of de-risking that project by investing a relatively small number of days of project management?’

And that is the number one answer to ‘What has project management done for us?’ – Project management has developed a skill and a process and a capability, combined with a level of experience and ingenuity to make that de-risking investment ‘a relatively small number of days’. In other words what project management does is safe-guard project investment in a very attractive and cost-positive way.

But, and this is critical to the persuasiveness of the argument for project management, it is needed to have up to date ‘proof’ of the work that project managers do and the value that they oversee the delivery of.

And this is the second way of answering this challenge, to look at the levels of success that project management achieves.

Reports such as PMI’s Pulse of the Profession™ The High Cost of Low Performance can really help here. Pulse Report 2013

The ‘What did the project managers ever do for us’ syndrome is recognised in the report ‘…this year’s Pulse of the Profession™ finds that organizations undervalue project management and put inadequate focus on talent development. Only about half of respondents (54 percent) say their organizations fully understand the value of project management’.

But is goes on to clearly lay out what sets high-performing organizations apart and that is:

  • ‘Strong talent management by investing in project talent and providing consistent training, defined career paths and professional development opportunities.
  • Standardization of practices and tools, which leads to a more efficient use of resources and a greater ability to lead and innovate.
  • Strategic alignment of their project, program and portfolio management to organizational goals, creating improved maturity and better project outcomes’.

 

Supporting this argument for project management are some real ‘eye opening’ statistics of project success value delivered by organisations that invest in project management – go check them out for yourself, it makes satisfying reading.

And the PMI Pulse report concludes with a sobering statement ‘Organizations that have poor project success rates may be forced to manage their projects reactively by tightening deadlines and cutting budgets to achieve their intended results’ and this will only mean less projects, less success, less change delivered, and fewer strategic achievements.

Conversely the same conclusion states ‘Investing in strong, effective project management within an organization will increase project performance. Ultimately, high-performing organizations that have strong project management can create efficiencies; improve alignment with organizational strategies…’.

I think that project management has done a great deal for everyone, the Romans knew a thing or two about project management and look at all that they achieved.

Never too Young to be a Project Manager

April 7, 2015

Developing Life Skills through Project Management

I am a strong supporter and believer in the great work my friend Gary has undertaken with regards to focusing on our future generation of project manager and I am delighted to share a blog from him:

Gary M Nelson, PMP is an experienced project manager, father of three boys and author of several project management books, including Gazza’s Guide to Practical Project Management and The Project Kids Adventures series (ages 8-12). His international experience includes projects in New Zealand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the US and Canada, and has spanned three major industries since 1989.

How old do you have to be in order to become a Project Manager? Many of you reading this may be new or aspiring Project Managers, or perhaps you are completing a degree in Project Management. Once you have that piece of paper, you’ve got to get your first PM job – and then you’re a real Project Manager, right? So, let’s say at least 20-25 years old, or older if you are coming into the profession from another one after working for a while.

You have to be at least that old, right? Because managing projects is tough. You need a lot of training, experience, an iron will and a cast-iron stomach in order to be able to deal with all of the challenges and complexities that your sponsor, stakeholders, vendors and customers will throw at you. If you manage to survive the experience, you will take those lessons learned and battle scars with you as you strive to improve on the next project. Sometimes it seems that if you are not some sort of Superman, you won’t survive.

You obviously need a lot of maturity to go with that thick skin – projects are no place for kids.

Hold up, that can’t be right.

Managing projects does not have to be tough. Not only that, I submit to you that managing projects is actually so simple that a child could do it.

Of course, they may not be quite ready to tackle a multi-million dollar project, but I assure you that children can – and do – manage projects every day. The big difference between their projects and yours is scale and language.

Tell them a Story

Project Management concepts are actually not that hard to understand, but you do need to consider the language you use when teaching children and young adults. You would not use the same terminology with a College student as you would for a 5th grader, but you can convey the same important concepts at any age.

You also need to consider the delivery vehicle for the message – throw a dry Project Management textbook in front of almost anyone and they will soon use it as a makeshift pillow.

But if you tell a story, well, that makes a big difference. No matter how young or old they are, people love stories. You can enrich a college classroom and enliven a dry text book with stories from the trenches and anecdotes from real-world projects, talking about what worked, what didn’t, what challenges you encountered and how you dealt with them.

If your audience is composed of children, you would be less likely to use work anecdotes – but there are plenty of ways to utilize stories to pass on important concepts. One good example of this is Before the Snow Flies: Lando Banager’s Tales of a Woodland Project Manager by Ira A. Seiken, PMP (2010). This colorful children’s book for ages 6+ introduces a number of project management concepts through the story of a beaver helping others to finish their dam on time – as a project.

My own Project Kids Adventures Series books for children (ages 8-12+) convey a range of Project Management concepts and lessons through fun stories.

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These full-length chapter books begin with The Ultimate Tree House Project (2013), and follow eight children (four boys, four girls) as they embark on numerous “adventures”, learning project skills along the way. Here’s what happens in The Ultimate Tree House Project:

10 year old best friends Ben, James, Tim & Tom find the perfect tree in a forest near their school and begin to build the Ultimate Tree House. Things start with a bang, and get even worse when Ben’s sister Amanda discovers them working on their secret tree house. Next thing they know, the girls are building their own – in the same tree – and it looks even better than the boy’s! How are they doing it? What is their secret weapon? After the accident, everything changes and the boys are forced to team up with the girls – as if that would ever work!

This book introduces basic Project Management concepts to children through an entertaining, funny story and simple lessons taught to one of the children by her father who is (of course) a Project Manager. She applies what she has learned and suddenly the girls are leaping ahead of the boys who had just “started building” – without a plan.

Tell a good story – and people will read or listen, and learn from it. But what about the classroom – how can they learn Project Management skills in school?

The Changing Face of Education

In the old, old days of the “accidental project manager”, there was very little in the way of formal education on Project Management, or even formal recognition of Project Management as a “real” profession. Times certainly have changed – it has become a highly valued professional skill, and there are many tertiary courses and degree programs in Project Management.

There has also been a lot of effort over the past few years on introducing Project Management concepts into High School programs, including Project-Based Learning for Students Ages 13-19, a non-profit program offered by the PMI Education Foundation (www.pmi.org/pmief).

More and more primary school programs are beginning to utilize project-based learning methods (whether they call them projects or not), and these have been highly successful. One example of this at is MOTE (Mantle of the Expert), in which the whole class spends a few weeks on an in-class adventure, learning a range of skills across many curriculum areas. My two youngest children both participated in MOTE at their primary school, and they had so much fun they did not realize how much they were learning on their project.

Mantle of the Expert has been described as ‘a dramatic inquiry-learning based approach to teaching and learning’ (mantleoftheexpert.com). First developed by Prof. Dorothy Heathcote at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK during the 1980s, Mantle of the Expert is a fully ‘incorporated’ approach in which children learn across all curriculum areas by taking on the roles of experts engaged in a high status project for a fictional client.

Another highly successful program in helping to educate Primary and Secondary school students on Project concepts is Projects From the Future, a kit for teachers developed by the PMI Northern Italy Chapter (www.pmi-nic.org), also available through the PMI Education Foundation.

“OK”, you say – “so children can learn Project Management concepts – but can they really manage projects?”

Yes – they can, not only in a classroom setting, but in real life too. In my experience, the ideal age to start having kids manage their own small projects is around 10-11 years old. You might go a little bit younger, but 10 is a good starting age. When they reach this age, they begin to develop an appreciation of what they are doing – and why they are doing it.

Be Prepared – Go Camping!

I was a Scout leader for ten years before I had my own children, and I was constantly surprised at how resourceful those 10-14 year old youths could be. One key thing I noticed was that if you treated them like children, they behaved like children. However, if you set them up with challenges that encouraged them to grow, they invariably rose to the occasion, expanded their skills and gained self-confidence. At the time, I did not know anything about Project Management – we just thought we were teaching them basic skills to help them succeed in life, or at least not get too wet or hungry at camp.

Looking back with a Project Manager’s eye, I can see that we were also teaching them a range of basic project management skills. At first, we did a lot of the work for them, but as they learned what to do and practiced, they did more for themselves. As they progressed, we placed more and more expectations on the senior scouts. They eventually had to organize and plan everything with their patrols, right down to how many vehicles and drivers would be needed for a camp. They even had to ask for resources – they could not just assume the leader or vehicle would be available.

Organizing a camp? It’s a project!

  • Strategic planning – Where should we go? How many days away? What would we experience or learn from one location vs another? Were some sites better for summer vs winter camping? What badge requirements could be met by adding activities during this camp?
  • Coordination – logistics around patrols, tents, equipment, transportation
  • Resource management – Who was going? How many adults/vehicles would be needed? What resources did we need for badge work?
  • Budgeting – For fuel, campsite costs, food, etc.
  • Estimating – Number of tents, amount/type of food, other gear requirements

Setting up a campsite?

  • Tactical planning – Nearness to water, site assessment for level/higher ground, etc.
  • Risk management – Distance from tents to the fire, proper food/fuel storage, safe handling of tools
  • Utilizing lessons learned from previous camps – don’t pitch a tent in a dip!
  • Going on a long hike, or doing a bit of mountaineering? Teamwork, communication and leadership were essential.

Lessons learned? You bet – after each hike or camp we reviewed what went well and could have gone better. What equipment did we not use or need? How could we pack lighter? What could we add next time that would make for a better camp? Did we have enough rope?

Over the years we had a lot of great experiences with the Scouts as they progressed through the program, entering as children and moving on as confident youths. It was only later that I came to realize that most of the major activities – and a lot of their key learning – involved the successful (and in the early days not-so-successful) execution of projects.

However, this type of learning is not limited to Scouts – everyone can learn life skills through projects.

Essential Life Skills

Learning to manage projects successfully (and learn from your mistakes) is an essential life skill – and you are never too young (or too old) to learn how to do it. It is somehow easy to think that children are just children – we forget that they are growing, developing and in a few short years will become adults. What we teach them now will have a huge impact on their future direction and capabilities.

Treat them like children, and they will behave as children – but teach them, lead them and encourage them, and they will surprise you with how much they can do, right now.

If you systematically equip them with these life skills now, there is no telling what they may become, however you can be assured that they will be better prepared to become the leaders of tomorrow, to become not only smart project managers of the future but perhaps even smarter than smart…

 

Gary Nelson: Author – Project Manager – Speaker Gary is passionate about sharing knowledge and making Project Management concepts more accessible, particularly to new and aspiring Project Managers (of all ages). Said another way, he likes to tell stories to help convey complex concepts in a way that helps the concepts “stick”. Who says learning shouldn’t be fun? He is an IT Project Manager who has worked in the Telecom, Student Information Systems and Local Government sectors since graduating from Simon Fraser University (BC, Canada) in 1989. His international experience includes projects in New Zealand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the US and Canada. Gary is a long-term volunteer with PMI, and has served as a Board member for the PMI West Coast B.C. Chapter and for the PMI New Zealand Chapter.

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Thank you World!

September 18, 2014

The Lazy Project Manager (5 years old this month) is in all of the Amazon top 100 PM book charts around world!

Get your free eBook ‘The Extra Lazy Project Manager’ from Amazon or www.thelazyprojectmanager.com (5 Years menu option)

Thank you!