Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Words and Actions

Today Bailey, my Sheltie, and I were at our agility training class navigating a difficult set of obstacle combinations. Bailey had a choice of two jumps and consistently took the wrong jump. I thought I was doing everything right in guiding Bailey. I kept telling her which jump to take but she just wasn’t getting it. Our instructor Liz stopped us and she asked me, “Do you know what you are telling Bailey to do?” She said “You say take this jump but your motions and body are telling Bailey to take the wrong jump.”

As I replayed our route, it hit me that I was saying one thing and with every other nonverbal queue I was telling her another. Liz then asked me to run the same route without saying a word but let my arm motions and body tell Bailey where to go. We ran the route perfectly.

I wonder how often in project management we send mixed signals to our project team. Our words say one thing but actions or nonverbal queues say another. Sometimes I think as managers we say too much instead of saying enough. A few well placed communications aligned with actions and nonverbal queues are more powerful than a bunch of words with mixed signals.
I am not advocating silence as a management tool but rather to improve the quality of our words by not wasting them and diluting them with mixed signals.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Value Vacuum

Has it been like pulling teeth to get project team members to come to meetings? Would it be easier scheduling time with the Queen of England than with your manager who has oversight on your project? The hard, but cold truth can be that your project is in a “value vacuum”. In other words, people find working on or supporting your project less valuable than whatever else they are doing.

Unfortunately in many organizations EVERYTHING is so valuable that everything is priority number one, but of course that is not possible. So in the absence of an orderly prioritization of activities, people are forced to prioritize on their own. This results in firefighting or in individuals choosing what to work on in the moment.

Yet if the value is high enough, it is amazing to see how supportive and engaged people can be. Value drives action and ultimately project success. Yet some think of value in terms of project value alone. Yet for value to be potent, it must be personal. What does the individual get from working on the project? To understand personal, here is an example. I love coffee and especially McDonald’s coffee with two creams. If I asked you to bring me a large McDonald’s coffee, how motivated are you to do this especially if you live in another part of the country? Yet, what if I were an eccentric billionaire (I am not) and I offered you a million dollars to bring me the coffee within 24 hours, would you find a way if you knew you’d be paid? How about if you had a big meeting at work tomorrow or you had to fly in from California? Would you still do what was needed to get the coffee to me in time? My guess is you would because the “value proposition” is strong enough.

While most project managers don’t have a million dollars to dangle over stakeholders, there are other things that increase the value proposition. Never underestimate the power of recognition. If stakeholders know their participation will result in project success and recognition, it can satisfy a number of personal goals including promotion or increased income. Sometimes projects offer training or expansion of knowledge. The key is to find the value proposition that works for the individual stakeholder and the best way to know is to ask. Can’t find a value proposition for the key stakeholders? Well maybe it is time to ask if the project is really worth doing at this time. After all with so much to do, maybe the most valuable thing to do is postpone or terminate the project.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Choosing Between Being Right and Success

Have you ever worked with someone that seemed to suck the life out of the air as he walked by? Maybe you have worked with someone with an ego so large you marveled how she could get her head through a door. In the Laws of Project Management, you are doomed to be stuck with someone who is as smooth as sandpaper and as subtle as a Three Stooges marathon. So what do you do?

You do have options. Maybe you will decide to engage in an eternal struggle with this individual throughout the life of the project so you can achieve martyrdom and sainthood. If you choose this route, you are taking the path of being right. While on this course, you will be given many opportunities to see the glaring flaws of your nemesis. You may have many conflicts and battles which you may or may not overcome after much blood letting and justifying of position. The project may fail, but that's okay because you are right.

Another path you might choose is the road called Project Success. On this road, instead of reaffirming how difficult the other individual might be you take another stance. You determine how you can work with this individual so the project can be successful, even if that means you give up being right and making the other person wrong. Ask yourself, "why is it important that this person is involved with my project"? Value is often more than the work a person provides. It could include expertise, knowledge and even political support. If you can see the value this person could add, then as the project manager, you will want to ensure that value is provided for the success of the project.

Sometimes people are not deliberately being difficult or uncooperative, they just don't see the value of working with you on the project. Remember if the value they receive from a successful project is greater than the value of aggravating you, you might have a much smoother ride than you have been experiencing.

So the bottom line comes down to what you want as a project manager. Do you want to be right or do you want the project to succeed? It is not always possible to have both, but I have found success is more satisfying than "being right".