As Project Managers we often find ourselves needing to handle difficult conversations in order to make progress on a project. These meetings will happen with direct reports on a project team but also with other stakeholders who we have no direct authority over but are critical to the project success. How often do we plan effectively for any of these meetings, not just data and information, but around how we are going to handle the meeting and the people attending it?
There are a number of ways we can improve the way we handle our difficult and challenging conversations to make them more effective, improving individual and team productivity and our business relationships.
I once heard the president of a large company say that sales people were important because they increased the revenues of the company but that project managers were more important because they turned those revenues into profits. And those profits, he noted, drive an increased share price (the value of the company in the marketplace).
If we as project managers are responsible for the creation of a company’s value, then we have a professional obligation to perform that job well, as the converse would also be true: project managers performing poorly can also destroy a company’s value. How do we perform our job well? To answer this, we need to look at which project management activities have the greatest impact on achieving the project’s desired outcome, as valued in the business case.
As it is January, I thought it would be a good time to share with you my project management New Year resolution. But before I share it with you, I want to share an observation: if I could make up my own personality categorization system for project managers, I might say that there are two main types: builders and maintainers.
Builders are the project managers who love to manage projects that create brand new things: shopping malls, online courses, software applications, new products, etc. They are excited by the unexpected challenges they will face and thrive on the creative energy generated by the team.
I recently attended the Business Analyst World conference in Ottawa, Canada. The audience was comprised of mostly (no surprise here) business analysts but also included project managers, technical leads, and a few project sponsors. What I found intriguing was that about one third of the track sessions were concerned with agile-related topics, and the buzz in the hallways between sessions and at lunch seemed to lean towards agile. I guess this means that agile is now solidly on the radar of the mainstream project community.
In most countries around the world, bribery – the payment of secret funds to someone to get them to bypass standard processes or to alter their standard behaviour – is considered immoral and often illegal. The codes of conduct or codes of ethics from many of our professional organizations explicitly forbid bribery. So, for the vast majority of project managers, bribery is out of the question.
Let me share a story with you, however, that may sway your opinion a bit. One day about 3-4 months ago, I was discussing a foreign project management training assignment with a colleague. He was being asked to teach a 3-day project management course in a far-off country. (For the sake of not offending anyone, let’s leave the country name out of this as it is not necessary to make my point.)
I was teaching a project management course last week and presented a module on stakeholder management. In this module, I presented some techniques for identifying project stakeholders, some criteria for evaluating them to see which ones have an important influence over the project, and strategies for dealing with stakeholders who may have some moderate influence over the project but who are not involved in the day-to-day decisions in the project. In all, I thought it was pretty standard material.
Over the years that I’ve been attending project management events, I’ve heard project managers from various backgrounds comparing their projects in an effort to see whose project was harder to manage. Typically, these PMs are men – perhaps it is part of the genetic makeup of men that many feel the need to compete with each other to establish some type of social hierarchy.
What I’ve noticed, is that there are two typical results of these comparisons: either both projects are in similar industries and are therefore somewhat comparable, establishing one as clearly larger or more complex than the other; or the two projects are of a completely different nature, with little that can be directly compared. I most commonly see this latter occurrence when one is an engineering or construction project, while the other is an IT project.
A few days ago, I attended a seminar on managing cross-cultural projects – these are projects where there are people from diverse backgrounds on the project team, perhaps spread out in countries across the world. The course was excellent, focusing on the need for managers to understand better the cultural differences that exist between people and perhaps to leverage these differences to improve project performance. Many illustrative examples were given that showed clashes between cultural norms and how they could impact communications.
I attended another such seminar many years ago, but have not seen too many offered at conferences since then. This was once a rather specialized topic, of concern to those senior project managers lucky enough to manage large, international projects. Over the past few years, however, we’ve seen a shift in our team demographics that makes the need for cultural training all the more valuable to today’s project managers. Two main factors are contributing to this shift:
I sit down to write this article knowing that my initial proposition is going to cause some debate – even anger – among readers. Yet, I believe that the point still needs to be discussed, so I am going to take a risk and put these thoughts into writing.
The proposition that I would like to make is that the roles of project manager and business analyst are not very different from each other. In fact, I’ll even go further than that: I believe that these roles eventually merge together the higher one rises in either profession.
Now, before you start writing a strongly-worded rebuttal, please take the time to consider these facts:
I spend a portion of my time recovering troubled projects or helping project managers avoid traveling down the road towards a troubled project. In doing this, I keep making the same observation over and over again: most project managers are failing.