Jun 262014

Yesterday was one of those days, a blue Monday in the middle of the week. One of those days where everything seems set against you and your purpose.

It’s interesting that these kind of days always seem more likely when one isn’t quite so happy with the way things are.

Coming off a bit of a grumpy day after closing down the MX-5 opportunity disaster [and to be honest, berating myself a little for my weakness and inconsistencies] yesterday just flowed on from there.

The factory in China is the bane of my existence at the moment. They debate every little request, usually with ‘No’. It’s super-frustrating trying to meet a customer project specification with a crowd like that who doesn’t even address the project specification but just forge ahead with their standard concept.

Anyhow, that’s par for the course as a PM, so no real complaints other than I’m tired and want to try something different down in Glencairn. Biggest challenge is, and remains, the wonderful back-office staff and unfathomable procedures, processes, forms and ‘rules’. On top of all the other frustrations, when someone cannot give me a good reason or cannot explain what a piece of data required is for other than ‘That’s the form, that’s what is required, I don’t no why” then I find it hard not to show my frustration.

The point of all this whining ?

I’ll tell you why. Because I care! I care to be seen as a competent professional. That’s what I do and to a certain extent, it reflects on my abilities when I cannot focus the team all in the same direction. I don’t buy into the CMA management approach, a woolly masses “as long as it’s someone else’s fault” approach. I’m invested in the job while I’m here and take it’s success seriously [probably too seriously if I’m honest with myself]

I suppose the other thing that grates, a lifelong ‘wound‘ that gets prodded with regularity, is the fact that no-one listens. I hate that, especially when their stance has no logic behind it [and let’s be honest, “because it’s always been done this way” is just plain stupid, like a parent telling their child ‘because I told you so‘].

After a stint away from this specific corporate, I certainly was under no illusions that things would be different in the back-office on my return. What I do find strange in myself is that the frustration levels seem similar to those when I left. This is surprising. The role I left behind, a middle management position, had a direct requirement to address the engineering and project management efficiencies and as a result it was difficult to take the ‘not listening‘ to heart. Returning as a bottom-feeder, there is no such requirement, no reason for me to feel it my responsibility to identify and correct broken and inefficient processes. And yet, there it is, the same feeling of frustration?

Life is too short for this. I’ve made my choices and I’m satisfied with where my career job is and will be. It’s not always like this and as life progresses, this kind of knee-jerk response becomes less and less frequent, an aberration in what is normally a fairly relaxed, stress free life. The challenge is to withstand the constant barrage of this for another 5-10 years and then, let’s be honest, the new life will have different challenges.

As in all things, living on the edge is fine in short bursts, but when it’s done continuously, living with no buffer, no breathing space any small thing can turn into a major life-threatening crisis. The buffer in this case is a Cape Town break. The decision to not do the China trip is taken, no matter the consequences. Time to forge ahead and take a couple of days to recharge that buffer.

Feb 112012

A recent incident occured which, amonst other things, served to re-inforce my belief that, in order to motivate and lead people and teams to common project objectives, the good Project Manager will take the time to try and understand motives. Or at the very least, fully consider and understand his own motives for taking a certain course of action.

My current organisation has a clearly defined project lifecycle, which, for the purposes of this discussion, consists of two high-level phases which we shall call – “Sales Phase” and “Project Execution Phase”. One of our key corporate governance issues is to ensure that our client to whom we will be delivering the project is registered in the financial system, a step which includes gathering all pertinent company and legal data for the loading and creation of an account. This needs to be done before commencement of the “Project Execution Phase”. We also have a clearly defined project process, which puts this governance item squarely and unequivocally within the “Sales Phase”.

The project is kicking off when I discover that I can’t proceed. There’s no account open, 2 1/2 months after the process was started. Why, I don’t know? My fault as a PM for not micro-managing the process? Maybe, maybe not! But the fact is that it’s delaying the project now and it needs doing, yesterday, top priority. Only it’s not felt to be top priority by Mr Sales. So, what do I, as a PM do about it? Do I do it myself? I know I can. All it will take is a little bit of effort and time (in amongst the 100-and-1 other things I have to get done to kick the project off).

But then I sit back and think. This is a recurring organisational challenge that several of my PM’s have struggled with. If I just sort the problem out on my project, chances are nothing will change and the problem will surface again to give the next project the same pain. So, in the interests of organisational improvement, I bounce the ball back to Mr Sales and when he doesn’t accept his responsibility to my satisfaction, I bounce the pressure up the organisational heirarchy.

Now, I know I can be a bit direct and calous, but this was not one of those times. The interaction was professional, the human interface polite but firm. Unfortunately the response was in writing and very emotional, calling in the big guns of senior management in an attempt at – I’m still not sure what!

Bottom line – “I am absolutely unwilling to entertain any further disrespect and attitude. I refuse to work with this project manager unless……”

So now there are a few ways that I can think of that I might respond.

  • If I believe that I need to defend myself, protect my turf and my reputation so to speak, I might respond in a certain way, going on the offensive.
  • If I care about this individual being my best friend, I’ll respond to allay his fears that I was indeed being disresctful.
  • If Ibelieve that others don’t deserve courtesy and respect, I’ll lay into him with all the malice and sarcasm I can muster.

The other way is to just allow him to have his emotional wobble, to acknowledge that it is ‘his’ emotional wobble and not mine. Just focus on the problem and the solution. 

  • Problem – No Account Opened.
  • Possible Solution – PM climbs in and does himself.
  • Hassle with that – No organisational improvement.
  • So, next solution – Sorry Mr Sales. Very respectfully – “It’s what you signed up to do. Please do it and it needs to happen in a hurry” 

A word of advice. ITS NEVER PERSONAL. Well, maybe it is, but if you stick with that thought, it’s a whole lot easier to focus on the facts and the desired outcomes.

Leave the emotions to others. Know why you want something and focuss on the facts and the actions necessary to achieve that. It’s not about walking rough-shod over people and their feelings. Absolutely not! But, in the project space, it’s also about getting things done properly.

Sometimes, it’s not possible to keep all the people happy all of the time. Be fair, respectful and mindful and then take action consistent with your beliefs and objectives. That’s one of the characteristics of a good project manager. Be accountable for your own decisions !!

Sep 212011

I serendipitously stumbled across a TED2006 talk by Tony Robbins which I found interesting. You can watch the embedded video which I’ve taken the liberty of summarising as follows:

 All people have the same 6 needs:

Every human finds the 1st four somehow:

      • Certainty
      • Variety [Uncertainty]
      • Significance
      • Connection and Love

Some never find the latter 2 fulfillment/spiritual needs:

      • Growth
      • Contribution beyond ourselves

 Our behaviours are thus determined by:

      • Which of the 6 needs ‘leads’ or dominates ?
      • Our maps [beliefs/worldview]
      • Our decisions/actions:
          • What we choose to focus on
          • The meaning we give to that
          • The actions we take as a result

The basic storyline goes something like… “We all crave certainty to some extent, wanting to predict the future, our financial success, our happiness, ……but too much certainty leads to boredom and so we need some level of variety” …. etc. etc.

So, if this is indeed true, we have a [yet another] ‘system’ to try and make sense of how people behave [and in this site’s context, how project team members or project stakeholders behave]. If you understand which of the 6 needs, or combinations thereof, predominantly drive an individual, then you have a better idea of how they might respond to, for example, the change that your project might introduce into their life.

Might one take this thought process a step further and apply it to organisations as well ? Still thinking hard about that one…….

Take a look at the video….it will all become much clearer…. !

Jun 022011

What motivates project teams and leaders [and indeed all members of the human race] ? What makes them do what they do? Why do individuals seem better at some tasks than at others, doing great work in some areas and seemingly neglecting others?

I believe that there are 4 main reasons anyone does anything:

Reward, Recognition, Process, Contribution

For someone to be happy in the long term at their job or on their projects, they will have a mix of these motivators. No-one can escape the reward issue. After all, we all have families to feed. While recognition is often down-played, if one truly thinks about it, everyone likes a bit of positive feedback for a job well done.

The last 2, process and contribution, I think are the predominant ones. For one to be truly content in the long term there needs to be a sense of working, not necessarily toward a goal or outcome, but in a way that is inherently pleasing and within the context of contribution to the community around us.

So, if these are indeed common motivators, what are you, as Project Manager, doing with your team? Are you recognising and re-inforcing where appropriate? If the parameters on the one hand are restrictive [eg fixed corporate pay structures] are your lifting the focus on the others in order to keep your teams at optimum performance?

And on a personal level, do you have these 4 in the correct proportions in your own life? Some people are predominantly ‘Reward ‘focused, bowing to the almighty dollar above all else. What about the need for acknowledgement and recognition? We all have similar challenges to a certain extent. The key to long-term contentment though lies with the latter two: ‘Process’ and ‘Contribution’. Keep the focus on these and contain the overwhelming urge to give free reign to the former two and there’s a good chance at long-term happiness and success.


May 172011

People are generally not bad. They want to do a good job, they want to be creative, they want to be accountable. People do have strengths and weaknesses though, as well as unspoken needs and fears, all of which are powerful unseen motivators that can drive all sorts of strange behaviour. You only have to observe the way people go about their business day-to-day in order to validate that.

There are the PC crowd, hiding behind smiley faces and politically correct murmurs and nods, yet saying and doing are two entirely different animals.

There are those, technically brilliant souls, but totally unable to focus and deliver.

There are those that can be trusted to knuckle down and get the job done.

There are those that require micro-management.

The list goes on and on.

There is a spot for all these in our corporates and on our projects. As a project manager your greatest asset will be the ability to ‘read’ the individual, to have a mental SWOT of them and to put them to use in areas within your project that gives them the best chance of shining. That’s good for them and good for your project.