PLAN. COMMUNICATE. LEAD.
There was a time when I was reporting to senior managers during the project implementation. Now people report to me and I manage multiple teams. That transition was a milestone when the choice was made about what type of leader to become.
I witnessed the command and control style of leadership and I also experienced firsthand the servant leadership. When you know the difference in practice, the choice is obvious.
Care about your people, support them, enable and empower them, it will pay off in a long run and will help you build great teams who achieve outstanding results.
This is why I absolutely love this quote of John Maxwell:
“Leaders become great not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others”.John Maxwell
The beauty of personal growth and career development is when your projects and assignments are harder than your current skillset. That is the formula, which I tested on my own skin and I don’t tolerate those environments that do not have or offer such incentives.
Only if you challenge yourself with more difficult tasks and continuously exit your comfort zone, you have a chance to become really exceptional. In my own example, I chase assignments to more and more complex projects, because they present a challenge, make me think and find creative solutions. That is all that matters.
Once you prove your ability to deliver, keep going – ask for more. Everyone had to do something for the first time, with failures and mistakes, then did it again but better, and then again – but more difficult. That is how it has to be.
I think we are always learning in one way or another from other people. Some people serve as an example of what NOT to do – so you learn from their mistakes and save your self time and effort. Some people provide value by showing with their own example what to do, how to improve things, and in which directions to go.
Use those observations for your own benefit – in personal life, at work, with friends and colleagues. There is no need to re-invent the wheel and you can save yourself a lot of effort and time with this approach.
Have you ever had situations when people don’t follow the instructions? You have organized a meeting, you have explained and walked the team through the process, you prepared documentation… and nobody followed it. Well, I had such situations and I know what is the problem.
If people don’t understand why they need to do something or how they need to do it, they will not do it. It is in our human nature to avoid complicated things and situations, which we can not grasp. So no wonder if we hear something really complicated or something we don’t understand – we don’t follow it, we avoid it and we keep doing same things we did.
Solution is simple – make sure your people understand, find a way to verify if they understood, observe their behaviour after the explanation and help correct the variations over time, schedule 1:1 walkthrough sessions, explain and help. You will see – it will yield results and bring value to you and to your teams.
It’s good to have conversations and discussions with people who have different point of view than you. I think it is not even just good – it is most valuable. You realise suddenly that your own understanding was not full or that you looked at the situation from different angle, or maybe you have not considered some factors, because of lack of experience or simply because you were not aware that they had to be taken into consideration.
It does not mean you have to agree to all those opinions, of course, but take them as some food for your thoughts and analyse them. When doubts start raising – that is exactly what you need.
So, next time you create a plan, a schedule, a strategy or decide to discuss some approach to the problem – make sure you get someone from your team, from your Business or superior colleagues (preferably those, with whom you disagree most) who can jump into discussion with you and try to “kill it” with their different point of view. Well, you got the idea, now try it.
When working in project environment, you act in a non-isolated environment. You have many different departments and teams. You don’t act alone. Even if you deliver some of your own tasks on time, many other tasks have dependency on others or their deliverables. This means if they are late, you will be late as well. So how to deal with that?
I provide deadlines taking into consideration some small buffer in case someone is late. For example: “Hi Alex! Could you please provide information on how many hours you will be available for the project this month? I need this information by Friday September 28th. Thank you!”. If this information is important, I can add a reminder in my calendar to keep an eye on that and follow up if not done.
See, if you just ask without deadline, your request may seem as not important, can be missed or reply may be provided in 2-3 weeks or never. You may even forget yourself about this query.
I see this approach work in practice very well and I believe it helps to manage better.
Quite often when you run projects certain situations happen, which present a risk of not achieving the deadline. And often you have only one plan how to achieve that deadline. What happens then is that people end up in situations, when they have to explain why some things can not be achieved and how much delay is expected.
But life might get a bit easier if you have a Plan B – a kind of back up plan, which you can use and still be able to achieve your deadline and provide the promised deliverables. Your Plan B can be a temporary solution, which can be brought to life and serve until actual solution is being delivered. Or your Plan B can be a permanent solution which can be implemented and help meet the deadline instead of the one, which brings delay. Think about that and keep this in mind, so you are perceived as a creative and resourcefull PM, who finds solutions for complex situations and does not create more problems.
I’ve been working for quite a while already in project management, in both so called, “waterfall” and “agile software development” projects and again and again I see value in planning. Your Business stakeholders or your Customers always want to know: how long will the project implementation take? when will the certain features be ready? how many resources will be engaged? how much will it cost?
If you do your PM “homework” well, sit down with your team and do some high level planning and estimation – you will be able to answer these questions. And if you provide those answers to your Customers, then the right questions should start coming up: do we really want this feature, which takes so much time to implement and costs so much money? Can we use better skilled people to perform faster? Do we have enough budget to do it all? What can we do for the budget available and what are our priorities?
It has been one week since I started a new job, almost one year since I changed my last job and again extended my career horizon.
It is fascinating how any kind of change impacts the way I see the world, people, companies, development and myself. It is definitely true that the more changes you undergo and the more challenges you face, the easier it becomes later to adapt. When I first started to work in the big international company, I was very lost and at the same time excited about so many people around, processes, tools, but I remember I could not even grasp where in the structure I was and what was my role about. The open space, multiple departments, numerous locations. No wonder that a person, who is put into such work environment for the first time would feel like a piece of sand in Sahara desert.
Then I changed again and then again and again. And finally I got it: thanks to different experiences and opportunities, I got to the understanding how it all works and that it is just the scale which makes things look so complicated.
Some of my lessons learned after such different experiences are:
- Know your organizational structure. Know your “WBS element“, your “LEGO brick” and where you belong. This will help tremendously to see the structure as a whole and where you belong in it and see where you can develop if you’d like.
- Know the person you report to and the person above him/her and a person above them. It is not enough to know your direct supervisor. In case you wonder why? Answer is as following : you can not afford that your career and development are all in hands of one person. What will you do if they appear to be not competent enough? What is they will block your development? What if they appear to behave unprofessionally? Then you would have at least couple of options at hand how to influence your supervisor:)
- Learn about tools and processes, which are available in your company. Why? Because it will be easier to do your job from the very beginning if you know how things work in the company, rather than learning by doing only and running into mistakes, which could have been easily avoided. I’ve done it and I know the pain!
- Learn about development opportunities. As you know – begin with the end in mind. Imagine what you want to become within the company you work for. Don’t know how about you, but it gives me fantastic energy charge when I know what I want and where I want to be. Not only within the companies I have been working for, but thinking globally. And in case company will not help you achieve your goals, you don’t change the goals, you change the company. It definitely pays off to be true to oneself:)
Now, I still feel the anxiety when changing the environment, people, processes etc. I guess this is a normal feeling when you go out of your comfort zone. The fact is, though, that the more used you get to this, the faster you accommodate and in much shorter period you feel like ” at home” again.
Therefore, welcome changes and don’t be afraid to change and to undergo changes. This is the only way to grow.
Ever since I started to work in projects, I saw in practice how important it is to have a goal, a purpose in whatever you do. It doesn’t matter if you are a project or program manager or a windows administrator.
Maybe a trivial statement, but purpose unites people – into communities and teams. I am amazed to see how the simple “meaning” adds flavor to any work which has to be done.
I know in practice what happens when people in project teams don’t know where they are going and why they are doing it. I remember how frustrating I was, when I was supposed to be part of the project where nobody knew why, how and when it was planned to be done. I witnessed such situations twice and this experience was enough to make a statement : when I am a leader and have a team – the first thing I should do is to clarify for myself and then for my team – the big “WHY”. And Keep reminding about it as often as possible, to ensure that our “Why” is still valid!
Without goal and purpose people and projects are destined to failure. These are absolute must-be questions and there must be answers: Why do you do this project? Why is it important that you do this task? What is the end result expected? When is it expected to be done?