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How did I transform myself into a better Project Manager?

 I was listening to some good old music some years back, and that’s when Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” caught me, and since the time I hear this song, I can’t stop myself thinking what a great…

Project Manager he would have made!
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The song is all about clear messages, which means communicating one’s intention & vision and getting it right when you have a deadline in mind. But “if someone wanted to make the world a better place, then they should look at themselves and then make the change!” ultimately, this song made me look at myself, and I love the second bit where it says, “look at yourself and make the change!”.

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I am sure it won’t go well down with all the Project Management experts and the writers, but the fact is often as a Project Leader, a little self-driven, and self-improvement can help you succeed in the way, which hour-long of management training and on-line courses can only dream of.  At some point in our career, we understand that what we need to focus on? What we will read in those textbooks, and what the speaker usually preaches in the webinars. By attending these webinars and reading various artefacts, we can only help us for a few days. Let me put it across this way- we usually take our notes, go back and do things differently in our Project for a day or two, and then after that, we will slip back to our same old habits when the Project gets hard. I am not sure about all of you, but this has happened to me many times.
I have been speculating why this happened to me every time. After hearing the song, I realized why and let me put that across in a simple and understandable way. In our projects, we deal with change requests, and if the case for the change is not clearly defined, communicated, and adopted by all parties, it will lower the success rate for the same change request and sink in deep down the dark. Similarly, too much of eternal Project Management coaching can only polish the surface, and we leave the motivational speaker all whined with new ideas but found it sputter when we are back in the office. 

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 I am sure many will curse me or scold me after reading this article, but let me clarify that I am the biggest fan of all external project resources, coaching and certifications. Still, here the problem is, are this so-called partner in the process is willing to get to know you, your organization, your culture the way you do? If yes, they would have sticked you in front of the mirror and told you to have a word with yourself!
Having this in my mind and with the inspiration from Michael Jackson, I present the Project Man(ager) in the mirror. Now I will share what I did there, and from here, you are kind of on your own.

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 I blocked some time in my calendar, stood in front of a mirror, took a long hard look at myself, how I have managed my projects and the people on whom my project success depends. Then I started asking some tough questions to myself about me! Those questions are the followings.
    • Are my methods being up to date?
    • Do I cut corners?
    • Am I listening to the team with proper attention?
    • Do I sometimes settle for good, whereas I can strive for the best?
    • Do I have the right people in the right place?
    • Are there gaps in my thinking and the way I am doing things?
    • Can I be benefited by doing multiple Project Manager certifications?
    • Can I be benefited by attending multiple Project Management related webinars?
    • Can I recommend my organization for complementary Project management services?

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 Honesty is the key to get the answer; the more honest you are, the more you could get out of these questions. The more that we drill down with these questions, the more uncomfortable it will get, and yes, sometimes it can be painful, but it’s worth it, and it’s worth more than spending your time, energy, and money on certifications, courses, textbooks, and webinars. This small and affordable exercise can gain you the worth of the millions, billions, and sometimes trillions because through this exercise, you will get the freedom to move forward more prominently and boldly. Simultaneously, it can pay you back big time and form the basis of very powerful personal and strengthen your roots as a great leader and team mission statement.
Now that all of you would have a question in mind, that this exercise can also be done by a Project Management coach or maybe by a life coach more effectively. The answer is easy; no one knows you better than yourself; if you refer to a coach, make sure that the coach knows more about you than yourself! I know, and I am sure that is not possible, so do this exercise by yourself, or if you have a partner whom you can trust. You can also be brutally honest with them; then I recommend you to do this exercise with them and trust me; you will get out more than your expectation.
Having said this, I did this exercise with myself some years back, and I have introduced a lot of positive changes to myself and my project management approach. It may help you recognize some of these in yourself, but it may not also because it is ultimately as personal as one’s fingerprint. So, here is what I came away with my self mirror analysis. 

Listen more than I talk.

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 Some years back, through this “Self-Mirror Analysis” exercise. I have realized that I am an “over-talkative” person. Being a Project Leader of various strategic projects, I had a habit of telling everyone how it would be. By harnessing this habit of mine, I found that my communication became focused, which means everyone better understood my version. The project team felt that they were being listened to and engaged with projects. Due to the change I bought within me by just doing the “Self-Mirror Analysis,” the project team started coming up with ideas that are not bad.

Love the admin work:

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 I had a mindset that the admin side of a Project Management work is just a sheer pain, a chore, and thus I had fallen into the trap of making mental notes. Through the “Self-Mirror Analysis,” I realized the difference between good and great PMs. Initial days of my career, I am always impressed by PMs who can promptly answer a question, update the status of a Project, and share the right data as if these are part of their DNA. Till I did the “Self-Mirror Analysis,” I was always thinking that writing notes and using PM software to store the information are a sheer waste of time. However, after the analysis, my client started to see the difference easily; by the way, I started representing the data because I realized that answering the questions promptly, providing the status update, and sharing the right data is not in anyone’s DNA. Still, we will have to inject that into our DNA. Thus, my client started to see the difference, and they started to banking on my Project data as critical data/ information.

It is a team game, and there is no concept of King and kinsmen.

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 From Planning to execution, from celebrating victories to laying blame, I established myself as an autonomous PM, treating my team as “Gofers.” I had developed a culture of blame. Usually, when things went wrong, the gofer would be hauled, and “what went wrong” would be analyzed. It was all done with the best intention, but it was affecting the team’s morale. After I did the “Self-Mirror Analysis,” it changed drastically because I start giving importance to the team rather than thinking of myself as King and others as kinsmen. Things changed, and a collective responsibility emerged within the team, and suddenly everyone had everyone else’s back.

Culture by design

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 The culture wasn’t that great before, and it was one of the things that I always complain to my wife over dinner. I realized that I could design and deliver a great culture, but not sure where things are going wrong. So, after I did the “Self-Mirror Analysis,” I realized that the commoditization of IT means one can build a project piece by piece based on specific needs, so equally, a great culture is built bit by bit. As part of my analysis, I immediately replaced the long, dull meetings with quick catch-ups, interesting, engaging discussion, injected humour into the process, chats, emails wherever possible, and replaced the phone conversations with actual face-to-face wherever possible. Finally, it had become a natural environment ready to produce successful outcomes.


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 To conclude, these four points can allow a good project team to grow into a great one; I have made other improvements, but the key takeaway is that all such improvements came about through a little honest introspection. So each of you can try this, if you have a coach, colleague, and partner whom you can trust, then you can take their help to do this exercise, but I still recommend to try this out yourself, because at some point in your professional journey you have to be strong and continue your journey all alone. All the colleagues, coaches, mentors, and friends can help you only to a certain extent. All the aspiring project managers should give it a try to start with a whole new perspective. If you don’t try this out, then remember the mirror still be there. 
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are my own. I have articulated this article based on my experience of transforming myself from a stereotypical Project Manager to a free Spirit Project Manager. I hope this “Self-Mirror Analysis would work for all of you. Please do let me know how did you find this analysis.

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