The Complete Project Manager: Building the Right Set of Skills for Greater Project Success
Success in any environment largely depends upon completing successful projects, and successful projects get done by skilled project managers and teams, supported by effective project sponsors. Integration of knowledge and skills makes the difference in who achieves greater optimized outcomes. A Complete Project Manager integrates key people, team, business, organizational, and technical skills. Part One posed an organic analog from molecular chemistry and shared insights, experiences, and examples intended to motivate action towards embracing an integrated approach to the complete project manager. We began the process of identifying key skills. Part Two continues the quest to identify and apply additional skills.
Project Management Skills
Complete project managers build upon the foundation established by PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (see Figure 2). Our goal is to add insights and examples as aids for complete project managers in their quest to make sense of and apply the PMBOK®.
A common shortcoming is to focus on a benefit you are providing (an output) and not articulating the benefit of the benefit (the outcome—value in business terms). Outputs are actual deliverables or products/services. Outcomes are the success criteria or measurable result of successful completion of the outputs. Emphasis is often placed on collecting outputs with little attention paid to outcomes. But outputs may have little intrinsic value unless they are linked to outcomes. For example, a complete project manager might state, “By initiating a project office to coordinate our portfolio of projects [output], we select the right projects to meet our strategic goals and provide the key set of services required by our end users [outcome].” These statements have a strong project management process behind them.
More systemic and widespread progress is possible than in any other area when complete project managers focus attention on creating project-friendly environmental conditions. The same approaches applied by equally talented managers may have quite different outcomes depending upon the culture, operating principles, structure, customs, procedures, and values in place. We refer not to the physical environment but to the surrounding interrelationships among people that permeate how and what happens in an organization. These are the man-made artifacts that overlay the physical environment.
It is increasingly likely that multicultural teams become the norm in most environments. The complete project manager needs to be sensitive to the impact of culture on every project…and how to create an effective culture.
Complete project managers embrace chaos as a natural operating force. A firm grasp of purpose is the means to prosper in any environment. It is also important to take social responsibility for being a good citizen in the larger context of the surrounding environment.
To be successful, it is necessary to assess the current environment (see Graham and Englund, 2004) and understand the forces driving all behaviors. With this knowledge in place, it becomes possible to know how to approach project based work with a higher probability of success, based upon reality based knowledge of how people operate in a specific environment. Putting this knowledge to work happens in preparing and executing action plans.
An imperative facing complete project managers in all organizations is not only to embark on a quest to manage project management processes, but also to execute projects within “green” organizations that encourage project-based work. A “green” organization is better positioned not only to survive but to prosper, even in difficult times.
Usage of “green” terminology in this context extends the physical, tangible thinking about our environment into the non-physical, intangible relationships that affect working environments among people in an organization. In this sense, “green” is good, productive, and desirable, allowing people to work as natural, organic living systems are intended to do. Examples would be:
- trust among colleagues and management is ever present
- cooperation instead of competition is the norm
- a common sense of purpose provides sustenance and meaning to all activities
- a shared vision brings clarity to the direction of work
- people fully communicate with each other regularly
- individuals are respected, able to express their creativity, and have power to influence others through positive persuasive techniques
On the other hand, “toxic” working environments are permeated by mistrust, failures to communicate, burdensome reporting requirements, misguided metrics, and cutthroat tactics. Negative political practices create uneasiness and frustration among all except those who wield them with power.
A toxic element might be managers who barely understand or appreciate the project management process, and they make demands or decisions that are short-sighted. A green element is leaders who engage their people in open discussion, and possible dissent, to determine the best way to proceed on a complex project.
We believe these “green” aspects are necessary for complete project managers to buy into, create, and support. Without this approach, people and organizations are often doomed to failures, overruns, and dissatisfied stakeholders. Each person has the power within him or her to embrace this thinking and act upon it every day.
The results delivered by projects depend upon what you negotiate. Everything is negotiable, both at work and in everyday lives. It is in your best interest, and for your team and organization, that you embrace negotiating as a requisite skill…and implement it dutifully. Negotiating is fun, and it is productive. As you develop negotiating skills via learning and practice, people come to respect you more rather than perceiving that you are challenging their professionalism. Take a negotiating course, read the books, change your attitude to apply the concepts, especially win-win, be prepared, patience, believe you ARE a good negotiator (of course each of us can improve but that is another story)…, and you will be grateful every day that you made this shift.
We see it over and over again how simply asking for something during a discussion results in a better outcome. The other party can always say no, and no harm is done. That party may say yes or counter propose, and each side is happy with the outcome. Get something in exchange for every concession. Complete project managers owe it to themselves and their partners to engage in negotiations. The time is now to view everything as negotiable.
Complete project managers understand the power structure in their organizations. Clues to a power structure may come from an organizational chart, but how things get done goes far beyond that. Influence exists in people’s hearts and minds, where power derives more from legitimacy than from authority. Its presence occurs in the implementation of decisions.
Improving organizational performance depends upon getting more accomplished through projects. Just what gets accomplished and how comes under the purview of power and politics. Organizations by their nature are political. The political process is always at work in organizations. To be effective, project managers need to become politically sensitive. Encourage excellence in project sponsorship by managing up the organization (see Englund and Bucero, 2006).
Assessing the environment, rethinking attitudes towards power and politics, and developing an effective political plan are foundation steps. These help to address the power structure in an organization, identify critical stakeholder levels of trust and agreement, develop a guiding coalition, and determine areas of focus.
An overlay to the project management process is to prepare a political plan. This plan involves observing how an organization gets work done and performing stakeholder analysis. It further incorporates creative human dynamics to encourage proactive thinking about how to respond to and influence other people in the organization. Complete project managers develop political plans as well as effective project plans.
Conflict Management Skills
In situations that matter the most, we often perform at our worst. A basic question to ask is, “What is at stake here?” To avoid failure, the solution is to conduct a learning conversation which means to engage in dialogue with a free flow of meaning. Figure 3 depicts the flow from challenges to options:
Here are suggested steps for achieving dialogue in a learning conversation:
- Begin from the third story—not your story or the other person’s story, but how an impartial observer would describe the conflict or situation; also could be an alternate story creating an ideal situation.
- Explain your purpose and extend an invitation. It is always wise to ask people if it is okay to give them feedback or share constructive criticism.
- Explore their story to demonstrate empathic understanding.
- Share your own story that brings personal learnings into the dialogue.
- Take the lead in problem solving.
Know that you are continuously in sales cycles throughout project life cycles. Be not a victim of lost sales or opportunities. Embrace the sales process as the means to secure necessary commitments in a genuine manner worthy of a complete project manager.
The classic sales approach, applicable to almost any environment, is to cover features, benefits, and advantages, as depicted in Figure 4. Seek compelling wording and arguments.
If you know not what the customer, team member, or sponsor most cares about, you may need to describe all features of your product, project, or solution. A better approach is to ask questions, listen, and then focus on what the other party truly cares about. Provide details, a prototype, or a demonstration so that person clearly understands what the key features of your proposal are. “This Project Management Office (PMO) addresses a key deficiency in the organization by providing a complete document management and retrieval system. Let me show you how it works….”
Describe the benefits that accrue after these features are implemented, “This system relieves in-field consultants from time-consuming, low value-added activities, provides increased quality assurance within the project delivery process through access to most up-to-date documents, and serves as a breeding ground for knowledge sharing.”
Project how these benefits provide a competitive advantage for the organization, “Implementing this system means our customers will be served by the latest technology with error free documentation, leading to more repeat business, and field consultants can spend more time addressing both existing and new customer requirements and turning them into sales.”
Follow a selling process that facilitates relationship building with buyers. Be dedicated to serve others and present to them what they really need. Probe for issues through carefully crafted, open-ended questions.
Change Management Skills
Project leaders do not like change any more than followers do unless, of course, it is their idea. Change is hard for everyone. You cannot move forward and stay the same at the same time. People resist change for several reasons:
People resist change because of personal loss. A key obligation of a project manager is to talk to stakeholders about how that change will affect them.
People resist change because of fear of the unknown. Project managers need to communicate both knowns and unknowns throughout project life cycles.
People resist change because they were not part of the decision-making or implementation design process or because of bad timing.
People resist change because it feels awkward. Accepting change as part of project lives means exposure to a variety of new and possibly uncomfortable situations. A complete project manager is willing to experiment, assess personal and others’ reactions and behaviors, and seek a path towards progress.
People resist change because of tradition. Many professionals have managed projects without applying a formal methodology for many years. As organizations grow in terms of people and project complexity, the need arises to implement a formal PM methodology.
The keys to dealing with change successfully are having a good attitude toward it and being prepared to meet it. Understand the change management process: create the conditions for change, make change happen, and make change “stick.” Change will happen whether you like it or not. Without change there can be no improvement. Complete project managers make a commitment to pay the price for change. Change needs to happen within you before it can happen around you. It is never too late to change.
Market and Customer Knowledge
Success in the market place is the usual source of positive cash flow. Successful projects bring vitality into an organization. As a key contributor to these outcomes, project managers are well advised to be aware of what is happening in the market and make appropriate decisions that positively influence the cash flow resulting from project outcomes.
What we must never forget is that customers pay the bills and our salaries. Bosses, of course, are important to our well-being and futures, but if customers go away or stop doing business with us, everybody suffers. There are internal customers as well who depend on project outputs and outcomes. Complete project managers have an obligation to attend to all customers.
All projects have a customer. Complete project managers take care to understand market forces and customer satisfaction issues that guide them on to successful projects. Apply servant leadership skills. Implement ethical practices in all interactions.
Your fate as a complete project manager is up to you. We have opened doors, proposed a structure, and shared thoughts, insights, and experiences. More detailed examples and a toolkit are available in our two volumes on The Complete Project Manager. As depicted in the ever expanding molecular structure of organic chemistry, as well as the potential of social networking, infinite combinations of skills are possible. Greater project success comes to those who integrate skills from multiple disciplines. What will be your path? Achieving completeness is an unending—and thoroughly satisfying—journey. The rest of the story is in your hands….
Assessment (EASI), Action Plan, and Political Plan templates. Retrieve from www.englundpmc.com, “Offerings”.
Bucero, Alfonso (2010). Today Is A Good Day, Ontario (Canada): Multimedia Publications.
Englund, Randall and Bucero, Alfonso (2006). Project Sponsorship: Achieving Management Commitment for Project Success, San Francisco: Jossey Bass Publishers.
Englund, Randall & Bucero, Alfonso (2012). The Complete Project Manager: Integrating People, Organizational, and Technical Skills. Vienna, VA: Management Concepts.
Englund, Randall & Bucero, Alfonso (2012). The Complete Project Manager’s Toolkit. Vienna, VA: Management Concepts.
Goleman, Boyatzis, McKee (2002). Primal Leadership. Harvard Business Press.
Graham, Robert J. and Englund, Randall L (2004). Creating an Environment for Successful Projects: Second Edition. San Francisco: Jossey Bass Publishers.
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Randall L. Englund, MBA, BSEE, NPDP, CBM, is an author, speaker, trainer, professional facilitator, and consultant for the Englund Project Management Consultancy (www.englundpmc.com). He also facilitates project management seminars for the Project Management Institute as well as conducts courses at University of California extensions and for other professional associations. Randy applies an organic approach to optimize processes that create an environment for more successful projects.
Alfonso Bucero, MSc, PMP (Project Management Professional), is the founder and Managing Partner of BUCERO PM Consulting, REP (www.abucero.com).He received the PMI Distinguished Contribution Award in 2010 for his long and varied body of work and was designated as a Fellow of the Institute in 2011. He delivers PM training and consulting services in countries world-wide.Alfonso defends Passion, Persistence and Patience as vital keys for project success.
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