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Author: Abhishek Mishra

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.

Redefining the PMO as Power Management Office

Straight Talk

When I ask the question to my peers and friends that what does P stands for in PMO, I always got a typical response like “Projects,” “Program,” or “Portfolio.” How about “Power,” “Potential,” and “Pioneer”? Why I am referring to these three, let me explain. Processes and governance are vital aspects to ensure smoother Project execution and delivery, but strong leadership skills are essential to ensure a successful outcome. The next question would be to what extent leadership skills are critical? The answer is straightforward; the most significant project outcome is mostly down to the leadership skills and the project team’s capabilities running the show. I have witnessed this in my career, and I, too, believe this wholeheartedly. Now one may ask, then how about the worst project outcomes? For the worst project outcomes, I always use a single word, “team,” and use such words intentionally. Because I believe it is not down to the Project manager or the portfolio manager or maybe the head of the PMO for that matter. I think it is a team effort, and we all know that a successful team will have great leaders. Strong leadership skills have become essential for making a project successful as they can differentiate success and failure.

Creating the Difference

If someone is looking to improve their PMO or looking to advance their career as a Project Manager, they need to pay strong attention to building strong leadership skills. As per my experience, Project Management Offices led by strong leaders can achieve better results and outcomes. The individuals who have equipped themselves with Strong leadership skills can earn the currency they needed to climb the management ladder.

Second best Job in the World

As a Project Management professional, I always think that I have the second-best Job in the World. I still believe that I have the best Job until my multi-talented wife showed me otherwise. Though what we do is excellent from CIO to Project Managers and the Project Team, we are the change catalyst within our organization. Our Organization’s IT strategy and the entire business strategy is effectively a Project Manager’s responsibility. It is the vision, clarity, Communication, and thought of a Project Manager, which turns the hazy conceptualize projects into a significant market disruptor. Personally, the Project Management/ Project Manager role is exciting, and it is never meant for the fainthearted, timid, or Reticent nature of individuals. It is not only a role; it’s a heck of responsibilities and takes the real strength of character. So, it is not a role or a most sought job, but it is something that can define & refine one’s character.

My Research

I have been doing much research on the “importance of Strong leadership in Project Management.” I did search this on google, and it throws me 10+ million results. Well, practically, someone cannot go through all ten million-plus details. So, I checked some of the posts and articles, and most of them appear to be a list of attributes that strong IT leader’s must-have. It also shows some books, videos that can turn someone into a great leader. The lists are worth a browse, though they are mostly listed a few of the obvious things like “Clear Communicator,” “great motivator,” “controlling your emotions,” but apart from these, those are a good read for anyone. But one thing I observed that all those articles or posts are missing one of the critical elements. Great leaders indeed need to have “integrity” & “delegation” skills, and they also need to be a “great team builder.” Still, I believe it is only 20% because the remaining 80% is always either, You, me, we, or us, i.e., the CIO, the Project Manager, and the Project team. Apart from all, it is an individual’s USP, DNA*, and culture, which makes you a great or a strong leader.

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Difference Between Success & Failure

The difference between success and failure is always you, me, we, or us. Technically there is no book, article, or post that can ever make you a great leader. The mistakes that we made, the lessons we learn from our mistakes, and our success teach us to become great leaders. Overall, it’s a career-long process, and the leaders never stop learning. It is a journey that a person has to travel through with having lots of exciting ups and downs. I have added an asterisked DNA because it is a question that has been raised for ages that “Are the Leaders born or made?” Well, it is a mix of both. I have personally seen some people are born leaders. They started good, got very good and now they are excellent. If I had to put a number or percentage for born leaders, it would only be 5-10%. Some have given it a go, no matter how hard they try, how many books they read, or how many seminars attend, but due to their nature, they will never make it to the league of the great leaders. If I had to put a number for these categories, it would be 10-15%. I never meant that these people are not so important, but the novice may not represent the epitome of teamwork and leadership. It only serves as an exciting demonstration of multiple roles when needed to achieve or not to achieve a particular task. They are still essential for smoother project execution and delivery, and they become a crucial part of the successful outcome, but they are not the actual leaders. The CIOs have Project Managers, who are not genuine leaders but can buy in “strength” like a commodity by accessing the Project Management as a service market. Here are the attributes of strong leadership like robust vendor governance, effective SLAs, and KPIs that can be bought in from Project Management service partners who can make it look good and sometimes even better.

Creating the leaders

There is a large space between the two groups of “high-flyers” and “buy-it-inners,” where most of the rest of us carry out our trade. Between 75% t0 85% of very good or great, strong Project Leaders were not born, but they are made. I mean, they always have the spark, untapped potential, which inspired themselves and others around them. But they are being made on a day to day, Project to Project to Project basis. CIOs’ responsibilities are to nurture their Project Manager’s potential and help them or groom them to become strong leaders. They are the future. Jumping out of the comfort zone is what excites me. Because 80% of the Project Leaders are not born, taught in a book, or read in an online list, they are made. It is only because of you, me, we & us. Whether you are a CIO, a Project Manager, or a Project team member, you are powerful as you give birth to a future leader. If the market for this approach is around 80%, then the potential is huge.

What makes a leader be a Strong Leader? 

Based on my experience and observation so far, one can become a strong leader only by “knowing themselves.” I have worked with various Project Managers, and only a few of them are self-aware and know themselves well. The rest of the Project Manager’s do not seem to be looking entirely into the mirror of themselves. The reason why I am emphasizing the point” knowing oneself/ Themselves” is because if someone is not able to see their faults or not able to see their mistakes, then how will they know where to improve? You can make Chicken dumplings from fish, no matter how hard you try or how religiously you follow the recipe. You will end up with Fish dumplings. Some Project Managers’ careers are built on a false foundation because they cannot see that from where they are starting.

Culture can make you or break you.

Organization owners need to create a culture that allows honesty and transparency, where mistakes and faults are not punished or penalized. Still, it provides an opportunity to learn from such mistakes and faults. When an organization owner does it, then it encourages immediate acknowledgment and significant correction of such errors. Thus, it provides a truthful mirror to the Project Manager, where they get to know themselves well than before. The best way for a Project manager to know themselves is by inviting and, more importantly, listening to the feedback from up and down the command chain. The C-Suite executives usually provide valuable clues in their every single response. I always like to listen, and I always encourage listening objectively, not adding any filter to our perceptions. Do not project your home movie onto the feedback you are being given.

The Beginning

The main strength of a leader becomes clearer through self-awareness. When one realizes that they have fish, not chicken, you start to know and learn what to do with it. So, when you know who you are, what you are capable of achieving when you see yourself where you went, how you can improve, and when you listen without prejudice, that’s when you become a more generous and strong leader, as I have mentioned earlier that it’s a career-long process. You will not be as great or as strong today as you will be in the future, but you already knew that with self-awareness.

***Now, I think you will agree with me that “P” in “PMO” stands for “Power,” “Potential,” and “Pioneer.” If you are still not sure, please join “PMO officers” & “Women PowerUP Network,” where the other prominent leaders and I groom an ordinary candidate to become an extraordinary leader. Please tune to our Podcast channel We_Relearn (undefined) on 16th Nov 2020 for more such exciting topics.***

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are my own. I have shared my professional experience and learnings through this article. This article is based on my observation and perspective. People may have different points of view, and I welcome the same. So please share your views with me to help me understand this topic in a better way.