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Tag: Skills

How to Prevent Project Burnout Before It Strikes

I suspect many people reading this work on projects pretty continuously. It’s normal to jump from one project straight to the next, often without much time for reflection and decompression. In fact, you might be balancing multiple smaller projects at the same time. That’s a hard gig: typically each project has its own set of deadlines, and Project A’s sponsor doesn’t care that Project B has suddenly put extra demands on your time…

 

In situations like this, it’s easy to get into the vicious cycle of working longer and longer hours. Sometimes, for a very short and defined period of time, this might be OK. But when it becomes the norm, it can become unhealthy. When weekends become the ‘mop up’ time for all the emails you couldn’t clear during the week, and Monday is filled with a sense of dread, something is probably wrong. If you’re there at the moment, I feel for you. I’ve been there. I suspect we’ve all been there.

In this blog, I wanted to share some tips that can help avoid situations like this. Of course, we are all individuals and we all have different working patterns, so what works for me might not work for you. Certainly, you’ll want to adapt the tips below, but hopefully they’ll provide you with a useful starting point:

 

  1. Say “No” Effectively

There is rarely a lack of work to be done, there is a lack of time and attention to do it effectively. Say “yes” to unrealistic deadlines and there’s a risk that everything will be rushed and everything will be late.

Yet saying “no” sounds career-limiting, doesn’t it? Who would dare say “no” to a senior leader? Perhaps it’s all about how the message is given.  For example:

 

  • Say “yes, and here’s the impact”: Imagine you’re stretched and another task comes in. A way of responding might be to say: “I can absolutely do that, by that date. However, this will impact tasks B and C. Are you happy for this new task to take priority?”.
  • Say “Thanks for thinking of me, let me introduce you to someone that can help”: It’s easy to inadvertently take on the work that others might be able to do more effectively. Perhaps someone is asking you to pick up a support issue on a project that launched months ago and is now in ‘Business as Usual’ (BAU). A response might be “Thanks, it’s always really interesting to hear how things are going on that system! I’m somewhat out of the loop with that now, as the support team took over. It’s really important that these issues are logged with them, so they can track trends. Shall I send you over a link to the defect logging form? If you don’t get any response, feel free to follow up with me and I’ll connect you with my contact there”.
  • Say “No, but here’s what I can do (and offer options)”: Imagine a completely unrealistic deadline has been given. Saying yes will save short term pain, but will cause long term issues when the deadline is missed. A better option may be to say “I can’t hit that deadline (for the following reasons), however here’s an estimate of what can be done. Alternatively, with additional resource we could achieve this…”
  • Finally, a flat out “no” is fine sometimes: Not everyone agrees with this, but in my view, particularly when something is optional, it’s fine to say a flat out no. “Would you like to help organize the summer BBQ?”.  “No thanks, I’ve got a lot on right now, so that’s not something I’m interested in”. Of course, this needs to be delivered with rapport, empathy and respect.

 

There are many other ways, and it’s important to be aware of context and culture. What works in one situation will not work in others.

 

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  1. Find Ways of Recharging (And Make Time For Them)

We all have things that replenish our energy. For me, it’s exercise (whether that’s walking or going to the gym), reading and other hobbies. It will be different for you. The irony is that when things get hectic, often these are the very things that we jettison.  Don’t! Build them into your routine and make them non-negotiable.

 

  1. Celebrate Successes

It’s so easy to jump from sprint to sprint, delivery to delivery without actually reflecting on what was achieved. Celebrating even small successes is worthwhile. This doesn’t have to be a major event, just a lunch with the team, or some other kind of social event can help mark the milestone.

 

  1. Watch for Warning Signs

Finally, it’s important that we all look out for warning signs—in ourselves and others. I remember friend and fellow BA Times author Christina Lovelock talking about ‘digital distress signals’. Is someone emailing at 6am and then again at 10pm? Might that be an indication that they are overwhelmed?  If the person has an unusual work pattern (perhaps working before the kids go to school, and catching up in the evening) it might be totally fine. But if this isn’t the case, they might be pulling 14 hour days, and that’s got to be impacting them.

 

We all feel and experience overwhelm differently, and a little bit of stress is not unusual. There’s even a theory that a little bit of stress is good for you. But continuous stress is an issue, and it’s worth watching out for.

Of course, this article has only scratched the surface of this topic, but I hope you’ve found the ideas thought-provoking. I’d love to hear how you avoid burnout on projects. Be sure to connect with me on LinkedIn and let’s keep the conversation going!

VMO Or PMO: How To Choose One for your Org

Defining PMO and VMO

A project management office (PMO) is a group, or functional unit, that sets, maintains, and enforces the practices, policies, and standards for structuring and executing projects within an organization.

 

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), a PMO is essential for enterprises seeking to centralize and coordinate the management of projects throughout their life cycles.

The Value Management Office (VMO) is an organizational function responsible for facilitating the Lean Portfolio Management process and for fostering operational excellence and lean governance as part of a Lean-Agile transformation.

Value management office (VMO) is an agile inspired function which came into existence after the focus shifted from project outcomes to Value creation. Traditionally PMO are aimed at completion of projects within triple constraints. But what if they fail to add any significant value to the organization? The shift from PMO to VMO is a shift in focus from managing projects to maximizing value across the organization.

Establishing a Value Management Office is an outcome focused which enables agility by leveraging small and easy controls. It is focused more on individuals and their interactions to generate value delivered to customers in the quickest time as compared to PMO which is more process driven and not the quickest of the lot.

 

 

Value Management Office (VMO):

  • Focus on Value Realization: The primary focus of a VMO is to ensure that the organization maximizes the value it receives from its investments, initiatives, and projects. It is concerned with the strategic alignment and value delivery of projects and programs.
  • Strategic Alignment: VMOs work closely with senior leadership to align projects and initiatives with the organization’s strategic objectives. They prioritize projects that contribute the most to achieving strategic goals.
  • Benefits Management: VMOs are responsible for defining, tracking, and realizing the expected benefits and value from projects and programs. They establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure value delivery.
  • Risk Management: VMOs assess and manage risks related to value delivery, ensuring that projects are on track to achieve their intended benefits and making adjustments as necessary.
  • Portfolio Management: VMOs often oversee the entire project and program portfolio, ensuring that resources are allocated to initiatives that provide the greatest value. They may also make decisions about project funding and continuation.

 

Project Management Office (PMO):

  • Focus on Project Execution: PMOs primarily focus on the successful planning, execution, and delivery of projects. They ensure that projects are completed on time, within budget, and according to scope.
  • Project Methodology: PMOs establish and enforce project management methodologies, standards, and best practices within the organization. They provide guidance and tools to project managers.
  • Resource Management: PMOs are responsible for resource allocation and capacity planning, ensuring that the right people with the right skills are assigned to projects.
  • Project Governance: PMOs oversee project governance, including project initiation, risk management, issue resolution, and project reporting. They ensure compliance with project management standards.
  • Project Documentation: PMOs maintain project documentation, including project plans, schedules, budgets, and status reports. They often facilitate project reviews and lessons learned sessions.

 

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VMO or PMO?

Here are some of the factors which affect the organization to choose between PMO or VMO.

    • Maturity of project management
    • Primary objective of the organization
    • Overall authority of the PM
    • Strategic alignment of the project

 

Here are some key considerations to help your organization to choose between a PMO to VMO:

  1. Understand the key differences between a PMO and a VMO: A PMO focuses on managing projects and ensuring they are delivered on time, within budget, and to scope. A VMO, on the other hand, focuses on maximizing value across the organization by aligning projects and initiatives with the overall business strategy.
  2. Align your VMO with the organization’s strategy: To maximize value, a VMO has to be aligned with the organization’s overall strategy. This requires a deep understanding of the organization’s goals and objectives, as well as an understanding of how each project or an initiative contributes to those goals. On the other hand, PMO sometimes does not goes into that strategic level, instead it achieves the goal of successful completion of project within the triple constraint.
  3. Develop a value framework: A value framework is a set of criteria used to assess the value of projects and initiatives. It can include factors such as ROI, strategic alignment, risk, and stakeholder satisfaction. Developing a value framework will help ensure that the VMO is focused on maximizing value across the organization.
  4. Communicate the value of the VMO: Transitioning from a PMO to a VMO requires buy-in from stakeholders across the organization. It’s important to communicate the value which a VMO can bring and how it will help the organization achieve its goals. Since VMO operates on the strategic level, stakeholders’ involvement and their buy ins is very high.
  5. Build a team with the right skills: The skills required for a VMO are different from those required for a PMO. A VMO requires people with strong business acumen, strategic thinking skills, and the ability to influence and communicate effectively. Make sure to build a team with the right set of skills to support the transition.
  6. Focus on continuous improvement: A VMO is not a static entity, and it requires continuous improvement to maximize value. Regularly review and refine the value framework, assess the effectiveness of the VMO, and look for ways to improve processes and procedures

The purpose of PMO and VMO are different, but organizations can choose to function with one or both depending on their needs, maturity and their overall objectives.

 

References:
  1. https://scaledagileframework.com/blog/glossary_term/agile-program-management-office/
  2. The Rise of Value Management Office (pwc.com)
  3. https://agilemanagementoffice.com/value-management-office-vs-project-management-office-whats-the-difference/
  4. https://scottambler.com/what-i-do/presentation-from-pmo-to-value-management-offices/
  5. https://www.projectmanagement.com/webinars/799732/transforming-the-pmo-into-a-vmo–value-management-office
  6. https://www.pmsolutions.com/articles/Project_Management_2022_Research_Report.pdf

 

About the Authors:

Girish Devapura, PMP, CSM, Prince 2, SAFe 6 Agilist works as Associate Practice Partner and Cloud Transformation Program Manager with Wipro, India. He is an Engineer and working as IT professional with Practice Management, People Management, Program Management and Delivery Management experience of more than 22 years.

 

Alankar Karpe, PMP, PMI-ACP, SAFe 6 Agilist has 20+ years of experience in Program and project management, Strategic management, Business consulting & research. He is working with Wipro, India as a Program Manager in Bangalore, India. He has a postgraduate diploma in management and Master certificate in Business analysis from George Washington University.

 

Managing the Present Moment Even If You Don’t Like It

A project manager asked what she could do about not liking the present moment.  She was learning to do mindfulness meditation and was finding that when she was being mindful of the present moment, she found it stressful.

She was bombarded by problem after problem experiencing anxiety centered on the fear that her project was going to fail and that she would be fired.

The stress was getting to her. She was experiencing stomach pains and a torrent of thoughts about the impossibility of meeting her schedule commitments and what would happen if she failed. She ruminated about what she could have or should have done differently.

 

Being Present – Here Now

“I find it much more helpful to drop all our ideas, concepts, and beliefs and return again and again to the openness of not knowing and the immediacy and simplicity of this moment, this living presence Here-Now.”[1] Joan Tollifson

From Here-Now you can do whatever needs to be done, say whatever needs saying. The process is simple – note, accept, analyze, act, repeat.

 

Mindfully Present

I practice, write about[2], and teach techniques for being present, to live attuned to the experience of the present moment – mindfully self-aware. That is the objective of mindfulness meditation, breathing techniques, mindful movement, grounding, awareness of physical sensations, and all the other mental and emotional wellness techniques.

Being mindful is being present – fully engaged and aware of your body’s sensations, emotions, thoughts, the environment, and the others you share it with.

Being present fuels healthy relationships and helps to manage stress and anxiety. It is a foundation for emotional intelligence and is linked to the ability to be focused and able to choose the most effective course of action.

Being present is the opposite of being spaced out, distracted, reactive, and in denial. Focus and objective choice enhance productivity and creativity.

 

Accept and Let Go

So, what can you do when the experience of the present moment is unpleasant?

The answer is simple, though not easy – accept and let go into Flow.

To accept is to take note of the unpleasantness and your feelings about it, acknowledging the present moment for what it is. To let go into Flow means to see if you can do something to manage a change skillfully.

 

Common Sense Wisdom

If you know you don’t like the present moment and can ask what you can do about it, you are being mindful of your experience and conscious of the possibility of taking action.

Common sense wisdom lets you know that you cannot change the past or the present moment and that you can influence (but not control) the future. You can accept the feelings and the situation that has triggered them.

Alternatives to that are denial and suppression.

Denial is making yourself believe that the present feelings aren’t happening. It is sticking your head in the ground like the myth of an ostrich hiding from a predator.

Suppression is medicating or meditating yourself to relieve stress symptoms. This is a better tactic than denial. Relieving the symptoms can be healthy if it is a conscious choice used to be more effective at managing your emotions and making change.

 

Manage Your Emotions

Denying your feelings and the situation is the least skillful approach. It offers no way out of the situation. Your project is still going to be late and at some point, you will be confronted with reality.

Suppression is a way to moderate the effects of your stress. Medicating or meditating away the symptoms can be helpful if you do it as a conscious choice to put yourself in a better position to address the situation and avoid the damaging effects of stress, depression, and anger. Suppressing your feelings as a knee-jerk reaction is a form of denial that leads to habitual or addictive behavior.

Acceptance gives you a choice. You can choose to suppress the stress responses, or not. But most importantly you can choose practical options for handling the situation.

With mindful self-awareness, you can manage your emotions. That means you can fully experience your emotions without reacting or being driven by them.

 

Analyze

Then, analyze to see what about the present moment you dislike, why you dislike it, and what you can do about it.

Without analysis, you are reacting. With it, you are responding.

Analysis is using your intellect to break the issue down and objectively consider alternatives. It includes the assessment of your gut feeling, criteria, priorities, and facts.

 

Act – Do Something, Or Not

If it is feasible, do something to make a change. Remember that doing nothing is a choice, though it is usually not the best in the context of projects.

In any case, accept that you can influence the future, but you cannot control it. The outcome is uncertain, and you may not like it.

 

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Application – Manage the Project

Applying this process of noting, accepting, analyzing, and acting in the real world of projects is what skillful project managers do when faced with unpleasant situations. They apply the technical skills of planning and controlling.

For Julie, our project manager, schedule overrun began as small incremental slips on critical tasks. Then, about halfway into the project, a key team member left for a better opportunity. Replacing him took two weeks followed by a learning curve and the work of integrating a new team member.

After an initial bout of panic, Julie took a few breaths and observed her feelings. Stepping back, she took an objective stance and considered her options – let stakeholders know what was going on, work faster, rescope, accept that the project would be late, and take action to minimize the damage.

She realized that hiding from the reality of the situation is a no-win approach. She also assessed her fear of being fired and realized that if she was fired because of events beyond her control, it would be an indication that her superiors were not particularly skillful.

 

Bottomline

The message is that if you don’t like the present moment, accept what you can’t change, analyze the situation and your options, and take action to influence the future. And while you are doing that become comfortable with adversity and uncertainty.

 

[1] Tollifson, Joan, “Death, The End of Self-Improvement”
[2] Check out “The Peaceful Warrior’s Path: Optimal Wellness through Self-Aware Livinghttps://a.co/d/97LpYib . It addresses the mindset and techniques to cultivate sustained wellness by accepting and letting go into Flow.

 

Mastering Time Zones: Strategies for Leading Global Teams to Success

In today’s interconnected world, project managers often find themselves leading project teams spread across different time zones. While this presents unique challenges, it also offers exciting opportunities for collaboration and diversity.

In this article, we will explore strategies to effectively manage global teams, foster communication, and promote team bonding to optimize performance, which will in turn ensure project success.

 

Time Zones. Help!

Ok. Here it is. You are managing a project team (or new team members), and with the new ways of working (remote, hybrid, or in-office), these team members all just happen to live in different time zones. Some are located across the country; some can even be across the ocean. YIKES!!! Your challenge is to keep the team connected and working towards the same project goals and outcomes. How do you do this?

Let’s start by saying that modern technology is pretty fantastic at keeping us connected no matter the distance; however, working on a project with members in multiple time zones can be challenging. Here is where great online tools such as world clocks or online converters can help you plan meetings and visualize overlapping work hours.

*Hot tip: Be mindful when booking meeting times and recognize that what’s morning for you might be late evening for someone else.

 

Communication Is Key – It is all about the channels.

Email vs. Instant Communications

While email is still essential, consider other platforms, as different team members may prefer varied communication tools.

  • Slack
  • Microsoft Teams
  • WhatsApp

Lights, Camera, Action!

Regular video meetings (teams, Zoom) build rapport and allow face-to-face interactions. Appointing certain meetings as “camera on” will help to cross the miles and make the meetings more human.

Project Management Tools

Platforms like Jira, Trello, Assana, and MS Teams facilitate collaboration across miles and time zones.

 

Setting Expectations

  • Clarify Message Response Times.
    • Note all team member’s off-hours (unless they are on an “On Call” rotation) and make it clear that immediate answers aren’t necessary.
  • Encourage Asynchronous Communication.

Use tools that allow team members to contribute when it suits their schedules.

  • Set up group channels as well as project-specific channels, so there are several ways for teams and sub-teams to connect and collaborate.
  • Organizations usually have a channel they promote or prefer, such as teams, Slack, or Discord.
  • Set up one tool and don’t use too many, as communications may get missed or some team members may feel left out.

 

Embrace Flexibility | Be mindful and agile.

  • Overlap Hours

Find common working hours for critical discussions or decision-making.

  • Flex Work

Allow team members to adjust their schedules to accommodate personal needs or local holidays.

Understand that life happens. Being open and flexible to meeting and scheduling changes goes a long way in building trust and strength with the team.

Cultural Awareness

  • Holidays and observances
    • Be aware of local holidays and cultural events.
    • Adjust project timelines accordingly.
    • Be curious about national and local holidays and traditions.
  • Language and Tone
    • Understand language nuances and adapt communication styles to avoid misunderstandings.

 

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Project Management Tools

Some helpful Project Management tools

  • Trello: Organize tasks, assign responsibilities, and track progress.
  • Jira: Organize tasks and responsibilities, assign responsibilities, reporting and track progress.
  • Google Docs: Collaborate on documents in real time.
  • Time Zone Converters: Use tools like World Time Buddy or Every Time Zone to coordinate meetings.

 

Lead by Example

Respect Boundaries

Demonstrate that you value work-life balance by not expecting instant replies outside of working hours.

*Hot email tip: Delay sending emails to align with other’s working hours.

Model Communication:

Use various channels and encourage open dialogue.

Support Team Bonding

Schedule informal team and 1:1 chats to build camaraderie.

During or after meetings, have some informal team-building exercises.

  • Show an interesting TedED Talk
  • Have a topical and fun online quiz hour.
  • Pecha Kucha share-outs: Team members take turns creating and sharing a Pecha Kucha on a topic of their choice weekly.

 

Celebrate Diversity:

  • Embrace different perspectives and learn from each other. Encourage the team members to take turns and share a bit about themselves and their interests.
  • Embrace the variety of cultures and experiences team members bring to the project team.

 

The role of a Project Manager for a global team across multiple time zones requires adaptability, empathy, effective communication, and the ability to be agile. By leveraging today’s available technology, being aware of time zones and cultural nuances, and respecting work-life balance, you can successfully lead a team that transcends geographical boundaries.

Remember, the sun never sets on well-coordinated projects.

Avoiding Road Rage: Ensuring a Smooth Project Ride

One recent unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon, I was  running errands alongside two-thirds of the American populace.  Having finished the current errand, I reached for the seat belt, confirmed I heard the familiar “click”, and was off to complete my final run for the day.  Truthfully,  I was tired and moderately cranky, due to the fact that this gorgeous day was lost to me as I drove from one corporate megastore to the next.

Traffic is more congested than normal for a weekend, again, probably due to the lovely weather.   I approach a highway requiring me to use an onramp with no merge, and after what seemed like an eternity, I see an opportunity.  Accelerating, I pulled into the lane when a vehicle suddenly approached at high speed forcing me to make a split second decision- floor it or move to the shoulder.  My anger grew (did I mention that I was already in a poor mood?).  I decided to floor it. My SUV used all it’s muscle to pull through and into the lane, requiring, I’d imagine, the speedy dude to slam on his brakes. He tailed me at a dangerously close distance, clearly intentional.  This continued for a good minute until finally he pulled into the faster lane, sped off and mouthed obscenities through his window as he passed.

Ahhh, good ol’ road rage.  It’s so common, and although it most often ends without incident, it can and does escalate. When we’re in this situation, sometimes it’s difficult to think clearly and it’s certainly easy to make bad decisions. And oddly enough, after my nerves settled, my mind wandered to work.  I was reminded of a particularly challenging project and client that’s caused me some heartburn as of late.  The similarities to this road rage incident and my project issues were, well, astounding.  And another article idea was born:  applying strategies for successful conflict resolution to both road rage and project management.

 

Stay Calm: Did that driver just flip me off?

Our clients are the most important thing in our business, but yes, clients may be irrational, demanding, and unwilling to negotiate. When someone seems unreasonable, keeping your thoughts calm is the first line of defense, and avoids putting your mind into a flight or fight response.  Take deep breaths, relax your muscles, and remind yourself that getting angry won’t solve anything. In fact, getting angry with your clients makes you look bad.

Project managers are often the face of the company so it’s your job to ensure client success.  Does that mean escalation isn’t an option? Of course it is, but ensure that you’ve done what you can to remain focused and offer concrete solutions to the clients. Make sure you have meticulous documentation.  Do your best to keep the project moving despite tensions.  The only thing you can control are your actions- whether behind the computer or behind the wheel, a steadfast manner wins every time.

 

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Plan Ahead: Don’t aggressively speed, change lanes, or flash your high beams

Road rage is more easily incited if you’re rushed, anxious, or angry.  It’s not always possible to leave for your destination early, but certainly try to allow for extra time to account for unforeseen problems such as traffic, construction, or weather.

Project managers are familiar with rushing and more often than not, when our clients ask for urgency, they back off once they realize that they too need to act with urgency.   Although project managers may breathe a sigh of relief in such situations, the effort required to book resources in preparation for a rushed project, which later fizzles to a more standard schedule, is also stressful.

Planning is the definition of project management and a PM’s golden ticket is building a solid schedule.  It goes without saying (but I’m saying it) that a schedule gauges risk up front and protects the PM should things get really ugly. Sometimes a well designed schedule will encourage clients to add the additional time back in, helping you avoid the dance of perceived urgency altogether.  Keeping your clients educated, informed and updated when projects are high-risk makes all the difference.

 

Emotional Intelligence: Get this driver off my tail!

Successful project managers exhibit high emotional intelligence, can better control their emotions and know how to empathize with others.  When we have challenging clients, it’s incumbent on a PM to focus on the big picture- your project’s success.   It’s easy to make a client’s cranky disposition personal.  Don’t.  You can not control, and likely have zero knowledge of, the day-to-day activities of your clients.  Do your best to listen, be objective, be empathetic, and don’t let someone else’s bad day get to you.

As well, PM’s who exhibit high emotional intelligence are more successful communicators during stressful, awkward or challenging project situations.  We all know that clear communication with your clients is paramount. The messier the project, the better the communication skills need to be.  Communicating frequently and consistently will go a long way during a rough project because it will not only act as your record, the client will undoubtedly appreciate it, even if the appreciation goes unstated.

Whether driving a project via a Teams meeting or driving your vehicle home, control what you can control: remain calm, be courteous, and don’t inflame the situation by getting angry.

 

Leadership: Oh? You wanna race…?!?

Every project manager is a leader. Effective leadership motivates team members, sets a positive tone, and fosters collaboration. In stressful situations, it’s critical to maintain a leadership style that keeps everyone motivated. Showing genuine appreciation for team efforts keeps morale high. Plus your team looks to you for direction.  Maintaining a professional level of courteous interactions when engaging with testy clients fosters respect from your team members and reduces tensions when stress is elevated.

Believe it or not, the client looks to you as a leader too.  Bringing stability and calm to challenging situations helps reduce possibilities for poor communication.  There are always situations where a client outburst can’t be avoided, but as already mentioned, if you’ve planned well, stay calm, and use thoughtful and empathetic language, your leadership will shine through.

 

Steering the project toward success: Anticipate the actions of other drivers

As project managers, we’ve all had our road-rage-like projects.  It’s part of the job and it’s inevitable.  Although the experience can be exhausting and overwhelming, you play a big part in how the project will ultimately fair.  Plan ahead and plan well, stay informed, remain calm when tense situations arise (use that emotional intelligence!), be mindful that a client’s bad day is likely not about you, and finally, focus on the task at hand and the overall success of your project:  That’s all you can control and that’s what’s expected of you.