Based on your experience, what soft skills do you think a successful project manager should possess? Some aspects that are frequently emphasized within our industry are leadership, communication, problem solving, mentoring, and more. I completely agree with the high importance of these skills, but I would name one more that deserves to be in the top 5: recognizing and beating productivity threats within your team. It’s equally important whether you’re leading just three employees, or managing a large global team spread across several continents. In either situation, a project manager needs to spot the threat to the team’s efficiency as early as possible, before it affects more people, and be lightning-fast in addressing the problem. Different teams have different challenges, so it’s hardly possible to outline a one-size-fits-all action plan to handling them. But let’s take a look at the ways to fight the productivity hindrances that employees find the most dangerous: interruptions, procrastination and inaccurate plans.
Meet-ups with fellow project managers keep bringing up thought-provoking discussions and interesting ideas on how to maximize the efficiency of project teams. This time, I want to share some notes from the February dinner meeting of the PMI LA Chapter. After my presentation that focused on the ways of making distributed teams efficient, one of the most interesting questions that I heard from the audience was how to introduce a team to a granular work breakdown.
No matter how talented and experienced your remote worker is, it might still be unproductive to assign him a huge, month-long task. There’s always some risk in thinking that he’ll do just fine figuring it out all on his own. This way, you severely limit your visibility into the work progress, and if the course goes wrong, you might discover it too late to clear things up. When you can’t discuss things with some of the team members directly and frequently, having more granular assignments might be a helpful tactic and make life easier for both parties. So how exactly do you make it work?
After the short holiday break, the new year quickly gained momentum. The first event on my 2013 speaking calendar was the dinner meeting at PMI Dallas Chapter. The topic of remote collaboration and its efficiency brought up a great discussion. The engagement of the audience is a clear sign of how many project managers face the challenge of dealing with mobile workforce today. And the trend will only expand: as Wrike’s survey revealed, every fourth worker foresees his or her office going virtual in the near future. Of the numerous post-presentation questions, there were a couple that were especially interesting, and I’d like to share some takeaway notes with you.
Collaboration, collective intelligence, social business and innovation are some of the hottest topics of this blog. And how much hotter does it get, if they get combined? You can check that out for yourself by attending the upcoming E2 Innovate Conference in Santa Clara, CA. On November 14, I will be speaking about open innovation and the benefits a social enterprise can reap through applying this model. My co-presenter is Damon Gragg, global project manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific. He has a lot to share on how open innovation helps his company be the global leader in scientific and healthcare equipment.
Some great news that I’m thrilled to share with you: on October 21, I am going to speak at PMI Global Congress North America, which will be held in Vancouver this year. The presentation is titled “The future of remote teams: How to fine-tune virtual collaboration?” With the ongoing expansion of the distributed workforce, this topic seems to be gaining even more importance among fellow project managers. The first part of the speech will cover the most interesting findings of a survey recently conducted by Wrike with 1,000 respondents (how many people work remotely, how this compares to their work style 2-3 years ago, what they value the most about telecommuting, where they see this trend going, etc.) For instance, the vast majority of surveyed people believe that a fully virtual office will be a reality in the future. Later, the presentation will focus on efficiency tips for managers of virtual teams, based on my own experience of working with globally dispersed employees.
If you haven’t planned a trip to Vancouver yet, it is worth consideration! I’m just as eager to hear the other presentations as I am to give my own. Speaking of the event agenda: this is one of the things that we recently discussed with Paula Jayne White, PMI’s Director, Professional Development. Read our full conversation to find out about the focus of the upcoming event and discover some lessons that such a huge project like PMI Congress can teach.
This month, a very interesting book that I anticipated was released: "The Plugged-in Manger: Get in Tune with Your People, Technology and Organization to Thrive" by professor Terri Griffith, a seasoned management and technology expert. Terri describes a game-changing approach to management that is based on the concept of being plugged into each one of the organizational dimensions - people, technology and organizational processes - simultaneously. Oftentimes, managers underemphasize one of the components - say, they address the people and organizational processes, but overlook the technological dimension. Or conversely, some consider technology to be a lifesaver per se. The balance of people, technology and process is something that I think is really important for any organization, and I often referred to this triangle in my previous posts. So it was a pleasure for me to meet Terri and discuss this topic, as well as find out more about her new book. Naturally, our conversation went way beyond defining who exactly a "plugged-in manager" is, as we proceeded to talk about the role technology plays in modern business. To know more about the concept of a plugged-in manager, the best ways to leverage technology and to discover some curious examples from Terri's experience, as well as mine, I invite you to listen to the podcast with our conversation.
On October 22-25, PMI gathered its members and friends for the annual Global Congress in Dallas to discuss the core features and emerging challenges of the project management profession. One of the key areas of focus for the Congress was the new project management trends, i.e., those trends that may impact the industry in the coming years. Together with Elizabeth Harrin and Cornelius Fichtner, seasoned project managers, popular bloggers and my fellow PMI New Media Council members, we held a session addressing agile collaboration in virtual teams. With over a third of projects being agile and more work being done by virtual teams, we aimed to look at how project managers can successfully combine the two. Having combined our expertise in managing distributed teams, we came up with a few practical, battlefield-tested tips in the area of communication practices, Web 2.0 tools and beyond, which can help bridge the gap for agile teams working across geographic boundaries.
Here comes another question – how can we better learn from the experience we get? Eric Ries, already mentioned above, uses an efficient way to tackle problems. I am talking about root-cause analysis or “five whys.”
Imagine that the problem you’ve faced has the same structure as a Russian doll. The “root cause” of it is hidden inside, and you have to remove several layers to get to it. Just as you take one doll out of another, you ask a question “Why did this happen?” five times. Each response takes you one layer deeper to the problem cause. The technique is quite easy, but when practiced regularly, it gives you a lot of great insights about what needs adjustment in your company. One of such insights is that there is always a process/human issue behind every technical one.
John Wanamaker, considered by some to be the father of modern advertising, once said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is, I don’t know which half.” By using carefully designed experiments, you can do a better job than Wanamaker. For example, all professional advertisers today know about conversion tracking and A/B testing. These are basic tools of the trade for specialists in marketing or advertising that enable them to evaluate the effect of every small change in banner ads, landing pages and e-mails. But this kind of testing can only answer tactical questions and normally doesn’t affect business strategy. Is it possible to make the whole business structure respond to this type of feedback?
Recently, I read an interesting book by Peter Sims, “Little Bets,” which brings up a really important question: can failure, in fact, take us further than success? The answer is: yes, if we know how to deal with it. While interviewing the executives at Amazon, General Motors and Google, as well as successful musicians, architects and comedians, Sims discovered one thing they had in common. All of them used the same approach of relentlessly “making little bets” to test their new ideas, even if they were not sure about their success. Most of these bets ended up as failures, but five or six out of 100 turned out to be the breakthroughs. According to Sims, in most cases, there’s no mysterious genius behind the great achievement, but perseverance and the willingness to take small risks.
In this series of posts, I’ll analyze how failures nurture success and describe how learning through failures can help you develop your business into a real innovation machine. Through hardship to the stars!
Andrew Filev is an experienced project manager and a successful entrepreneur. He has been
managing software teams since 2001 with the help of new-generation collaboration and
management applications. The Project Management 2.0 blog reflects his views on changes going
on in contemporary project management, thanks to the influence of collaborative web-based
technologies. More >>