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Let’s start with understanding where you stand today. I bet you don’t actually know … yet …
This article is designed specifically to help you identify the right PM—as opposed to the left one—starting with bridging the gap between your perceived needs and your actual needs.
Congratulations! You just won a new client; it’s a multimillion-dollar deal, and you’ve decided to hire or resource a Project Manager (PM). You’re smart enough to know you can’t juggle all the moving parts of this hefty goal without one.
Whether you’re instigating a search through a recruiter, or requesting a PM through your existing Project (or Program) Management Office, there’s still some upfront work you need to do before picking your metaphorical PM rabbit out of a hat. And it starts with being realistic.
I often meet executives who have crafted a deck and pitched a presentation. The presentation has gone well, and they believe their presentation deck is comprehensive enough to ensure a seamless transition to a project manager who will then be expected to deliver on the goal.
Guess what? It’s not. A successful presentation may be a green light to move forward on a project. It may generate excitement and infuse passion, but without a thoughtful and practical execution plan, which includes requirements, schedules, budgets, and often more, all you have is an unqualified idea that is attached to a strategy that has not been validated against any inkling of reality. Ouch.
I know it hurts to hear, but let me say it one more time because it’s important: a sales deck is not a vision, a strategy, or a plan. It can have elements of these things, but the goal of such a deck is to win business, not to deliver final results. The real “what” and “how” is usually missing.
OKay. You get it. I hear you.
From a resourcing perspective, this means you need to hire a project mind-reader and certified therapist, not only to transcribe your pitch into a decipherable language but to dream up the “what” and then translate and deconstruct that dream it into tangible buckets that you can work on.
Functionally, the role of a project manager teeters between transcriptionist and wild and visionary producer/therapist. That’s a big spectrum. If you need a lot more of the latter, and you get “transcriptionist,” you will be left with one big ugly mess. If you hire for “visionary,” when what you need is “secretary,” chances are he or she will realize they are out of your league, and move on.
So let’s take a step back. Do you want to know where you stand today? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Is your vision a combination of vaguely defined products and services with made up delivery dates? It is multiple projects (a program), or one project? Is it unique?
- Is your vision flexible? What about your strategy? What about those promised products and services, and delivery dates, how flexible are they?
- Where are you in the development of your product(s) or service(s)? Have you provided a proof-of-concept? Are you still concepting? Do you have a prototype?
- Have you gathered business requirements, and have you vetted them with qualified people? Are requirements still changing? How frequently? Have key influencers been left out?
- Do your detailed plans and high-level plans map back to one another? Are you aware that both of these plans are of equal importance, and that they must both be accurate? How well do the two align? Are there significant gaps? (Note: If you did not start with an accurate picture of reality, then when it comes to committing to budgets, schedules, and deliverables, make sure that you communicate assumptions and risks as transparently as possible, and don’t act surprised when you’re asked to return to your client with your tail between your legs.
- Is this the first time you’re working on a project of this nature? Did you consult with qualified/credible people? Did you evaluate similar types of projects? Did you build in contingencies? Did you build in dependencies? And what did you communicate to your client?
If you can answer these questions truthfully and comprehensively, you’re now in a great starting position to have a conversation with a recruiter or your local PMO (Project Management Office), and are more likely to hire a better fit. Sadly, even after you identify your actual needs, there is another challenge recruiters know but rarely tell you: you could be stuck with whoever shows up. Gasp!
So why not skip this step altogether and spare yourself a headache?
Well, anyone who has ever handed off a boatload of work to the wrong person can tell you just how painful this can be. It not only sullies your reputation when the hire screws up but spending twice as much money and effort to clean up after someone else’s mistakes is irritating.
Sure, you may never find the perfect project manager, and that can be sad, but by going through this process, you:
(1) get to make informed decisions about how to resource against missing skills and abilities
(2) prevent issues from arising that you could have foreseen
(3) mitigate against an outright “bad” hire, which means less exhaustion, less frustration, less depression, less turnover, and more happiness, along with a higher probability of success.
So, let’s get started you, you open-minded-intelligent-business-guru. Where is your project in its evolution, really?
Did you find this useful? Have suggestions? Have questions? Contact me on LinkedIn.
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You’re sitting in a meeting when two influential colleagues hijack the conversation and turn it into a high stakes game of chicken with your project.
You’re not quite sure how you let it happen, but sheer terror emerges as you recognize overconfident people are loudly and speedily sharing semi-logical information. Yes, semi-logical: sh*t logic wrapped in a delicious layer of good logic.
If you let them continue, the phony information will spread like wildfire. If you interrupt, you’ll be a casualty of involuntary ego-cide, career death by egotistical recklessness. You don’t stop a tiger fight by sending Bambi in as a moderator.
Your heart races. Your palms sweat. You’re not prepared to take on these tigers. You’re not a superhero. You’re a down-to-earth person who values quality and kindness. This is your project. What are you going to do? How are you going to defuse the situation without looking like tasty tiger bait?
Lesson One: Merely witnessing an ego-trip can throw you off balance. It can make you feel demoralized, unappreciated, confused, angry, fearful, and weak. BUT YOU CAN RECOVER IN THE MOMENT.
When this happens, and it will, take DEEP breaths, kick back into your seat, and cross your arms up behind your head like you’re the boss.
Okay, I know it sounds silly, but you can’t underestimate the profound impact these moves have on your psyche.
Studies indicate diaphragmatic breathing reduces stress hormones while power poses (such as crossing your arms behind your head) increase testosterone, stabilizing your flight or fight response and giving you confidence.
You need confidence, a steady heartbeat, and an open mind to turn these tigers into kittens. So take a deep breath now. And another. And another.
Feeling better? 🙂 Good.
For an added boost of confidence, I like to think about an SMBC comic by Zach Weinersmith where he plots a persons willingness to opine on a topic against their actual knowledge. For your enjoyment, here it is.
It’s a funny image to remember when ignorant VIP opine on topics they don’t know enough about. Keep it in your back pocket. Now take another deep breath.
So what do you want?
- To defuse the situation
- To correct information without collateral self-damage
Now think, does speaking loudly and speedily make a decision rational? Does it make it any easier to understand?
Probably not. Hence, it’s not in your best interest to let confidence transform you from Bambi into a tiger, unless it’s this one…
The truth is these colleagues need someone smart and buoyant–like you–to swoop down and gently nudge them over the edge of Mount Stupid into the valley of enlightenment. But how?
Lesson Two: “Help me understand” is a kinder and more modest way of saying, “No, you irrational, impolite bullies, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
With this approach, your colleagues backpedal to retrace their steps. The sheer act of stepping back with the intent to educate forces a person to confirm their own logic. It presents an opportunity to reflect while at the same time confirming validity. If a gap exists, you (and others) will spot it, and seek remedy.
If the logic is sound, you avert damaging influential relationships. (Hey, you can be wrong, too.)
That said, sometimes, even when the logic adds up, something still feels fuzzy.
Lesson Three: In conversation, we often experience a self-imposed sense of urgency. Saying, “Let me reflect on that” buys precious time.
Don’t let the fallacy of urgency back you into a corner. If your gut sends a signal, explore it! In other words, let curiosity, reflection and research drive the decision-making process, not a false deadline. If others are in the room, you may want to say, “Let’s reflect and reconvene.” Others will nod willingly if they’re in the same boat. Some will spread misinformation anyway. Don’t fret. You can’t control everyone, but you can ensure a thoughtful call to action by fostering an environment of reflection.
Lesson Four: It’s easy to marginalize people. It’s hard to empathize, particularly when you are threatened. But where there is conflict, there is room for pause.
Here’s the thing. What you value may not differ greatly from your cohort. People often share overlapping values and still end up in situations like this one. How you process and prioritize those values, on the other hand, is where conflicts arise. In the moment, even best friends who share the same values can completely miss the bullseye. Here’s an example.
John values politeness and health. He also values caring and kindness. He values Jane’s friendship. He wants to be there for Jane. So here he is sitting at Jane’s meeting, on time.
Unfortunately, he’s been stuck in back-to-back meetings all day due to an urgent client request. He missed lunch and drank a big bottle of water to fend off hunger. He’s jittery and hungry. It’s hard to think straight when nature calls.
What he should do is apologize, excuse himself, relieve himself, and return to Jane’s meeting. He should tell Jane he didn’t have a chance to eat. But he doesn’t want to leave her meeting. He doesn’t want to be seen as impolite. He doesn’t want to offend her. He cares about her.
He’s completely distracted by the urge to urinate, so he speeds up the conversation, and engages in bursts of dialogue. When Jane’s meeting ends, he’s thrilled! The bathroom break afterwards feels like a reward for making it through the day. He rushes out of the office to grab a sandwich.
Jane hangs her head. She is disappointed with the confusing mandates that arose in the meeting, and the dismissive attitude she received from her close friend John.
As you can see, there are a slew of factors guiding how we prioritize. Some situations demand immediate action–like the call of nature or a phone call you receive from a client who says he’ll pull the plug on your business if you don’t provide a solution in an hour. Others don’t. Sometimes we prioritize our values well. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we don’t have the fuel to think straight.
I don’t know a single person who has not experienced a similar situation. So remember, empathy matters. We all make mistakes. We’re all imperfect beings.
Lesson Five: Addressing observations leads to self-awareness.
When you draw attention to your observations, you create an opportunity to address them. By saying, “I’m experiencing a sense of urgency. Let’s step back. What am I missing?” you create an opportunity for others to self-correct or share. You provide an opportunity to confirm observations.
Either the urgency is real (e.g. the client called and demanded immediacy) or the urgency is false (e.g. “oh, sorry, buddy, mind if we break for a few minutes so I can run to the little boys room and grab a sandwich? I was slammed earlier by that client thing.”). You may even realize you’re slower today than usual… You were up all night with a sick child.
Where there is awareness, there is realization. Where there is realization, there is transformation.
I hope this helps. Good luck! You got this!
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Whether you’ve realized that you can do your boss’s job or that a 4-hour daily reverse commute to an office overlooking a park-n-ride isn’t your idea of a satisfying career, lots of people will tell you that there is no need to quit your job. That a job is a job is a job is a job. And it all comes down to what you make of it.
True, you can wisely devise a plan to create a new role for yourself in your existing org; discuss new options with your boss to telecommute; find a new gig; or you may even go so far as to launch a formal complaint with your HR department to get that internal bullying issue resolved. But let’s face it, you, the only change you have control over is “you”– whether you’re going to own your life or be a jackass in someone else’s.
And that’s a pretty tough dilemma, particularly when around every nook and cranny is another white-faced lie disguised as opportunity.
How do I mean exactly? Say you create a new role within your org or land a new gig, here are some common lies disguised as opportunities.
They say: “We don’t care how you do your job as long as you meet our goals.”
You think: “Autonomy! Perfect!”
What they mean is: “We can’t be held responsible for remedying any of our own mistakes. Good luck finding that unicorn! Have we mentioned we don’t care about you?”
They say: “We are looking for thought-leadership from our employees.”
You think: “Hooray! People who think!”
What they mean is: “We need to trick others into believing our leaders think. How would you like to ghostwrite for our illiterate sales team?”
They say: “We’re thrilled to have you on board!”
You think: “My dream job!”
What they mean is: “You don’t mind doing something other than what we hired you for, right?”
Sure, everyone takes one for the team sometimes, and on occasion (though far less often than one would assume) an honest pitch comes along. But if you find yourself reading countless articles filled with corporate smog about how you can be a successful mogul by leaning in some more, or by throwing one more giant to-do onto your list of already equally important competing to-dos for people who don’t share your values, and you’ve leaned in so hard you’re flirting with a merman, you, my friend, may be a closet…
What I mean is, pack up. It’s time to come out of hiding and forge your own path. If you’re gonna put your head down and work till you’re dead-tired or half-dead, it may as well be toward your own vision, your own goals, under your own values, and dag-nabit from your own mistakes.
So here’s a shout-out to you, you closet entrepreneur. May you take a leap of faith. May you scramble to make a living worth your dignity. May your goals belong to you, and your belonging to your loved ones and your clients. May you over-promise and over-deliver. Who knows, you closet entrepreneur, maybe YOU are the unicorn.
And heck, if it doesn’t work out, there will always be another carrot out there for us well-deserving donkeys!
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I love rainy days.
When I was a child, my teachers would ask the class, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”
I would tell them, “I want to be a peacemaker.”
The students would laugh.
I would return home and see the desperation in my mother’s eyes. The longing.
Even if you could get away from it, the Iran-Iraq war was always on television. Taunting us in its journey of suffering.
In the beautiful land where I was born, bombs fell outside my nursery room window. I was a baby floating in love. I am lucky. Perhaps that is why my heart always beats so fast.
Rainy days, the violence stopped. At least, I imagined it did.
Gurus and scientists say consciousness is a matter, like the air you breathe, and the water you touch. Just think, your thoughts are swimming fish in a fast-moving ocean. You are part of a wave. You can stop wars. You can part seas.
Do you notice how so many people call in sick from work on rainy days?
Maybe it is true. Maybe you are sick. You numbed it until nature told you:
“Temporarily Down for Maintenance. Your Soul Needs Repair.”
I wonder, how many reflective thoughts come from a rainy day?
Two. Two Trillion. The ripple of infinity.
How much innovation germinates? How much floats? How many old ways degrade, leaving space for new?