When I was preparing for my first public speech on project management I have noticed that no one ever told me that the theory I was studying is not exactly what I found at work… That is why I had many bad behaviors when I started my first job. Not because I was lacking of knowledge, but because I had it too much. I was complaining a lot that it is not how it should be, that there ought to be better practices implemented, you could count it on and on… But it took me a while to understand that big companies brings some limitations.
I thought also that maybe I could read a book about the behavior of a project manager, but I could not find any… Do not take me wrong, there are many articles, publications and webinars on project manager toolbox and skillset for both, hard and soft skills, however it is rare to discuss the attitude a project manager should have to build culture of success. I am far from thinking that all people should behave the same way – it is the diversity that moves us forward, but is there any set of behaviors that can make you more successful?
Would you like Grumpy Cat to be your boss?
I never had a grumpy cat boss… Maybe because that is the last thing you should be when you want to move your career forward. Some think that complaining is Polish national sport and Deming’s cycle in Poland is CDCA – complain, do, complain, act. Well, I am Polish, or shall I say I were…
I was struggling for some time before I had figured out a way that would allow me to complain less. There are two things that I have connected: lean and TRIZ. Lean because it makes you to think and focus more on the value that you bring to your customer and less on yourself. Think, what is the value of complaining? None. And it still cost you nerves and you waste also other’s time on listening to your complains. TRIZ on the other hand has 40 principles tool, out of which the 22nd is called “Blessing in disguise” or “Turn lemons into lemonade”. I try to remember that principle because it reminds me that you should always look for things that are harmful or do not work as they should. Then you need to think how to use them in a positive way. Of course you will not be always successful, but trying to improve your environment gives you some positive energy. This attitude is confirmed by other researchers too1. I took it as greatest compliment when my foreign team members said, half-joking half-serious, that I cannot be Polish. When I asked why they replied: Because you are smiling and not complaining.
Do not be a T-Rex
Tyrannosaurus Rex can associate with power, dominance and fear. This is already a red flag for all who believes in servant leadership. The first word in his name should rise the red flag for everyone else – tyrant is not an effective boss neither project manager. You want your team to be focused on solving issues, not being creative in avoiding you. But T-Rex is even worse. Let’s look on his anatomy.
Big mouth for talking
Working as project manager involves a lot of talking, right? Well, you need to communicate but you should have it planned and thought through. That’s why you have Communication Plan – one of the most important parts of Project Management Plan. As a minimum you need to think to whom you want to communicate, what is the massage, how will it impact your stakeholder, what is the proper way to communicate it and when to deliver the message. Remember this and you will talk less.
You may have also heard the slogan “Communicate, Communicate, Communicate & Communicate Some More”. I find it very misleading. A lot of people, including some trainers I had chance to talk to, are taking it very directly whereas the reasoning behind the sentence is much different and it is related to change management. Fred Nickols2 is breaking all the words in the sentence to their real meaning. The first communicate is indeed the communication itself, the second one is for tailoring the message for your audience. Third is to remember to update the communication if there is any change. The last one is communication in other direction: listening to what other people have to say about the change. The feedback they have is as important as what you want to say.
No ears for listening
Do you remember the Titanic3 ? The whole story is about listening. Firstly, the installed radio was not the best available technology at the time. The working principle for the radio was in fact the same as patented in 1897 by Guglielmo Marconi. Marconi used all his powers, patents and research to hold back the competitors. As project managers we should make sure we are using the best technology available to communicate with our stakeholders. It doesn’t mean that it should be the newest one, but the most accurate to our team and clients. Do not stand in one place, look and learn other ways of communication – social media, direct messaging and others. It is especially important with the youngest team members. Secondly, even though the radio was based on old concepts, the information about icebergs reached Titanic crew. Unfortunately, they were too busy writing down other information sent by radio – stock reports, news and sport results. They ignored the information about the iceberg. How many times we are too busy by putting fire down, or we misjudge a situation only because we like someone more than other? Verify the data you have, evaluate it and only when you see the full picture, including risks, make a decision. Finally, the “Mayday” signal was not heard well after the disaster. If the signal could have been send to many ships, as it can be done nowadays, the number of the victims of this disaster could have been significantly smaller. And again, how afraid in the projects are we after making a mistake? How many times the mistake could be repaired or the negative effect could be mitigated if we admit the error and others would listen? If you see a problem on your horizon that is a threat for project, or if you already have an issue, do not hesitate to inform stakeholders or ask for help if it’s needed. It’s better to fail on task then to fail on project objective.
Short hands for working
Being proactive is one of the best attributes of all employees. Think of your project team, who do you value the most? The one who comes to you all the time with some issue that did not allowed him to do his task? Or maybe the one who told you about the issues and how he or she managed to solve them and delivered what you have asked for? Now think about your meetings with steering committee – how do they look like? Do you bring only issues, or you show what have you tried to overcome them? It is quite surprising that the word proactive is used in the whole PMBOK® Guide only around 10 times. Thankfully some Project Management Professionals see the benefits of being proactive4,5,6. They propose different tools and techniques to stay proactive. I have only one advice – do not close yourself to your project and your project only. You do not work in closed environment, sooner or later you will notice that in a painful way. Get up from behind your desk, go and talk to your team, stakeholders and clients. Attend a community of practice event at your workplace or go to PMI seminar. Always look for things that could improve your project, assign yourself to the task if it brings value for your project. One says that the responsibilities in corporation lies on the ground. It is true, choose the one which will bring the biggest value and grab them.
The flying chicken
Kimberly Wiefling, keynote speaker for 12th International PMI PC Congress had a presentation in which she proves that impossible is merely hard. I find this statement true. If only one is able to get rid of mental blockers and is proactive, listens to people, thinks positive, looks for opportunities and is smiling – the one is truly a great project manager.
There are so many places where a question can be asked and answered, there have been so many similar projects done by others, that if one is open minded and looking for solution, the solution will be found. Remember, do not be a T-Rex, they went extinct. Be a flying chicken instead.
- Bucero, A. (2009). Today is a good day—the project manager’s attitude. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2009 – North America, Orlando, FL. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
- Fred Nickols (2011). What is „Communicate”?. www.nickols.us
- Bill Kovarik (2018). Radio and the Titanic. http:// www.environmentalhistory.org/revcomm/features/radio-and-the-titanic/
- Bullard, T. M. (2002). Proactive intervention— identifying and resolving issues with problem projects before they become problems. Paper presented at Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium, San Antonio, TX. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
- Ress, J. (2004). Proactive communication for project managers. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2004—North America, Anaheim, CA. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
- Susanne Madsen (2011). Become a Proactive Project Manager. https://www.susannemadsen. co.uk/blog/become-a-proactive-project-manager
The collector of project environments. He managed and delivered projects in industrial, automotive, telecom, and aerospace industries. Project led by him delivered solutions for investment, transformations, acquisitions, transitions, R&D, hardware and software development. Because of his broad interests and willingness to share fun facts, colleagues call him a walking encyclopedia of unwanted knowledge. Fan of personal development, heavy books reader and plastic models’ enthusiast. Łukasz believes that smile, respect, and honest communication can open many doors.