The Effective and Innovative Virtual Team Leader

By Frank P. Saladis, PMP, LIMC MCCP, PMI Fellow

Virtual teams have been a part of the business, public, and not for profit environments for many years. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the internet began to significantly influence how information and meetings were managed. The economic situation in 1986 also had a major impact on business travel and companies sought new ways to conduct meetings more economically and to minimize travel. Back in that time period, technology was available but expensive and was used primarily by large corporations that could afford to construct what was basically a television production studio. 

Today there are multiple platforms to choose from and they are generally very economical. The features and functions associated with the platforms provide the team leader or meeting facilitator with a variety of tools that can engage the attendees and produce the desired meeting outcomes. 

In today’s new business environmentremotely distributed and virtual teams, although not entirely a new concept, have become a much more integral part of daily business. The leaders of these virtual teams must adapt to a very demanding and nearly constant state of “virtuality.”

Here are a few suggestions that may assist in creating a virtual team community that is well connected, engaged, and productive: 

  1. Prepare an agenda for your meetings to send out to attendees, regardless of planned duration. Team members want to know the topics in advance. This helps them to prepare and participate more productively. 
  1. If possible, schedule “recurring meetings” and “status updates” for a specific day and time each week/month. This allows everyone to plan their schedules and avoid commitment conflicts. 
  1. Everyone’s time is important, so keep meetings as brief as possible and, as the leader, always be on line before everyone else. This also allows for some “social chat” and warm up before you begin. 
  1. Some meetings require attendance by very specific individuals. Invite only those people who are truly needed for each meeting. 
  1. Use “visual anchors” to maintain engagement – pictures, charts, images, diagrams. Use color to enhance the visual effect. 
  1. Use “verbal anchors” to ensure clarity and understanding – comparisons, analyses, processes and steps, examples, repeating information for emphasis. 
  1. Use “connection anchors” to maintain attention and participation – Ask team members specific questions, shift responsibility for facilitation., 
  1. Share work assignments equally. In many cases, leaders subconsciously assign particular work to team members based on the leader’s perception of an individual’s work performance. The leader is a coach and a mentor, and trust is a key factor in creating high performance teams. Show your entire team that you trust them. 
  1. Connect with each team member individually and establish a rapport. This is necessary to ensure that performance related discussions are productive, comfortable, and meaningful. 
  1. Establish ways for the team to get to know each other. There are lots of creative techniques to establish a very supportive virtual team environment: Share baby pictures and ask people to match each picture with the team members, have occasional round-table discussions, pair people to work together, be an idea champion and encourage everyone to come up with suggestions for increasing engagement and meeting enjoyment. 

This new virtual business environment we are experiencing will probably continue as the business world moves forward. Technology will evolve to meet the needs and the team leader must adapt to the many new norms that are just over the virtual horizon. 

One more tip I have for you is implement “enjoyment time” for each meeting, demonstrate your trust in your team, and exercise some creativity in your meeting management. Give everyone an opportunity to excel and contribute and keep communication flowing to ensure a strong team connection. 

Through June 30, 2020, we are offering free registration to our on-demand course on Virtual Agile Teams (regularly $850 USD). Learn more and register here >>


About the Author

Frank Saladis is an internationally renowned speaker, consultant and instructor in the project management profession with over 35 years of experience in the telecommunications and project management training environment. Frank is a past president of the PMI Assembly of Chapter Presidents and is the originator of International Project Management Day. In 2006 he received the prestigious Person of the Year Award from PMI for his contributions to the practice of project management.


From Traditional to Non-Traditional Projects

By Harold Kerzner, Ph.D. | Senior Executive Director for Project Management, IIL

Background

For almost four decades, companies on a worldwide basis struggled with the creation of a singular methodology that could be used to manage all their projects. The singular methodology was a necessity for senior management that was reluctant to surrender their “command and control” posture over the project management community. The methodologies were designed so that senior management could retain some degree of standardization and control from the top down through the hierarchy and that project teams would not be allowed to make decisions that were reserved for the senior levels of management. Executives, marketing and sales personnel were fearful of what power and authority project managers might obtain.

Today’s project managers do not realize the degrees of mistrust that some of us had to endure as project managers years ago. At that time, if the choice were up to executives in the contractors’ organizations, project managers would not exist, and all projects would be managed by functional management, marketing or sales personnel. But the clients and stakeholders preferred to talk directly to the project managers (rather than communications with just sales and marketing personnel) and encouraged the contractors to recognize the need for creating project management positions.

The Growth of Nontraditional Projects

Singular methodologies provided the executives with the command and control they desired but there were some risks. Executives tried to enforce the belief that the singular methodology was the solution to their project management concerns and that one-size-fits-all, which meant that every project in the company would be required to use the same, singular approach. Unfortunately, executive soon began to realize that not all projects can use the one-size-fits-all methodology. Operational or traditional projects may be able to follow a singular methodology, but strategic and other forms of nontraditional projects may have to be managed differently.

The approach that companies then undertook was to have strategic and nontraditional projects managed by functional managers that were then allowed a great deal of freedom in how they chose to manage the projects. Executives trusted functional managers more so than project managers and were not perceived as a threat to senior management.

By the turn of the century, the number of nontraditional projects was growing. More trust was being placed in the hands of the project managers and companies began recognizing that the one-size-fits-all approach needed to be modified or replaced with flexible methodologies or frameworks, such as agile or Scrum, which provided more freedom and authority to the project managers.

The Impact of the Growth in Nontraditional Projects

In some companies, the number of nontraditional projects was perhaps 200% more than traditional projects as seen in the center of Exhibit 1 below. As the need for more flexibility in project management took hold, changes began to appear in the way that some of the traditional processes were being used.

 

Exhibit 1. Changes in Our View of Project Management Processes

 

The Hexagon of Excellence

The hexagon of excellence identifies some of the changes that companies made as they began to use project management on the nontraditional projects:

  • Integrated processes: Project managers were now expected to make business-based decisions as well as the traditional technical or project-based decisions. As such, business processes were now integrated with project management processes in flexible project management approaches.
  • Culture: Project management was now recognized as processes that can and will affect the entire company rather than just specific functional areas. As such, a project management culture that supports company-wide cooperation must be developed and enforced by senior management.
  • Management Support: Management support is essential. Senior management must realize that they must actively function as project sponsors and serve on governance committees. They must also realize project governance is NOT the same as functional governance and must be willing to understand and accept new levels of authority, responsibility and decision making.
  • Training and Education: Providing training to just the project managers no longer works. If a corporate-wide project management culture is to be created, then it is possible that the entire organization may need to undergo some training.
  • Informal Project Management: Part of the training must promote informal project management practices that are predicated upon people working together and without being forced to rely upon the use of superior-subordinate relationships. Titles and levels of authority should not be critical when working on project teams.
  • Behavioral Excellence: Human resource management courses will grow. Rather than emphasize the traditional behavioral theories, the focus will be on communication, cooperation, teamwork, and trust, with trust perhaps being the most important item.

Capturing Best Practices

For decades, we relied entirely upon capturing best practices, but just those related to project management. Today, we believe that, if you are managing a project, you are managing part of a business and are expected to make business decisions as well as project decisions. Therefore, we are now capturing best practices in all parts of the business rather than in just project management. What we discover as part of our findings are now part of an information warehouse rather than just a best practices library. As seen in Exhibit 1, we are now developing a structured process by which all forms of best practices can be discovered.

Project Management Maturity Models

Typical project management maturity models, as shown in Exhibit 1 still apply, but more models are entering the marketplace. In Exhibit 1, Level 3 may be replaced with flexible methodologies rather than a singular approach. Level 4 is expected to grow significantly as companies realize that benchmarking against companies that are world class leaders in project management may give better results than just benchmarking against companies in their own industry. In Level 5, companies are demonstrating a greater willingness to implement changes in the best interest of the company rather than worrying about their own power base and authority.

Networked PMOs

Companies have recognized the need for PMOs for more than three decades. However, there were significant power struggles for which executive would maintain control of the PMO. There was a belief that “information is power” and whichever executive would control the PMO would become more powerful than his/her contemporaries.

As nontraditional projects grew, there was an apparent need for multiple PMOs. The situation becomes more complex as companies began expanding globally and recognized the need for geographically dispersed PMOs. But some executive still felt threatened by the PMO concept and opted for the creation of “master” and “subordinate” PMOs. Today, this concept seems to have diminished as companies have recognized the importance of networking their PMOs as shown in Exhibit 1.

Conclusion

There is significantly more information we could have discussed related to each component in Exhibit 1 resulting from the growth of nontraditional projects. But what appears obvious is that change is happening and appears to be for the betterment of the project management community. Where project management will take us, we do not know. But what is certain is that there is a growth in the use of nontraditional projects and the accompanying project management processes.

Have a question for Dr. Kerzner? Leave your comment below.

 

About the Author
Harold Kerzner (M.S., Ph.D., Engineering, and M.B.A) is IIL’s Senior Executive Director for Project Management. He is a globally recognized expert on project management and strategic planning, and the author of many best-selling textbooks including Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling and Project Management 2.0. Dr. Kerzner has previously taught project management and business administration at Baldwin-Wallace University, engineering at the University of Illinois and business administration at Utah State University. He obtained his industrial experience at Thiokol Corporation where he held both program management and project engineering responsibilities on a variety of NASA, Air Force, Army, Navy, and internal R&D programs.

PMBOK and PMI are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.


Can the Words "Innovation" and "Project Management" Be Used In The Same Sentence?

By Harold Kerzner, Ph.D. | Senior Executive Director for Project Management, IIL

INTRODUCTION

Companies need growth for survival.

Companies cannot grow simply through cost reduction and reengineering efforts.

Companies are recognizing that brand loyalty accompanied by a higher level of quality does not always equate to customer retention unless supported by some innovations.

According to management guru Peter Drucker, there are only two sources for growth: marketing and innovation [Drucker, 2008]. Innovation is often viewed as the Holy Grail of business and the primary driver for growth. Innovation forces companies to adapt to an ever-changing environment and to be able to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Companies are also aware that their competitors will eventually come to market with new products and services that will make some existing products and services obsolete, causing the competitive environment to change. Continuous innovation is needed, regardless of current economic conditions, to provide a firm with a sustainable competitive advantage and to differentiate themselves from their competitors. The question, of course, is “How do we manage innovation needs?”

INNOVATION AND PROJECT MANAGEMENT

For years, there has been a debate as to whether the words “innovation” and “project management” should be used in the same sentence. Some researchers argue that project management and innovation management should be treated as separate disciplines.

Innovation requires:

  • An acceptance of significant risk, more so than in traditional project management
  • A great deal of uncertainty
  • A focus on strategic goals and possibly no business case exists
  • Unknown constraints and assumptions that continuously change
  • Decision making in an unfamiliar landscape
  • A creative mindset
  • Collaboration across all enterprise organizational boundaries
  • Significant interfacing with customers in every market segment
  • A different leadership style than with traditional project management
  • A set of tools different than what is being taught in traditional project management courses

Some tools typically used when managing innovation include:

  • Design thinking
  • Storytelling
  • Decision-making flow charts
  • Value proposition
  • Business model thinking
  • Wall of ideas with post-it notes
  • Ideation
  • Prototyping, perhaps continuously

Innovation management, in its purest form, is a combination of the management of innovation processes and change management. It refers to products, services, business processes, and accompanying transformational needs, whereby the organization must change the way they conduct their business. The change can be incremental or radical.

Project management practices generally follow the processes and domain areas identified in the Project Management Institute (PMI)® A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). Strategic innovation follows other processes such as strategizing, entrepreneurship, changing and investing [de Witt & Meyer, 2014].

But now, companies are realizing that innovation strategy is implemented through projects. Simply stated, we are managing our business as though it is a series of projects. Project management has become the delivery system for innovation activities, but the integration is complex and varies with the type of innovation project.

PROJECT MANAGEMENT IS A BUSINESS DELIVERY SYSTEM

Today’s project managers are seen more so as managing part of a business than managing just a project. Project managers are now treated as market problem-solvers and expected to be involved in business decisions as well as project decisions. End-to-end project management is now coming of age. In the past, project managers were actively involved mainly in just project execution with the responsibility of providing a deliverable or an outcome. Today, with end-to-end project management, the project manager is actively involved in all life-cycle phases including idea generation and product commercialization.

For decades, most project managers were trained in traditional project management practices and were ill-equipped to manage innovation projects. Today, attempts are being made to integrate all of this into a single profession, namely innovation project management (IPM).

PROJECT MANAGEMENT LITERATURE

There exists a plethora of literature on project management. Unfortunately, most of the literature focuses on linear project management models with the assumption that “one size fits all.” While this may hold true in some industries and for some projects, the concept of “one size fits all” does not apply to projects involving innovation. Innovation varies from industry to industry, and even companies within the same industry cannot come to an agreement on how innovation management should work.

The situation gets even worse when companies try to use traditional project management for business processes such as business model innovation, where you have the greatest degree of risk and uncertainty, where traditional risk management planning will not work, and where a great deal of flexibility is needed for decision making. Different project management approaches, many requiring a higher level of flexibility, will be dictated by the level of technology, the amount of product versus product changes, and whether the impact is expected to disrupt the markets.

Project managers need flexibility in their ability to select the appropriate tools for their projects and customize the processes to fit the needs of the projects. This holds true even for those projects that do not require innovation. The future will be flexible project management models such as those used in Agile and Scrum projects.

“Managers need to recognize the type of project at the start, resist institutional pressure to adapt traditional ‘rational’ approaches to all projects and apply an appropriate approach – one tailored for the type of project” [Lenfle & Loch, 2010]. Traditional project management does not distinguish between types of projects. Articles are appearing in literature that propose a methodology to classify projects to guide the design of a suitable project management model [Geraldi et al., 2011].

We have learned from Agile and Scrum that flexible project management approaches are necessary for many projects. This same thinking will be required for innovation projects. We will need different tools and different skill sets than most project managers currently use. 

Have a question for Dr. Kerzner? Leave your comment below.


About the Author
Harold Kerzner (M.S., Ph.D., Engineering, and M.B.A) is IIL’s Senior Executive Director for Project Management. He is a globally recognized expert on project management and strategic planning, and the author of many best-selling textbooks including Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling and Project Management 2.0. Dr. Kerzner has previously taught project management and business administration at Baldwin-Wallace University, engineering at the University of Illinois and business administration at Utah State University. He obtained his industrial experience at Thiokol Corporation where he held both program management and project engineering responsibilities on a variety of NASA, Air Force, Army, Navy and internal R&D programs.

REFERENCES

Drucker, P. F. (2008). The Essential Drucker. Reissue Edition, Harper Business, New York.

Witt, B. de, & Meyer, R. (2014). Strategy: An international perspective, Cengage Learning EMEA, Andover.

Lenfle, M. & Loch, C. (2010). Lost roots: How project management came to emphasize control over flexibility novelty, California Management Review, 53 (1), 32 – 55.

Geraldi, J. G., Maylor, H. & Williams, T. (2011). Now, let’s make it really complex (complicated): A systematic review of the complexities of projects. International

Journal of Operations & Production Management, 31 (9), 966 – 990.

PMBOK and PMI are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.


What is Project Management?

By J. LeRoy Ward,  PMP, PgMP, PfMP, CSM, GWCPM, SCPM   |   Executive Vice President – Enterprise Solutions, IIL 

What do the Panama Canal and the development of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner have in common?

At first glance, you might say “absolutely nothing.” But, they have a lot in common. Both were the outcomes of projects. And although vastly different in every respect, the Panama Canal, and the Boeing 787 share two characteristics:

  1. Each is unique. There’s only one Boeing 787 Dreamliner and there’s only one Panama Canal.
  2. Each is the result of a temporary endeavor. In short, each had a definite beginning and an end.

Once completed, of course, the Panama Canal became operational, and once developed, the Boeing 787 went into service with many more being manufactured as I write this. In short, the design and construction of the Panama Canal, and the design and manufacture of the Boeing 787 were projects.

And these projects were led by competent and highly trained individuals, appropriately named Project Managers, who applied knowledge, skills, techniques, and tools, to all the project activities to produce the end result that met the requirements. That’s called Project Management.

Let’s get a bit more formal. According to the Project Management Institute’s (PMI)® A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), project management is defined as “the application of knowledge skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.

Projects have been around for thousands of years. Ever see a picture of the Pyramids of Giza? That’s a project. How about the Great Wall of China? Yup, another project. What about the International Space Station? You guessed it…another project.

Projects come in all shapes and sizes. Have you planned a summer vacation lately? Well, that’s a project. And, how about all those home “projects” that take up our evenings and weekends? The name says it all, doesn’t it?

What are you doing at work these days? Are you working with a group of folks to get a particular product to market, developing a new app, or launching a marketing campaign? If you are, you’re working on a project. Projects are everywhere.

As projects become larger and more complex we break them down into various phases such as Initiating, Planning, Executing and so forth. Every industry has their project “life cycle” as it’s called. We do so because it’s a lot easier to estimate and control our work when we break it down into pieces, rather than trying to grapple with the whole thing at once.

We might even use certain sophisticated tools to help us schedule our project, or analyze risk to avoid trouble. All these activities are part of project management.

If the work you’re doing conforms to the two characteristics above, guess what, you’re working on a project, whether you call it that or not. And, the activities you’re engaged in to get the job done successfully is called project management. Finally, if you’re “leading the charge,” you’re the Project Manager.

So, welcome to the wonderful world of projects and project management. You’re in good company because there are millions more just like you – people who are working on projects every day, and may not have knowledge of formal project management methods. Take the next step by exploring our other blog posts on Project Management, and enrolling in introductory Project Management course from IIL.

New to Project Management? Start with a Project Management Fundamentals course from IIL

J. LeRoy Ward is a highly respected consultant and adviser to Global Fortune 500 Corporations and government agencies in the areas of project, program and portfolio management. With more than 38 years of government and private sector experience, LeRoy specializes in working with senior executives to understand their role in project and program sponsorship, governance, portfolio management and the strategic execution of projects and programs.


Senior Executives are from Somewhere; PMO Directors are from Somewhere Else!

By J. LeRoy Ward,  PMP, PgMP, PfMP, CSM, GWCPM, SCPM   |   Executive Vice President – Enterprise Solutions, IIL 

The recently released 2017 Pulse of the Profession®, Success Rates Rise: Transforming the high cost of low performance, from the Project Management Institute (PMI)® brings us promising news:

Project success rates are rising.

As the report states: “For the first time in five years, more projects are meeting original goals and business intent and being completed within budget.” It goes on to say that the amount of “wasted” dollars per billion spent on projects has declined twenty percent from a year ago. This is certainly good news for all those organizations who have made the significant investment in improving overall project management maturity, and should serve as an inspiration for others that progress can be made with serious commitment to excellence.

But buried in the appendix, where PMI® breaks out the responses by various categories of respondents, there’s another story that’s of great interest—and that is the different perceptions held by Senior Executives and PMO Directors on their organization’s success in performing certain critical activities.

Following is the survey question and the responses from the two groups. (Note: I’ve combined the Excellent and Good scores for the Senior Executives and PMO Directors for their responses to each question.)

How would you rate your organization’s success in performing the following activities over the last three years?

Senior Execs
Excellent/Good
PMO Directors
Excellent/Good
Formulating strategy appropriate for changing market conditions

90%

56%

Prioritizing and funding the appropriate initiatives/projects

83%

54%

Feeding lessons from successful strategy implementation back into strategy formulation

77%

51%

Successfully executing initiatives/projects in order to deliver strategic results

82%

34%

Feeding lessons from failed strategy implementation back into strategy formulation

66%

31%

Clearly, the view from the top (that is, from the Senior Executive’s “perch”) is that the organization is a lot more successful at these activities than viewed from the PMO Director’s level. While there are significant differences of opinion in each area, I’d like to focus on the issue of Successfully executing initiatives/projects in order to deliver strategic results (82% vs 34%).

It’s as if these groups don’t even work in the same organization! Or, maybe even on the same planet.

Certainly, there are objective measures, when used, that can definitely confirm whether a project has been successfully executed and value has been delivered. To be sure, organizations are going far beyond the triple constraint of time, cost, and scope to measure success, but surely we should be able to tell whether a project has been successful or not. But there’s a 48-point difference in opinion on that score. I don’t know about you but that’s a “head scratcher” to me.

But, the differences in perception in the other answers are also a bit hard to decipher.

The key question is why? Why do we have such a marked difference in perception between Senior Executives and PMO Directors?

Are PMO Directors congenitally negative? Are Senior Executives hopelessly optimistic?

Do PMO Directors, who are close to where the “rubber meets the road,” see things that Executives just don’t, don’t want to, or just can’t see?

Do Senior Executives, by virtue of the fact they are accountable for darn near everything in the organization, give such high scores because it’s a direct reflection on their management capability?

To be sure, there is no single answer that can explain the stark differences between these two groups, and I bet each person who reads this blog will have their own, very valid, ideas about why this is the case.

What I do know, is that such disparate views indicate the yawning gap, the huge disconnect, between Senior Executives and PMO Directors. And the only way I know of to close this gap is relentless communication between the two. At the very least, PMO Directors and their Senior Executive counterparts should—in fact, must—agree on project success criteria.

After all, PMI’s Pulse says project success rates are climbing, but how can they climb in any organization where there is such a disagreement over what success really means?

[trx_infobox style=”regular” closeable=”no” icon=”icon-star”]Learn more about our Project, Program and Portfolio Management Courses or Request a Free Consultation[/trx_infobox]


J. LeRoy Ward
is a highly respected consultant and adviser to Global Fortune 500 Corporations and government agencies in the areas of project, program and portfolio management. With more than 38 years of government and private sector experience, LeRoy specializes in working with senior executives to understand their role in project and program sponsorship, governance, portfolio management and the strategic execution of projects and programs.

 

Pulse of the Profession, Project Management Institute, and PMI are marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.


They're Developing Project Leadership Skills One Boat at a Time

Image by Stephanie Aaronson

By J. LeRoy Ward, PMP, PgMP, PfMP, CSM, GWCPM, SCPM   |   Executive Vice President – Enterprise Solutions, IIL

Susan Crown is a philanthropist. A member of the billionaire Crown family, she has been donating impressive sums to various social and other causes for years. As she admits, her donations went to organizations with very broad social objectives where it was difficult to discern if her money was really making any difference, and that bothered her. That’s all changed.

Recently, she started a more targeted approach to philanthropy. Rather than trying to address “boil the ocean” big objectives, she decided to donate to organizations “that seek to foster character traits like grit, empathy and perseverance,” traits that some studies have shown are determinants of future success. I read about her efforts in “A Philanthropist Drills Down to Discover Why Programs Work” by Paul Sullivan, the “Wealth Matters” columnist of The New York Times.

She identified eight organizations that target their work on character building and donated $100,000 to each one. The only stipulation was that over a two-year period they had to report three times on what they were doing and how it was working.

One of those organizations is the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory where 36 participants a year from poor sections of the city work in teams to build wooden boats. Brett Hart, executive director, comments that as a result of the glaring educational inequality in the U.S., organizations have responded with programs such as Common Core. Yet, he maintains that skills like “the ability to be adaptive, collaborative, resourceful, are the tools we need to thrive.”  And through his program, young men and women are learning, and practicing, these critical skills as part of their boat-building projects, skills that he knows will carry them through life.

Let me stop here for a minute and ask: Aren’t these the skills every project manager needs to be successful? You bet. But wait, there’s more.

Ms. Crown wanted to apply the lessons learned at the Boat Factory to other organizations engaged in this important, and successful, effort. In short, she wanted to create a how-to-guide, and that’s exactly what she and her colleagues did. Titled “Preparing Youth to Thrive: Promising Practices in Social and Emotional Learning,” the guide was produced with the help of the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, which has developed methods for assessing the efficacy of youth programs.

Ms. Crown and her colleagues discovered that the major skills that needed to be developed were emotion management, empathy, teamwork, responsibility, initiative and problem solving. But there was also one super-skill, as she put it: namely, “agency,” or drive. This list sounds almost identical to the responses I receive when I ask audiences “what are the key skills or personality characteristics of successful project managers?”

So, whether you’re a teen from a disadvantaged background, or a highly educated professional with a university degree, each of us can learn to be better at what we do by developing, practicing and refining a set of personality characteristics just like the ones they’re teaching at the Boat Factory that will help us navigate the vagaries of the world and be successful in life (and, on our projects).

In reviewing Ms. Crown’s list there’s one trait that, based on my experience as a manager–and father–is the most difficult of all to “teach” or even help people practice, and that’s “drive.” The only way I know how to do that is to provide my own personal example to those around me.  If you know a better way, let me know.

How successful are they at the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory? Next fall Jackson Adens will enter Colorado State University hoping to become a veterinarian. I’d be he’d make a pretty good project manager too.

That should make Ms. Crown feel that her efforts are paying dividends and not the kind she sees in her personal financial statements.

LeRoy Ward


J. LeRoy Ward
is a highly respected consultant and adviser to Global Fortune 500 Corporations and government agencies in the areas of project, program and portfolio management. With more than 38 years of government and private sector experience, LeRoy specializes in working with senior executives to understand their role in project and program sponsorship, governance, portfolio management and the strategic execution of projects and programs. 


Want to Be a Better Project Leader? Start Asking for Feedback

By J. LeRoy Ward, PMP, PgMP, PfMP, CSM, GWCPM, SCPM
Executive Vice President – Enterprise Solutions, IIL

You probably haven’t heard of Barbara Mistick, but she did what I should have done many years ago. She asked everyone who worked for her – and with her – for feedback on her leadership skills.

After all, do you know a better way to get feedback than to ask people?

If you’re only relying on the annual performance review from your boss, you’ll be missing many opportunities to improve on a regular basis. But, don’t take my word for it. Let’s look at how Barbara did it as she describes her experience in a recent article in The New York Times.

The first piece of information you should know is that more than ten years ago Barbara was named president and director of the public library system in Pittsburgh, established by the industrialist-turned -philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Interestingly enough, she was only the second “non-librarian” to hold the post. Lacking credentials in the field, she realized she would have to rely on her interpersonal and diplomatic skills to gain the respect of her staff.

[trx_quote cite=”http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/31/jobs/leadership-means-learning-to-look-behind-the-mask.html” title=”Barbara Mistick” style=”1″]We each have more control of our future than we recognize. One of the most powerful ways we can take charge of developing new skills is to ask for feedback. [/trx_quote]

She also knew that because she was the head of the organization, her staff would want to please her by providing her with generally positive information rather than the critical insights and guidance she needed to make the best decisions. As she remarks, the higher you go, the less likely you are to receive honest assessments on all aspects of your work, especially your leadership style.

Barbara took on the role when it was in the midst of a multi-decade fiscal crisis. Accordingly, everyone was nervous that their jobs were on the line. In such an unstable environment, many people keep their opinions to themselves, try to stay under the radar, and hope it’s the person in the next cube who’s going to get the pink slip.

She was putting out fires day in and day out and never had enough time to make sense of the diffuse and guarded information she was receiving.  Once she had been there for a while, she felt more comfortable asking for feedback and she started with a 360-degree management assessment.

Barbara learned that the 360-degree assessment provided plenty of data about her specific competencies, but little overall direction in terms of the big picture. She’s convinced that when you want input on specific skills the 360 is a great place to start, but if you really want insight on the most important priorities for personal change, “it takes honest conversation with those who know you best.”

Over the years she made a valiant effort to have those conversations. But, let’s face it, it’s not easy for our colleagues, especially those who report directly to you to provide the kind of unvarnished information you really need to improve. But that shouldn’t deter you: identify those folks who will “tell it like it is” and encourage them to be honest.

After six years as the head of the library system, Barbara accepted a position as president of a university. Before she left, however, she asked her direct reports, librarians, branch managers, and employers one and two levels down what could she have done to improve performance. The request caught a lot of people by surprise. But their answers were illuminating and helpful. While it was too late to use that information in her current job, it proved invaluable for her next position.

Barbara’s experience is a lessons learned for all of us as project and program managers. If you want to be a better leader you’ve got to ask for feedback in a variety of ways. The best place to start is with a 360-degree assessment. It’s quick, easy, and yields pivotal information to help you be a better leader. But don’t stop there, ask those who know you best and really want to see you improve. Had I done what Barbara did, I know I’d be a better leader today, and it’ll make you a better leader too.

[trx_infobox style=”regular” closeable=”no” icon=”icon-desktop”]Learn more about IIL’s 360-degree Competency Assessments at www.iil.com.[/trx_infobox]

LeRoy WardJ. LeRoy Ward is a highly respected consultant and advisor to Global Fortune 500 Corporations and government agencies in the areas of project, program and portfolio management. With more than 38 years of government and private sector experience, LeRoy specializes in working with senior executives to understand their role in project and program sponsorship, governance, portfolio management and the strategic execution of projects and programs.