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The Secret to Project Success




We all thrive for success.  The big question is, how do we get there?  I have provided a number of answers to this question in my book “Leadership Principles for Project Success“.  More and more people are applying the 5 leadership principles laid out in this book.  This is great as more people will experience how to ensure project success through leadership.

Now Rod Collins wrote the  latest book review on Amazon by Rod Collins.  Rod is the author of “Leadership in a Wiki World” and the owner of Wiki-Management, a company that helps companies dramatically increase their performance. As the former Chief Operating Executive of the largest health insurance business alliance in the U. S., he pioneered an innovative management discipline that produced unprecedented operational and financial performance.  His company’s website is www.wiki-management.com.

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Getting Started with Project Leadership


[by guest blogger Cornelius Fichtner, PMP]

In May of 2011 The Project Management Podcast launched its Project Leadership Series at www.pm-podcast.com. The series started with interviews with Thomas Juli, author of Leadership Principles for Project Success, and Rick Valerga, author of The Cure for the Common Project: Five Core Themes that Transform Project Managers into Leaders. More interviews and discussions on project leadership are planned throughout the year. To kick us off let’s begin with an explanation about what project leadership is and how project managers can start out on the path of becoming true project leaders.

Defining project leadership

“There are so many definitions of leadership out there,” said Thomas. “Leadership has to do with the right attitude and understanding the core principles of building an overall vision, knowing about the power of collaboration, knowing how to promote performance in the team he or she is leading, and then still having the maturity to reflect on their own activities and creating a culture of learning. And last but not least, a leader ensures results because this is the bottom line.”

Rick agrees. “I define leadership as the ability to influence others to deliver results,” he said. “Project leadership exists at the nexus of project management and general leadership.”

Project leadership doesn’t mean being a strategic visionary sitting at the very top of your organization. It’s about leading the project team to achieve their objectives and producing a successful result.

Getting to success

“If you run a project, you have to be knowledgeable and experienced in project management,” said Thomas. “Project management is basically structuring chaos and without the structure, you cannot really be creative. That means without project management, there cannot be project success.”

However, Thomas doesn’t believe that project management skills are the only thing necessary to deliver a successful project.“Leadership gives the project a direction, the right direction,” he said. “If you talk about sufficient conditions of project success, we’re talking about leadership.”

Without someone providing this overall direction, the project team members run the risk of going off in several directions, or nowhere at all. It’s difficult to achieve results in that situation. Thomas believes that to get to success projects need both management and leadership. Fortunately, one person can fill both functions.

Leadership basics

“Integrity is the absolute foundation for project leadership,” said Rick. “Integrity means never letting your project live a lie. So if your project plan is a house of cards, or your schedule will be indisputably delayed, or if you discover that your product will fall flat in the market, you need to have the courage to bring these issues to light.”

Rick said that managing expectations is key to building integrity. “When we’re doing this, we’re making responsible commitments even under duress,” he explained. “That’s integrity.” He also explained that integrity comes from solving the projects’ toughest problems without destroying our team members or their families, and providing frequent up-to-date, consistent messages that are agreed across all the project stakeholders.

Leading others

Teams are at the heart of projects, and project leaders can’t lead if they don’t have people to lead. “Let’s face it, projects are at their best when people are at their best,” said Rick. “I’m not just talking about taking care of the troops and then getting out of the way which many project managers do. Projects are at their best when all the people are at their best including the sponsor, customers, suppliers, adjacent functional organizations.”

Thomas agrees. “As a leader, it is your responsibility to create an environment that promotes performance on both the individual and the team level,” he said. “First of all, you want to be a role model. You have to walk the talk. Demonstrate authentic leadership.” By that, he means making sure that your words and actions align. Don’t set rules for the team and then break them yourself.

“You really want to empower your team,” Thomas added. “That means you have to give the team the information it needs and you have to share the power so that the team can actually get the opportunity to excel and have an active hand in project success.”

When the team feels empowered, there is no need to micromanage them. Thomas believes that it is important to want them to feel empowered, and not just pay lip service to the team. You have to be able to trust the team members. “You have to let it happen,” he said. “You have to give the team the opportunity to show how it can perform. That’s very important.”

Starting out

If becoming a project leader sounds difficult, Rick had some simple advice about how to get started. “One way to start is by simply listening,” he said. “We have a vast amount of knowledge available to us through our stakeholders. We need to make sure that we are regularly tapping into it.”

Another easy step towards becoming a leader is to celebrate performance. “You want to look for behaviors that reflect the purpose and values, skill development and team work and reward, reward, reward those behaviors,” said Thomas. “Don’t wait until the very end of the project to celebrate the same results. Celebrate performance.”

The great thing about leadership is that we’ll instinctively know what it feels like to be doing it right. The people around us will let us know that we’re doing a good job. “In the end,” Rick said, “our projects are judged by people, the customers, the sponsor, the team members. Most of these people are not imbued with project management theory. They only judge whether the project lived up to its billing as interpreted by them. It’s a subjective process and above all, these people hate to be surprised. So the best way to address this is by making expectation management a daily mantra.” That’s good advice for any leader.

Listen to the complete interviews on project leadership with Rick Valerga and Thomas Juli on The Project Management Podcast for free at www.pm-podcast.com.

About the author: Cornelius Fichtner, PMP is a noted project management expert. Since 2005 he has interviewed over 100 project managers from around the world on The Project Management Podcast at www.pm-podcast.com. The interviews are available for free. Topics cover all areas of project management like methodologies, PMOs, earned value, project leadership and many more.

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Before you develop a vision you need to know what motivates you


I have written a number of posts on the importance of project vision.  I am stating that one of the most important factors of project success is building a project vision with your team.  It is crucial that everyone actively involved understands and supports this vision.  It defines the direction of your project, gives it an orientation like a lightpost in the dark.

The question is what can you do if your project lacks this project vision.  Where do you start?  This can be a difficult  and simple question at the same time.  My proposed response is this:  you have to know what motivates you to start the project in the first place.  In other words, what is the purpose of your project? Simple, isn’t it.  — Is it really?  Are you sure that you know the driver of your project?  Do you know the underlying motivation or just symptoms?

This is how I proceed.  Say, you are facing an issue (problem, challenge, opportunity, or whatever you may want to call it), ask yourself what is the real issue?  Then go on and ask Why? Take this answer and again pose the Why? question again.  Repeat this up to 5 times.  As you get deeper and deeper into this analysis you get closer and closer to the root cause of your issue.
Next, find out who is affected by this issue and what impacts the issue(s) have on them and why.  Once more, dig deep enough and pose the why?-question until you identify the true motivator or concern of the affected persons.
Continue, asking what would happen if nothing changes, i.e., the issue (you identified in the first question) could not be resolved, and ask why this is so.
Summarize your answers in a statement like “The issue(s) of … affect(s) … The impact(s) of which is (are) …”.  I call this a motivation statement.  It is the starting point to describe your vision, the resolution to the identified problem (or motivation).

The “search” for the motivation of your project may be simple or it can be quite time consuming.  Either way, this effort pays off.  You want to know what drives your project – and, if it is actually worth pursuing it.  If so, go ahead and build a project vision around it.   To learn more what it takes to build a project vision, read my book “Leadership Principles for Project Success”.  Free reading samples are available at www.TheProjectLeadershipPyramid.net.

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Getting started with project leadership


[reprint from Cornelius Fichtner’s blog: http://tinyurl.com/4xj4ddy.]

In May of 2011 The Project Management Podcast launched its Project Leadership Series at www.pm-podcast.com. The series started with interviews with Thomas Juli, author of Leadership Principles for Project Success, and Rick Valerga, author of The Cure for the Common Project: Five Core Themes that Transform Project Managers into Leaders. More interviews and discussions on project leadership are planned throughout the year. To kick us off let’s begin with an explanation about what project leadership is and how project managers can start out on the path of becoming true project leaders.

Defining project leadership

“There are so many definitions of leadership out there,” said Thomas. “Leadership has to do with the right attitude and understanding the core principles of building an overall vision, knowing about the power of collaboration, knowing how to promote performance in the team he or she is leading, and then still having the maturity to reflect on their own activities and creating a culture of learning. And last but not least, a leader ensures results because this is the bottom line.”

Rick agrees. “I define leadership as the ability to influence others to deliver results,” he said. “Project leadership exists at the nexus of project management and general leadership.”

Project leadership doesn’t mean being a strategic visionary sitting at the very top of your organization. It’s about leading the project team to achieve their objectives and producing a successful result.

Getting to success

“If you run a project, you have to be knowledgeable and experienced in project management,” said Thomas. “Project management is basically structuring chaos and without the structure, you cannot really be creative. That means without project management, there cannot be project success.”

However, Thomas doesn’t believe that project management skills are the only thing necessary to deliver a successful project.“Leadership gives the project a direction, the right direction,” he said. “If you talk about sufficient conditions of project success, we’re talking about leadership.”

Without someone providing this overall direction, the project team members run the risk of going off in several directions, or nowhere at all. It’s difficult to achieve results in that situation. Thomas believes that to get to success projects need both management and leadership. Fortunately, one person can fill both functions.

Leadership basics

“Integrity is the absolute foundation for project leadership,” said Rick. “Integrity means never letting your project live a lie. So if your project plan is a house of cards, or your schedule will be indisputably delayed, or if you discover that your product will fall flat in the market, you need to have the courage to bring these issues to light.”

Rick said that managing expectations is key to building integrity. “When we’re doing this, we’re making responsible commitments even under duress,” he explained. “That’s integrity.” He also explained that integrity comes from solving the projects’ toughest problems without destroying our team members or their families, and providing frequent up-to-date, consistent messages that are agreed across all the project stakeholders.

Leading others

Teams are at the heart of projects, and project leaders can’t lead if they don’t have people to lead. “Let’s face it, projects are at their best when people are at their best,” said Rick. “I’m not just talking about taking care of the troops and then getting out of the way which many project managers do. Projects are at their best when all the people are at their best including the sponsor, customers, suppliers, adjacent functional organizations.”

Thomas agrees. “As a leader, it is your responsibility to create an environment that promotes performance on both the individual and the team level,” he said. “First of all, you want to be a role model. You have walk the talk. Demonstrate authentic leadership.” By that, he means making sure that your words and actions align. Don’t set rules for the team and then break them yourself.

“You really want to empower your team,” Thomas added. “That means you have to give the team the information it needs and you have to share the power so that the team can actually get the opportunity to excel and have an active hand in project success.”

When the team feels empowered, there is no need to micromanage them. Thomas believes that it is important to want them to feel empowered, and not just pay lip service to the term. You have to be able to trust the team members. “You have to let it happen,” he said. “You have to give the team the opportunity to show how it can perform. That’s very important.”

Starting out

If becoming a project leader sounds difficult, Rick had some simple advice about how to get started. “One way to start is by simply listening,” he said. “We have a vast amount of knowledge available to us through our stakeholders. We need to make sure that we are regularly tapping into it.”

Another easy step towards becoming a leader is to celebrate performance. “You want to look for behaviors that reflect the purpose and values, skill development and team work and reward, reward, reward those behaviors,” said Thomas. “Don’t wait until the very end of the project to celebrate the same results. Celebrate performance.”

The great thing about leadership is that we’ll instinctively know what it feels like to be doing it right. The people around us will let us know that we’re doing a good job. “In the end,” Rick said, “our projects are judged by people, the customers, the sponsor, the team members. Most of these people are not imbued with project management theory. They only judge whether the project lived up to its billing as interpreted by them. It’s a subjective process and above all, these people hate to be surprised. So the best way to address this is by making expectation management a daily mantra.” That’s good advice for any leader.

Listen to the complete interviews on project leadership with Rick Valerga and Thomas Juli on The Project Management Podcast for free at www.pm-podcast.com.

Posted in: Book, Book Recommendations, Leadership, Project Management

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Valuable Collaboration [includes presentation and white paper]


Everyone is talking about collaboration these days, especially in projects.  Hence it was no big surprise that “collaboration” was one of the key words at this week’s PMI Global Congress EMEA in Dublin, Ireland.  Social media, communication, collaboration tools, …, you name it.  Thank to technology it seems that collaboration is ever become easier these days.  But is it really? I am not convinced.  Yes, there are some new widgets and gadgets out there that make us think that all of us can become great communicator if we only use the right tools.  But it is not that easy.  As a matter of fact if we really think that tools are at the center of collaboration we are missing the point.  Collaboration is not about technology.  It is about people and relationships!  Therefore we have to understand people and their relationships first before we even consider any technology.  Once again I am catching myself having to admit that this is common knowledge – which is – what a surprise! – not common knowledge.

So, what do I recommend with respect to collaboration tools.
First of all, it is a fact that technical collaboration tools can enable collaboration if and only if you understand the critical success factors of collaboration.  These critical success factors include the power of team synergy, discipline, shared values, a simple yet strong structure of collaboration rules, results-orientation (especially in projects) and many more.  Have a look at the presentation I gave in Dublin on this topic.

Second, assess the collaboration requirements. This starts with an understanding of the purpose of your project.  Why do you want to start your project in the first place, i.e., what motivates you? And what do you envision as the ultimate outcome? What is the bigger picture where your project fits in? And more specifically, what do you want to accomplish in a given time frame?
Then ask what kind of collaboration you need to achieve those desired results? And, what kind of collaboration do you and your team value?
Don’t stop there. Instead think of possible impediments to this kind of collaboration.  What is that could prevent this desired collaboration to evolve?  Examples could be:

  • Wasted effort due to mismatch of goals or politics
  • Disconnect in understanding
  • Excessive time spent interpreting communication or artifacts
  • Time spent searching for information
  • Delays due to reviews, approvals, and bottlenecks
  • Incorrect use of methods and techniques

Identifying possible or actual collaboration blockades is one thing.  What you and your team want to do now is finding ways and means to overcome these blocks.  This brings me to the next point:

Third, select the right tools with your team.  Tools can help overcome collaboration inefficiencies; they can help enable and promote active and productive collaboration in your team.  Don’t select these tools by yourself.  Involve your team.  Find out which tools can facilitate your work, are in sync with your daily workflows.

Fourth, know how to use tools.  This should be a given, but often times this point is forgotten.  Bottom line: keep your tools simple, start small and invest in necessary trainings.

Fifth, align the tools with the purpose of your project.  Beware thought that your project and hence collaboration requirements can and probably will change during the project life cycle.  Keep your eyes on the goals and adjust your collaboration and tools accordingly.  Tools don’t exist for the sake of technology.  They are there to help you.  They need to serve your purpose and not the other way around.

Once again, I invite you to have a look at the presentation I gave at the PMI Global Congress EMEA in Dublin on May 9, 2011.  In addition, you can read the corresponding White Paper.

Related blog posts: The wise use of collaboration tools for project success, Effective Teams Don’t Need Collaboration Toos. Really?
Tags: #collaboration, #project management, #teams, #leadership

Posted in: Keynotes, Leadership, Project Management, Tools

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PMI Global Congress EMEA 2011 in Dublin


Today is the second day of the PMI Global Congress EMEA 2011 in Dublin.  More than 800 people came to Dublin to share their stories about project management and get inspired by new ideas.  A fabulous event!

My own presentation “The Good and Evil of Collaboration Tools” went very well I think and was well received.  I will uploaded the final version of my presentation tomorrow to Slideshare.  Stay tuned for more.

In the meantime I have started a new discussion on the LinkedIn Group of the Congress.  It is entitled “Can baselining and agile go together? I think this may be possible. Actually, I believe that baselining has to incorporate agile elements, otherwise it is doomed to fail. ” If you are on LinkedIn, join the discussion at  http://lnkd.in/x9g_Gq.

Posted in: Agile, Keynotes, Miscellaneous, Project Management

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Tips on Handling a Problem Team Member on your Project – by Margaret Meloni, MBA, PMP


Oh there is a problem alright. And it starts with the fact that you have a boss, peer or project team member who is completely in denial about the chaos that is all around them. If they do see any kind of issues, well those issues start with you. This is not meant to be spiteful. This is the behavior of someone who is completely oblivious to the fact that they cause problems. If they do have any inkling that there is an issue, then they have a perfect excuse. Do any of these sound familiar?

●      “I did not call you back because you never left me a message.”

●      “I did not forget our meeting; my admin did not put it on my calendar.”

●      “My office may look messy, but leave it alone. I have a system and I know where everything is located.”
What kinds of chaos surround this person? Their chaos can be lack of organization, time related or memory related. The chaos created by this person looks like chaos created by creative types or even by someone who deceives others into thinking they are organized. The key here is that they absolutely do not own their issue. They really do not see that there is a problem. If they miss a meeting, they can blame their assistant who did not remind them of it. They really think you didn’t leave them a message because their assistant gave it to them and it was buried under the piles of paper on their desk.

So what’s a project manager to do? Well let’s look at what not to do first – do not blame them. Do not put them on the defensive. Do not constantly harp on them about the problem. Do not argue with them about their excuses, just move on. Find a way to work around the problem because you’re not going to be able to change them.

Now step back and look at the big picture. What do you want from this working relationship? Where do they have problems and how can you help? Even if you don’t feel like you want to help them, remember you are helping yourself too! With that in mind:

●      Be proactive. If you know their issue will cause a problem for others on the project team, step-in. This may mean you politely remind them of customer appointments or work package due dates. It may mean you hand deliver important memos to them and watch them read those memos. What you are doing (without them knowing it) is nipping a potential problem in the bud.

●      Create a simple process for organizing shared information. Stay away from their personal space, but be willing to be responsible for other areas. Enlist the help of others on the project, too. Your problem child may respond to the organization and join in because they want to be part of the group.

●      If they work for you as a full-time project resource, be the boss and give them direction. Advise them that missing meetings, deadlines and not returning phone calls is not acceptable. Mentor them away from the damaging behavior and toward a positive outcome.

●      Acknowledge that they have other skills. There are other areas where they are strong contributors, which is why they got selected to work on the project in the first place.
You may think that’s a lot of trouble to go to, but it will actually save you time and make your job less aggravating. Hand delivering memos might seem a bit extreme but you’ll know that they’ve been read. Another method that works is to deliver the memo and have them initial that they have read it. This also serves to create a paper trail that no one can argue with.

If you do have to call them on the carpet about their behavior, ask them how you can help them get control of their disorganization. Knowing that you’re willing to help them will make them much more willing to work on the behavior that is causing so much chaos for the project.
As for their other skills, take advantage of them. You may want to find what they are best at and exploit that. If your problem person excels at something that another project team member isn’t so good at, perhaps he or she could take the burden off their co-worker in exchange for that person handling their calendar.

And remember, their behavior is about them, it is not about you. Don’t take it personally.
About the Author: Margaret Meloni, MBA, PMP, is an executive coaching consultant for IT professionals. She helps project managers and teams work together better by improving their soft skills. Learn how to successfully combine your technical and soft skills in her webinars from The PDU Podcast (www.pducast.com) and from her website at www.margaretmeloni.com.

Posted in: Project Management

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Project leadership is more than project management (podcast)


What is the difference between leadership and management ?  Leaders take action, proactively; managers react.  Yes, we have heard this before.  But how does this relate to projects?  And why is leadership the decisive factor for project success?

Listen to Cornelius Fichtner’s latest podcast and learn how.

If you live in Germany and want to learn what it takes to become an effective project leader, I invite you to a personal seminar to be held in Munich on June 6, 2011.  Participants will get a free copy of my book “Leadership Principles for Project Success”. Hurry, seats are limited.

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The wise use of collaboration tools for project success


Collaboration is and always has been a central factor for project success.  In times of international projects and virtual team environments collaboration is more important than ever.  Technology can help overcome geographical boundaries to active collaboration.  Indeed, technology has become an enabler of communication and collaboration.  This is no call though for the introduction of more technology in our projects.  Technology can enable, facilitate and promote collaboration.  However, collaboration is not about technology.  It is first and foremost about people and human interaction.

Effective collaboration in a project setting serves the purpose of the project; it is results-driven.  Hence, the key to successfully introducing collaboration tools is not the understanding of technology.  It is understanding the critical factors for project success of which collaboration is one element. In other words, collaboration is a means to achieve project objectives.  This is why we have to nurture collaboration.

The good news is that collaboration tools can help us achieve this.  Provided we are aware of the many possible pitfalls of collaboration tools.  In my upcoming presentation at the PMI Global Congress EMEA in Dublin, Ireland (May 9-11, 2011) I identify these pitfalls.  And I lay out a roadmap how to overcome them and successfully utilize collaboration tools. 

First, we need to have a good understanding of the real collaboration requirements in our project. 
Second
, we have to select the right tools which help enable, facilitate and promote collaboration. 
Third
, we have to know how to use the tools effectively and efficiently. 
Last but not least
, we have to align all collaboration tools with the project objectives and keep them aligned throughout the project life cycle.  Changing project environments require us to adjust our tools accordingly.  It also means that we must never forget that a tool is always a tool and remains a tool.  We must not let technology dictate our workflows and become an end in itself.  It is up to us to overcome the obvious limitations of technology and utilize its huge potentials instead.

Have a look at the preliminary ppt-file of my upcoming presention in Dublin.  Feedback is welcome and highly appreciated.

Posted in: Keynotes, Project Management, Tools

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PMI’s New Agile Certification: Good or Evil?


There are some who consider PMI “evil”, others strongly believe in PMI.  Now comes PMI’s new Agile certification.  As much as skepticism about PMI’s past philosophy of linear, traditional project management is justified, the new certification is a huge milestone for PMI, for the Agile community and for project management in general.  Given its global reach PMI will help spread the word and practice of agile project management.  This cannot be a bad thing. Just the opposite is true.

Whether or not a certification proves that he or she is truly capable of managing or working on an agile project, is another question.  It does show that the person has successfully passed an exam.  Where the PMI certification is more promising than others is the prerequisites to register and take the exam in the first place.  The candidate has to prove his/her actual experience in the agile world prior to taking the exam.  Personally, I think this is a much better approach than letting people take an “exam” after a 2 day seminar and then call themselves “master”.

In short, a certification is a label; and, it can be much more than that it is paired with actual experience and the right attitude to agile.  I am somewhat optimistic that PMI’s new certification will help serve the latter purpose.

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