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Advice on Professional Development- Part 1

June 2017- From PMO Experts Neal Whitten, PMP and Lisa DiTullio, PMP

Neal Whitten and Lisa DiTullio recently hosted a “Let’s Talk” discussion for Apex employees to voice their questions related to topics ranging from handling conflict in the workplace to current trends in the project management space. This week, we’ll feature the questions they received and their responses.

Neal is a popular speaker, trainer, consultant, mentor and best-selling author in the areas of leadership and soft skills, project management, team building and employee development. He has more than 35 years of front-line leadership, project management and human resource experience.

Lisa is a Principal of Your Project Office, a PMI REP and consulting firm. Her group offers training programs and services around project management, leadership, and team-building. Lisa is also a well-known author, trainer, and PMI SeminarsWorld and Congress Speaker.

Topic 1: Conflict

What are best practices for handling conflict amongst team members?

Neal: My suggestion is to never avoid necessary confrontation and always give problems the attention they deserve. The strategy to never run from conflict has helped my career immensely. When approaching conflict, I have three thoughts that are helpful to keep in mind: 1) ensure that each party has been fairly listened to. Everyone has something of value to say; 2) decide what direction is best for the business. If there is a conflict between two parties, the deciding outcome should be one that is best for the company as a whole; 3) try to sell the parties on the preferred outcome.

Lisa: In the event that you cannot resolve the conflict, do not hesitate to involve a mediator to step in and support the process.

How do you deal with workplace bullies/strong personalities?

Neal: I think workplace bullies and strong personalities are two different issues. Let’s look at workplace bullying first. Bullying is never acceptable, but it will likely always be part of the workplace lifestyle. My style is always to deal with a bully firmly and directly. Once you have shown your ability to handle abusive behavior that behavior will likely continue and even escalate. The good news is you have options. You can deal with the bully directly. You can deal with the bully with an authority process, or you can do it through another person, such as your manager or the bully’s manager. Strong personalities are different. All of us may be viewed at times to have a strong personality. I would deal with them directly, but first, ask yourself: is it worth the time, energy, overall stress that this will cause? If it’s not, let it go.

Lisa: The only other thing I would suggest when diffusing aggressive behavior is the art of fogging. The art of fogging is based in the idea that when you’re barreling down the highway in the middle of the night and you hit a patch of fog, you immediately slow down. Do exactly that when it comes to someone who is overly aggressive. Slow down. Listen. Take a breath. Acknowledge that you’ve heard the other person. Simply repeating back to the other person what they’ve told you can stop aggressive behavior in its tracks since the expectation is that conflict will be met with conflict. This tactic can return the conversation to a place of calmness and resolution.

Topic 2: Project Impact and ROI

How do you engage ‘the business’ to understand the impact of the project? How can you help justify ROI on projects/programs?

Lisa: Oftentimes when we are presenting information to key stakeholders, one of the key mistakes we make is presenting the information in project management form, instead of business terms they would understand. If we first understand and appreciate the audience we are speaking to, we know what is meaningful to them outside of the project management league. Present information in a manner so that there is engagement and dialogue. Articulating the return is often difficult. I suggest focusing on the business need and business result for your audience.

Topic 3: Change Management

What does an effective change management process look like?

Neal: First off, let’s define change management. Change management is the thoughtful and orderly transitioning from what it is to what it is intended to become. When approaching change management, I like to follow the eights steps laid out in John Cotter’s model, with adding a ninth of my own: 1) Assess the proposed change and its impact; 2) Plan communications. Consider your audience and what must be communicated; 3) Acquire sponsorship and identify related activity; 4) Conduct change management training for leadership; 5) Focus on training development and delivery; 6) Prepare for resistant management; 7) Employ employee feedback and corrective action; 8) Recognize and celebrate successes; 9) continuously monitor.

How long does your average mid-sized organization take to accept and embrace change?

Neal: This is difficult to say without knowing what is being changed and the maturity of the company. In my experience, most changes can be made within three to six months with proper process and leadership.

Lisa: There is such variability and factors associated with this. It all depends on the level of change, type of culture, and acknowledging that there will be different reactions in any situation.

How can you engage business owners when identifying the best organizational change management techniques? Also, to drive buy in for the change.

Neal: Business owners are all about the bottom line for the metrics that matter to them. It will be impactful to them to show the connection to critical metrics as a result of the change that is being proposed.

Topic 4: Impact on PMs of “Going Agile”

Is the old fashioned project management style going out of style? And, what is going to happen to business analysts and project managers in the future as a result?

Lisa: All levels of methodology out there are still necessary and not out of style. Just dependent on the right culture, the right need, and the right environment. I do think that there’s an evolution toward an Agile environment. I’m not convinced that roles will become obsolete. I think the more diverse our abilities are, the better off we will be.

Topic 5: Project Initiation

How do you initiate projects so there is minimal chance of scope creep?

Neal: I would first say that some amount of scope creep is healthy. Obviously too much is harmful. I’ve identified eight steps that will help here: 1) invest the time and cost to ensure the scope is defined, documented, and improved; 2) define, document, and improve an effective change control system; 3) implement strict change control for any changes requested; 4) enforce the improved change control system; 5) stay abreast of government regulation changes and technology advancements; 6) do not agree to work that is unrealistic or not in the best interest of the company; 7) ensure scope creep- related lessons from past projects are learned from; 8) enlist a mentor to manage.

Topic 6: Certifications

Is PMP still the major certification companies want? How important are the ACP and/or CSM?

Lisa: Not all companies look for certifications at all. It depends on industry and culture and organization understanding and appreciation. However, the importance is not devalued. These certifications are still very prominent and valued. Decide where you want to go and match those credentials.

Topic 7: Candidate Positioning

I really would like to know how to better market what type of PM I am, do you have advice on how to best capture and communicate a niche?

Neal:First off, I would say identify the type of PM you want to be or to become. For example, do you want to be a PM hotshot and turn around failing projects? Do you want to serve as a mentor? Do you want to focus on initiating projects and turning them over to another mentor? Decide and highlight this as your specialty. Both your resume and recruiter can market on your behalf.

What can I do to discern worries about gaps in short term employment?

Neal:This is a problem for many contractors and self-employed individuals. To stay ahead, begin trolling for your next assignment well before your current assignment has ended. Anticipate the corner before it comes. Build a list of contacts who respect your work and may have short term work assignments to throw your way in order to fill that gap of employment.

To view the free recording of Neal and Lisa’s talk, click here. Stay tuned for more tips here later this week!

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