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Advice on Professional Development- Part 3

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: Overall Performance Tips

What's your #1 tip for new/less seasoned Project Managers?
Neal: There is so much to say in so little time on this very important subject. I will leave you with four thoughts.

  1. Manage to top three priorities on a daily basis. This practice can make or break careers. Here is a recent article I wrote that gives a high-level perspective.

  2. Behave like a business person first, PM/BA, etc. second. Of the broad body of knowledge, skills, and special insights that I have acquired over the years—information that has greatly helped me become a more effective project manager, consultant and mentor—perhaps the most helpful piece of information to affect my thinking and behavior as a project manager is this: Behave as if you own the business.

    Project managers are faced with making dozens of decisions a week. If we get in the habit of making these decisions as if we were making them for our own personal business, I assert that we not only would make better decisions overall, but that we would make them more quickly. You are a business person first and a project manager second. It’s all about business.

    When you start your work each day, do not focus on moving your company forward. If possible, do not focus on your company at all. Yes, you heard correctly. Instead, focus first on your project as if you have the most important project in the company - because to you, you do. If you aren’t looking out for your project, nobody else will. Channel your energies toward successfully completing your assignments—your domain of responsibility. If everyone in your company focused first on his or her domain of responsibility, the company would do just fine. In fact, your company would probably be more successful than it is today.

    Your domain of responsibility includes all responsibilities and commitments that fall within the scope of your assignment. In short, it is the area for which you are accountable. Focusing on your domain of responsibility doesn’t mean that you don’t care about your company. Your actions demonstrate the opposite. The success of your assignments strengthens the success of your company. Focus on you and your team members being accountable for your respective domains of responsibility and the rest will follow.

  3. Seek out a mentor. A mentor is a trusted counselor whose primary objective is to help a mentee—the person being mentored—be more effective in a specific area of interest—to help develop the mentee’s potential.

    There is no better way to learn the application of a profession—a craft—than with a mentor by your side when needed. Not classes. Not workshops. Not articles or books. Even on-the-job training is not as effective. Many of us have learned and practiced bad habits for years, not realizing that there are better practices out there. A mentor can help you discover your possibilities.

    The best mentors of project managers are seasoned project managers who often have learned the hard way—by making mistakes and learning and growing from those painful experiences as well as from their successes. Mentors often give you different perspectives, fresh eyes, new ideas; they enable you to see the forest, not just the knots in the trees.

    If you question the benefit of a mentor, picture this: If you have years of project management experience, think back to how much a project management mentor—the right mentor under the right circumstances—would have helped you accelerate your learning of both hard and soft project management skills, avoid some hefty mistakes, and as a side benefit, move your career ahead sooner. If you have limited project management experience, how often have you wished you could have access to someone with the right answers the first time? A mentor’s advice can greatly benefit your career and help protect your projects from “crash and burn.”

    I mentor about a dozen people at any point in time. They are project and program managers, managers, senior managers and anybody who wants to learn and grow at an accelerated pace. When I get a call from a mentee with a problem, the mentee knows that I will be asking him or her what they think is the best approach. To my initial surprise when I started mentoring many years ago, about 80 percent of the time people actually know the right answer. But just getting reassurance—the validation—that they are on the correct path was all the inspiration they needed to continue. By the way, the people I mentor have learned far faster than I did earlier in my career. I never truly had a mentor but if I had to do it again, I would have pursued this valuable tool.

  4. Be a good actor. First define who you choose to be. Then be a good actor to think that way so you behave that way. This includes learning to manage your emotions, projecting self-confidence, maintaining a positive attitude and remaining composed under pressure. Some people tell me that acting is being insincere. It’s not. This is how we change our behavior by first deciding the desired behavior and then acting that way. Over time, we become what we choose to think about all day long. This is how behavior is changed.

    What questions can I ask my boss and/or client to gauge what I’m doing well vs. improvement areas?
    1. For your boss, questions I would and have asked are:
      • If I were to have my performance evaluated now, what would be the outcome? What areas am I excelling at and where do you see improvement is needed?
    2. Related to your client, I would conduct Client Satisfaction Surveys periodically. Here are examples of questions that would be included in Client Satisfaction Surveys:
      • Are you satisfied that you are sufficiently kept informed of project-related information important to you?
      • Are you satisfied with the client-provider relationship?
      • Are you satisfied with the product quality being produced?
      • Are you satisfied with the management of the budget?
      • Are you satisfied with the success of the project to date?
      • What are your top three concerns?
      • What are your top three areas of satisfaction?
    3. However, be careful! Once you ask the questions, you must be prepared to follow through appropriately.

Topic 2: Handling Project Issues

How do you manage out-of-control projects?
Lisa: Said another way, “As a project manager, what should I do if I believe my project is in serious trouble?”

First recognize that it is your job to fix this situation. I then suggest you request a highly experienced, successful and respected project manager or small team of qualified project managers come in to conduct a review of the health of your project and recommend actions to take. This requires thick skin on your part because they will likely find problems that trace back to your leadership or lack thereof. However, I will tell you, I would have great respect for a project manager that sacrifices their ego in the pursuit of what’s best for the project—so too will most others. Then review their recommendations and propose your plan to your project sponsor to proceed from here.

Other options include:
  • Ask Ask yourself how you would want your employee to behave if you owned the company and an employee in your current position was faced with this situation. Looking at things from the owner of the company’s viewpoint can make the best course of action more apparent.yourself how you would want your employee to behave if you owned the company and an employee in your current position was faced with this situation. Looking at things from the owner of the company’s viewpoint can make the best course of action more apparent.
  • Seek counsel from higher-ups such as your boss or project sponsor. These people likely have more experience to draw from. Always try to learn from others who have “been there” or who have a more objective view of the situation.
  • Meet with your team and ask for counsel. You might be surprised at some of the creative and useful solutions that can come from your team—even from those members junior to you.
  • Seek out a mentor who has the experience and wisdom you need. A mentor is someone you can trust with sharing your inner anxieties and know that any discussion is only between the two of you.
How do you address serious project delays with the client while still maintaining a positive relationship and keeping goodwill?
In responding, I am assuming it’s the client that is causing the delays. Look, this isn’t personal; it’s business. Hold the client accountable. Make sure they understand the impact to the project of their actions. Ensure the contract has financial penalties if the client delays the project.

Topic 3: Handling Unprofessional or Bullying Managers

Is there a particular technique that you would recommend for handling a bully when that person is your direct manager?
Neal:This is the worse-case scenario when your boss is the bully. How you respond can have career implications. Remember, anything I say here is my opinion and represents what I would likely do. Carefully weigh your options.

First of all, I am not likely to accept any bullying. It’s not how I choose to live my life. If the bullying is marginal and infrequent, I would likely let it go. It’s not the hill I choose to potentially die on.

If the bullying is affecting my performance and job, then I likely would work to mitigate the issue. Once you have shown your willingness to tolerate abusive behavior that behavior will continue and may escalate. Here are some options:

  • Privately talk with your boss. I likely would choose this as my first option. It’s possible my boss is not fully aware of the negative impact he/she is having. A candid, confidential discussion might solve or move toward solving the issue. Be careful you don’t appear petty or emotionally weak.
  • Seek the opinions of a trusted confident. Doing so gives you a chance to carefully think how best to handle the situation. Be careful to not engage in petty gossip. Two or more heads working the issue together is almost always far superior than one head.
  • Escalate to your boss’ boss or HR. If you feel that the issue requires outside help, then there are avenues to pursue. However, know that once the issue becomes a formal complaint, there is no turning back. Your boss can make things ugly for you. Only pursue this course as one action of last resort.
  • Leave the organization or company. Here again, only pursue this course as one action of last resort. Be careful here. If you do leave the organization, it is always possible that your new environment may be even more toxic. Typically, I am not a fan of “running” because eventually you may need to dig your heels in and finally deal directly with the issue.

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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