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“Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen” – Michael Jordan

How does a great project leader Make Things Happen? 

To lead projects to success, there are 7 factors that you need to be mindful of:

  1. Awareness
  2. Aspiration
  3. Ability
  4. Alteration
  5. Action
  6. Alertness
  7. Achievement

AWARENESS is the first factor. Organizations who ultimately manifest their goals through projects have a high level of awareness. They understand their business context, strengths, weaknesses and constraints. They have a well-articulated vision, have made choices on what to do, what not to do and know how to get there. They have assigned a project leader who in tandem with the visionary leader (see one of my previous posts) is set up for success by the sponsor.

The second factor is ASPIRATION. High performing teams that make things happen thrive on ambition. They deliver a new, top quality product and/or service, because the people who make up the team are committed and intrinsically motivated to be part of a game changing journey. Daniel H. Pink, a well-known author of books about business, work and management, says that motivation is coming from the inside. Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose are the new 21st century ingredients for leadership.

ABILITY to deliver is the third factor. A project leader’s primary responsibility is to build a team that is able to deliver results. What does ability mean? Think about values like: talent, skills, expertise, knowledge, patience, perseverance, leniency, capacity, mastery, cleverness, far-sightedness, keen and flexibility. The project leader is responsible to acquire the right mix of professionals and unlock, extend and apply their talents in order to meet the purpose of the project and career ambitions of the individuals. A great project leader is a great coach at the same time.

ALTERATION is the fourth factor. In order to reach the future end state that is intended to be substantially different and better than today, the organization must change. John P. Kotter, Professor at Harvard Business School and best-selling author, says that the key aspect of triggering that change is to establish a sense of urgency. Change leadership is a responsibility of the visionary leader and the project leader. Where the visionary leader is more focused on shaping and communicating the vision, the project leader is keen on embedding change in the organization by transforming people, process and technology in an integrated manner.

The fifth factor is ACTION. A project leader who wants to meet the purpose (vision, goals, objectives) of the project, has an action plan to get to the future state. He understands the vision (WHAT) and knows the primary and secondary pathways (HOW) to follow. During the execution phase everything that the project does is based on a well-communicated action-oriented-plan. Project performance is measured against the plan that is owned by all the key stakeholders. A successful plan has many layers of detail. At the executive level it is sufficient to have a ‘plan-on-a-single-page’ representing major work streams and key milestones. At the project level, the leader maintains a work package driven plan that can be broken down in many team level work plans. The lower you go, the shorter the horizon of the plans.

ALERTNESS is the sixth factor. Top performing project leaders implement a highly effective alert system into their day-to-day operations that avoid the project from derailment. These alerts are going beyond the common performance reporting mechanisms. The best alerts the project leader can receive, are obtained through verbal communications with many different stakeholders. The ability to build trustworthy relationships is therefore a critical skill for the project leader, because valuable alerts only come from trusted sources. Another key value besides trust is creativity. Once the project leader receives an alert, an instant response is oftentimes required. The ability to quickly propose alternatives to the right decision makers is at that point in time very important to keep things moving forward.

The seventh and last factor is ACHIEVEMENT. There are a number of things that are very important when project results come in: celebration, sustainment and continuous improvement are the key ones. Successes must be celebrated. Top project leaders create a positive, motiving and inspiring work climate where people deliver results that they can feel proud of. Empowerment, ownership, acknowledgement and affirmation are core ingredients of such an environment. Realistic project plans have quick wins that enable the creation of a project culture with a winner’s mentality where top talent wants to deliver, share and develop the best of the best. The other aspect of Achievement is sustainment. Projects deliver a new product and/or service that must be supported. Part of the achievement process is to ensure that the organization has the required sustainment capacity. The transition planning of capabilities is a joined effort of the project and business operations. Last but not least, continuous improvement (Kaizen). Organizations that are on an evolutionary path of prolonged change and who are successful in achieving goals over and over again oftentimes have a learning capability build into their organizational culture and project approach. Learning is being perceived as an investment and not as an expense. Great project leaders coach top talented professionals throughout the project lifecycle because they care for the organization, the team and foremost the people.

 

Bas de Baat
Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

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Great coaches help to create a culture that unleashes the highest talents and diverse skills and contributions of people. The mindset of a mediocre leader is “My job is to micromanage and control my people to get results.” The mindset of a great leader is “My job is to release the talent, passion and ingenuity of all our people.” Most individuals underestimate their own talents. As a coach you need to know how to help people tap into the unique store of talents and strengths they already have – Michael K. Simpson

Michael Simpson is the author of the book ‘Unlocking Potential’. If you believe that coaching top talent is a core element of leadership of the 21st century, then I recommend reading this book.


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‘Working hard and working smart sometimes can be two different things’ – Byron Dorgan

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A Pragmatic Project Leader is keen on working SMART. Leading IT business transformation projects can be demanding at times and you often have to keep many balls in the air at the same time. Day in and day out you are operating like a juggler who is skilled in keeping several objects in motion. Working HARD is not necessarily the right answer to deliver best value to your stakeholders. Many people associate working HARD with working long hours. Oftentimes if you look at how HARD working people manage themselves through the day, you notice that there is room for improvement.

What does SMART Project Leadership mean? It is a different SMART that most of us would think about initially. Specific, Measurable Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound? As much as that is very useful for defining goals, SMART Project Leadership is a bit different.

SMART in that context means: Simple, Meaningful, Aspirational, Result-oriented and Time-sensitive.

In the 1960, the US Navy came forward with a well-known design principle: “Keep it simple, stupid”. I am a big fan of that principle and apply that to my leadership style every day. Why would you complify your thinking, words and actions when the initiative that you are leading is already demanding enough? People and organizations have a tendency towards exploiting their knowledge and experience to levels that are most of the times not required to complete a particular task. A key contribution of the Pragmatic Project Leader is to bring things back to reality and a major enabler to do that is to simplify the problem and context. By doing so, you bring people back where they need to be, back to a situation where they can be productive and can deliver.

Thoughts, words and actions need to be meaningful otherwise there is no value in pursuing them. In a project environment they can only be meaningful if they contribute to the project goals. Everything you do in a project must at the end of they day positively influence the outcome. Successful Project Leaders understand that and make that happen by demonstrating the right behaviour and taking corrective actions as required.

Projects are about delivering a unique product or service in a certain time line. When you start a new initiative, there is a high level understanding of what the project is about. Let’s call that a dream or vision. There is a high level of ambiguity and a strong desire to make a change. The Visionary Leader is they key person to communicate what that future looks like, and the Pragmatic Project Leader is shaping the path towards it. He has the plan to make-things-happen. Both are (must be) very aspirational in their behaviour to get the commitment and alignment of the key stakeholders as well as the project team. That aspiration, that high level of ambition and positive attitude towards change is crucial.

Pragmatic Project Leaders are result-oriented and realize value for the organization though practical, structured, well thought-through and well communicated plans and actions. The focus on getting results is well balanced with managing people. If there is an imbalance, there is a significant risk that the team does not have enduring and sustainable performance.

Time-sensitivity is another key dimension. A good example of this is work prioritization. The Pragmatic Project Leader has the plan to get to the future state and knows best what’s important at any point in time. Sharing that insight with the project team and key stakeholders by clearly articulating what the best order is of events and why, is a major contribution to overall project success.

Working HARD at times, when it is needed is a good thing. When the project is going through peak times, working HARD makes a lot of sense. Putting in the required hours and going the extra mile is what’s being expected then. Consistently working SMART is what you are really after. If you make that a centre piece of your daily approach to work, your clients will be very appreciative.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

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“You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get anywhere” – Lee Iacocca

The quote from Lee Iacocca is absolutely true. If you are not able to articulate what you want, you cannot expect that your implementation partner (the Vendor) is able to deliver it to you. Having said that, there is a key component missing. The existence of implementation partners is their expertise and capability to help you define what you want, such that your needs get fulfilled. Oftentimes that is not well understood and/or executed throughout the project life cycle.

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Dilbert (by Scott Adams) hits the nail on the head with his strip about a customer that wanted a swing on a tree. It indicates that there is kind of a ‘broken telephone’ between the project stakeholders. None of them actually truly understood what the customer wanted and all reasoned from their own paradigm and communication matrix.

Let’s say for a minute that there is a mutual understanding of the need between the customer and implementation partner. Can it still go wrong? Absolutely. There are many factors that can still make the outcome of the project not to be acceptable to the customer. Think about lack of quality of work, contractual disputes, shortage of resources, resistance to change, competing business priorities, low trust culture, and so on. Having said that, it appears that proper communication is the main success factor.

It is key to sing from the same song sheet, but how do you make that happen? Here are a number of practical measures:

Make communication meaningful: Many verbal and non-verbal communications can be much better coloured with proper wording and visuals such that they become meaningful for the recipient. I have been in many meetings where people leave the room with a completely different understanding about the outcome; at times the complete opposite. Oftentimes it happens, because the meeting is not well prepared. A very effective way to change that is to have the key messages that you want the recipient to take away, well documented on a single page. Use visuals with key words as much as possible. Acknowledge the response and feedback from the audience by paraphrasing it throughout, and summarizing it at the end of the meeting. Document the outcome and send that with the single page to the participants by email. If the subject comes back in subsequent meetings, start off with setting the base line by sharing what has been discussed to date. You want to avoid ‘wheels to spin’.

Synchronize the different communication matrixes: People with different backgrounds who come together in a project to work collaboratively on achieving the project goals need to be set up for success. That is a key responsibility of the customer as well as the implementation partner. Setting the project and team members up for success entails more than conducting a project kick off and reading the project handbook and other on boarding material. Both organizations need to understand that to be effective as a whole, it is crucial that project staff can ‘speak the same language.’ Train your project staff in the software product, methods and tools, project approach, roles and responsibilities, processes and procedures. Maintain a common set of definitions, templates and guidelines. Make this training a repetitive process as we all tend to forget elements over time. Lunch & Learn sessions are oftentimes an effective instrument

Document along the way: ‘Better have it documented.’ If that is part of your style you’ll go far in projects. In my previous blogpost ‘Continuity of Vision’ I wrote about the different kind of documents that you want to use from start to finish. Critical is to be mindful of the fact that WHAT the organizations wants is changing over time as insight grows and/or priorities change. That is a given and both organizations have to manage that change properly and not be surprised of it to happen. Documenting the requirements, design, build, etc properly and consistently along the way can become crucial and a factor of success or failure for the overall project

Build checkpoints into project approach: It is imperative that the customer wants to see what they get well in advance of the formal acceptance phase. Implementation partners can be difficult when you ask them to demonstrate the product while it is going through the design and build phase. It is perceived as a non-productive step or as a delivery risk, especially in fixed price contracts. Understand that Implementation partners do not always have the capability (read: qualified resources) that they signed up for, or customers may change their minds of WHAT they want after a demonstration and they expect that change to be at no cost. This can all be prevented if both organizations agree what those checkpoints are and how change will be addressed as it occurs

Implement an effective escalation path: When organizations engage and embark upon a new project it is the right time to think about how to deal with conflict, because they will happen and when they do, you don’t want them to become lethal. Most of the time conflicts are about WHAT will (not) be delivered at the end of the day from a quality, cost or time perspective. It makes a lot of sense to consciously think about the escalation process from a business and legal perspective before you start the project. Oftentimes it is done from a legal perspective only, without proper involvement from the business, and then when problems occur, it turns out that what is part of the contract is not what the business wants to pursue. Avoid that from happening and define a pragmatic and effective process that has business and legal support. Think about including a mediation and/or arbitration step in the end-to-end process with named internal/external subject matter experts. Build in response times, such that the turn around time on conflicts (issues / disputes) can be managed and the impact on the critical path can be assessed

When quality of communication goes down, ambiguity goes up, cost goes up and the project timeline come under huge pressure. Avoid that and set your team up for success by implementing a robust framework of communication processes, procedures, methods and tools. Train your project staff along the way and lead by example.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP© 

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World-class performance is less a natural gift and more a daily decision. The best just practice more – Robin Sharma

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Perhaps you are familiar with the 5P’s of marketing, who were defined in the sixties by E. Jerome McCarthy. They are also called the marketing mix. He started of with 4P’s and years later a fifth P was added. Any marketing professional has heard of them, among many others, and up to today they are still influencing go to market strategies and other related marketing activities.

When the thought of the 5P’s of marketing came to my mind while I was driving to work this morning, I almost immediately tried to find the 5P’s of successful leadership. Perhaps that was because I was listening to an audio book about leadership and transformation.

Before I go into the 5P’s of successful leadership, I want to share with you a refreshing definition of what leadership is about. It is the one from Robin Sharma, a well-known author of books about leadership and also business coach:

“Leadership has nothing to do with the title on your business card or the size of your office. Leadership is not about how much money you make or the clothes you wear. Leadership is a philosophy. It’s an attitude. It’s a state of mind. And it’s available to each one of us”.

Enough said I think. Get rid of your stripes, get rid of your tie, put on your comfy clothes and lead. Think about what you want, make a change, mobilize, engage, manage, do, and you will achieve your goals.

What are those 5P’s of successful leadership?

Let’s start of with passion. We have a major responsibility in our lives and that is to understand what you want. Whether that is on the personal or business side doesn’t matter. When you have truly identified what you want, the passion to change and achieve it is instant. You don’t have to think about it, because it is already happening. People who are passionate about what they do, know what I am talking about. If you don’t, it may well be that you still haven’t found what you are looking for. Keep looking, because it is out there and perhaps just around the corner. If you feel that you need assistance, you may want to sit down with a coach to find that talent and go from there.

Talent is all about potential. You want to unlock your potential and bring that to a world class level. That means making an investment in terms of time and resources. Awhile ago I read a book about performance coaching, and the author mentioned that it takes about 10,000 hours to master any kind of talent. It does not matter what, 10,000 hours is what it takes. Whether you want to be a premier league soccer player for Manchester United with Louis van Gaal as coach, or a super model like in New York City, or a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, you need to learn and you need to practice continuously. Successful leaders understand that, embrace that and make it part of their daily routine. Learning and personal growth has become a habit.

Another key dimension of successful leadership is personality. There are ideas in the big world that say that to be a successful leader you need to be outspoken, an extrovert, master small talk, be the prime focus in social events, and be many other things. Good news is that some of these traits definitely help, but they are not the primary ones to be a successful leader. There are other more important personality traits. Think about the following: being humble and kind, being mindful about others, listen with empathy, work smart, learn and share, foster growth, being open and honest, being aware and creative, build trust, etc.

Successful leaders are positive minded. They are able to deal with set backs and turn that around in opportunities. They share that positive attitude with their environment and influence others to grow and become better. They maximize output by putting emphasis on the things that matter most. They prioritize and balance things at work and life very well. It is a way of life that inspires and motivates themselves and others.

Last but not least, perseverance. According the Meriam-Webster’s dictionary it means: “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition”. In other words, successful leaders never ever give up. Because they know what they want to achieve (have a dream) and are so passionate about it, there is only thought that comes to their mind all the time: “make it happen, no matter what”. If you really think about it, perseverance is a build up of the other 4P’s of successful leadership. You must know what you want in order to change and achieve it. With passion you unlock your potential, leverage the best traits of your personality, trigger your positive mind, persevere and overcome obstacles and finally manifest your goals. That is what successful project leadership is about: 5P’s!

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

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People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude – John Maxwell

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John Maxwell is a well-known American author of more than 75 books primarily about Leadership. Recently I listened to his audio book “Be a People Person: Effective Leadership Through Effective Relationships” [2014] and liked his simple and practical interpretation of Charisma.

To start of, he is referring to Merriam Webster encyclopedia’s definition, which says: “Charisma is a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm”.

He also mentions that Charisma is a trade or quality that can be learned and developed, because it basically is a result of strong and effective communication and interpersonal relationship skills. That is important to know!

To completely take it away from the mystical, illusive and indefinable side, he breaks it down into eight different values:

C – concern
H – help
A – action
R – results
I – influence
S – sensitivity
M – motivation
A – affirmation

What do these values mean for the Pragmatic Project Leader? To come to that answer, I will share John Maxwell’s definition for each of the items first (cursive text) and than address them.

Charisma and Pragmatic Project Leadership, let’s break it down.

Concern (the ability to care)Charismatic people are truly concerned about people’s deepest needs and interests. They truly care and leave you feeling important.

There are a number of things that can you can do as a Pragmatic Project Leader in this area. One of them is to ‘listen with empathy’. When you are concerned with the well being of one of your team members or perhaps the entire team, you want to sit down and have a positive conversation where you primarily listen and are very mindful of the situation. Sometimes listening and acknowledging the situation is enough and all of what is being asked from you. Sometimes it entails more, in which case you often take on a coaching role and help the individual or team to think, change and achieve specific goals. Key is that you demonstrate your concern by sharing the right thoughts, speaking the right words and taking the right actions. Always handle with care and an appropriate level of discretion.

‘Standing for the team’ is another quality that you must have as Pragmatic Project Leader. Regardless of the team performance, whether is good, bad or excellent, you are always responsible for the outcome. Taking responsibility is a way of demonstrating to the team and all the other stakeholders that you care about them and that you are the orchestrator of what they do and deliver. Taking responsibility in this case has two meanings. Aside from the fact that the team is following the path that you set out for them, you are also responsible for taking corrective actions on a timely basis. A key aspect of that is the learning component. If you care about the team, you want to avoid that situations have a reoccurrence. Sitting down with the team and do a quick and effective lessons learned session is what you want to do.

Help (the ability to reach out)Charismatic people help other people with their problems. They inspire them to face their problems and offer creative solutions and hope.

The best way to reach out as Pragmatic Project Leader is to coach the person through the problem solving process, starting with awareness, assessment and acceptance. Before you move forward to the resolution phase, you want the person to accept the problem as that demonstrates ownership and skin in the game, which is needed to get into a winners mood. Once you have reached that stage it is time to set goals, create and discuss options, change and make things happen. There are a number of coaching models that you can follow. Max Landsberg describes a GROW model in is book “The TAO of coaching” [2003]

Action (the ability to make things happen) – Charismatic people are never boring. They are always creative and confident in the way they present ideas or solutions.

One of my previous posts describe key characteristics of the Pragmatic Project Leader. The ability to make things happen is in my mind based on the following aspects. Pragmatic Project Leaders have a detailed understanding of the vision and future state originally set by the Business Leader. With that understanding they are able to decompose the vision into a roadmap, timeline and actionable work packages. In other words they are far-sighted and have a plan to deliver the intended solution. Throughout the execution phase, Pragmatic Project Leaders are connecting the dots, pro actively responding to change, while keeping the project on track. In doing so, they are providing solutions that at times are creative, unique and tailored to the business context.

Results (the ability to produce) – Charismatic people are other-centered and genuinely wish for other people to succeed. This trait inspires productivity in people

Pragmatic Project Leaders are people and result-oriented at the same time. They are very capable of finding the right work-life balance for the team and often care less about how and where work gets done as long as it gets done. Delivering results and making quick wins to demonstrate performance is a key element of their overall project approach. They communicate results upwards in the chain of command frequently and clearly articulate the contribution of key individuals and teams.  Pragmatic Project Leaders understand that celebrating success and sharing the joy of making things happen collectively is the best multivitamin you can give to the team to boost productivity. Once you hit the first milestone, you want to hit the next and…

Influence (the ability to lead) – Charismatic people are natural leaders. They know how to influence people and make them follow their lead.

Pragmatic Project Leaders excel in verbal and non-verbal communications. Their intentions are transparent and they are keen on communicating what, why and how in a constructive and timely manner to the right stakeholders. Oftentimes they use visualization as a method of sharing information, because they realize that ‘pictures speak a thousand words’. Pragmatic Project Leaders understand the power of the informal network that any organization has and they are able to make it a meaningful instrument for the project and use it in achieving project goals, resolving issues and managing risks. As required, they are not shy of taking bold actions to keep the project on track. They are persistent in finding the right answers. This kind of behaviour tends to entice people and that is exactly why Pragmatic Project Leaders demonstrate it in a consistent manner

Sensitivity (the ability to feel and respond) – Charismatic people are sensitive to changing situations. They are adept at responding appropriately to the mood, feeling, and spirit of any situation.

‘Being ahead of the change curve’ is a quality that Pragmatic Project Leaders master. Because they always operate with the future state in mind, they understand what change is coming on their path and when. Pragmatic Project Leaders are successful when they give equal importance to people, process and technology. They understand that the vision can only be achieved when organizational change is marching ahead of process and technology change. Building trust within the organization, within the project team and with external stakeholders about what is to come is crucial to manifest the project goals. Pragmatic Project Leaders are well positioned to coach Business Leaders in initializing, planning, executing and communicating change as they have the helicopter view across the building blocks of the future state. As mentioned above, they are able to connect the dots at all times.

Motivation (the ability to give hope) – Charismatic people are good motivators. They are good at encouraging, believing, and supporting people in the face of despair and adversities.

Pragmatic Project Leaders understand what the team finds important and uses that as a motivator. This can differ by country, client, organization and project. They are mindful of the interest of the people and business context and offer realistic options when hurdles need to be taken. Because they are far-sighted and know how to get to the future state, they help the team to go through difficult times and overcome obstacles. Pragmatic Project Leaders are knowledgeable of people, process and technology dynamics and can motivate the team by providing a cohesive perspective on where things are, why they are where they are, and were things are going. They know that motivators are sometimes just small incentives and they are able to offer them at the right time with the right impact to the right people or team.

Affirmation (the ability to build up) – Charismatic people are good at acknowledging the accomplishments of other people. They think the best, believe the best, and express the best in others.

Acknowledging the performance and contribution of people is without a doubt one of the most important aspects of leadership. Pragmatic Project Leaders are keen on saying ‘Thank You!’ They want people to grow in their work and life and continuously help where and whenever they can. Oftentimes that is through a coaching. Sometimes people think that affirmation is equal to pizza lunches, parties or other form of social gatherings. It is good to have those kind of events for sure, but foremost and above all, it is key to understand that affirmation is as simple as a few nice words often with a bit of humour. Affirmation must be simple, must be frequent.

Now do you need to qualify on all of the eight values with the same level of proficiency before you become that person with that magnetic charm? I don’t think so. Your personality, knowledge, experience and preferences will make you excel more on certain values than others. And that is perfectly fine as long as overall your performance is such that you are able to make other people feel good about themselves, rather than to make them feel good about you. If people feel good about themselves and there are no obstacles for them to perform, they directly contribute positively to the outcome of the project. At that point you have done your job as Pragmatic Project Leader.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

Continuity of Vision…

A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality – Yoko Ono

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Think

In simple terms, organizations do projects to implement new ideas. Where the business leader is most of the times the originator of the idea, the pragmatic project leader shapes the path to attain it. It is crucial to clearly define WHAT the organization wants to achieve. The generation of the idea is just the first step of many.

One of the next steps is to ask WHY the organization wants to implement the new idea. Organizations go through a thinking process where they quantify and qualify the business benefits and associated cost. They often conduct an impact assessment and determine the change the organization must go through to ultimately manifest the desired end state.

Once the organization has a decent understanding of what it wants and why, the final step is to think about HOW to achieve it. There are many aspects that come into play at that point in time. Implementation strategy, time line, methods and tools, required skill set and business partners are a few to mention.

What do you want?

Organizations must understand that this question needs to be answered many times throughout the project. The level of detail is increasing as you go, because experience and insight in the future end state continues to grow. Clear and transparent documentation and communication of the WHAT is therefore an ongoing and primary project task that is often misunderstood resulting in projects delivering less than expected or potentially to fail. The pragmatic project leader is responsible to organize that in terms of specific types of deliverables at specific times in the life cycle of the project.

When the level of detail of the WHAT is increasing as we move along, the level of ambiguity is decreasing at the same pace. As soon as you approach the build phase there can be no ambiguity left. If there is, you know that specifications are not accurate and must be revisited before you proceed.

The following list are examples of deliverable that define the WHAT. I have put between brackets an indication of the level of ambiguity: H = high, M = medium and L = low.

  1. Dream collage (H)
  2. Vision board (H)
  3. Business requirement (H)
  4. Design criteria (H)
  5. Solution architecture (H)
  6. Demonstration (H)
  7. Process design document (M)
  8. Business blueprint (M)
  9. Integrated solution design (M)
  10. Functional specification (L)
  11. Technical specification (L)
  12. Test script (L)
  13. Training material (L)
  14. Work instruction (L)
  15. Business procedure (L)

Defining WHAT the organization wants in a progressive and consistent manner is one of the biggest challenges in IT business transformation projects. “Continuity of vision” is a critical success factor throughout the project life cycle. Organizations must ensure that in the evolution process from ‘dream collage’ to ‘business procedure’ the vision is carried forward by an individual or team from start to finish. The business leader is accountable to delegate that responsibility to for example a solution architect.

The pragmatic project leader is responsible for implementing a robust framework of processes, methods and tools that support the end-to-end definition process. This framework must also includes quality assurance and control steps, as well as measures that prevent the business leader from making definition changes randomly at any point in time.

It is imperative that stakeholders are made aware of the roles and responsibilities, the framework, as well as the risks associated with non-compliance.

That the definition of WHAT an organization wants is a critical step in the overall THINK.CHANGE.ACHIEVE TM process may be obvious and logical, but is often not followed meticulously. Here is why:

  1. People assume that others understand WHAT they want
  2. Business is requesting changes that are not well understood and/or documented
  3. Vendors over promise and under deliver (commercial, capability, or financial reasons)
  4. A knowledge and experience gap (technology) between organization and vendor
  5. Stakeholders from different disciplines are not aligned (vertical organization | silo-ed behaviour)
  6. Stakeholders are not aware of the end-to-end definition process, deliverables, roles, responsibilities and risks
  7. Any form of non-compliance that is not being corrected

Shortly after the organization has started to shape and define the WHAT, there is another question that must be answered, and that is WHY you want something.

Why do you want it?

The definition of the WHAT is an ongoing process that never sleeps. For the WHY it is exactly the same. Organizations who are about to embark on a new initiative must always answer the WHY question. Depending on what stage of the initiative you are, the answer is different as well as its impact. For example, a change to a business requirement in the testing phase close to deployment can be fatal, because of its impacts to the core of the solution, whereas rolling out a solution to a country that was not in scope before can be accomplished because resources are available and the timing is right.

Organizations often make the wrong decisions, because of a lack of awareness and/or understanding of the impact. And if the awareness / understanding is there, its often an inadequate ranking and prioritizing of the WHAT that pushes things off track. It is the responsibility of the pragmatic project leader to bring that awareness, insightfulness and reality check to the key stakeholders and decision makers. As long as that reality check is based on factual insights it is meaningful and situations can be corrected and reversed. If the executive stakeholder and/or sponsor needs to be involved to steer the decision making in the right direction, the pragmatic project leader, must do that without hesitation. In order to make that happen, escalation paths need to be pre defined, transparent and respected.

The general rule of thumb for answering the WHY is two fold. You need a business case and an impact assessment. The materiality of the WHAT determines the effort to complete these tasks. Less material requirements can almost have an immediate answer, whereas material business needs require a documented process with formal reviews and approval steps. The pragmatic project leader is responsible to orchestrate that process.

Examples of deliverable types that you can expect are:

  1. Cost-benefit analysis
  2. Business case
  3. Impact assessment 
  4. Strategic decision document
  5. Key decision document

How do you achieve it?

The last question that is part of the THINK step is about HOW you are going to achieve the WHAT. The result of this step must set the entire project up for success. You cannot proceed to the CHANGE or ACHIEVE steps if you are not a 100% confident on the overall approach. The pragmatic project leader is best positioned to determine whether the project team is ready to move forward or not.

Here are a number of items (there are many!) to be considered while answering the HOW:

Implementation strategy – This item is primarily about how the organization is going to deploy the solution when it is ready for use. The typical options vary from a big bang to an incremental approach by function, organizational entity and/or geography. The key decision driver is the level of risk the organization finds acceptable. Risk averse organizations tend to go for incremental, pilot, staggered and phased deployments, whereas on the opposite side of the risk continuum, risk taking organization tend to go for a big bang go live. The pragmatic project leader must provide detailed insight in the various deployment options, their risk profiles and cost/benefits. This is one of those steps where the organization must do sufficient research and listen to experiences from other organizations, the software vendor, the system integrator and industry experts. Be aware that key stakeholders who have defined the WHAT, oftentimes want to achieve that fast. There is nothing wrong with an expeditious process and aggressive timeline as long as it is realistic, do-able and warranted by build in contingencies. The pragmatic project leader must bring that reality to light.

Required skill set and eduction –  You can only start the initiative, project or program when you have the right team with the right mix of skills. As I wrote in one of my other posts, it is key to select talent based on knowledge, experience and personality. These criteria are equally important. Set the bar high and don’t easily walk away from the requirements if you cannot seem to find the right person. The pragmatic project leader must develop a learning strategy and team leads learning plans for each of their team members. Learning must be a key performance metric in the project performance plan. Education is a critical success factor for the short and long term. For the project (short term), organizations want to make sure that they can deliver quality. Organizations also want to bring their people close to the knowledge and experience level of the external project resources as soon as possible to minimize ambiguity and maximize output. For operations (long term), the organization must be able to develop talent that can sustain the new solution and operating model. To make that happen, education and knowledge transfer must be carefully planned and executed

Methods and tools – This item is oftentimes not well taken care off. Organizations spend a lot of time on defining WHAT they want, WHY they want it, and HOW to get there from a time line, business partner and required skill set perspective, but underestimate that methods and tools ultimately determine the quality of the outcome of the project. You cannot simply assume that the vendor brings that to the table, although some do. The pragmatic project leader must organize ‘method and tools adoption workshops’ where the organization and the vendor assess, review and decide what methods and tools will be used. Part of the selection is also the implementation, education and support requirements. Depending on the size of the project and available budget, organizations can consider to assign a ‘method and tools’ subject matter expert, who is responsible to implementation, support and education. Make that a serious consideration and realize that a robust set of methods and tools are essential for crafting WHAT the organization wants.

The THINK step is one that continuously needs to be revisited throughout the project lifecycle. It interacts with the other steps CHANGE and ACHIEVE all the time. It is important to be mindful about that as pragmatic project leader.

Bas de Baat

Business consulting | Program Management | Coaching

Connect the dots…!

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever – Steve Jobs

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In today’s world, organizations are looking for pragmatic project leaders, who can steer projects to success by applying the technical aspects of project management combined with a practical leadership style.

 

 

What I mean with the technical aspects of project management is how the Project Management Institute (PMMI) has defined it in the “Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK).” For more information go to http://www.pmi.org/PMBOK-Guide-and-Standards.aspx

Pragmatic Project Leadership is going beyond PMBOK. It is about the leadership style and characteristics of the project leader. It is about the practical, no-nonsense approach where aspects like focus on making things happen, people management, building trust, learning and growth, play a critical role on project performance. They make or break the project. It is a combination of delivering projects by applying standard methods and tools, with special attention to the personal interest of people assigned to the project. That can for example be, job satisfaction, career development, personal growth, coaching, mentoring, team development, organizational change, culture change and transformation. The thought behind this is that when you take good care of your project staff, it has a positive impact on the project outcome as well as long term business benefits.

What are key characteristics of a pragmatic project leader?

  1. Have a broad interest and understanding of business, technology and organizational change management
  2. Are able to understand, communicate and translate the vision set by the business leader into a well defined and transparent path to attain it
  3. Act with confidence, optimism and determination
  4. Listen carefully and with empathy to their people, understand their needs, concerns and professional goals
  5. Bring people together to work as a team to manifest the end-state
  6. Is comfortable in dealing with ambiguity, taking calculated risk and managing conflict, disruption and deflection
  7. Is realistic, fact driven and has eye for detail
  8. Selects the right people for the project to get the job done
  9. Build trust in relationships and delegates responsibilities to people they are aligned with
  10. Is straight-forward, sharp aware, decisive, sound in judgement, intuitive, creative and far-sighted
  11. Prefers to operate at macro level using a helicopter view, but if  necessary can manage at detailed level
  12. Coaches top talent and help them grow in their careers
  13. Is a big picture thinker, connect the dots all the time and is able to tune by taking immediate corrective practical actions
  14. Is able to align business leaders on the execution of the vision
  15. They have a good sense of the power structures of the organization, are very capable of influencing and using it in favour of the project and future state of the organization

This is the first publication of 4 in total and speaks about the characteristics of the pragmatic project leader. Subsequent version will be about the Think.Change.AchieveTM process that PM Consult is using to advise and coach business leaders when they are engaged in IT business transformation projects.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

 

George Bernard Shaw and Pragmatic Project Leadership

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When  I decided that it was time to broaden my horizon beyond leading projects into areas like business coaching and writing, one of the things I did was looking up quotes of successful, accomplished and famous people. I find that a very inspiring activity. Besides great leaders like Colin Powell, Peter Drucker, Einstein and Stephen Covey, I came across George Bernard Shaw.

I would not be surprised that after reading and internalizing them, your perspective on project leadership changes, and that you are excited to follow a much more practical style.

“George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950) was an Irish playwright, a co-founder of the London School of Economics and Nobel prize winner in Literature. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was fordrama, and he wrote more than 60 plays. He was also an essayist, novelist and short story writer. Nearly all his writings address prevailing social problems with a vein of comedy which makes their stark themes more palatable. Issues which engaged Shaw’s attention included education, marriage, religion, government, health care, and class privilege. ”

Here is a selection of this famous quotes:-

  1. Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything
  2. The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place
  3. Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will
  4. Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time
  5. The secret to success is to offend the greatest number of people
  6. You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’
  7. Take care to get what you like or you will be forced to like what you get
  8. Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance [there is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know”, see also the book “Think like a Freak” from Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner]
  9. People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it
  10. A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing

Hope you liked it. Let me know what you think.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©