Category: Expectation Management
Negotiation for Project Managers

Negotiation is defined as “a discussion aimed at reaching an agreement” (Oxford). An elegant and simple definition encompassing yet a powerful and sometimes hard to master skill, especially for project managers (PMs). Here’s why:

Projects involve change. Many parties interact during a project lifecycle including stakeholders, users and delivery team. Sponsors empower PMs to deliver, however, it should be no surprise to PMs that conflicts arise in projects due to many sources including matrix organisations, conflicting priorities, expectations gap and scope creep. Without an effective way to solve conflicts in a timely manner, projects can quickly come to a standstill and may even fail.

The good news is that by mastering and applying these negotiation skills in day-to-day activities, PMs can ensure progress through even the most difficult of conflicts. Read on to take a look at how to apply negotiation skills effectively from a PM’s perspective.

What is negotiation for PMs?

Negotiation in projects is about finding timely solutions to conflicts that arise between people linked to the project and/or impact it in some way. Negotiation is a highly effective interpersonal skill that PMs must master to move projects progressively. Finding an ‘agreed’ solution that either:

  • Benefits all parties – means everyone got, or at least feels they got, what they were after from negotiations. A solution acceptable to all is usually the one that builds great teams and enjoys best support afterwards
  • Benefits some of the parties or one only – means someone had to compromise (take one for the team) probably for the greater good of the project
  • Just escalates the conflict to next level in project governance since the negotiations could not reach any agreement

An agreed solution that benefits all parties is also often called a ‘win-win’ scenario and is the most desirable outcome PMs want from their project negotiations.

Why do PMs negotiate

Temporary endeavors to achieve something unique, projects typically require some form of ‘agreement’ from time to time between those delivering change and those who will use or benefit from it in future (like users, stakeholders and outside world). To name a few:

  • Requirements, scope and resources agreed during Planning & Initiation
  • Deliverables and milestones accepted during Delivery & Implementation
  • Changes to scope controlled and agreed during Monitoring & Control
  • Sign-offs and project handover at Closing

Who do PMs negotiate with

For PMs, formal and/or informal negotiations happens everyday. With project’s success as focus all the time – PMs are always negotiating solutions. Engage these groups throughout the lifecycle of the project and negotiate timely solutions to any conflicts that risk your project:

  • Users (requirements management) – negotiate project requirements with users (or their representatives) to finalise scope. Being the end beneficiary of what your project will deliver, effective negotiations with users help set right expectations from start and will make acceptance, handover and closing smooth.

  • Suppliers and vendors (contract management) – formal negotiations to select best supplier/vendor for delivery and after a contract is awarded, negotiations continue in matters of contractual compliance, performance and any changes needed. It is best for PMs to seek specialist support from Legal and Procurement during these negotiations.
  • Team members (and their managers) – your project team is the centre of it all, moving the team together as one unit requires regular internal sync ups, prioritisation calls and agreements on the implementation strategies. Negotiations here are very informal but lead to highly effective collaborative work. As PM, you should also expect to negotiate with line managers of the project team in a matrix environment.
  • Stakeholders (stakeholder management) – negotiate project scope, time, cost and quality with stakeholders as well as seek their buy-in on scope changes, risk mitigations, contingency funds (if needed) and commitments on organisational resources for the project. Honest and open communications here are necessary to manage stakeholder expectations.

How to negotiate
Now we get into the mechanics of how should PMs negotiate in a typical project setting. Project negotiations could be segregated into following distinct phases:

 


Let’s see what happens within each:

  • Plan: Plan for negotiations ahead – do your homework. Gather background information on the topic, set targets, know your tolerances around the targets.
  • Discuss: That’s where the actual negotiations start. PMs lead the discussion – keep them from digressing off topic. Open negotiations by setting the scene – introduce key issues to discuss. Remember to listen, paraphrase key points to ensure common understanding and keep driving the discussions forward.
  • Propose: Brainstorm, propose solutions and listen to solutions being proposed. Focus on reaching agreements. Communicate clearly and openly.
  • Bargain: Be prepared to trade-offs and give & take. Show flexibility to reach a plausible agreement. Your homework of knowing your tolerances will pay off here.
  • Agree: Reaching an agreeable solution is the real goal. Be mindful of the fact that the agreement could be one of many types explained above. In all cases, ensure you get it in-writing/signed-off from participants. Summarise conclusions for all and later distribute minutes appropriately.
  • Review: Following up on the resolution of agreement is essential. Ensure all parties are kept informed of next steps taken. Update any impacted project documents.

By now you should have a good sense of how important negotiation skills are for the successful delivery of projects. Effective negotiations could literally turn people in opposition of the change your project delivers to its biggest supporters. They could be the missing link to get those stumbling blocks out of your project’s way to success. Take time to prepare well for your negotiations, be reasonable and respectful, listen to others’ views and remain focused and calm all the time. A proven ability and a track record to reach ‘win-win’ solutions – of which there are sometimes many in difficult situations – is a hard sought after skill in Project Managers. I hope these thoughts will help you master this skill.

I leave you with a question: Have you faced a situation where it was difficult to make everyone happy, but yet, you were able to carve out a ‘win-win’ scenario? Reiterating points of common benefit could sometimes help people let go a little to reach an agreement – please share your thoughts. Cheers.

Some information here is sourced from articles in Association of Project Management.

Rana Ali Saeed – Rana is a Project Manager and Technology Solutions professional, having served clients in IT, telecommunications and academia sectors for past thirteen years. These years have probably experienced the fastest wave of technological change. The explosion of digital data touched almost every industry and the demand of data speeds grew exponentially. Telcos evolved from 2G to 5G and smartphones became a commodity from once a luxury. Having ridden this wave of change, Rana has a passion for taking on new challenges. He is enthusiastic about Data Science (analytics, visualisation, presentation) and currently spends his leisure time as a student of Machine Learning, Deep Learning and Inferential Statistics.

Deliver a Solution Not a Project: What To Look For!

Have you ever been assigned to a client who had the budget approved, the solution identified, and the project initiated, and you were requested to manage the project? Have you ever worked on a project where you understood that the scope of the solution should have covered more than what the client had planned for? Have you joined a project only to find that key stakeholders are missing? How more hard could it be to manage a project without being in full control of its elements?

It reminds me of some statistics I came across a while ago. Being a BA/PM consultant becomes a real challenge when you know that you have only a 64% chance of successfully delivering your projects, according to PMI’s 2015 report Pulse of the Profession®: Capturing the Value of Project Management.

But why after all the maturity that took place in the project management and business analysis fields that projects still fail? I argue that many of the PMs and BAs who were sampled in the report are expert in their fields. This is clearly inferred from the same report where it shows that more than 60% of the surveyed organisations already fully understand value of project management, actively engage sponsors, and possess high alignment of projects to strategy. These organisations are expected to hire top notch BA/PMs and ensure continuous development of their resources.

If even expert BAs/PMs fail, then why there are some who managed to distinguish themselves from the rest of the crowd and associate the word “Great” or “Successful” to their title? Do they have the “magic wand” that turns any project they work on into a success story, or do they manage to see things other professionals are not able to, and manage to save themselves from losing the case? I am inclined to bias towards the second probability for obvious reasons 🙂

THE MISSING LINK!

Let’s have a deeper look into why projects fail and see what gaps have these great professionals managed to bridge. Statistics show that 47% of failed projects are a result of poor requirements management, according to PMI’s Pulse of the Profession: Requirements Management — A Core Competency for Project and Program Success.

Being an expert BA/PM will most probably grant you 64% of the success you need, but focusing on requirement management could increase your chances to 81%. This means you need to focus on factors that lie somewhere outside the boundaries of the simple project management realm. Yes! Outside the boundary of the project. Managing and controlling these outer factors is, in my opinion, the key to succeed in most of your projects.

But why to look outside the project? isn’t requirement management already a part of the project? Well, yes and no. Requirement management starts way before the project starts and forms the basis on which projects initiates, and this is where the risk comes from. Remember the scenario discussed at the beginning?

Back to the consultancy world, you usually join the client when the project is kicked off and you are required to deliver it “successfully”. This means that some sort of requirement management effort has already been taken place, and you have no control on the level of quality done to identify the business requirements behind the project and the value this initiative is expected to bring to the organisation.

If you proceed with your project as initially planned, you put your destiny on the hand of anonymous stakeholders who promoted an idea, formulated a project, and put you in front of the cannon. What happens if they have laid the wrong foundation for your project? For example, what if the client:
● Mixes desires with needs, and formulated a project around these desires without real business need?
● Articulates solutions as requirements and expect them to be delivered without proper assessment of their validity and effectiveness?
● Agreed to a solution that is not linked to business objectives?
● Has no business case or enough support from within the organisation?

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” – Lewis Carroll

In these cases, a project manager would be able to deliver the project according to the stated requirements but would put himself a potential prey to the 36% of failed projects and some reasons for that would be:

● In reality, projects are judged by the value they deliver to business rather than to what extent they match stated requirements.
● The ones who evaluate the project success are not necessarily the sponsor who initiated the project. These stakeholders might not have been identified as key stakeholders.
● The project delivers the intended value but it is not enough to realise the real benefit to the organisation.

MEET ORGANISATIONAL EXPECTATIONS!

The key to “great” project management and business analysis work is to meet the expectation, and by expectation I mean organisation’s one and not merely the sponsor’s. Remember that great BAs/PMs need to align project objectives to organisational ones, and this what grant them sustainability and success.

To meet expectation, you need to find and work on a complete solution that resolves client’s underlying problem, and not only smooths the symptoms that appear on the surface. Delivering the “stated” project might not give you the result you need because, at the end, the deliverables will be part of the new organisation’s capabilities, and you wouldn’t be sure if someone has already verified whether such deliverables would fit in the organisation smoothly.

SEEK SOLUTIONS NOT DELIVERABLES!

Successful projects manage to synergise deliverables with organisations’ environment. This means that project needs to take into account the organisation’s readiness to implement the solution successfully, integrate it into the day-2-day operations, and grant enough support to sustain its existence and realise its benefits.

This means that BAs/PMs should seek solutions that consist of some or all of the following:

TECHNOLOGY

Assess what and how technology is used and promoted inside the organisation. Verify that existing technology doesn’t fulfil the functionality requested. See if the new solution is in alignment to the technologies existing within the environment. Check contractual agreements and make sure the new solution is not limiting the organisation in expanding its business. Check if the technology used doesn’t need a change in other areas, like processes and organisational structuring.

PEOPLE

Assess what skill set is available within the organisation and whether it is enough to guarantee project success. Assess what development areas should be addressed to ensure value realisation. Verify that enough resources are available to get the job done. Assess how processes are setup around the solution and whether such processes are efficient. Process re-engineering is gold mine for boosting operational efficiency.

Organisational restructuring can also be part of a solution. Changing the way people are structured throughout the organisation could help streamline operations, increase efficiency, and ensure the right people own the right solution components.

CULTURE

Assess how internal culture impacts the work carried within the organisation. Understand how formal/informal politics/power impact and drive decision-making. Locate informal influencers and make sure they are content, if not satisfied, with your solution.

If a solution doesn’t require a cultural change, understanding how culture impacts the daily operations helps getting the right people engaged, and keeping the project on focus. Granting buy-in to your deliverables is key to project success.

THE CATCH!

When you join a project, don’t settle for what you are told to do. Maybe you are obliged to abide by the scope of the contract, but this should not hinder you from being on watch for what could cripple your project, continuously revising the givens and making sure what you are delivering constitutes a “complete solution”.

Be in search for external factors that grant you success. Influence decision makers to take corrective measures. If you are not able to change the course of the project, at least you know what you are missing, and maybe you could influence decision makers on the right time. Keeping key stakeholders aware of what a complete solution should be puts them on the same boat with you.

Don’t lose focus of the critical solution components: Technology, People, & Culture.

This time I highlight “what” I think you need to look for if you want to increase your chances of getting it right, wait for the next blog where I will discuss “why” and “how” looking into the bigger picture increases your chances of delivering great projects.



Wael BassionyPassionate about project management and the challenges faced by project managers. Over the last 16 years, Wael assumed several positions in IT and Telecom sectors, with specialisation in business analysis, project management, technical architecture, and leadership. He has hands-on experience in managing diverse types of projects, from small, short-term, to MM$, strategic ones. He holds a Master’s degree in Computing, a Master’s degree in Business Administration, and a number of technical certifications like PMP, CBAP, and ITIL.

How to be influential to your stakeholders – Part II (A PM’s perspective)

After reading the blog from Supriya (see it here), I was inspired to write a blog to discuss influencing leadership (or decision makers/ senior stakeholders) from a Project Manager’s perspective.
The way I see it, Leadership is one of the most valued assets in the corporate world. As such, influencing is one of the important aspects or subsets of leadership.

Before understanding how to influence let’s try and understand what influence really means.

Influence is commonly perceived as: something hypnotic, something about having an impact on the behaviour or change in thinking. It does indeed to a certain degree. But in the real world (read corporate world) its relevance is more about having a common goal, having a common purpose; it’s about having a strong buy-in and support for a common “motive”.

Influencing is a process of having your stakeholders acknowledge, appreciate and eventually align with the reasons to have a successful endeavour/project and the way we achieve that. It becomes imperative for a Project Manager to focus on arguably the most Critical Knowledge Area called “Stakeholder Management” in PMBOK.

1) It all starts here. BIG PICTURE. Why are we doing this project? How does it align with the organisation mission/vision? Believe it or not! “Implicit Assumptions” are made even at this stage. Elicit information from the sponsor/project owner. It all starts here.

2) Identifying the stakeholders is the key here. Consolidating a correct and complete list of ALL the stakeholders, their roles, decision making authority and their stake within the project/endeavour is the activity that needs to be taken up in the “very beginning”. Importance of this activity is often overlooked.

3) Understand the expectations. The next step is to identify what is the outcome each stakeholder expects and “how” they expect it to happen. This is the step where the Project Manager’s communications skills play a VITAL role.

The Project Manager needs to be a STRONG listener and also needs to exhibit his/her skills in eliciting the information. This indeed is a challenging activity especially if the Project Manager is unfamiliar with the environment (which is mostly the case in consulting organisations), does not understand the business terminologies (read jargon☺) and does not have a clear idea about the organisation structure. Hard truth is not everyone will open up. The art here is to LISTEN to the stuff that is not being said.

Understanding the organisation structure and reporting structure (both dotted and solid line) within the stakeholders is of utmost importance. This may help you to identify points of contact rather than chasing multiple stakeholders during the project lifecycle. This will clearly help to understand the right way of “getting things done”.

Though it is expected that the Project Manager needs to address as many questions as possible; it may sometimes be frustrating for the stakeholders answering questions they perceive to be trivial. The skill lies in striking out exact balance between understanding the detail enough to facilitate further activities BUT not going overboard. Here’s a link providing some insights on “How to ask effective questions”?

Influence and be ready to be influenced. Yes you got it right! Be absolutely open and ready to analyse new ideas, methodologies and ways of working.

Do it in closed rooms or coffee shops or while having your afternoon snacks. Do not trust your brain. Take your notes. That way you need not to be stressed while you catch up with a friend for the evening beer or two! ☺

4) Analyse. Good Morning. Make/Buy a big cup of coffee. Yes I will prefer this to start in the morning ONLY AFTER a cup of coffee! ☺

Check your notes. Analyse.

a) Identify if there are any conflicting expectations.
b) Identify what “ways” have been suggested. Try to understand the underlying reason (if you did not get an opportunity to do that in the previous step).
c) Validate your expected outcomes.
d) Analyse and identify the best ways or devise your own ways considering the impacts on the outcomes.
e) Document your suggestions and make sure the reasons are validated when you choose any particular way of working/methodology/expected outcomes.
f) Have your stakeholders engagement assessment matrix and Power Grid Matrix. Handy tools for stakeholder management.

5) Iterate. It may not all happen in one go. You may need to iterate Step 1 to 4.

6) Influence. Yes! Your hard work has paid off. You have all the data and a strong reasoning behind what, why and how you suggest doing it.

You have developed significant buy-in from most of the stakeholders and you have been successful in setting the appropriate expectations.

Things will start to MOVE for you. Of course they do!

The BIG thing you achieved is proactively addressing the issues that may have potentially surfaced much later in the project possibly leading to a SIGNIFICANT NEGATIVE IMPACT on the triple constraints of the project. You can sleep well!

Stating the obvious: Integrity and “Walking your Talk” goes a long way in having the FIRST DIRECT INFLUENCE on the people you are working with!

Here’s a bit about Abhijit. He has been in the IT industry for 18 years and has been fortunate enough to work in different areas like Education, Banking, Health Care, Telecom and Environment & Heritage. His career has seen him have the opportunity to work in different roles like a Developer, Architect, Business Analysis, Team Leader and Project Management. Highly experienced working with cross cultural and distributed teams in different countries across Asia, Europe and now in Australia. Abhijit thoroughly enjoys working in handling complex, challenging and demanding projects. He loves to travel and is a self-proclaimed foodie. Abhijit loves playing with his daughter and facing her tough questions. Occasionally he tries his hand at Table Tennis and badminton on and off.


How to Utilise your Time on the Bench

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 10.59.45 AMBy Saira Cheema.  Saira makes her blogging debut today for IMA, please make her feel welcome…Saira, a rather new entry in IMA, is a Business Analyst and a nerd in disguise. Books, current affairs, cricket and sarcasm are her go to areas of interest. Other than being awkward, she loves writing, reading fiction and watching gruesome TV shows.

 

We all know that for any Business Analyst, the time at the bench can be hard. (For those not aware of the term, “bench” or “Beach” is a commonly used term for Consultants who are in-between or yet to be allocated to projects but still employed by a Professional Services company) You have been working non-stop at a client’s site for months and as soon as you are back at the bench, you start wondering, “What do I do now?”.  It can be difficult to find the best way to utilise your time,  I have had that struggle, which is why I wanted to share my experience. It has not only been a way to fill my time but for me, therapeutic as well.

1. Blog about it:
Being a Business Analyst, you get to work with different clients with diverse work environments and you always get to learn something new. Among the BAs I had the privilege of working with, there is so much to learn which you end up sharing over coffee or the weekly lunch but it is never written down or made part of the bigger conversation. So when you are on the bench with some time on your hands, sharing your experience should be the first thing you do.
How do I share my experience, you ask? Company blog is the best way to become part of the mainstream conversation. The starting point for writing a blog is always difficult but once you overcome your fear, writing is the best way to de-stress. All you have to do is gather your thoughts and create a blog-post. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about your experience at a particular client. It can also be a generic post about the skills you utilised or the new ones you acquired.

2. Catch up on what you missed:
Time on the bench is not the time to slack or go rusty. It is the best time to invest in acquiring new skills. While I was working on the client site quite recently, I missed out on many company events but I also missed out on some of the training sessions conducted.
How did I catch up? I dug out the material on the Intranet and went through the sessions. If I didn’t understand some of the newer concepts, folks on the World Wide Web were always there to help. This is also a good time to go back to the basics and re-evaluate your skills with spending some time reading on what you already know. Open BABOK or do a training on PRINCE2.

3. Lend a helping hand:
One thing I have learned with IMA is that being a consultant here is not the same as being a consultant anywhere else. You are always part of the bigger picture like any other permanent employee and you get to know that there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes.
What can you do to help out? Documentation is normally one of the strongest skills a BA has and there are so many internal projects you can lend some help in. Need a case study for the website? Give out your advice on what your experience was and how you helped out in the process. The Administration officer is swamped with work? Help out by setting up company meetings in the office and sending out invites. Account Manager has to give presentation to a client? Give advice on how to make the presentation a perfect blend of sales and technical.

As I said, being on the bench can be boring but it is also the best time for you to learn as you don’t have deadlines to meet or constantly engage with stakeholders. This is your own time and you can get the best out of it by investing in your skills. Go for it!



International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day 2016.

 

 

One of the greatest issues facing the IT industry today is the declining number of women entering and remaining in the industry.  The development and retention of  high performance female staff is critical to the longer-term diversity of the IT industry.

At IMA, we support the career aspirations of our female staff without expecting them to sacrifice or compromise other priorities.  The IT industry is traditionally a male-dominated workforce and at IMA, women make up close to 30% of our team (according to VIC ICT for Women, women only make up 16% of ICT roles in Australia).  We have a strong focus to enhance our workforce to better represent society as a whole, and are striving to ensure that women within IMA are fairly represented in all technical, leadership and professional roles.

Our HR General Manager, Shelley Brown says, “We have a solid number of strong, professional women at all levels of our organisation.  From Consulting to Sales to the Management team, women are an integral part of our continued success. People tell us it is a high percentage for the industry, but we just hire the best people we can for the work that we do, and do what we can to encourage, support and engage the people that choose to work with us.”

Archana Patel who has recently taken up an Account Manager (September 2013 when her client engagement concluded and as of April 2015 as General Manager of our NSW branch!) role with IMA adds that her experience with IMA “has been refreshing”.  She further says “A few months ago I was offered a position as an Account Manager within the organisation, something I am really looking forward to, and a great opportunity for me to work with IMA to put both our clients and consultants first, to ensure the best fit and exceptional client delivery.  As a woman, a minority, in the world of IT – I can’t wait for the challenge.”

Priority and Stakeholder Management

The success core of any project resides within a ‘Well Planned Project Plan’ but having said that, to successfully achieve the desired outcome; efficient execution, monitoring and seamless communication must be present throughout the entire life cycle of the project.

Often there will be situations where the project is going as planned but a critical change request or uncoordinated project dependencies might throw the schedule off-track. The impact to project’s schedule, budget (time, money) and quality might be tremendous based on the size of project and criticality of the end stage product(s).

This is the time when the Project Manager will be tested for his/her Communication & Management skills. These skills will be tested against the challenges below:

• Priority Management
• Stakeholder Management

Managing Priorities can have many variables or point of failures for a well-versed management plan. So how the priorities should be managed?
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When executing the priority list, you should be very clear and honest to act in the situation where one of your priority tasks’ is taking longer than expect. If that happens, move to the next task in the list otherwise ‘the domino effect’ will prevail for the entire list of pending tasks.

Since Priorities are directly impacted and governed by the stakeholders involved, therefore managing stakeholders is a skill within itself!

By managing Stakeholders’ expectations properly, the project teams do gain respect, trust and motivation during the project life.

So what should be done for an effective Stakeholder Management?

The first and the foremost important part is to ‘IDENTIFY STAKEHOLDERS’ where a stakeholder can be an individual, a group of people, a team or an organisation itself.

Analysing their needs, expectations and level of their authority they command should be done after identifying the stakeholders. A Project Manager must map the expectations correctly.

Classify and confirm the means of communications with all the stakeholders, as some may prefer emails where as other may opt for phone calls or even regularWork In Progress meetings for the updates. Once the communication modes are agreed, make sure the relevant stakeholders are updated and informed regularly as well as involved for the feedback, where required.

This will involve their ‘Decision Making’ authorities to clarify and communicate appropriately during the project so that the governance is aware and updated with the progress as well as Right-First-Time score is excellent at the end of the project.

Therefore, for any PM or BA, Priority and Stakeholder management is all about communication and effectively executing the agreed plans.



The Key To Influencing
Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 9.23.00 AM

A PMI-certified Project Management Professional (PMP), Arbie has strong experience in successfully delivering a variety of IT projects. He is adept in using various Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) methodologies, including Waterfall and Agile. He is an action-oriented and results-focused individual who particularly thrives in fast paced and dynamic environments. An avid learner, he believes that in these fast and dynamic times, one must truly understand how to learn, unlearn, and relearn consistently.

John Maxwell, one of the foremost Leadership gurus of our time, said that “the true measure of leadership is INFLUENCE; nothing more, nothing less.” While that might sound like an over-simplified definition of leadership, we can all agree that one of its greatest characteristics is how well a leader can influence other people into achieving a common goal. And most of the time, that is how we’ll measure a leader’s success or failure.

Influence is not manipulation
Let’s define what influence is by first defining what it is not. Influence is not manipulation. That must be crystal clear for us. Influence and manipulation is also not to be considered as two sides of the same coin, but rather two different ends of a spectrum. They are, and should be, on opposite ends.

Influence is different from persuasion
Influence must also be distinguished from persuasion. While these two terms can and is used interchangeably, there are certain situations that require a better understanding of these two. Persuasion is presenting a case in such a way as to sway the opinion of others, make people believe certain information, or motivate a decision. It can be used to spur someone to action or to make a decision without actually earning their sincere buy-in .

Influence is…
So, what is influence? Mr. Webster would put it as, “the power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen .” With influence, dedicating time to win someone’s heart or earn mindshare is a prerequisite to the process of inspiring them to take action or make a particular decision. Influence is having a vision of the optimum outcome for a situation or organization and then, without using force or coercion, motivating people to work together toward making the vision a reality . Going back to its role in leadership, that is what good leadership is really about: creating change (towards a common goal) without directly forcing (not a command that must be obeyed) it to happen. Or to over-simplify the difference between Managers and Leaders: “Managers can command, Leaders can only influence.”

This is where we, as Consultants, come in. We work, and do our role, best if we are able to influence our clients for the good of their organization. Even if we like to, we are very rarely given the opportunity to issue a command. Thus, influence is our greatest and most valuable asset.

The key to influencing
A key is something that is only useful when in your possession—obviously. It is most useful when you decide to use it to open doors. And your decision to use it is entirely in your control. In studying what (for me) is the key to influencing, I used three important criteria:
1. It must be personally possessed. It can be gained.
2. It creates true and lasting impact, not superficial.
3. It is completely under your direct control. It is not subject to external powers, but is entirely yours.

Trust is what first comes to mind when we think of a key to influencing. Trust between the two parties—mostly by the “influencee” to the influencer. I have no doubt that influencing will not be successful without the trust factor. A certain and comfortable level of trust must be present for someone to be influenced. However, trust is not in the influencer’s control. Trust is earned, not given. Meaning, it is an external factor to the influencer and thus not completely under his or her direct control. Isn’t that always the case? We can’t force somebody to trust us—and when you force someone, does that still count as influencing?

From these criteria, I’ll present to you a thesis that personal integrity is the key to influencing. Take a pause at this point and let that sink in. Integrity is the key to influencing. Think about the people who greatly influenced you, about the leaders that shaped your mindset and character, you stuck with what they influenced you with—may it be ideas, practices, morality, technologies, etc.—because you respected their personal integrity. How quick do followers run away from a leader, when that leader did something immoral? Or acted entirely differently from what they preached? You probably did the same thing.

Action over words
“Who you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say,” says Ralph Waldo Emerson. What you do speak louder than what you say; even if semantics-wise what was communicated really made a lot of sense. Can we still influence even when we lacked integrity? Maybe. You might even fake it and still create a very strong influence. But that type of influence is on shaky foundation. Just one peek at the core that lacks integrity, then the influence is gone—along with that person.

Personal responsibility
If trust is what enables influencing, then integrity is the main root that keeps it stable and alive. Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. This is what our clients greatly need from us: the honesty to tell them the good and the bad, without sugar-coating it; the principle that we really do have the client’s best in mind—sometimes even at our loss. Our integrity is something that is entirely in our control, which can only be cultivated by us alone.

Lasting impact
Integrity enables you to take a hit, to be on the disadvantaged end for now, because you know that you are in it for the long term. You want to work and collaborate with a client for years to come, not just a one-off. This is also what a well-meaning client would truly want, somebody they can partner with to produce something better than the sum of the parts. It’s only when you have the integrity will that long-term partnership happens, because no one wants to work with somebody they cannot always trust.

From a client’s perspective
Put yourself in the shoes of a client, or even just your shoes, and think about what you really hope and like to happen during conversations. You’d probably answer that you want the one you’re in conversation with to try to understand you first before recommending anything—that they would listen to understand, not just prepare a reply. It would probably tick you off if they instantly bombard you with suggestions about what you should do or should’ve done before really understanding where you’re coming from. Wait, what does this have to do with integrity?

If integrity is present, then the “seek first to understand, and then be understood” act is a natural response. Because you really want to put the client’s best in mind, you dig deep first into understanding them and not just preparing a response. While this certain act is a good start towards building a solid relational foundation, this instantaneously also creates a win-win scenario for both the client and you. The client will have the peace of mind and confidence caused by understanding that you don’t have a preconceived solution in mind, but rather a better understanding of his problem or what he wants to happen and a catered solution to that—not the other way around. You, on the other hand, will have a better understanding of what is expected of you—your success measure just got suddenly clearer. Don’t you think trust is more easily gained in this situation? Did your influence to the client just increased?

This paradigm could be as simple as: Integrity -> Trust -> Influence.
Because of your integrity, it is easier to trust you, and because of that you increased your influence.

Integrity is the key to influencing. Integrity is fully in your control, other people’s trust is not. It might not be the catalyst or the quickest way to make other people change their minds, but without it, one’s influence is only superficial.



Never idly sit through bad meetings
Alex Knipping

Alex Knipping has been delivering business solutions for over 20 years. Armed with a multitude of professional certifications, Alex is a life long learner, with a particular interest in effectiveness and business outcomes. He enjoys passing on these learnings to others, watching him impart knowledge on his peers or in training courses he is running for IMA is an inspiration.

As people often complain about bad meetings.  By that they mean the time-wasting, unproductive ones.  So here is my advice for eliminating your attendance from unproductive meetings without scoring demerit points.

One of the most regular complaints that I hear is that “I’ve got so many meetings, I don’t have time to get my work done”.  To me, meetings are work, and they are to be a productive and efficient use of time.  When they are sub-standard, they need to be rectified, just like any other tool or technique.

Work sometimes requires us to do things we would rather avoid.   It is a choice as to whether to be an effective professional or just another mediocre employee.  It is the same when it comes to meetings, including those called by others, be an effective professional or another mediocre employee.  There is so much written on making your own meetings productive, I won’t address that topic.  Instead, these are the things I do, and advise others to do, when they are invited to unproductive meetings:

  • Ensure the meeting purpose is known before the meeting starts.  If it is not made available, just ask for it.  Without knowing the meeting purpose, it is difficult to decide that you are not required.  Also, people who call meetings without a purpose will often not facilitate them well either.  That will be compounded by meeting participants guessing what the purpose is, or to use it to meet their own needs.
  • If you only need to know the meeting outcome and don’t need to participate, just ask for the meeting minutes or to be briefed after the meeting; one hour saved
  • If you are only required for part of the meeting, ask for that part to be done first, so that you can excuse yourself afterwards; 45 minutes saved
  • Ensure meeting notes are being taken.  If they are not being taken, ask who is responsible for them.  It may be appropriate to offer to do the minutes.  Quick and simple is fine.  I often type them during the meeting itself and send them out as “meeting notes”, another alternative is to send an image of hand-written notes.  Without these notes, people will end up with different interpretations of decisions that they thought were clear, and action items won’t be owned and actioned.
  • Ensure that action items are clear and assigned.  Often something will be stated as an action, but it is not clear.  At other times it is unpleasant and people won’t do it as they hope no-one will notice or someone else will do it.  When there is an action item, everyone in the meeting should be clear on what it is, who is responsible and if it has a deadline, what it is.  If it isn’t clear, get it clarified, then ensure it is noted.
  • Ensure decisions are clarified and noted.  Ideally, also take down a summary of the factors that influenced the decision.
  • Assist with meeting facilitation, if necessary.  People are often reluctant to facilitate meetings and often too lax at it.  If that is the case assist them.  Sometimes that will entail asking if issues can be taken offline; asking for irrelevant discussions to stop; asking for the issues to be clearly stated; and, if necessary, conducting conflict management.  Though, this can only be done if the meeting purpose is clear, but then, if it isn’t clear, it is very valuable to get it agreed.

I’ve often wondered if people think I’ve stepped over the line with this, but whenever I’ve checked people have appreciated my input.  So now, there is no excuse for sitting around idly during unproductive meetings.  Instead, put your time to good use and make the meeting productive for everyone involved.

I’d love to know what you do to make meetings more productive.

 

Let’s talk about Risk Management

 

 

What is the difference between a risk and an issue?

Many people confuse an issue with a risk.  A risk is an event that may occur; an issue is an event that has occurred.  Generally there are considerably fewer issues than risks, and if not, re-consider doing the project!

Then there is the difference between a project risk/issue and operational risk/issue.  A project risk is an event that may occur during the project lifecycle and consequently put the project development or delivery (or part of it) in jeopardy.  An operational risk is an event or situation that may be introduced with the implementation of the project.  Operational risks need to be agreed by the project owners that they are willing to accept these newly introduced risks once the project is completed and operational.

Defining issues and risks

The basic objective or goal of any project is to manage it to a successful completion, but there will always be risks that will have the potential to jeopardize a successful outcome, so a risk analysis is required to identify and mitigate them so the project is not adversely impacted.    The best approach is a workshop with representation from the various project team members to discuss the potential project risks.  Risk identification is an iterative process because new risks may only be identified as the project progresses through its life cycle and previously identified risks may get resolved and closed.

Create a risk and issue register to assist with managing these.

A note here, that a potential situation is not a risk.  A risk occurs because of a potential situation, so when identifying the risk it is important to determine the risk occurring from the situation.

Assessing issues and risks

Risks and issues need to be assessed (and categorised dependant on their impact).  Regular review dates should be attached to each, dependant on their impact category.  Determining the probability of the risk will assist in impact category.   High/Critical risks and issues need to be monitored and reviewed regularly.  Mitigation plans are required for risks.

Reviewing issues and risks

The frequency of reviewing these risks and issues depends on the size of the project.  Obviously high/critical risks need to be reviewed frequently.   A good approach is to allocate each risk and issue  to a project team member to be managed (although they are not necessarily the owner).  Either review these at the project team meetings or allocate regular, specific sessions to do this.

Managing issues and risks

People should be aware of and track risks, but spend their time resolving the issues.

Bear in mind that some risks can be positive, and hence represent an opportunity rather than a threat to the project.  Embrace these opportunities by preparing a plan which supports them and takes advantage of them.

 

These are just a few of my thoughts, I would really like to hear about other people’s views and how you deal with the horrible four letter word… RISK!



How to run effective Project Management meetings

 

Project meetings don’t have to be painful experiences.  If they are well managed and planned, they can be very effective forms of communication.  They can assist project managers with an accurate view of the project team’s work and project status as well as providing the team with this information.

Factors for an effective meeting

Have objectives – Make sure the project team understand the schedule, major risks and issues, blockers, and dependencies.  Project meetings need to include:

  • Tasks that have been completed (since last meeting) and those that should have been but are not (and these are probably the most important)
  • Tasks that are up and coming in the next period
  • Risks and issues
  • Changes.

Have an Agenda and stick to it. 

Have meetings at a regular time (and as convenient as possible for all the team) so they all know this time is allocated for the project meetings.  However morning meetings usually work better and preferably not Mondays!

Every meeting must have a leader.  It does not always have to be you, but someone must be in charge and facilitate the meeting.

Meeting etiquette – Discourage the use of cell phones or texting during the meeting, and  if members bring laptops in with them, make it known this is not the time to catch-up on emails!

How to conduct a successful meeting

Start and end meetings on time and as the host make sure you are never late!  End when the Agenda is completed; it is fine for people  to sit and chat if they choose to, but make it clear the meeting is over so those who need to leave can do so.  And make it a goal, if possible, to end meetings early!

Whilst it may be necessary to have conference call/dial-in meetings, physical meetings can be preferable, if possible, to ensure members are engaged and concentrate on the meeting content.  If using “cloud” facilities make sure all members in the meeting know who is online, and that these members are included in the relevant conversations.

Try to make sure that everyone who has something to say is given a chance to say it.  It may not be necessary to take turns, but be alert to body language and participation.  If someone seems overly quiet, ask them a question.  Remember that silence is not always golden – everyone likes to contribute.  Make sure each participant has the opportunity to bring up their concerns or ideas.  If some people are quiet or you have a person monopolizing the discussion, try and include the reserved participants.

Don’t have lengthy meetings – the project team probably need to be working on the project!    Agile Scrums have daily stand-ups and this is a good method for short, informal, effective meetings.

Have actions (allocated to a project team member) and due dates.

Dealing with conflict – Not all conflict is bad or unavoidable.  Keep the talk relevant, not personal; focus on outcomes not playing the blame game.  Remember, healthy tension is all right!

Don’t have lengthy discussions about an item – if it needs an in-depth discussion take if off-line and arrange a secondary meeting.  Likewise if you do not have all the information/people for an item, assign an action to have a follow-up meeting.

Sometimes there will be differences of opinion.  Accept what works best for the success of the project.

At the end and after the meeting

Ensure all team members know what actions items are allocated to each, when they are expected to be completed and circulate these actions to the team members promptly after the meeting (within 24 hours).  A quick email may suffice for this purpose.