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Conrado Morlan

Conrado Morlan

This is a guest post by Conrado Morlan, the Smart PM.

Dear Smart PM…

I am a new hire at the project management office of a large corporation. I had been working in project management for several years as a freelancer. Although I consider myself to be a good networker, I found difficulties networking within the organization. What can I do to build long lasting relationships with the project stakeholders? – PM Lost in Corporate World.

Dear Lost in Corporate World…

Your networking skills as a freelancer should be transferable to the new permanent workplace. In your new position it is important for you to learn what your company does. Speak with the experts. For example, if you work for an accounting firm, talk with accountants. Knowledge about your company will also be helpful while networking within your personal network.

As a project manager it is important for you to have a solid network and build strong relationships with stakeholders. With the help of your manager and peers, identify the strategic functional areas and select a couple. Understand their role in the organization and select two or three people in each one. Focus on people at various levels of responsibility.

Networking within the organization doesn’t have to be a complex process. At a coffee break, go to different break rooms, bring your favorite mug, and introduce yourself. It is always a good idea to leave your desk and scout the building.

Company events may be a great opportunity for you to meet other employees. The environment is usually relaxed and fosters camaraderie. Since you are a new hire, this may be the best “ice-breaker” and would help you to be welcome by other employees and learn more about what the company does. Check for other available activities that will help you to expand your internal network.

Consider including administrative assistants in your internal network. They usually are the “gate-keepers” and having them on your side may be a good strategy to get access to project stakeholders when you need it most. Keep close contact with them and make sure you send birthday and greeting cards for special occasions.

Last but not least, it is never too early to think about your future. Take notice of your manager’s peers. If you are a high potential resource, your manager will already support you. Become visible in the eyes of your manager’s peers and build rapport with them, and identify those who may endorse you as they climb the organizational ladder.

Conrado Morlan, PMP, PgMP, has more than 15 years of experience managing programs and projects in the Americas, Europe and Asia leading multigenerational and multicultural project teams. Conrado was one of the first people to attain the PMI PgMP® credential in Latin America and the first one in Mexico. Conrado is a frequent guest speaker at Project Management congresses in America and Latin America, an avid volunteer with several PMI chapters, a contributor for PMI Community Post and INyES Latino and a blogger at http://thesmartpms.posterous.com.  For questions, comments, or feedback, please contact Conrado.

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Good service, bad service

“Good morning, Elizabeth,” says the man at the coffee stand. “The usual?”

“Yes, please.” I fiddle with my purse to get the correct change. “Sorry, I don’t have enough money,” I say. “I’ll just go to the cash machine.”

I leave the counter and cross the street to the nearest cash point. When I get back, my large skinny latte with one sugar is standing on the counter. I hand the barista a note, and he gives me back a fistful of change. He stamps my loyalty card. Four more coffees before I get a free one.

The whole exchange is cheerful. It pleases me that he knows my name and my order. I don’t notice the crowds on the streets as I finish the journey to work. My coffee tastes better because it was made for me by someone who cares. My day starts well.

On the way home after work I stop off to buy some shoelaces in a sports shop. The packets of laces are hung up behind the counter.

“I’d like some brown boot laces please,” I ask the assistant.

He grunts, and points to a packet of rainbow-coloured laces.

“No, brown ones. Across a bit.”

He points to another packet – black shoelaces.

“No, the next ones across. The ones that say boot laces on the packet and are brown.”

Finally, he points to the right packet. “Yes, those ones.”

By the time he’s selected the right packet, rung up the product and told me the price, I’m incredibly frustrated. He should know his products, I think. He should listen to his customers. I think of all the other times I’ve received bad service, at the bank, from the gym, from the insurance agent. The tube is too crowded, and I’m cross all the way home.

When you are dealing with your project customers or stakeholders, are you the barista or the shop assistant?

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From the archives

Can you believe I’ve been blogging for four and a half years?  Time has flown past and in that time I’ve met some amazing people and done some really interesting projects.  Here’s a look back at what we were talking about:

This time last year: Recovering troubled programmes.  The 5-step approach to recovering a programme and its constituent projects.

This time in 2008: Project sponsors.  An FAQ to use with newbie sponsors and tips for what a good sponsor looks like.

This time in 2007:  Helicopter project management.  Zooming in and then pulling back to see the big picture.

This time in 2006:  The sad state of Gypsy Moth IV.  The role of regular status reporting.

If you subscribe by RSS and got an email over the weekend with a ‘Hello World’ post, I’m sorry about that.  I had a problem with a corrupt database file that resulted in having to restore the blog from backup, and that post was automatically (and accidentally) generated during the restore.

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Fixed date projects: more advice from the experts

Last week we saw that PRINCE2 doesn’t really have much advice to offer the project manager stuck with delivering to a fixed date.  I also gave you some advice from another expert, J LeRoy Ward at ESI.  Surely some other project management experts have tackled this problem?  I trawled my bookcase for what other people had written on the subject.

Stanley E. Portny, in Project Management for Dummies (don’t laugh, it’s actually pretty good), says that managing this way is ‘backing in’.  Backing in is when you start at the end of the project and work your way backwards calculating task estimates until you reach today.  So you automatically shorten task lengths when you realise you are out of time.  That’s why it is not a good idea.  He points out three major pitfalls of planning this way:

  • “You may miss activities, because your focus is more on meeting a time constraint than ensuring you identify all required work.
  • Your span time estimates are based on what you can allow activities to take, rather than what they’ll actually require.
  • The order in which you propose to perform activities may not be the most effective one.” (p. 92)

Linda Kretz Zaval and Terri Wagner also talk about the practicalities of managing to fixed dates in their book, Project Manager Street Smarts: A Real World Guide to PMP Skills, and I picked out the bit about making the plan fit in my book review last year, long before I knew that this month would focus on fixed dates.  They propose three strategies for reducing the project duration to give you a fighting chance of hitting those dates:

  • Crash the project by reducing the duration of activities located on the critical path, focusing on working out the cheapest tasks to reduce and concentrating on them.
  • Fast-track the project.  This is doing tasks in parallel instead of doing them in series.
  • Calculate the cost per day of crashing the project (which is called slope) – then maybe your stakeholders won’t be so keen on making you hurry along.

Meri Williams’ book, The Principles of Project Management, is another one I enjoyed.  And it talks about dealing with fixed date projects, which it calls set deadlines.  Backing in, fixed date, set deadlines, it’s all the same thing.

“First, work out how much trouble you’re in,” she writes.  “Break down the deliverables, gather the estimates, and decide how much contingency you’d have liked to have.  You work out that the realistic deadline for the Next Big Thing project is actually December 1st.  But now what?  How can you convince management that you need an extra six months in the project plan?

If you’re in a wonderful, supportive work environment, you may choose to tackle this issue head-on.  Go and explain that the deadline is unachievable, that you simply can’t make it.”

Williams predicts that either management will replace you with someone who says they can deliver to their ridiculous timescale.  Or management will offer you more cash and more people in a bid to get it all done on time.

“The most important point is to take the emotion out of the discussion. Get everyone to calm down and face reality, making it about what needs to be done, rather than the emotional reaction of a boss who’s being told she can’t have what she wants, and a team that’s being asked to achieve the impossible.”

And of course my book, Project Management in the Real World, includes a chapter on managing fixed date projects with more advice.  Hopefully you are no longer seriously at a loss now as to where to start with your fixed date project.  Enjoy – sometimes the challenge of hitting the date is part of the fun of project management.

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What I’m Reading: April 2015

The top project management books and resources for April 2015. Plus a couple of great children's book recommendations as well! Find out what should be on your reading list this month.

Power of Project Leadership: Giveaway winner

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The Feedback Imperative [Book review]

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The Must-Read Reading List for Project Communication and Collaboration

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4 Steps for More Effective Meetings

Time spent in such meetings is only wasted if they are unproductive and don’t have any actionable outcome. Learn about how to improve the efficiency of your meetings in 4 simple steps. Proper preparation and follow up will help you streamline your meetings.