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Someone asked me recently how project management has changed over the last decade. It’s a big question! There are a number of things that have jumped out at me, even just comparing my own experiences from when I started managing projects over 10 years ago to the workplace today. Here’s my view on what the main changes have been.

Social media at work

We’ve seen the introduction of social media tools in the workplace. I won’t forget speaking at the APM conference in 2008 where I spoke about how the rest of business worked in comparison to how project managers worked, and why we should be embracing technology and social media tools. I think a lot of the audience were surprised, and I certainly had some interesting conversations with bemused people afterwards.

We’ve moved beyond Friends Reunited-style networking to systems that help us work better professionally, both with external networks and colleagues on the same project, and we wouldn’t have had that use of technology 10 years ago.

Bring Your Own Device

Allied to the use of collaboration and social media-style technology in the workplace, we’ve also seen the rise of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). I’ve had a tablet for a number of years and it has made a difference to how I work. Plus there are literally dozens of apps all proclaiming to help you get things done better/faster/cheaper. It does take a while to find a few you personally like. I think the next step here will be to get some type of portal technology that takes all my favourite apps and social media feeds and puts them together so I don’t have to use multiple systems for project management.

People matter!

There’s more emphasis on people today. And less on following rigid processes. Thankfully. The introduction of a section on stakeholder management in the new PMBOK Guide® is an example of this, although we’ve seen the shift to better models of team and stakeholder engagement develop over the past few years.

It might seem strange to say that people on projects matter more today than they did 10 years ago, but I really think this is the case. There’s a greater emphasis on collaboration, teamwork and project managers having soft skills to complement their ability to schedule tasks and manage risks. And the command and control mentality is all but dead.

A shift to leadership

There’s also more emphasis on leadership. As part of that, there’s a shift towards knowing why you are doing what you are doing on your project. Previously, there was a belief that project managers implemented other people’s strategies and we were responsible for hitting deadlines and keeping track of the money. Today, we’re seeing project managers take on a role where they can challenge senior managers about why projects are being done and advise about premature project closure when required. This is a massive move towards project leadership instead of simply implementing processes.

This will evolve further – if you can lead a project you can lead other areas of business, so the career path for project managers over the next 10 years will hopefully see more of us branching out of projects, programmes and portfolios into managing business units at executive levels.

So that’s what I’ve seen. What other changes have you seen over the past 10 years that have made you realise how project management has moved on? Let us know in the comments below.

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Signpost of TimeOooh, it’s dangerous to make predictions for the future, but I thought I’d give it a go. Project management seems to be changing quite a lot at the moment, and it certainly feels like over the last couple of years we have (finally) taken some leaps forward in thinking and, as a profession, deciding where we should be headed. So, time to lay my neck on the line and tell you where I think project management is going.

Creativity takes teams back to the office

There’s been a lot of talk about flexibility, work/life balance and all that. And we’ve made great advances in managing virtual teams. I work from home some of the time, and from hotel rooms at other times, or on the train. My workspace isn’t just my office desk.

Having said that, there is something to be said for hanging out with your colleagues. You can get more creative and solve problems more quickly. I just don’t think the technology is there to enable the sort of creativity that you get with the whole project team in a room together.

There will always be a need to work apart, especially as we draw on expertise wherever it is based in the world, but I think there will be a drive towards getting people back together as much as possible.

More Agile

This is, apparently, where the conversation is at. Waterfall is dead, long live Agile. Actually, I don’t think it is that extreme. There are thousands of companies who haven’t adopted Agile but plenty more that have opted for an agile-light approach, with just enough process and just enough release management to get changes and features into projects without being able to say that they are truly Agile with a capital A.

I think we’ll see more of this hybrid agile taking off as companies need to move more quickly and get products to market even faster. And ‘proper’ Agile will also grow in adoption.

Metric-driven project management

This year it’s been all about reframing stakeholders as customers. Next year (while that customer focus will continue) it’s all about metrics. KPIs and dashboards aren’t new tools but at the ‘professional’ end of project management (in comparison to the ‘accidental’ end), we’ll be managing by metrics more and more.

Leadership and beyond

Career paths at the top will take you out of project management.

There’s been a fair amount of discussion in the past about how project managers need to be project leaders as well. As a discussion topic this is now evolving further thanks to the work that PMI is doing on trying to get a project focus in the boardroom and in discussions on project strategy. I think we’ll see more talk about how project leaders can evolve into project executives and sit at the boardroom table. There will also be further discussions about career paths at the top and how they will take you out of project management as a discipline. After all, the skills you need to be a good project leader or project executive are the same skills you would need to manage any functional or operational team. Project management isn’t a dead end any longer, and is certainly not something that narrows your business career.

Sustainability

Sustainability has been on agenda for a while but it’s now linked to profitability. Businesses have previously been able to pick and choose green projects because they helped improve their local reputation or because they satisfied some audit requirement. But now, with budgets being even more squeezed, sustainability supports profitability.

For project managers, this means more projects with a green focus and more weight being given to sustainability on other types of projects too – look out for green project metrics and business cases with green benefits.

OK, so that’s what I think is going to be important. How about you? What trends have you seen and where do you think project management is going? Let us know in the comments below.

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Kevan Hall

Kevan Hall

This is a guest post by Kevan Hall, CEO of Global Integration.

Project managers have had to deal with ‘matrix management’ for decades. They have to build the skills to manage short and long-term teams with representatives from different functions, regions and specialisations.

The matrix actually first developed as a response to the need to coordinate very complex projects in the aerospace and defence industry.

Today, the matrix has grown far beyond the world of project management. In most large organisations there are many structures that cut across the traditional vertical silos of function and geography. Global customers want a single point of contact to talk to; supply chains cut across the traditional functions and even include customers, partners and suppliers. More integrated business functions and business processes mean that this form of ‘horizontal working’ becomes the norm in complex organisations.

Managers who have been used to getting things done through hierarchical relationships find they need to develop the project management skills to connect people across the organisation. The need to manage multiple bosses, accountability without control, influence without authority and competing goals becomes the norm in these complex, multidimensional organisation structures.

The unintended consequences of the matrix

We set up a matrix structure to achieve certain goals, but there are significant, and often unintended, consequences for the way people work together

We often set up a matrix to increase flexibility and responsiveness, but competing goals can lead to increased confusion and conflict. Despite this, people want clarity of goals and roles and to be aligned with their colleagues. We need both (clarity AND flexibility). But if we could be perfectly aligned, we wouldn’t need a matrix – we could just cascade our perfect view of the world down from the top.

We expect a matrix to increase cooperation across traditional silos – but, as always, we need to be careful what we wish for! A matrix can lead to increased bureaucracy and poor quality cooperation. We need to be both connected AND effective.

Developing matrix management skills

The matrix is particularly used in project management  to coordinate complex operations and to manage changing priorities.  We have to be comfortable with trade-offs and dilemmas: we need trust and empowerment to succeed but complexity makes control difficult. Trust is harder to build and sustain when we have diverse teams that rarely meet, and communicate mainly through technology. We need a balance of both control and trust.

Kevan's book

Kevan’s book, Making the Matrix Work

In many cases,  the matrix plays into the attitudes and skills that project managers have already developed, but as matrix management becomes more common we need to take our skills up to the next level.

It’s not enough to have clear activity and scheduling tools. Project managers responsible for teams that cut across traditional silos are increasingly facing people leadership and collaboration issues. Project managers can no longer simply focus on activity and ignore the issues of community and personal development. This is a real area where project managers will need to grow their skills in the months and years to come to be properly equipped to deal with the challenges of managing projects in a matrix environment.

About the author: Kevan Hall is CEO of Global Integration, specialists in matrix management, virtual teams and global working and author of the new book Making the Matrix Work: How Matrix Managers Engage People and Cut Through Complexity.

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3 ways to practise your leadership skills

Mike Clayton

Mike Clayton

This is a guest post by Mike Clayton, author of Brilliant Project Leader.

True leadership is not something you do when it suits you. In fact, true leadership emerges when it is least convenient, in tough times, under extremes of pressure. These are the situations that separate out the good project managers from the poor, and the true project leaders from the ‘merely competent’ project managers.

Here are three things we can all practise, day-to-day, to hone our leadership skills:

1. Listening

This is the master skill of a great communicator and we could all do it a whole lot better than we do, by tuning out our tendency to rush to judgement, and instead, paying attention to what we are hearing.

2. Decision making

Decision time is a splendid opportunity to practice excellent leadership. Will you make the decision yourself and, if you do, how will you communicate it? Or will you involve team members and, if so, to what extent? Decision-making on a project is an act of leadership.

3. Step away from the project

Whilst a familiar phrase of mine to anyone who has attended my project management seminars or workshops is “there’s no such thing as an absentee project manager: it’s a contradiction in terms,” this does not mean you need to be present at all times. Make time to step away for an hour or so, at least once a week. This can give others a chance to lead but for me, the prime reason is to clear your head and think about what is around the next bend.  If you are not taking the lead and doing this, then nobody else will.

People like to be led and, in the absence of good leadership, they will often just follow the first fool to make a move, just to avoid having to make their own decisions. So, if you are prepared to lead, not only is that commendable, but you will usually be pushing at an open door.

But this does not mean that good leadership is easy. There is so much for a project manager to keep in balance that it sometimes seems as if you will have little or no spare time to lead: but lead you must.

My book, Brilliant Project Leader, identifies the four essentials of team leadership. They are each simple to address: focus on individuals, build and share a clear plan, foster a true sense of team spirit, and communicate relentlessly – and well. Invest time in getting each of these right, and the rest will start to follow.

Getting leadership right is challenging and you must remain mindful of that challenge at all times

Each is simple, but simple is not easy. You will need to work at it every day. But, if you do, the rewards will be massive. You’ll get the team you deserve and you will deserve the team that you want. This will be a team that works hard for you, for your project and for themselves, to achieve the most astonishing results.

There are a lot of models of what leadership is and how to develop it: situational leadership models that enjoin us to tailor our approach to the context and the person in front of us, role-based models that suggest we should fulfil the functions most needed of us, and traits models that argue we need to cultivate the personality and character traits that our followers most value. There is a lot to learn from all of these.

But since starting Brilliant Project Leader, I have been reflecting on all of these and how to merge them all, productively. The book that followed it is Smart to Wise – about how to develop wisdom so that you can take your career and your life to the next stage. And one thing stands out for me when I think about leadership and wisdom. I am going to suggest that the key to both is mindfulness.

There may be instinctual leaders out there who don’t need to think.  There may be gifted sages capable of wise insights by virtue of deep instinct. But for most of us, getting leadership right is challenging and you must remain mindful of that challenge at all times. A careless word, a hasty decision or a superficial assessment of one of your team’s deliverables can set your project and your relationships back a day, a week or a month in the blink of an eye.

Be constantly mindful of your responsibilities and of what you are there to do, as project leader. Use your knowledge and experience to help you to think through how to lead, and above all, be there for the people who are looking to you for that leadership.

Mike Clayton is an author and speaker specialising in project and change management, leadership, influence, and risk. He is the author of Risk Happens, Brilliant Project Leader and a new book out this month called Smart to Wise. You can follow him on Twitter at @MikeClayton01.

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Andrew Trainer

Andrew Trainer

This is a guest post by Andy Trainer of Silicon Beach Training.

Project management is a field that is becoming increasingly valued within both large and small organisations – our project management training has never been so much in demand! It’s now widely recognised that having employees with great project management skills leads to more efficient processes, better uses of time, and less wastage than without. Companies tend to adopt a project management method such as PRINCE2 to ensure that everyone works to the same framework.

Beyond training in how to define and execute a project and how to form a team, there are a number of other skills that contribute to success as a project manager. They need extensive industry knowledge, technical aptitude and good time management in order to make sure the project objective is achieved. Leadership skills are also crucial for project management – but so often overlooked or taken for granted.

Leadership skills and management skills are different things and, especially within the project management industry, it’s important to be aware of the differences. Just as a promotion to manager doesn’t automatically mean someone can motivate their team, an appointment to project manager doesn’t make someone a project leader. So what are the differences?

Leadership without Project Management

Project management is a mechanism for change. It’s a way of defining and achieving goals by tightly controlled structure and delivery. So, no matter how strong someone’s leadership skills are, a project manager needs knowledge of the tools and techniques of the specific framework being used. Without this, there’s a risk of miscommunications with colleagues, sponsors and the rest of the Project Board.

A natural leader will still need to have guidance on how to manage, just as managers need insights into how to lead.

Project Management without Leadership

The role of the Project Manager depends on being able to assign tasks to a competent and willing team. The project manager will therefore need buy-in from her team. This buy-in relies on leadership skills such as coherence and vision.

A project manager needs the others on the team to see this vision and believe in it. Without giving people a vision, they may not understand what they are working towards – and they may not be motivated to work as hard towards it.

A manager without leadership skills will not only have their decisions/instructions questioned more often but will find it less easy to defend them. A coherent leader will express their views clearly and will be able to provide easy explanations and defence if questioned.

Providing this coherent argument for the vision means the project manager will instil confidence in her project team. This will make it easier to meet challenges presented during the project – the team will be happy that they can trust their leader, and the manager will find it easier to rely on others to get the job done.

Leadership and Project Management together

It’s been said that managers work with processes and leaders work with people (The 360 Degree Leader, Maxwell, 2005). Managers organise, leaders inspire. Effective project management relies on being able to do both of these things so, without strong leadership skills, it’s difficult to be a great project manager.

Training in project management frameworks and techniques will give you the knowledge and skills to run all aspects of a project – but learning leadership skills will really set you apart from the field.

Andy Trainer works for Silicon Beach Training, leading providers of resources and courses in a number of subjects, including project management, leadership skills and more.

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4 Reasons why your Project Board isn’t working

Woman at tableWho on your project will have the authority to make decisions at the most senior level? Who will get you access to the resources you require?  Who will unblock problems and sign off the extra money the project needs?

These are all functions of a Project Board (or Steering Group).

A Project Board is made up of people who have an interest in the project: representatives from each of the key stakeholder communities, who meet on a regular basis to provide direction, authority to proceed and to decide on the strategy for the project. A survey by the Centre for Complexity and Change at The Open University found that a third of project managers are involved in the decision making process but are not the sole decision maker themselves*. So it’s essential that Project Boards are proactive in helping the project manager by considering recommendations and making decisions, so that the work is not held up while the project team wait for a clear steer on the way forward.

Project Boards are chaired by the project sponsor and generally meet once a month, although the project manager should be able to see any member of the Board between meetings if necessary. However, just because a project has a Project Board doesn’t mean the group will be of value.  Here are some of the reasons why Project Boards fail to be effective.

1: No senior ownership

Symptoms: the project manager brings recommendations to the table but the Project Board fails to make decisions; decisions take a long time; decisions involve consulting other people not present during steering group meetings

Your Project Board is not made up of the right people. The decision makers on your project should be authoritative and have the ability to negotiate with other key departments in case of conflict. Without a clear route for (binding) decisions, you could find your project stalling at the most critical moments, as the stakeholders disagree amongst themselves and refuse to abide by each others decisions.

Without a clear route for (binding) decisions, you could find your project stalling at the most critical moments, as the stakeholders disagree amongst themselves and refuse to abide by each others decisions.

Alternatively, the Project Board could be made up of too many people. It’s difficult to gain collective agreement with more than five or six people, so keep the group small. If, as project manager, you need to consult others, do so before the meeting and include their views in the recommendations you present to the Board.

2: No interest in the project

Symptoms: meetings get cancelled; the project manager cannot get time with the project sponsor or Project Board members

Again, your Project Board is not made up of the right people. Why are they so disinterested? Somebody in the organisation must have an interest in this project, or it would never have started. The initiator may have moved on, and his or her successor may be unwilling to support the project for any number of reasons. A lack of interest in the project at senior level is a sign that company strategy has moved on. Perhaps this project is no longer required, but no one has yet been brave enough to cancel it.

If your Project Board is unwilling to provide the required direction for the project, suggest that the project is stopped. If there are people out there who strongly believe that the project should continue, then they will come out of hiding and stand up for it.  If no one challenges your recommendation, then nobody cares enough for the work to continue. There is no point working on a project that serves no purpose, so bow out gracefully and support the project team in the transition to new, more relevant, projects.

3: They are willing, but useless

Symptoms: meetings are not structured; Project Board members are enthusiastic but do not follow through on delegated actions; roles and responsibilities are unclear

It sounds as if everyone believes this project is a good idea, but no one really knows what they are doing or why they are doing it. Address the ‘why’ first: spell out the benefits for each Project Board member. The sales director will be more focused on completing her actions if she understands that the web application will make it easier for sales staff to process orders out in the field. The compliance manager will make his team available to help if he understands how the new software tracking system will monitor licence usage across the company.

Then address the ‘what’. Manage upwards to add some structure to the meetings. Document the terms of reference for the group, with roles and responsibilities for each member. Circulate an agenda, with the agreement of the sponsor. Take minutes, or co-opt someone from the PMO to help. Ensure the minutes are sent out, and actions have clearly identified owners and a date by when they need to be complete. Then ring round all the Project Board members in advance of the next meeting to see if they have completed what they said they would. People are more likely to complete tasks if they understand the consequences of not doing them: if the project is important to them, they will do what they need to do to keep it on track. If time is the problem, suggest they delegate the actions to a member of their team, although they should still attend the meetings themselves.

4: No sponsor

Symptoms: no one takes overall accountability; no one tracks benefits; no one will take ownership of the solution once it is in production

Typically, the sponsor is the person who came up with the idea for the project, holds the budget and will adopt the solution once it is live and moves out of the project arena. He or she is the customer for the project. An absent sponsor is often the result of  ‘slopey shoulders’. Being a sponsor is being responsible, and not everyone wants responsibility. “I think it’s a great idea, but you should champion it,” is the refrain. Again, as project manager, you need to advise upwards. Choose who should be sponsor (or take advice from senior managers) and take that person under your wing. Help the sponsor understand how the role supports the project team, and how responsibility isn’t a scary thing.

Being a sponsor is being responsible, and not everyone wants responsibility.

People in the role of sponsor also suffer from having many demands on their time and your project may not be top of the list. If they don’t know what it is they have to do, you can be sure they won’t make the time to find out. The project manager should explain what is expected from them, and help them achieve that. You may also have to train your project sponsor in the technical details of the project to enable them to make appropriate decisions.

A Project Board should be there to cut through political power games, which can significantly delay (or stall or close down) a project. Don’t put up with a failing Board – as it only takes one important issue that isn’t handled properly before your project starts careering off the rails.

* White, D. and Fortune, J. (2002) Current practice in project management – an empirical study. International Journal of Project Management, 20.

A version of this article first appeared on The ICPM website in 2008.

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Giveaway: Supercommunicator

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How to build your project management network

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