August 21, 2017

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Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

10 Leadership Lessons from Extreme Environments

10 Leadership LessonsBy Linky van der Merwe

Do you know some-one who climbed the Seven Summits (highest peak on each continent) and skied to both the North and South Poles?  Meet Alison Levine, a small person with a big heart for adventure. And not just any adventure, but extreme adventure that earned her the title of achieving the “Adventure Grand Slam”.

After listening to Alison Levine as keynote speaker at the PMXPO2017 I bought her book: “On the edge: Leadership lessons from Mount Everest and other extreme environments.  

Here are 10 leadership lessons from her book that can be applied to projects.

#1 Approach to leadership

Alison starts off by saying that the development of yourself as a leader should be a deliberate, conscious process. People are not born leaders. It’s a ‘muscle that needs to be built.

Leadership is an attitude. Alison believes that we all need to be better leaders. If we put effort into that, we can have much positive influence on the people around us. I think this is especially true on projects. Empower the team to think and act like a leader. This means that we need to help them hone their skills, their knowledge and encourage them to think for themselves and to make critical decisions without always requiring input. Team members need to be able to carry on with the work, even if the leader becomes ill or is on leave.

One way to help develop leadership skills in others is to give them greater responsibility to grow themselves as leaders. This will make the whole team more effective. Developing your own skills and the skill of others should be a never-ending process.

#2 Mentors

Engage with others who are more skilled than you are and learn from the best. Find mentors in your organization, people with experience and people you look up to.

#3 Go backward to go forward

Everest climbThe way Mount Everest is climbed is that climbers start at base camp and go up to Camp 1, then come back. Next they go up to Camp 1 and the following day to Camp 2. Then they go back to basecamp. Then they go up to Camp 3 only to come back down again. Then they go all the way up to Camp 4, sleep over and when the weather allows, they ascend to the top.

Her lesson from this is that there’s real value in going back to your starting point to regroup, to reposition yourself to be stronger before you can ascend to the next level. Even great athletes and sport stars focus on the fundamentals over and over again, by doing the same drills, not because they haven’t mastered it, but because repetition builds strength and enhances agility.

Therefore, reward and encourage progress in all forms, not just the obvious ones.

#4 Conflict management

On every project there will be conflict at some point making it a predictable component of group dynamics. It can be healthy to as it brings different perspectives. Conflict only becomes dangerous when it is unresolved.

It’s important to bring conflict out into the open. This is where communication is key. It’s essential to make team members feel valued and that his or her opinion matters.

#5 High Performance Teams

All women team to Everest

Source: Road & Travel Magazine

Alison shares an important insight on putting together a high-performing team. You want people who are good at what they do and who know that they’re good as that gives them confidence. This is called performance ego.

Another type of ego you want is team ego. A group is only a team when every member of the group cares as much about helping the other members as they care about helping themselves.

I have seen this on multiple projects before where a high-performing team contributes to hugely successful projects. When you put a team together, you need to look for:

  • Experience
  • Expertise
  • Ego

#6 Relationships and Networking

Developing strong relationships is critical to success. As a project leader you need to take the time and effort to connect with people at every stage of your career. Find people who will rally around you, encourage you and support. Attend those conferences and networking events; you never know which connections will lead to more success in future.

#7 Weak links

South Pole skiThe way you deal with the weak link on your team often means the difference between success and failure. When you have to work with people who are as good as you are, those who can’t perform as well, or who don’t match your skills.

To compensate for a weakness is about leveraging hidden attributes in innovative ways that can move you and your team forward. As a leader you need to help every team member to become productive so that everyone on the team benefits.

#8 Build Trust and Loyalty

Never underestimate the importance of treating other with respect and kindness. Also take the time to get to know the people on your team as individuals. Get to know them on a deeper level. That will form strong bonds and people will know they matter.

Each person needs a different approach when it comes to helping them perform at their best. The more information you uncover, the more influence you can have as a leader. You need to adjust your coaching style based on the needs of your team.

The more dedicated you are to your team, the harder they will work for you and for one another.

#9 Complacency

Following the status quo, could be a mistake that businesses, teams fall prey to. Different situations call for different actions. As a leader you need to evaluate all the circumstances in order to know what you best move is.

Complacency can be characterized by not preparing, not making a move, not moving fast enough or not being agile enough.

If you’re busy with your 10th or 50th project, you still need to be alert, prepared and agile.

#10 Embrace your Failures

As leaders we need to own our failures. It’s important to learn from them as that is what really makes us grow as leaders. When we achieve something that we have worked hard for, we need to take a moment to reflect on it.

For many people it’s easier to avoid the risks of failure, unless we have failed before. Something about surviving past setbacks that increases our willingness to risk again.

If you’d like to read a book filled with adventure stories and lessons, don’t miss out on this exciting book:
On the Edge: Leadership Lessons from Mount Everest and Other Extreme Environments

How Big Data Can Solve Leadership Challenges

Big data can be defined as ‘the large volume of data – both structured and unstructured – that inundates a business on a day to day basis’, according to research done by the University of Norwich. Data that modern businesses generate including web traffic logs, social media posts, blog posts, transactional data etc.

By understanding big data and analyzing it correctly, leaders can benefit greatly from the insights provided which will lead to better decisions and more strategic businesses. It can be used to extract insights on consumer behavior, market trends, revenue growth, as well as brand perception and reach; therefore solving diverse automation and leadership challenges.

Find more fascinating research on big data’s role and impact on organizational leadership and management in this Infograpic brought to you with compliments from the Norwich University’s Online Master of Science in Leadership program.

It explains the challenges posed by big data, how big data is utilized across organisations, how big data is fueling business growth, requirements for handling big data and some case studies.

Let us know in the comments section what you think of the research and how you are dealing with big data?
Big Data and Leadership DevelopmentNorwich University Master of Science in Leadership Online

Soft Skills for Project Managers

By Linky van der Merwe

Often in Project Management courses there is a big emphasis on the technical skills, also called ‘hard skills’ which are the occupational requirements that project managers need to do their jobs effectively. This would include the creation of tangible deliverables like a project schedule, project budget, status reports etc.

Soft skills for PM'sSoft skills complement hard skills.  Soft skills are the important interpersonal skills you need as a project manager to accomplish work through other people.  Soft skills are essentially people skills – the non-technical, intangible, personality-specific skills that determine your strengths as a leader, listener, negotiator and conflict mediator.

Developing your soft skills is equally important, but is often left to project managers to find suitable courses that would equip them with adequate soft skills like Leadership, Conflict Management and Emotional Intelligence.

Soft skills development

Why would you ask, are soft skills that important? Soft skills refer to behavioural skills – a sociological term relating to the cluster of personality traits and behavioural competencies that characterize relationships with other people.

Since projects are delivered or executed through people, your soft skills are like the glue that will hold the project team together when the going gets tough, for example when projects fall behind, or immovable deadlines are looming, or the normal stress coming from project delivery and dealing with issues.

At the end of the day a project manager wants a balance of hard and soft skills. Hard skills are more technical in nature where as soft skills are intangible and less visible. Soft skills are typically employed without the use of tools and templates. Soft skills can be taught, but they are typically honed by years of experience.

How to improve soft skills

When you set out to improve your soft skills as a project manager, there are 3 key things you need to remember.

  1. Make the commitment to learn and improve
  2. Put yourself in situations where you can practice various soft skills
  3. Evaluate your progress and adjust as needed

At this point you may be wondering if there is a finite list of soft skills to focus on as a project manager. According to my research there are at least 11 soft skills that should be part of your make-up as a professional project manager. They are:

  1. Leadership
  2. Team building
  3. Motivation
  4. Communication including active listening
  5. Influencing
  6. Decision making
  7. Political and cultural awareness
  8. Negotiation
  9. Conflict management
  10. Emotional intelligence
  11. Problem solving

Over the years I’ve published many articles on various soft skills. For more interesting articles with practical advice on developing your soft skills, continue reading about Leadership, Team build, Communication, Decision making and Emotional Intelligence.

If you are new to project management and you are serious about developing yourself as a professional project manager, please look at the Fast-track Growth Program which was especially developed for people like you in mind. It’s an online, self-paced training program for busy professionals which will give you the essential elements for project delivery. It’s the fastest way to grow critical Project Management competencies like technical and interpersonal skills, and becoming a confident project manager!

Finish the race strong in 2016

inspiring storyJohn Akhwari from Tanzania represented his country in the Summer Olympic Games of 1968 as a marathon runner. During the race he suffered a fall that badly cut and dislocated his knee. Medical personnel bandaged his wounds and told him his knee required more treatment. However, Akhwari stood up and continued his race. An hour after the winner he crossed the finish line and when remaining reporters asked him why he continued running in his condition, he responded:

“My country didn’t send me 5000 miles to start the race. They sent me 5000 miles to finish it!”

My hope for you is that you will finish your year strong. It’s always a good idea to reflect on your past year, your accomplishments, what you’ve learned and what you’re grateful for.

As founder of Virtual Project Consulting, I want to share some of the books I’ve read in 2016 and to make you aware of the reviews I’ve done for a few really good project management books.

Book Reviews

  1. The Conscious Project Leader by Colin Ellis from the perspective of how to create a culture of success for your projects, your team and yourself. Colin is also a speaker, writer and mentor on Conscious Project Leadership. One of his outstanding qualities, seems to be his sense of humour which makes for an engaging read.
  2. The Power of Project Leadership: 7 Keys to Help You Transform from Project Manager to Project Leader” by Susanne Madsen, is an easy read and it’s applied specifically to project managers who are seriously aspiring to become better leaders. The book will help make the transition from project manager to project leader.
  3. Leadership Toolbox for Project Managers, achieve better results in a dynamic world” by Michel Dion, is to help equip project managers to manage projects in a dynamic, complex and unpredictable environment. The book is focused on Leadership including self-awareness, vision, strategic thinking, decision making and interaction with others.
  4. Project Management for SME’s by Gren Gale is written with small businesses in mind, is very practical advice and insight with regards to the application of project management as a discipline in the Small Business sector.

 

Other Books that I can recommend

  1. Mindset – changing the way you think to fulfil your potential” by Carol Dweck, a must read for people who want to have a growth mindset to help achieve success.
  2. Lead with a Story by Paul Smith is about the use of storytelling as a leadership tool.
  3. TED Talks Storytelling by Akash Karia gives 23 storytelling techniques from the best TED talks.
  4. Act like a leader, think like a leader by Herminia Ibarra on how managers and executives can step up to leadership by making small, crucial changes in their jobs, their networks and themselves.
  5. “Lean in women, work and the will to lead” by Sheryl Sandberg, impactful for woman who want to be empowered to achieve their full potential.
  6. The 12 week year by Brian P Moran for a boost in productivity.
  7. “Procrastinate on purpose – 5 permissions to multiply your time” by Rory Vaden, giving insights on overcoming procrastination, improving self-discipline and increasing productivity.
  8. “Surge – time the marketplace, ride the wave of consumer demand” by Mike Michalowicz for the entrepreneurs among us.

 

Virtual Project Consulting

On my project management blog I’m reaching almost 300 blog articles covering various topics like Leadership, Project Management, Change Management and Social Media for PM’s .

In 2016 topics included:

  • Innovation in project management,
  • Agile
  • Current trends in project management
  • Project basics – how to start a project, how to do cost estimation and budget development, project planning, decision making skills etc

Enjoy the read and remember to tell your colleagues who are looking for materials on specific topics.

Of course there are always listings of Events taking place all over the world, as well as recommended Project Management resources like Training, Software and Products. Don’t forget about the Podcasts! Our Project Success Stories are still growing and if you have a good story to share, please send it to me for publishing!

Growth Program for new Project Managers

Lastly, my flagship for the year, The Growth Program for New Project Managers. I would like to introduce this to as many people as possible in order to help new project managers to get up and running quickly. If you know of any “Accidental Project Managers” at your organisation, please refer them to this program. It will only take them a month to complete and extended coaching is also available.

Virtual Project ConsultingPlease subscribe to Virtual Project Consulting not to miss future articles, tips and success stories!

8 Lessons in Innovation

By Linky van der Merwe

Power of innovationRecently I attended a Project Management Conference with the theme: “Harnessing the Power of Innovation”. As project managers we are in the position to create environments where people are creative and more innovative.

One of the speakers, Nneile Nkholise, the co-founder of Likoebe Group; a medical innovation company, spoke on the topic of moving away from an efficiency-driven economy to an innovation-driven economy, through innovation. The role of innovation has become explicitly important for any organisation with a vision to make an impact in the global market.

Nneile is one of 100 entrepreneurs out of the US who were selected to represent their countries at the Global Entrepreneurship summit, 2016. She shared 8 lessons to explain what innovation is.

Lesson 1: Journey

Learn about Jay Samit, an American digital media innovator, who pioneered advancements in music and video distribution, social media, and ecommerce. He is the author of the bestselling book, “Disrupt You! Master Personal Transformation, Seize Opportunity, and Thrive in the Era of Endless Innovation”. It is a fascinating story on the journey of innovation. You need to work on innovation every day and re-invent.

Lesson 2: Purpose

At Adidas they have the credo of “Impossible is nothing”. They believe you need to explore the power you have to change the world. Impossible is just temporary and it is potential.

Create purpose and find your passion, that is a sure path to innovation.

Lesson 3: Solve problems

By just focusing on everyday real-life problems, it will lead to much innovation and innovative products that provide solutions to difficult problems.

Think of Google Translate that provided a translator to 100 different languages.

Lesson 4: Bring new possibilities

Like the oldest television that came out, it brought about new possibilities. People were able to see news from all over the world and enjoy the creativity of entertainment at home.

Lesson 5: Learning opportunities

Things will change, but don’t let that scare you. Learn to learn and learn to learn fast. In today’s world there are many opportunities with technology and children learn to code from a very young age.

Lesson 6: Build Human networks

Innovation happens through Innovation Hubs. Innovation hubs are social communities, work spaces or research centers that provide subject-matter expertise on technology trends, knowledge and strategic innovation management, and industry-specific insights.

If there are three types of people: 1) Those who talk about it …. 2) Those who want it … 3) Those who make it happen ….  We need to decide who we want to be. As project managers we are in a position to be the type of people who make it happen.

Lesson 7: Global responsibility

Global goals for sustainable developmentIn September 2015, 193 world leaders agreed to 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. If these Goals are completed, it would mean an end to extreme poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030. Click here to find out more and to help share the Global Goals.

We need to keep the global goals for sustainable development in mind on all the projects we undertake.

Lesson 8: Embrace it

There is evidence of innovation in the products all around us. Support your local entrepreneurs and use their innovative products.

A few examples of innovative products are:

  • SaferMom is a social enterprise that addresses the high maternal and infant mortality crises in Nigeria. SaferMom delivers vital health information to new and expectant mothers using interactive, personalized low cost mobile technologies, including SMS and voice calls. The purpose is to help mothers have access to quick, affordable and hassle-free healthcare.
  • Mellowcabz – Mellowcabs manufactures, and operates new electric mini-cabs that provide an on-demand, flexible and affordable taxi/transport service in cities. These services can be provided through our mobile app, call-center or website. It has dual income sources, passenger fares and selling advertising space on, and in the vehicles. They are equipped with on-board tablet computers, which offer an interactive experience to the passenger.
  • PAN Test Kit for precision testing Malaria PAN/PF rapid test diagnostic test kit with a shelf life of 24 months.

Virtual Project ConsultingPlease subscribe to Virtual Project Consulting not to miss future articles, tips and success stories!

Thoughts on PMI Global Conference 2016

By Louise Worsley, a non-US attendee

The Project Management Institute Global Congress in North America is big!

PMI Global Conference 2016Nearly 3,000 attendees from 67 countries representing some 1,368 organisations.

Just to give you a feel – the European equivalent PMI Congress in Barcelona attracted some 100’s of attendees.  And at other related events; the International Institute of Business Analysts had 1,400 attendees at their global conference in Las Vegas (2015,) while the Association for Change Management Professional achieved just 1,100 attendees at their 2016 global conference in Dallas, Texas.

The brief initial survey, conducted via the excellent conference PMI App, suggests that attendees valued the learning from the sessions and the networking almost equally.  In speaking with delegates, I found that a big incentive for attendance was to get PMI PDU points quickly and efficiently.  All delegate attendance in sessions was recorded, and within weeks of the congress, it was added to attendees PDU records.

Picking the ‘good’ sessions is important

Over 100 sessions were available over the three days, divided into the three streams of ‘leadership’, ‘technical’ and ‘strategic and business management’.  Given the varying length of the sessions (ranging from 1 hours to 1.5 hours) and the scheduling approach, the maximum number of session you could attend over the three days was about 9, plus the three keynote sessions.  Attending the ‘good‘ sessions was thus pretty important, but as I heard some delegates comment – the choice process was a ‘bit hit and miss’.  Popular sessions filled up quickly and places in the room were limited.   By the second day, wise delegates had adopted the habit of simply getting to their preferred sessions very early.

Agile and soft skills attract audiences

Although the actual numbers and overall feedback have not been released yet, my feeling is that the big attractions were the Agile sessions (10 sessions) and the streams in leadership around communications and the soft skills.  Sessions like Sherri Thomas, speaking on “Career Stories for Project Managers” inspired comments on Twitter (#PMIcongress) with her statement:

“Make connections with those who inspire you, teach you new things, or promote your ideas.” 

Lessons and language from the keynotes

PMI Global Conference 2016Perhaps the most discussed sessions were the keynotes.  Not surprisingly given the San Diego venue (the home of the USS Midway and Top Gun) there was a military theme to the first session, with the ‘Afterburner’ consultancy team, made up largely of ex-military aviators.  This was an upbeat and inspiring discussion of project management using a military flying metaphor, and had some great linguistic take-aways.

  • Task saturation leads to mistakes
  • Project managers need a bias towards action
  • Don’t wait for the perfect
  • We’re drowning in data but starving for information

For me, the highlight of the conference was the keynote presentation by the Canadian, Sue Gardner –  a former executive at Wikimedia; and named one of the most powerful women by Forbes.  Her statement:

PMI Global congress 2016“Good project managers don’t expect other people to adapt to them.” clearly caught the attention of a number of Twitter users.

She argued that disruptive business models such as Itunes, Uber, Airbnb, Amazon, Bitcoin have changed the ways we listen, ride, stay, buy and pay.  As she puts it “software is eating the world” and IT is increasingly moving from a staff function to a line function, where it directly contributes to the strategic value of the business.

Following this, she poses her challenge: “How can large organisations that are trapped between the ‘sunrise stages’ and ‘sunset stages’ transform themselves to provide new disruptive business model innovation?”

Thinking of attending the next Congress?

PMI Global Congress 2016The 2017 PMI Global Congress is in Chicago.  Not quite such a glamorous venue as San Diego, and I suspect this may affect the numbers attending.

Interestingly, this will now be known as the PMI Global Congress (dropping the title North America) which does beg the question – are the European global congress being abandoned, or are they no longer ‘global’?

I won’t attend next year.  I think one global Congress every 3-5 years is probably enough.  Also, I find that hearing local stories and meeting local contacts is possibly more valuable, and hence I would prioritise the South Africa and Southern hemisphere conference in Australia and New Zealand.

Should you be thinking of attending the Congress in Chicago, here are my suggestions:

  • Research the speakers and sessions well beforehand. Of the five sessions I managed to attend (I was also speaking at the event)  only two of them were really valuable.  I didn’t pick the right sessions.  Partly this was because I just didn’t know the names.  Sherri Thomas, for example, is clearly well known in America for her book “Bounce back” and articles in the Huffington Post.  If I had found this out before hand…
  • Make connections before the Congress and seek them out once there. The PMI App provides the names of all the attendee at the Congress, but in most cases, this does not include the company and nationality information.  I was particularly interested in seeking out attendees from the African continent and certain industries.  Bar peering at 3000 name badges – this proved very difficult to achieve.
  • Be prepared to use the conference backchat on both Twitter and the PMI App – this had some really interesting additional information and potentially provides a way to make connections.

And finally, if Chicago is just too far, don’t forget the next PMSA National Conference in Johannesburg, 9-12th November.  I will be there launching my book “Stakeholder-led project management: Changing the way we manage projects” and will be happy to share more experiences from the PMI Congress.

Leadership: 3 Important Activities Managers should do Daily

By Jacob Haney

Every new manager needs to know the three key activities they should be focusing on, which will make them successful as leaders.

3 Activities Managers should do dailyThose three keys are:

  1. building trust
  2. building a network and
  3. building a team

It is very rare that managers actually find the time to do all the work they have planned to do. Their time is mostly used to solve unexpected problems and to make sure that their team finishes their work on time, up to the standard and on budget.

Managers can sometimes feel desperate because urgent daily work hijacks the time they would use for their on-going work as managers and leaders. So, they push these key activities back. But, these activities are fundamental and substantial for a manager who wants to function effectively and be a good leader.

#1 Building Trust

To be a successful leader, you need to be able to influence others, and in order to achieve that, trust is the key. You cannot influence someone who doesn’t trust you. So, a manager needs to create a trustworthy relationship with everyone he or she is working with. To achieve that, they need to demonstrate the two basic components of trust; character and competence.

Character

Basic action and decision on values beyond self-interest and caring about work and the people who do the work. That’s character.

Competence

Competence understands the work well enough to make valid decisions, and having the courage to ask questions when something is not clear. If employees believe in your character and competence, they will put their trust in you.

#2 Building a Network

Every team of employees depends on the support of other people and groups. Effective managers need to build and maintain a network of people and groups that will help their team achieve their future goals. This is actually the main issue that troubles many managers because they believe that networking is a kind of manipulation, where they need to pretend to like someone just because they need something from them.

Try to go above that, because without networking, you will limit your capabilities. Build a network honestly, openly and with the right intent. This will benefit all sides.

#3 Building a Team

In order to build an effective team, team members have to be bound with a common purpose which is based on shared values. The bonds between members need to be strong so that they believe that they are all succeeding or failing together. A good team needs to have rules of engagement.

Smart managers and leaders combine all of these elements and then they manage through the team. In an ideal situation, team members value their membership and they’ll do everything in their power not to let others down.

Good Manager to evolve and develop attributes of Leadership

This now brings the question of when will the managers be able to focus on these activities and still do their every day’s work. The answer is that the three keys are not just some tasks you can put on your to-do list. Strong and effective leaders lead and manage their daily work. Managers need to continuously and intentionally evolve themselves over their career to fully develop the attributes of a leader.

About the Author:

Jacob Haney is a content writer at Research Optimus which provides research and analytics services to businesses in the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand from startups to corporates to medical research firms.
Virtual Project Consulting Please subscribe to Virtual Project Consulting not to miss future articles, tips and success stories!

Importance of Focusing on Talents and Strengths

Focus on TalentWhen considering the true meaning of Talent, it is understood to be flair, aptitude, a gift, knack for doing something well, ability to excel at something, expertise, capacity to do well. We also speak of people’s strengths and why it’s important to know your own strengths and that of your employees or team members.

In their book: “Strengths based leadership”, the authors Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, shared interesting findings from their own research, namely that the most effective leaders are always investing in the strengths of its employees. This will increase the odds of each person being engaged at work eightfold.

Secondly, the most effective leaders surround themselves with the right people and maximise their team. A top performing team has strengths in four specific domains, namely executing, influencing, relationship building and strategic thinking. According to them, a team having strengths in all four domains would make a well-rounded team.

For more information about the StrengthsFinder Program, visit the Gallup Strengths Center.

In the Infographic below, you’ll see that teams that focus on employee strengths every day report 13% greater productivity. As leaders, you need to take the time to understand the vital role personal strengths and talents play in the employee hiring process.

The Infographic also provides tips for finding applicants’ talents.

Ohio University Online

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