March 26, 2017

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

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!

Project Management: How to foster creativity in your team

By Linky van der Merwe

Advances in technologyWhen we look at the new all electric cars that are storming the market today, we see amazing speed (0-100km in 3 seconds), top speed of 250km per hour and a range of 250km – 295km. Clearly innovation is evolutionary, brought about by many incremental advances in technology and revolutionary because it’s often disruptive and new, like the electric cars.

This is according to James Hebbard, a Snaptech Trainer and consultant who presented at the Project Management South Africa Conference in November 2016. He said the death of innovation is BFH, an abbreviation for Big, Fat and Happy! Below are his recommendations to foster innovation think.

6 ways to foster creativity

#1 Inside Game

Although ideas, inspiration and innovation seem to come from outside you, they don’t – it always comes from inside, sometimes within small intimate teams.

#2 Obsession and Focus

Innovative thinkers were all obsessed and extremely focused.  Albert Einstein was obsessed with light, Steve Jobs was obsessed with design and product perfection and Elon Musk is obsessed with space flight and electric cars.

#3 Perseverence and Patience

Keep yourself in your chair and the break-through will come as this picture illustrates.

perseverence

#4 Creating a culture of innovation

Culture is a mindset that is shared by a team. There are ways to create such a culture. People are afraid to make mistakes so you can start by creating an environment where it’s safe to fail. Create learning experiences, do brainstorming and problem solving facilitation, root cause analysis. Create space like 15% paid time to work on own creative projects. Look at the work environment.

#5 High performing teams

Know the strengths of team members, the level of the team maturity and their personalities as explained below.

  • Thinking styles: Ideation, Strategic, Learner, Input, Intellection, Analytical
  • Executing styles: Achiever, Arranger, Focus, Restorative, Responsibility
  • Relational styles: Achiever, Arranger, Focus, Restorative, Responsibility
  • Influencing styles: Activator, Communication, Maximizer, Significance, Self Assurance

This is what you need to know how to get the best out of your team.

#6 Identifying problems

Innovation is born from necessity. Without a pressing problem there is no need for a solution. Identify the problems around you because finding problems will help you solve them. How do you as a team identify problems?

Conclusion

innovation1 A few points to remember.

  • Innovation is often born out of necessity (AKA Problems).  Get to the root cause and see innovative ideas being born.
  • Humans are a product of their environment.
  • Teams are made of Individuals.

As a project manager, you need to know what their strengths are in order to get the best out of your team.

Here is an interesting article about virtual team management by Rob Rawson, co-founder and CEO of Time Doctor.

 

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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.

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Project Manager Skills – Decision Making

By Linky van der Merwe

Recently I had to make a very big decision that would influence my life for years to come. I realised just how hard it is to make sure that the best decision is made and that one can have peace of mind after you have made the decision.

Since effective decision making is one of the many soft skills a project manager needs on a daily basis, I think it’s worth sharing some good practices and tips.

Guidelines

According to the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK), effective decision making involves the ability to negotiate and influence the organisation and the project management team. Some guidelines for decision making include:

  • focus on the goals to be served
  • follow a decision-making process
  • study the environmental factors
  • analyse available information
  • stimulate team creativity
  • manage the risk

Styles for Decision Making

Let’s have a look at basic decision styles used by project managers.

command

Command – give instruction or order people to do things.

Command is a more autocratic style that may be fit in many circumstances, but not so much in the project context, unless it’s a matter of safety.

Consultation

Confer with the team members

It’s a good idea to consult with the team members while following a proper decision making process that will probably lead to the best outcome.

 

By the end of the decision making process, you would want consensus among team members and for people to agree that the best possible decision has been made.

Consensus

Consensus – to see agreement in opinion 

 

In any situation there are four major factors that will affect the decision style you use:

  1. Time constraints
  2. Trust
  3. Quality
  4. Acceptance

Model for decision making

Next you will find a good decision making model or process to use with your project teams.

#1 Problem definition

When you are faced with having to make an important decision, it’s very important to fully explore, clarify and define the problem. Look at it from all angles, not just from your own viewpoint.

#2 Problem solution generation

Now comes the part where you brainstorm multiple solutions, not making a premature decision.

#3 Ideas to action

You need to define evaluation criteria.  Then you rate the advantages and disadvantages (pros and cons) of the alternatives in order to select the best solution. There are many tools available to assist you with this, for example the “multi-criteria calculator” that can be downloaded from project management.com.

#4 Solution action planning

After the decision has been made, it’s recommended to perform a post-implementation analysis, to evaluate the decisions made and to acknowledge the lessons that you learned.

#5 Evaluate the outcome

The last step in the process is to evaluate how well the problem was solved or project goals were achieved.

I trust the next time you need to make decisions on your projects, you will have a process to follow that will allow you time to look at alternatives, to evaluate and score them and ultimately to make the best decision under the circumstances.

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.
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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

Book Review: Leadership Toolbox for Project Managers

By Linky van der Merwe

Leadership Toolbox for PMThe aim of the book, Leadership Toolbox for Project Managers, written 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.

Career Advancement

Many project managers were experts in other fields before they learned the skills of Project Management. As project managers are assigned to more complex, strategic projects they need to add leadership skills to their Toolbox of Technical Project Management skills.

Michel emphasizes Continuous Learning as part of the Foundation you need before focusing on Leadership skills. What I liked about his book, is that he starts with looking at the leader as a Person, and looking after your own well-being first, instead of putting it as an after-thought at the end of the book. He gives guidance on modifying your behaviour with the key qualities of a leader and to develop a high level of self-awareness. He puts much focus on values and ethics that influence leadership actions and decisions.

I like his opinion that people is the critical asset to the project’s success, including the team, the project sponsor, users and any other stakeholders. And I agree that the value contribution of a project will be measured by all these people.

Leadership skills

Another important Leadership skill is Delegation for which Michel provides the questions to ask when delegating tasks. He explains how to create a learning environment and how to keep adding value while delegating.

Towards the end of the book Michel publishes interesting Leadership survey results about project challenges, strengths and weaknesses in being effective leaders.

Michel laid out strategic thinking and decision making in the project context very well, convincing the reader that learning leadership is a journey and not a specific formula that can be applied the same way on every project.

Recommendation

In my opinion, the only improvement that can be made to the book, is to provide some exercises or perhaps actions steps that the reader can take to help them along on their leadership growth journey.

I will recommend this book to all aspiring project managers as well as existing project managers who seek to develop their leadership capabilities to help them cope in the increasingly dynamic and complex project environments that we are having to manage projects today!

The book is available on Amazon: Leadership Toolbox for Project Managers: Achieve better results in a dynamic world by Michel A. Dion (22-Apr-2015) Paperback, as well as on Michel Dion’s website, Project-Aria.

Mindset of a Successful Project Leader

When comparing the qualities needed to be a successful manager (as shown in the Infographic below) with the characteristics of a successful project leader, and research analysis, there is much overlap.

Good managers tend to be natural leaders with a genuine interest in helping others. Not all project managers are natural leaders, but fortunately that is a skill that can be honed, especially when coupled with the desire to serve others.

Effective leadership is built on respect and trust. Leadership is critical during the beginning phases of a project when emphasis is on communicating the vision and motivating and inspiring the project team to achieve high performance. In a project context leadership is about focusing the efforts of a group of people toward a common goal and enabling them to work as a team. It’s also the ability to get things done through others.

Guidance to the project team is given in the form of influencing, mentoring and monitoring, as well as evaluating the performance of the team and the project. Open communication is essential together with listening to your team’s needs.

It’s always in the best interest of project leaders to keep investing in their own development and growth. For professionals who are new to project management, check out the Growth Program for new Project Managers that will put you on a fast-track for learning how to become a successful project leader.

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Inside the Mind of a Successful Manager:

Pepperdine University Online MBA Degree

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