Positive Leadership

I’m currently taking a leadership course at work, and one of the important aspects they teach is “positive leadership”. Being positive, having a positive attitude, and approaching others with a positive mindset in an important part of being a good leader.

This seems self-evident, but apparently not as evident as one would hope. There are still many folks who don’t subscribe to this philosophy. I recall management types from the 80’s, “management by intimidation”, and the like. But as the workforce makes a generational switch to millennials, positive leadership takes an even more important role.

As a leader, I cannot rely on “because I said so” to get folks to do what I need them to do. That really never worked, not for any length of time, but especially not now. People want to know why they do things, how they are contributing to something bigger. People need to be “engaged”, they need to buy into whatever it is you are selling. They need to follow you because they want to. The hierarchical relationships of the past do not hold the same influence they once did. And someone can pretend they are following you only so long. Eventually they will need to follow you even when you are not looking, and that is where the true believers and the sceptics can be found.

There are a lot of elements in the workplace that cannot be controlled, but of the few that can be, your attitude is one you can control. How you react to situations, to people, to challenges, defines you and affects those around you. You can choose to meet challenges with a smile or as a grouch. Guess which one will affect your colleagues more positively?

Maintaining a positive attitude during a challenge allows you to think more clearly, to project an image of confidence, and opens doors of possibilities to meet the challenge. It inspires people around you and creates and image of competence. Insurmountable challenges are rare. They typically spell the end of an organization. Most challenges can be overcome. But you have to maintain a positive attitude. Not only for yourself, but for those you lead.

This requires to maintain focus on your attitude. From the moment you wake up until you go to sleep, did you have a positive attitude? Did you smile? Did you say “thank you”? Did you offer praise? Did you give any feedback? Did you receive any? Getting angry and being grouchy only serves to make you less effective, less capable, and it is a complete turn off for those around you. Think about that when you face your next challenge. Take a deep breath, smile, and keep a positive attitude. This will get you a lot farther than the alternative.

Process with a Purpose

Process is the oil that runs the machine of technology delivery. But if that oil is not changed regularly, it gets old and turns into a sludge that could impair the machine.

Process has turned into a modern four letter word for some. In many cases that negative reputation has been earned. Process helps businesses achieve efficiency by defining a repeatable and consistent way of doing things. It helps onboard new employees and keep current ones focused and effective. It helps business achieve consistent results. But when process gets in the way of innovation and delivery, it fails to accomplish these lofty goals. I prefer to focus on “process with a purpose”. What purpose does the process serve? How flexible is it to allow for exceptions and individual initiative? How easy is it for others to learn, understand, and follow it? And, most importantly, what value does this process bring to your organization and your customers?

Us humans will, by our very own nature, follow the path of least resistance. A process will either enable efficient delivery or will hinder it. And we will either follow it or work around it. Every single process in an organization should be evaluated in this context. Processes that hinder efficiency need to be either improved or deleted. A process that hinders efficiency is a straight jacket that discourages creative problem solving. Sometimes reinventing a wheel is preferable than spinning one endlessly.

The process of evaluating and improving processes (aka “process improvement”) never ends. A process that was good yesterday may not be good today. You need to recognize the fluidity of modern business and build in enough agility into your process improvement effort to respond to this challenge. There are plenty of proven models and tools to help organizations assess and improve their processes.

I’m a big fan of Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI). I’m also a big fan of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) approach. But I prefer to use these as guides, or as a framework. The reality on the ground will dictate how many of these concepts are applicable and bring value to a particular situation. A focus on value will make a process improvement initiative a lot more successful.

I’m a firm believer in the crawl-walk-run approach. Before you start talking process improvement, you need process definition. Do you have a process library? Or a simple list of all your defined processes? Is it a 500 page manual nobody reads, or is it in an online repository where you can solicit feedback from users and collaborate on improvements with process owners? Working your way from a CMMI Level 1 to a Level 5 is quite a journey. But it requires flexibility and adaptability. It may require unique and unorthodox approaches to challenges to suit the particular needs of your organization and your customers.

As with the implementation of a PPM tool that I’ve written about before, you will need to leverage proven tools and methods of systems delivery and change management. That’s a given. But my advice is to never take your eye off the ball – “Does this process have a purpose?” “What value does it deliver?” If you don’t have good, solid answers to these two questions, move on to the next one. It’s better to have a small set of good processes that deliver value and have purpose than have a 500 page manual nobody reads.

Adopting a Project Portfolio Management System

Technology is a small piece of the project portfolio management (PPM) system puzzle. As with the deployment of any new system or technology, organizational change management is a critical success factor. I’m not going to go in depth into organizational change management, as there are others much more skilled and experienced on this topic. I would like to, however, provide the perspective from a user and project manager of PPM systems.

Is your organization ready for the change? Who are the key stakeholders? How are you communicating with them? Do they welcome the change? Will they resist it? Will they adopt it? These are questions that any organizational change manager will ask.

In the context of a project portfolio management system, you have various key stakeholders you need to make sure are on board.

Project sponsors are the primary consumers of the data from this system. Is the data accurate and timely? Is it presented in a concise, useful and succinct format? Is it being used as an input into strategic decision making? A negative answer to any of these questions jeopardizes adoption.

Project managers are on the front line. They are making projects happen. No portfolio has any hope of being managed if it is not delivering value to the business. Project managers are the leaders of the different components of the portfolio. They will provide key inputs into the PPM system.

Project teams – If project managers are on the front line, project teams ARE the front line. By providing a compelling and useful online collaboration system, you ease the input of real time project status data. You can shift from email to online repositories where not only can teams collaborate, but project outputs gain visibility and transparency, allowing opportunities for data aggregation and analysis.

So from project teams to project managers to project sponsors. Is the data flowing in both directions? Not only are sponsors getting the data they need, but project teams should be getting feedback and direction. Are teams following a standard delivery methodology? Are project outputs producing consistent results that can be aggregated?

If every project reinvents the wheel in terms of outputs and reporting, producing a portfolio report would be as difficult as assembling a puzzle blindfolded. And there are few things as demoralizing to a project team than producing outputs that no one uses or appreciates. Project sponsors play a key role in not only consuming the data, but in giving project teams feedback and encouragement.

The usual suspects of durable training, quick reference guides, an effective support model, all need to make their mandatory appearances to contribute to the success of the deployment. The principles of organizational change management are very applicable and effective, and critical to this effort.

The choice of technology needs to match the level of organizational maturity, technology skill, and come with strong vendor and user community support. Add to this a clear understanding of your key stakeholder groups, and a strong message from your organization’s leadership about the importance of project reporting, and you will have the key ingredients for the successful deployment of a PPM solution.

Using SharePoint as a Portfolio Management Tool

I’m a big fan of SharePoint. I see it as the “Swiss army knife” of online collaboration tools. There may be other tools with snazzier social features, or more colorful interfaces, but I think of SharePoint as the “workhorse” of online collaboration, and a fairly easy and relatively inexpensive choice for those organizations using Microsoft Windows Server. Microsoft’s strategy to seed SharePoint amongst it’s user base has been very successful, and combined with the tight integration with Microsoft Office tools, it makes SharePoint a very interesting tool for Project Portfolio management.

SharePoint doesn’t have the sophisticated features of a full blown portfolio management tool. If we consider the continuum of possible choices to manage a portfolio, with nothing at one end (or pen and paper, or even Microsoft Excel), and the most sophisticated web-based enterprise tools at the other end, like Microsoft Project Server or Clarity, SharePoint falls somewhere in the bottom half of that line. SharePoint’s claim to fame is the ability to put things online and let teams collaborate on them.

Taking things off people’s local hard drive or even the email system is still a struggle in 2014. Millennials are likely to not have as much problem as generation Xers in adopting online collaboration tools, and we can see that shift happening now, but it’s still a shift in progress. In the meantime, we need strategies for taking an organization that’s not used to managing its project portfolio online into the 21st century.

I like SharePoint because it lets me test out simple theories and ideas of collaboration without much if any IT developer involvement. If I want to try out a new Risk Log or a new Project Change Request process, it is easy enough to create a custom list and send out a link.

In the context of Project Portfolios, I can test out the very simple concept of a Project Record Master list. Does your organization have one list of all the projects across all portfolios?

If the answer is yes, then you can stop reading now. This article was not meant for you. 🙂

If on the other hand you struggle with providing a company wide view into your portfolio, where is the data being kept? Are you updating multiple systems? Do you have an Enterprise PMO tasked with creating and maintaining this view? Do you see value in having this view?

Choosing a tool is only a small piece of this puzzle.

Choosing a portfolio management tool requires a very high degree of organizational discipline and senior leadership support. This is a topic I’ve discussed in a previous post. If your organization has a need for portfolio management and you want to take a crawl-walk-run approach to developing a sophisticated project portfolio management capability, SharePoint may be the answer. SharePoint will let you start “crawling”.

Using SharePoint out-of-the-box can give you some interesting choices for creating a Project Record Master List and tying that to a concept of “Project Sites” where Project Managers and their teams can collaborate and communicate project status to key stakeholders. It will let you “test the waters” to gauge the level of organizational maturity and discipline you have (or not) in order to plan your next step in your project portfolio management “roadmap”.

If you are able to rally your organization around the concept of collaborative, online project management, then the chances of success with more sophisticated tools greatly increase. You also get a chance to prove the value of these type of tools to senior leadership, and showing value justifies continued effort and investment.

You can take this phased approach, or you can wait another decade or two while millennials make up the entire workforce, at which point not working collaboratively online will be as old fashioned as dialing a rotary telephone. I’d rather start that process now, and ensure the right foundations exist to support online collaborative project portfolio management. And these foundations are not just technological. They are primarily about project management discipline and senior leadership need and consumption of data to make strategic decisions.

Choosing the Right Tool to Manage Project Portfolios

Choosing the right tool for project portfolio management among all the available options today can be a daunting task. Technology has obviously changed the way we do business, and how we use it to manage projects is one of the key challenges facing project management professionals these days. There’s a multitude of tools and options, and choosing the right one for your organization can be difficult. Choices range from the ubiquitous Microsoft Excel to the more sophisticated enterprise tools like Microsoft Project Server or Clarity.

Using tried and true principles of requirements gathering, software acquisition, and software deployment will only get you so far. The key ingredient for making the “right” choice is your organizational discipline. Dashboards and portfolio valuation tools are great, but you need the discipline to consistently capture accurate and relevant data, and you need senior leadership consuming and demanding this data. You need teams with the discipline to record and track their time spent on project tasks, and the Project Managers with the disciple to update and maintain accurate project estimates, forecasts and actuals.

I just used the word “discipline” four times in that paragraph. Yes, it’s that important.

You need organizational discipline, and you need leadership support. Without them, the implementation of any portfolio management tool is doomed to fail.

If leadership consumes the data and routinely uses it to make strategic portfolio decisions, then project teams will be more motivated to produce the data. Without that motivation and a culture of discipline around project status data collection, these fancy portfolio management tools quickly become the graveyard where status reports go to die.

If you consider the entire continuum of tools available for project portfolio management, from good old pen and paper (or the digital equivalent of Microsoft Office tools) on one end, to the most sophisticated web-based, enterprise tools like Clarity or Microsoft Project Server on the other, the “right” choice for any given organization may be anywhere along that line. Many good Project Managers use Microsoft Excel to great effect, while other more mature and complex organizations have been able to successfully leverage enterprise tools to manage their portfolios.

The “right” tool is entirely dependent on the level of organizational maturity, project management discipline, and leadership consumption and demand for the output from these tools. Using sophisticated tools takes a great deal of money and effort, and will only succeed if the value derived from that investment outweighs the effort and cost required to implement it.

If you are unsure about the level of discipline and support for portfolio management technology in your organization, a phased approach might be the answer. Leveraging tools like Microsoft SharePoint allows the use of “starter” tools with a relatively low cost of development and implementation. Can you muster the support to maintain a master project list? Can you maintain a basic set of key performance indicators consistently updated? If you can’t even do that, then investing time and money on an enterprise tool would be a waste. On the other hand, if you are able to move your organization away from Excel and into an online, collaborative model, then you could take the first step into a more sophisticated and mature way of managing your project portfolio.

Project Management as a Service – Worth paying for?

As project management gains more acceptance as a dedicated profession, its value as a billable service becomes even more important for professional services organizations. Sometimes viewed as “a cost of doing business”, project management is a critical success factor in delivering products and services to external customers. More of the responsibility for delivering these products and services is shifting away from sales people onto professional, certified project managers, and the cost of providing these services places an even greater burden on the bottom line. The cost of not having a professional project manager lead the delivery of a product or service is often much higher in the form of a failed project.

Project management has gained almost universal acceptance within the internal IT and Finance shops of large organizations. It has also made significant inroads in other departments, such as Marketing and HR, where the realization that a professional approach to managing projects is preferable to the ad-hoc approach of assigning whoever is available to lead a project that has some free time.

When it comes to delivering products and services to external customers, some sales organizations are having difficulties justifying the additional expense to their customers. This is paradoxical since these same customers have internal PM functions and often understand the value of project management, but to hear the sales reps tell their side of the story, you would think that these customers expect the delivery of a product or service to “just happen” or to be managed by the sales rep.

The typical sales rep, while extremely skilled in many areas, may not always have the same level of proficiency in delivering projects as a trained, certified professional project manager. Assigning such a skilled resource to a project incurs a significant cost. That cost has to be borne by the customer, either as a separate labor line item in the bill of sale, or somehow included in the cost of the product or service being delivered. There is no such thing as “free” project management. Some professional services organizations would also like to make a profit selling project management as a service. Imagine that!

As a customer, I would be very concerned if I am not seeing a project management expense in the quote for a product or service being delivered to my organization. Who will lead the delivery? Will it be the sales rep? Will a project manager be assigned? What is the experience level of this project manager? Is he or she certified? Project Management is a critical success factor in the delivery of any product or service. The application of project management knowledge, tools and techniques to service delivery activities will help ensure the successful outcome of the project. Yes, that is a very valuable thing, and yes, it is worth paying for.

As a professional services organization, have I formalized my project management function? Do I have dedicated, trained, certified and experienced project managers? Do I have a product and or service delivery methodology that I can articulate to my customer to prove to them I have done this before, successfully, and I can do it again? Yes, this is a very valuable thing, and yes, it is worth billing for.

There are many similarities between project management performed as part of an internal corporate function and project management as a service. But there are also some key differences. Professional services organizations wanting to sell project management as a service need to focus on value added processes and activities, and invest time and resources on developing, maintaining and marketing a PM methodology that can be easily understood by customers and applied to projects. The traditional approaches to IT project management may prove to be not nimble or responsive enough for many paying customers.

If the expectation is that a customer will pay for project management services, the value of these services must be clearly articulated as part of the sales cycle. Traditional marketing concepts come into play here as with any other billable service. The customer needs to understand exactly what they are paying for, what they will be getting, and why project management is important enough that they need to pay for it. This last one needs to draw on the almost universal acceptance of the value of project management as a necessity for the successful delivery of projects. Draw on, but not solely rely on. A simple but robust methodology, a strong and fully staffed project management team, and an unwavering commitment by the sales management staff are also important factors in closing this sale.

My personal leadership philosophy

As a leader, I will work to inspire you to do better and to succeed. I see it as my personal responsibility to support you, to provide you with direction and encouragement, and to help remove any obstacles that may be in your way to accomplishing your goals. I believe that your success is my success.

I value honesty, integrity, and hard work. I will always choose to do the right thing, I will give you honest, direct feedback, and I will always put forth my best effort. I expect the same from you.

Accomplishing 80% of something is better than 100% of nothing. I believe in quality but not at the expense of accomplishments. Making mistakes in pursuit of a goal is ok as long as you learn from them and improve.

I will maintain a laser focus on my customer. Who is your customer? What are their needs? Maintain your focus on them, and make sure your actions are designed to meet their needs. Focus and base your decisions on them, and you will be right more often than not. Be confident of that. Don’t be afraid to act.

I do not tolerate dishonesty or laziness. Work hard and always strive to do the right thing even if it is harder. I prefer you fail attempting to do the right thing than succeed doing the wrong thing.

Have fun doing your job. I don’t mean cartwheels and dancing, but rather enjoy what you do. I can’t guarantee every day will be smiles and sunshine, but I expect you to wake up most mornings enthused to come to work. What can I do to help make sure this happens?

I like people who are energetic, motivated, who take the initiative and who are not afraid of making mistakes. I prefer a “glass half full” attitude. I dislike “analysis paralysis”. Make a decision. If you are unsure, ask for help. Asking for help or guidance from me is not a sign of weakness. Know I am here to do everything I can to help you succeed.