Sound advice

VOICES | Project Toolkit

Lessons learned help practitioners manage project specifics, but the wise words of peers can help with everything from office politics to scope creep. We asked practitioners:

What is the one piece of project management advice you have carried throughout your career?

Play the Game

“In my mid-twenties, I thought being open with stakeholders and coworkers was the right thing to do. Unfortunately, those who are politically motivated will throw you under the proverbial bus if it is to their advantage. In my case, a charismatic someone suggested to executive-level stakeholders that a project I had developed the business case for and was managing didn't have merit. The project was canceled. That same person waited about six months, rebranded the project and implemented—to great accolades—exactly what my team had been executing months earlier. All these years later, office politics is still not one of my strong suits, so I need to keep reminding myself that trust is earned.”

—Leyton Collins, PMP, project manager, medical imaging company Agfa HealthCare, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

Think Before Acting

“My mentor on my first assignments said I needed to understand the needs and concerns of team members and stakeholders. People do not refuse to do what you ask of them without a reason. I repeatedly skipped over getting to the real cause of the problem and failed, especially when I did not have the patience needed.

For example, in one of my projects, there was a very easy task I had asked a team member to do, and it seemed like he was just being stubborn and refusing to do it. I later discovered he was afraid to commit to it because he had a good reputation and lack of knowledge in that area—and didn't want to seem foolish.”

—Lili Yankulova, CAPM, PMP, project manager, microelectronic integrated systems company Melexis, Sofia, Bulgaria

Keep Eyes on the Prize

“Someone once said to me that IT projects are like hitting a fast-paced moving target. The trick is to keep an eye on how a changing environment shifts the goalposts. The information and communications technology industry in particular is one where technology changes rapidly—new security threats arise every day and business goals evolve quickly for companies to keep afloat. A project manager needs to build in a project process that allows making these changes easy.”

—Partson Mururi, PMP, service delivery manager, telecom provider Gemalto, Johannesburg, South Africa

Learn From Everyone

“One piece of advice that took me a long time to listen to was: ‘Don't get overly upset when you are convinced that you're right and others are wrong.’ It does not get you anywhere to insist you're right. Rather, compromise and discussion are mandatory to find the path to project success. Identify what you can learn from others. One of the most important things a project manager can do is listen to opposing viewpoints and understand the rationale behind them.”

—Marc Burlereaux, PMI-RMP, PMP, PgMP, global program manager, HSBC Private Bank, Geneva, Switzerland

Look Within

“‘Be ready to answer this question truthfully: Do you think it or do you know it?' Just thinking something will work is an assumption. It's not until you know you have the commitments, resources and risks well in hand that the project is on solid footing. It's really surprising how many problems and risks can be eliminated by knowing as many answers as possible and obtaining the specific commitments necessary to execute the project plan with confidence.”

—Marshall Wilson, PMP, assistant director for renovations, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, USA


Mind the Business

“My first boss said this, and it has stuck with me regardless of my title or role: ‘It is our job to understand the language and needs of the business (i.e., the clients) and to serve as their champion.’ It is never acceptable to expect clients to learn our language to communicate their needs to us.”

—Simone Rosa, PMP, senior project manager, The Coca-Cola Company, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, via the PMI Project, Program and Portfolio Management LinkedIn Group

Something's Got to Give

“A former mentor and one of the greatest IT managers I have ever worked for gave me advice that has proven reliable over time: ‘In the triangle of scope, time and cost, if one is fixed, one or both of the others need to give.’ For example, if scope is fixed, you need to take time and spend money to deliver.

Time and cost are the least flexible, in my opinion. You can throw resources at a project to some extent, but at a certain point, a large team becomes ineffectual and you then need to reduce scope or phase better. This rule is easy for stakeholders to understand.”

—Pamela Smith, PMP, PgMP, systems development manager, hospitality group Tsogo Sun, Johannesburg, South Africa

Steady Wins the Race

“‘Don't let perfection get in the way of good enough.’ Please do not misinterpret this advice. It's not to excuse poor quality, but rather to motivate delivery. In too many organizations, teams seem to be afraid to deliver something until it is perfect. This results in extended schedules and budget overruns. Stakeholders, including project team members, become a lot smarter about the specifics of a project as it moves along. You can deliver in small chunks, which is more economical and ultimately delivers a better-quality product with reduced rework.”

—David Bartholomew, PMP, partner, financial management consulting firm Bank Solutions Group, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Take It or Leave It

Three pieces of unconventional advice to try:

1 Clear the mind daily. For the past seven years, U.S. food corporation General Mills has offered meditation exercises and boosted efficiency in the process: 89 percent of employees who practiced mindfulness reported improved decision-making skills, and 89 percent reported enhanced listening skills. Mindfulness is also being baked into organizational practices in Silicon Valley, with tech titans like Google establishing meditation programs in recent years.

2 Take a quick break before making a tough decision. A 2013 University of Toulouse study revealed that people were almost twice as likely to correctly answer a complex decision-making problem if they had been distracted by a simple three-minute task before giving their answers. According to researchers, such “easy distractions” help people get to the root of the problem.

3 Rein in by cutting slack. An analysis of 42 studies in 2013 involving a total of more than 22,000 participants revealed that people are twice as likely to comply with requests that end with the phrase, “but you are free to accept or refuse.” Try that persuasion method in your next project—that is, only if you want to.




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