PM-nuggets--part 2


Why go digging for gold when there are nuggets all around us? Success in life is not merely based upon what we know. A major element for success is correctly applying the knowledge we have. This element is also a factor in successful projects.

One major aspect of project management is getting things done through other people. As project managers, we spend (or should be spending) in excess of 75% of our time communicating with others. There are common laws of nature that guide human relationships. These laws are a gold mine of basic, common sense knowledge that we as project managers should put into practice in our day-to-day project management activities. Most of us know these, and the project managers who effectively apply these nuggets have a track record of success.

The aim of this session is to closely examine three critical success factors in successful projects. You will be involved in an active exchange of ideas and experiences. This session is a sequel to my PM-Nuggets paper that was very well received at the PMI-2001 Symposium in Nashville. The numbering of these nuggets is a continuation from where we left off in Nashville.

PM-Nugget 8: Facilitating Project Meetings

Many organizations never stop to evaluate how much meetings cost them. The pure cost of a one-hour meeting attended by 10 people who earn an average of $100 per hour is $1,000. Most organizations have at least one of such meeting occurring each day. This adds up to about $22,000 per month, which equates to a whopping $264,000 each year. Mind you, this estimate is for only one meeting a day throughout the whole organization. In these current economic times, the old saying is more true than ever: “A Penny Saved Is A Penny Earned.” Well-facilitated meetings save time and accomplish better results. We will discuss the seven cardinal rules about conducting project meetings. These rules will apply equally to all types of meetings.

Start on Time, End on Time

Here's a fun exercise you can try at your company if your policies and laws allow it. While I was managing software engineering with a company some years ago, I made a rule that anyone who arrived at my staff meetings even one minute late would pay a fine of one dollar. Those who missed the meeting without prior notice paid two dollars. We saw people racing to meetings in order to avoid paying the fine. We took a vote at the end of each year on what to do with the amounts we collected. We unanimously agreed to buy ice cream for the team.

The normal thinking about meetings in most organizations is that if only a few people arrive on time, then we agree to allow a few minutes for the rest of the team to arrive. The problem this creates is that people get used to the fact that you will wait for them and they never make the effort to get there on time.

I suggest you also add the seven-minute rule. If the meeting organizer does not arrive until seven minutes has passed, then everyone should get up and leave and you cannot reconvene the meeting for that same day.

Have an Agenda and Stick To It

The best way to keep the meeting on track is to have an agenda. Even if you have only one item to discuss, it is good to write it down so everyone will keep their focus on that item. The Sergeant-At-Arms should call a time-out if the discussions go far off track.

Only One Person at a Time to Speak

We need to give respect to anyone who is speaking and not interrupt. In order to avoid some people taking too long, we could set time guidelines. For example, we could agree that no one should speak for longer than three minutes at a time. If they are making a presentation, then a specific time range should be agreed on for each presenter. Another good rule is that before anyone attempts to answer a question, he or she must repeat the question.

Don't Bring in Other Work

How can you pay attention if you're reading email or doing some other work during meetings? If you're too busy to give all your attention to the meeting, then do everyone a favor and not attend. One big problem area is conference calls. Since our projects and organizations are becoming more and more virtual and global, conference calls should be treated with the same importance as face-to-face meetings.

No Personal Attacks

It is acceptable and very desirable for team members to disagree on issues. Maintain a focus on issues and not on people. Avoid calling people by name during disagreements. In order to avoid defensiveness, it may be sometimes helpful to bring in independent facilitators.

Have a Sergeant-At-Arms/Time-Keeper

This function should be rotated among team members. It is the responsibility of the Sergeant-At-Arms to call time-out and bring the meeting back on track if the meeting is getting out of control.

Place Cell Phones and Pagers On Mute

Respect for others should be the guiding principle in all meetings. When your cell phone rings, while on mute, please step outside the meeting room before answering.

PM-Nugget 9: Public Speaking

As project managers, we are often required to stand up and make presentations to very high-level corporate executives. Whether we are speaking to our teams, our management or the customer about the status of our projects, our audiences take less than one minute to form an opinion about us. I will share key ideas from my membership in Toastmasters and my training in Power-Speaking from Frederick Gilbert Associates.

I am learning to become a public speaker when I grow up. I am a long ways off. But I've learned a few things that I would like to share with you. If you find any that you like, than I encourage you to give them a try. Itinerant public speaking may not be your goal. But I want to assure you that if you want to go up the management ladder in the corporate world, then you need to be able to express yourself well on your feet. So, here are some of my experiences:

For several years, I've been on the lookout for seminars, courses and workshops on speaking and effective communications. I did not always depend on my company to send me to those courses. I often used my personal vacation time and paid for the seminars myself. One of the secrets I've discovered since coming to America is that some people make a lot of money with their mouths. Stand-up comedians, TV sports-casters, motivational speakers, you name them. One of the people who inspired me in the mid 1980s is Tom Peters. He speaks with passion and sweat. I'm told he charges about $50,000 dollars for a one-day speaking engagement. That's not chomp change? Two other guys who I admire and listen to are Peter Lowe and Zig Ziggler. I was also fortunate to attend a Compaq sponsored three-day course on Power Speaking in 1999 from Frederick Gilbert Associates.

One of the best training I will recommend is by joining Toastmasters International, which I joined in January 2001. Our local club meets every Tuesday morning from 7:00 a.m. till 8:00 a.m. You are given speaking assignments ranging from three to nine minutes with specific objectives in your speakers manual. Someone is assigned to evaluate your speech in front of the whole group and then the group votes for the best speaker.

If you want to get into the Big Leagues, then you might consider joining the NSA (National Speakers Association). Annual membership in the NSA is $450 compared with $66 for Toastmasters.

Now let's discuss a few techniques:

Body Language (The 7-38-55 Rule)

Remember that it's not only what you say, but also how you say it that counts. I'm sure you all know the research results that established the 7-38-55 rule for effective verbal communications.

7% = The Words We Say

38% = Our Tone of Voice

55% = Our Body Language.

Vocal Variety

Have you ever listened to yourself on tape? Are you surprised? Disappointed? Do you find yourself enjoying listening to certain people? What is it draws you to them? Here are some suggestions for a good speaking voice. Be yourself, talk naturally and sincerely. If you don't like the way you sound, you can work at changing it by practicing the way you want to sound until it becomes part of you. Practice using a pleasant and friendly tone. You can convey force and strength and even show a lot of enthusiasm without being loud. It's good to relax your throat and take good deep breaths. Sometimes a good pause allows what you say to soak in while you steal a deep breath. Remember that you're speaking to convey information, to express yourself and NOT to impress the audience.

Hand Gestures

Your hands can add a lot of value to the words you say. Some of you in this audience are as gifted as my 20-year-old son. You can hear and understand everything I'm saying right now without even looking at me. But of us are not gifted. Let me show you some ways you can use your hands. [Here I will demo: hands in pocket, by the side, and congruency with what I'm saying.]

Using Visual Aids

When using white boards, flipcharts, and overhead projectors, make sure that you don't stand at one place. Don't stand with your back toward the audience. Pay attention to the weather station, how the broadcaster moves from side to side. When using laser pointers, be careful not to move the beam around the ceiling. [I will demo how people's eyes follow the beam.]

Thinking On Your Feet

Sometimes, you may face a hostile crowd who will ask you tough questions that require you to think fast. [We will demo two examples of Table-Topics—60 seconds each.]

PM-Nugget 10: Stand Up and Become a Leader

It has been said; “if you think you are leading but no one is following you, then you are only taking a walk.” We shall discuss five of Dr. John C. Maxwell's 21 Laws of Leadership. I have permission from Dr. Maxwell's organization to present these nuggets. Some of the wording is mine but all credit for the structure and the concepts belong to Dr. Maxwell. You can find more information about leadership at:

The Law of Influence: The True Measure of Leadership Is Influence—Nothing More, Nothing Less

Our leadership impact as project managers increases as our ability to influence increases. We often manage global and virtual teams within matrix organizations. We do not have true legitimate power because team members report to someone else for rewards and career advancement. Therefore we can only depend on our Referent Power and Coercive Power. We should use our influence to add value to the team instead of advancing our own agendas and manipulating people for our own gain. People will see right through you if your moral compass is not properly aligned to do what's right. Gaining influence with people takes time. We need to develop relationships with the people we lead. It is said that “people don't care what you know until they know that you care.”

The Law of Respect: People Naturally Follow Leaders Stronger than Themselves

People don't follow others by accident. They follow individuals whose leadership they respect. The more leadership ability a person has, the more quickly s/he recognizes leadership—or its lack—in others. You may have heard the sayings; “birds of the same feather flock together” and “it takes one to know one.” When a leader gains respect, then leading becomes easier. When leaders have influence, people begin to follow them. When they have respect, people keep following them. We need to ask ourselves the question: “Is it becoming easier or more difficult to get people to follow you?” Respect is a matter of leadership—not position, title, or gender.

Dr. Maxwell has outlined the process a leader foes through based on the word “R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Respect yourself and those you work with (You cannot respect others if you don't respect yourself)

Exceed the expectations of others (Go the extra mile)

Stand firm on your conviction (Followers respect a leader who demonstrates conviction)

Possess uncommon security and maturity (Don't grab all the credit of a victory for yourself)

Experience personal success (America is a great example of this)

Contribute to the success of others (Help others develop to reach their potential)

Think ahead of others (Give people the battle plan and show them how to attack)

Respect is the highest level of leadership. The lowest level of leadership for any person is based on title or job description. If people follow us only because we are the project managers or team leaders then we have a long way to go.

The Law of Connection: Leaders Touch a Heart Before They Ask for a Hand

There's an old saying: “To lead yourself, use your head; to lead others, use your heart. Effective leaders know that you can't move people to action unless you first move them with emotion.”

Connecting with a group or team of people begins with individuals. The stronger the relationship and connection between individuals, the more likely the follower will want to help the leader. Some leaders have problems because they believe that connecting is the responsibility of followers. But successful leaders are always initiators. They take the first step with others and then make effort to continue building relationships.

You will notice that when a project manager has done the work to connect with his people, you can see it in the way the team functions. You will see incredible loyalty and a strong work ethic. The vision of the leader becomes the aspiration of the people. The impact is incredible.

The Law of Empowerment: Only Secure Leaders Give Power to Others

Do you want your project teams to reach their full potential? Then, don't create barriers that people cannot overcome. When people feel their growth stifled by the lack of empowerment, they either look for greener grasses elsewhere or stay and become “ROAD kill.”

Theodore Roosevelt said; “the best executive is one who has the sense enough to pick good men to do what s/he wants done, and the self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it…”

Here's the paradox as John Maxwell explains it; “…The truth is that the only way to make yourself indispensable is to make yourself dispensable. In other words, if you are able to continually empower others and help them develop so that they become capable of taking over your job, you will become so valuable to the organization that you become indispensable.”

The Law of Victory: Leaders Find a Way for the Team to Win

Every leadership situation is different. It is said that people grow through adversity. Every crisis has its own challenges. The common quality is that victorious leaders share an inability to accept defeat. Tiger Woods said “second place sucks.” The alternative to winning seems totally unacceptable to leaders, so they figure out what must be done to achieve victory, and then they go after it with everything at their disposal.

When the pressure is on, great leaders are at their best. Whatever is inside them comes to the surface. If you want to know the true character of someone, go play golf with him or her. The good book says, “…out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks….” You are likely to hear some mighty good cursing. On the positive side, leaders who practice the Law of Victory believe that anything less than success is unacceptable. They have no Plan B. They just keep on fighting.

How does someone become a Winston Churchill? Michael Jordan? Tiger Woods? Jack Niclause? Or Mother Teresa? How do you become so good at what you do that you refuse to do anything but succeed—no matter what circumstances you face? Talent alone is not enough! Not even hard work alone is enough. There are a lot of talented hardworking people who never seem to win. The secret is that you must first have a breakthrough. A “breakthrough” moment is that once-in-a-lifetime experience that totally changes your perspective on what you've been struggling with. It's the “Aha!” moment. True breakthroughs last you a lifetime. Your priorities change. Something just feels different. You can't explain it. You feel the type of calm that Air force pilots feel when they break through the sound barrier—when they exceed the speed of sound.

Have you ever experienced a breakthrough that leads to victory? In what seemingly impossible circumstances have you accepted defeat?

A leader's first victory is over him or herself. Winning first occurs on the inside. The project team that seems to achieve victory over and over again is one comprised of individuals who first win their internal battles. The first person on any team who must face and win these internal battles is the leader, you the project manager.


Through these PM-Nuggets, we have reminded ourselves that knowing the pure mechanics of project management does not guarantee project success. A major reason for project success is determined by our human touch, our soft-skills. My hope is for each of us to remember to apply plain vanilla common sense in managing our projects.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
October 3–10, 2002 • San Antonio, Texas, USA



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