Stress Testing the PM, No. 6

A six-minute read on leadership stress tests, your reputation as a PM, and project takeover... oh my!

Welcome to the sixth issue of The Stakeholder Report! I’m not entirely sure what happened, but our member list has shot well past 200 and is nearing the 300-mark! 🤯 If you shared the newsletter, a big thanks from yours truly.

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Let’s get to it, shall we?

The PM-gig-economy

Looking for a PM gig here in the U.S.? US Digital Response (I’m a volunteer) just posted (yesterday) a 6-month paid opportunity. The gist,

… a 6-month, full-time, paid PM position to make lasting change to Unemployment Insurance that will benefit Americans beyond the pandemic.

Stress testing your leadership is a must

The concept isn’t new to me, nor should it be for anyone who has served in a military organization. Throughout the world’s militaries, the theory of drills and exercises is the mechanism by which the leadership, their plans, their teams, and general contingencies are fleshed out.

I fully admit that while I was in the Coast Guard and Army, I despised exercises. Not because they were usually over-the-top, but because the tasks we were practicing were usually something that my team and I already knew how to do. However, hindsight being what it is, I now realize it wasn’t about us. As an organization, we practiced to see if 1) we could meet the objectives, and 2) if our leadership could meet theirs. Whether they could or couldn’t mattered not, the exercise was a success if one could find the root cause of the problems and fix them/it. It was, after all, just an exercise.

This is how it should be, find the leadership issues in practice before they become leadership issues amid a hurricane, a monumental shift in the market, or dare I say, a pandemic. What if this happened with your Project Team overseeing the next evolution of bedsprings? Or your consulting firm preparing to fly to China this past February to start work on a new [anything]? Was your leadership or project manager/team ready for the current state of the world?

This past Friday, authors Ben Ramalingam, David Nabarro, Arkebe Oqubuy, Dame Ruth Carnall, and Leni Wild published an excellent article (via Harvard Business Review) discussing adaptive leadership. That is,

…the ability to anticipate future needs, articulate those needs to build collective support and understanding, adapt your responses based on continuous learning, and demonstrate accountability through transparency in your decision-making process.

The best part of the article, in my opinion, is the fact that it's for business leaders, big and small. Written as a reminder of the times, CODVID, fires, and unprecedented change, I don’t think I could recommend a more timely and applicable article for our both current and future leaders of small businesses or industry.

Peter and your Reputation 🤔

Many of you will look at this title and recognize the importance at once. I, on the other hand, would be a liar if I said I knew what it was without having done some reading this past weekend.

After reading Paul Raggio's article, Selecting Competent Leaders, and taking some time to digest, I’ve concluded that while Mr. Raggio’s piece seems more geared towards C-suite leadership, I would contend the same qualities are in an assured Project Manager.

Competence means having the appropriate knowledge, skills and ability — and necessary judgment, emotional intelligence, decision-making, communication, and cultural and collaboration attributes — to successfully lead a team at a specific organizational stratification.

As oft-discussed via my previous ramblings, I’m pretty keen on project managers having tactful and sensible leadership skills. It’s not something that’s learned in a class nor a book- outright. Sure, you can learn the basics and theory, but until you stand in front of a team, your leadership skills will remain in question (to both you and them).

The article also discusses the Peter Principle, which is that point in one's career in which they become too “incompetent” to promote (I’m super simplifying it, I suggest you read more about it). However, it’s while they’re on this path to their peak that a Project Manager finds the real mechanism by which they’re measured: their reputation.

Within your business, industry, or sub-profession, you will gain a reputation. It’s unavoidable. And the Peter Principle and reputation are aligned when it comes to our craft. Don’t take this is as a negative either; one’s reputation is how we’re viewed in the eyes of the decision-makers, hiring managers, and of course, peers.

I also don’t believe we fit into the normal Peter Principle; we peak when we can’t learn anymore. At that point, perhaps it’s time to depart and write a book or something. 🤷‍♂️

It’s mentioned not as a means to scare anyone, but to remind you that what you do and how you do it will make or break your future job prospects. It won’t matter if you can master the competencies quoted above; a bad reputation is hard to overcome. Period.

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Given a project to takeover? Oh, snap!

Mike Clayton is a magician of quick and relevant YouTube videos on project management (he’s also a subscriber to TSR, hi Mike 👋). He has a great video on taking over a project that’s already underway. Here are some of my key takeaways with the full video following.

If you’re put in the position where you have to take over someone else’s project- here are some tips on helping it go a little smoother:

  • Avoid Promises: While making notes, you should never make a promise you can’t keep, a great general life lesson itself too. Even if you know you can keep it, don’t make it a guarantee. Wait, make the change, and be happy knowing that you could have kept that promise if you had made it. As Mike noted, it’s not only your word on the line but your reputation too. And in our craft, reputation is everything (see above for a reminder).

  • Stakeholder Relations: There are few things worse than taking over a project only to have your Sponsor or Stakeholders stop you in your track because they were not “in-the-know” of any change. I know, because it’s has happened to me. I failed Mike’s 4th item of engaging the Stakeholders. I took on a project that had been running for about two months; while I felt I was doing a reasonably good job over the preceding ten days, I failed to meet with the Sponsor and several key-stakeholders. While it did work itself out, it took me almost three days to meet with the key individuals, update my Stakeholder Registry with updated expectations, and get concurrence from the sponsor to move forward. I admit it was early in my career (2006-ish), and it’s a lesson I’ll soon not forget.

  • A fresh kickoff: I hadn’t thought of this to be honest. Where were you when I was just starting in this field, Mike? This is fantastic advice. Now I know, “reboot the project” with a new kick-off meeting. 💯

Here’s Mike,

Threads is an elegantly simple project management web-app

As one who relies on the digital domain to get their work done, I'm always looking for a tool to help move forward. It's more than a catchphrase, "moving forward," it's a must for career movement and life. And I’m a sucker for professional tools at a great price!

I fail to recall how I found Threads, but it's a fantastic team tool to share ideas, project goals, and updates across an entire team. The best part, for a small group, it's free. I'm not going to create a full review as it’s in line with my previous ones. However, it's safe to conclude that Threads is elegantly styled, easy to use (drop/drag), and simple to see it's worth across your project.

Parting Shot 🤖

I’ve discussed before the future of project management and the eventual use of Artificial Intelligence within the craft itself; I’m kind of into technology. With that, I came across this recent article from The Guardian that was written entirely using AI, without human intervention (less that of telling the machine to do its thing). I’m not ready to throw out my blender yet… but if Steven King has taught me anything, I’m keeping an eye on it.