The Softer Side of Project Management

September 11, 2014 Kari Woolf

Introducing Our Guest Blogger!

doug nufer project managementWe invited Doug Nufer, Workfront partner and founder of onTrack Project Services, to be a guest blogger this week. Doug has years of hard-earned experience in the project management trenches, and he's leveraging his insights to deliver specialized training for project managers—particularly those who understand that success requires understanding the people behind projects and tasks. Read on for a taste of this practical, people-oriented approach. And if you're interested in attending his October 3 seminar at Adobe's Lehi, Utah office, you can check out the details here.


At the risk of sounding very old, I'll admit that I've been managing projects since the 1980s. If it helps, I'll clarify that it was really the late 1980s. 1988 to be exact.

people-blocks

Back then, I managed projects that produced the international documentation for a growing software company. When I started, we'd never heard the term "project manager." When asked, we'd call ourselves "editors" and then awkwardly point out that we didn't actually edit the manuals. We'd then describe how we'd coordinate the team's efforts. In other words, project management.

Over the years, the industry got more refined, and so did our efforts. We went from trial-and-error practices to taking advantage of established training that helped us benefit from lessons learned and industry best practices – instead of having to learn painful lessons firsthand.

I've found that project management training tends to fall into two categories. It's either Certification Training, which helps one get certified as a PMP, scrum master, or other such. Or, it's generic leadership training, which shares approaches on managing people. I've benefitted from both types of training.

But this can leave a significant gap in the training that's directly applicable to the rough-and-tumble life of leading projects. What keeps managers up at night typically isn't the hard skills (like creating a project schedule), so much as the soft skills (such as getting a team of people who don't report to you, to actually commit to and meet that schedule).

Throughout my career, I've hosted countless "lunch and learn" events, written a plethora of best practices documents and tools, and even formed a Project Management Community of Practice. Clearly, I have a liking for sharing lessons learned with my fellow project managers. So I eventually couldn't resist the pull to launch my own project management training seminar. It's designed to address all the things I wish I'd known from the start—particularly those you won't find on a certification test, but will make a significant difference to the outcome of your project.

I find it's useful to step back and discuss the basics of human interactions. This is why we begin with a discussion on "personalities" and how to effectively deal with them. For example, consider the last crisis your project hit. Did your manager want to hear about the team or their progress? Their personality type (such as people person or control freak) drives what they care about. Your response needs to satisfy that drive, or you're going to exasperate your manager and suffer accordingly. Project managers who realize this tend to be more successful.

project-manager

There is much about managing projects that requires understanding the psychology of teams. After all, as a project manager, you're not managing inanimate tasks. You're managing the efforts of people. This is why the seminar initially focuses on such things as working within corporate cultures, achieving buy-in, managing crises, and communicating with impact. The latter portion takes those skills and applies them to real-life scenarios while implementing key tools such as project charters and project audits. We don't just train on those tools, we explain the power of the process of creating and implementing them while guiding the effort through the use of the soft skills. It's powerful, thought-provoking stuff.

We also go over such things as implementing new processes. To help highlight actions to follow or avoid, we use a case study of a much-needed, well-intended process that died a miserable death, thus going from a panacea to a Pandora's box. We supplement the case study with a discussion of the "dirty dozen" practices to avoid, as well as a summary of key, best practices to follow.

I also think we tend to make things more complicated than we need to. I once attended a seminar on risk quantification in which I heard multiple presentations that included formulas that seemed to require a PhD in order to understand them. Do we introduce complexity because we want to try to sound smart, or do we fear that if we keep it simple, people won't buy into it?

I prefer processes that encourage streamlined, logical simplicity with practical solutions. My risk quantification methodology is so intuitive that before I finish explaining it, the listener has already figured out the final steps. It's so practical that I've actually used it in real life. Most significantly, it opens up the power of coordination and communication during the planning process.

Not only do I enjoy sharing insights, lessons learned, and practical tools, but I appreciate hearing war stories from attendees. Through the discussions, I often find that what seems like common sense to one participant proves to be a grand epiphany for another who hasn't yet journeyed down that same path. I find it genuinely rewarding and illuminating to create a forum for sharing such ideas. I'd love to hear your thoughts as well and hope to see you soon!


*For more information, please visit OnlineProject: http://www.ontrackprojectservices.com/index.php/ontrack-s-edge

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