Posts Tagged 'project manager competencies'

Project Outsourcing Does Not Equal Simplicity

How’s that project outsourcing working for you? In my experience, entire projects or just some of the project work can be outsourced for a number of reasons.  Sometimes organizations are required to outsource project work due to a lack of resources, lack of skills or a need to reduce costs. Whatever the reason for outsourcing all or part of your project work, project managers need to be prepared for an additional layer of complexity within their project structure once outsourcing takes place.

I grew up working on Information Technology  (IT) projects, and it was no surprise for me to read that IT takes first place in most studies for the percentage of outsourced jobs. According to many of these studies, the most popular destinations for these outsourced jobs these days are in India, China and the Philippines.

Let’s take a look our projects and see where outsourcing might have an impact on our project, our project plan and our internal project team members.  There are three key parts of our project life cycle: the controlled start, middle and end of the project.

Controlled Start. The controlled start to a project includes the pre-project activities where we determine if this is a viable and worthwhile project for the business. A project’s controlled start where we do more detailed planning for both our overall project and the next stage. At the end of initiation, we should have our project scope finalized, our project plan built, and be ready to get to work.  Outsourcing can add some serious tasks here, such as making the decision to outsource work in the first place.  Once the decision is made, we need to get the approval and the funding for the outsourcing that is to take place.  Then it is time to find the right contractor, consultant or consulting firm to work with.  Vendor selection requires negotiating the proposals, bids and resulting contracts.  And don’t forget to clearly define and agree upon the requirements for the scope of work.

Controlled Middle. The controlled middle of a project is where the technical work gets done, one stage or phase at a time. The project manager is using the plan to measure and monitor project performance and to control what is taking place. When we are outsourcing project work, everything we do needs to include the vendors – regular status, informal conversations, checking the health of the project, dealing with stakeholders, forecasting future performance, and dealing with issues and risks.

It can be challenging to rely on an external person or a company to get your project work done.  Outsourcing adds some overhead to the project manager’s day job, including managing the administrative overhead of outsourcing for accounts payable purposes. Someone has to educate the outsourced staff members on our internal project processes, procedures, goals and operational requirements.  It can be a challenge to track project progress without direct authority over the outsourced staff members.  What do you do when you find yourself, the project manager, relying on project team members that may not be “visible” to you or that you have never actually met face-to-face? You may find yourself juggling priorities as you managing your outsourced team, your in-house team and any resulting issues that occur.

Controlled End. A controlled end to a project is when we are wrapping up a job well done. We are taking stock of achievements, reporting on the effort, ensuring objectives and acceptance criteria are met and transitioning the final product of our project into its operational life.  If you are outsourcing work, be sure to plan for knowledge transfer to operationally maintain your project’s solution and deliverables after your outsourced team is gone.

Seems like outsourcing is just like any other tool project managers use for project definition and delivery. As such, outsourcing must be carefully weighed, planned and managed as part of your project to ensure project success.  So, how’s that project outsourcing working for you?

Susan Weese

What are the Three Kinds of Focus Every Project Leader Needs?

According to Daniel Goleman’s new book FOCUS: The Hidden Driver of Excellence,

1) An inner focus for self-awareness and self-management;

Many consider flow to be an ideal state. That’s when your concentration is utterly absorbed – and you’re most likely being challenged. You’re better able to tune out your mental chatter because you’re fully engrossed in a task. That can feel great since you’re not only being productive, but you’re also not distracted by negative self-talk or ruminations.

The opposite is when we are facing a challenging situation or a fearful experience. An “emotional hijacking” renders us unable to function appropriately. We can overreact or underreact, demonstrating nonassertive behavior. Here is a way to remember fear:

FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real

  • Imagining the worst that could possibly happen
  • Create mental stories not based on fact
  • Limiting our ability to think rationally
  • Scaring ourselves into inaction

We need to become more aware and begin to anticipate those circumstances in which emotional reactions are just that – reactions. Understanding our emotional and mental habits and setting an intention to recognize them will help us respond appropriately to the real not imagined circumstances we are facing.

2) A focus on others for empathy, clear communication and interpersonal effectiveness;

Goleman tells this story. Think of two people who work in your organization: one a level or two below you, and the other a level above. Now imagine getting an email from each of them. Ask yourself how long it would take you to answer those emails.

Chances are the one from above you respond to right away. And the one from below you are likely to answer when you can get around to it.

That difference in response times has been used to map the hierarchy in an organization. And it reflects a more general principle: we pay more attention to those who hold more power than we do – and notice less those who hold less power.

Here is what Ruth Malloy, global managing director of the Hay Group Leadership and Talent practice, has to say about the positive behaviors of a boss (project leader) that make us stay at our jobs.

Best Boss (Project Leader)

  • Takes an active interest in me, listens to my perspectives and concerns
  • Is self-aware; open to feedback, has a sense of humor about himself – comes across as genuine
  • Inspires me around the goals of our organization; lays out a vision that I find consequential and energizing.
  • Provides feedback and support in a way that is encouraging and helpful; empowers me
  • Has a positive outlook, even tempered – even under stress

3) and a systems focus.

“Systems blindness is the main thing we struggle within our work,” says John Sterman, who holds the Jay W. Forrester chair at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

One of the worst results of system blindness occurs when project leaders implement a strategy to solve a problem — but ignore the pertinent system dynamics.

“It’s insidious,” says Sterman. “You get short-term relief, and then the problem comes back, often worse than before.”

The problem gets compounded by what’s called the “illusion of explanatory depth” where we feel confidence in our understanding of a complex system, but in reality have just superficial knowledge.

After some practice, you can improve the three kinds of focus every project leader needs.

James L. Haner

Using PRINCE2 to Achieve High-Performing Project Teams

How do experienced project managers create and nurture a high performing project team?  In my experience, a high performing project team has a mutual purpose that binds them together and ratchets their performance to an exceptional level that is more than the sum of its parts? In their book, The Wisdom of Teams, Katzenbach and Smith list five qualities of high-performing teams that make those teams different from an “ordinary” team. Those qualities include:

  • Deeper sense of purpose
  • Ambitious performance goals
  • Better work approaches
  • Mutual and individual accountability
  • Complementary skill sets and interchangeable skills

Many of the fundamental aspects of a PRINCE2* project can contribute to a high-performing project team. Of particular interest to me is the Organization theme, where clear roles and responsibilities on the project are defined, agreed-upon and used on a daily basis. These roles and responsibilities encompass all areas of the project – business, users and suppliers. They also define each level of the project as far as who directs, who manages and who performs the actual specialist or technical project work. PRINCE2, with it’s strategies and other management products, provides an excellent framework for making decisions and resolving project-specific conflicts.

Another thing I have experienced with my high-performing project teams is the extraordinary level of trust between the team members. The team members are able to align their personal interests and expertise and focus them on achieving a successful project outcome. In the case of a high-performing project team, the sum that defines the team and its efforts is definitely greater than just adding up all of the people on the team.

Team members on high-performing teams are not afraid to communicate with one another.   The PRINCE2 Communication Management Plan defines the more formal communication mechanisms for the project.  The team itself can take communication to the next level between team members, particularly in a work environment with a high level of trust.

Many times, I have found that my role as the project manager on a performing team is to get external obstacles out of the team’s path and let them get their work completed without my involvement. On the one hand, my performing teams have made me feel a little bit “left out”. On the other hand, why complain about such a wonderful and often unexpected level of team performance?  High-performing teams are what make being a project manager such a great experience.  Using PRINCE2 and it’s thorough approach to managing your projects and your project teams is certainly a step in the right direction.

Learning Tree offers a range of PRINCE2 certification courses in the UK for those who are interested. PRINCE2®: Achieving Practitioner Certification is also available in the US and in Canada.

Susan Weese

*PRINCE2® is a registered trade mark of the Cabinet Office.

Reference: Katzenbach, J.R., & Smith, D.K. (1994). The Wisdom of Teams. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Project-Managing Your Writing

Wouldn’t you like to write better contract proposals, business plans, executive summaries, recommendation reports and internal business communications, such as e-mail?

The element of persuasion is what sets business writing apart from other forms of writing. Professional business writing convinces your audience to do what you want, even though there may be initial resistance.

You need to project-manage your writing by breaking it into tasks (WBS), scheduling them (Gantt Chart), and identifying any resources you need (RAM).

A four-step technique is:

  1. Identify the objective
  • What exactly are you being asked to write about?
  • What do you need your readers to do when they have read your text?
  1. Analyze your audience
  • Who are your readers?
  • What do they need to know?
  1. Research
  • What sources will you use for your research?
  • Do you need help from a Subject-Matter Expert (SME)?
  1. Draft, edit, and revise
  • Improve the quality of your writing

When Stephen King finishes a book he puts it away for 2 months and then looks to cut 15% before his editor even sees it.

Crow and Parkin-Dillon suggest the POWER process for project-managing your writing.


  • Plan
  • Identify objective
  • Analyze audience

Organize information

  • Perform research
  • Generate topics
  • Reduce topics
  • Structure topics


  • Prototype document
  • Test prototype
  • Draft document


  • Review
  • Proofread
  • Mark up pages


  • Implement changes

Editing and Rewriting are iterative and interactive steps of the POWER process. Using the POWER process helps you avoid last-minute crises and meet due dates with ease.

Crow and Parkin-Dillon recommend these approximate times for a writing project:

  • Prewrite and Organize—40 percent

—   Plan

—   Identify scope and  objectives

—   Identify audience and scenarios

—   Research

—   Generate topics

  • Write—30 percent
  • Edit and Rewrite—30 percent

—   Review and edit

–    Proofread

—   Revise

—   Publish

Keep Prewriting, Writing, and Rewriting Separate

You need to plan, draft, and rewrite your document. Don’t rewrite as you write. You’ll drive yourself crazy and probably never finish.

Many people think revision means they somehow failed. Nothing has ever been written that wouldn’t have been improved by taking the opportunity to revise it.

Professional writers know the real work is done in the rewriting, not in the writing.

Persuasive writing is about assessing your customers’ needs and responding directly to those needs. Audience analysis, brainstorming, outlining, establishing credibility, stating credentials, avoiding logical fallacies and appealing to intelligence are persuasive writing tools and techniques you can use to be successful.

For more on how to project-manage your writing, have a look at Learning Tree, Intl. Course #219: Business and Report Writing Introduction.

James L. Haner

The Project Manager’s “No Swerve Zone”

Projects can have a lot of moving parts and a lot of people making decisions that impact those moving parts.  People come with their own set of parts, including their personalities, their productivity and their ability to work well with others in a team environment. Some of these complications are just the way things are, but not all of them.  Seems like there are areas where we can try to simplify our projects and avoid being like those drivers who create a lot of noise when they swerve into another lane while making a simple left turn

Watching this driving style got me thinking about the projects I am working on and the people who are members of the project team. Perhaps this need to over-complicate things extends into the project and people realm at work has the same source as people who turn by using your “right of way” lane when the turn lane doesn’t seem big enough.  Why is it that a simple turn becomes so difficult to accomplish in a simple way?  Why is it that a simple project task becomes so difficult to complete on time and within its scope? Why do some people just make things more complicated than they need to be?

Some people come with the built-in ability to take the shortest, most efficient path to their goals.  Other people seem to complicate things for themselves and for others on their way to the same finish line.  I read an interesting article about how effective leaders can keep things simple.  Authored by Elizabeth Cipolla, the article “Don’t Overcomplicate Your Leadership” points out three simple ways for project leaders to stay focused and follow the simple path.

1. Just act. When people make a mistake, discuss what happened and find a solution with the individual or with the team. Then you can move on and get the real work done for your project.

2. Shut up.  Listen to your team and to your people. Sometimes their ideas about what we are doing and how we are doing it are the right way (and the simplest way) to get ‘er done on our projects.

3. React to fact. Watch the emotion and react to the facts and the logic of the situation versus the emotions that can get in the way of effective decision-making and problem-solving on our projects.

My car driving experiences lately have been entertaining to say the least.  I have watched other drivers take simple turns to the left or the right and make them into overly complicated efforts. This is especially true when they swerve out of their turn lane into my lane and force me to swerve my own vehicle in order not to have a collision. What’s up with these folks?  I think they need to “react to fact” and stay in their own turn lane for everyone’s sake and safety!

Happy simplification and welcome to the project’s “no swerve” zone!

Susan Weese

Reference:  Cipolla, Elizabeth, “Don’t Overcomplicate Your Leadership”, The Post Journal, 22 September 2013,  retrieved from

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