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Straight Talk on Project Management

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IT project talent in a rut? How to get your PMO-JO back

Without sounding all Holly Willoughby, “Firstly, are you OK?”

I mean it, really, how are things? As you, maybe, take a break from IT Project Management to read this – how do you feel about jumping back in and cracking on? How confident are you that your project will succeed and deliver the change your business is depending on? How inspired are you by your goals?

I ask because, at the end of last year, a handful of project professionals told me that they were looking forward to the upcoming break more than ever, citing “burn out”, “workload”, “stress”, “unrealistic deadlines”, “impractical expectations”, “uncertainty about the future” and “long, dark winter workdays”.

In the book “Essentials of Supervision” (Simpson, Gould, Hardy & Lindahl, 1991), management is defined as “achieving results through others”.

How extraordinarily succinct!

You could argue that IT Project Management has a few more layers, but essentially, distilled down, this four-word definition nicely sums up what we do. We motivate and inspire talent (others) to deliver successful project outcomes (results).

Given this apparent simplicity, surely, it’s crucial that we prioritise looking after the “others” in order that we continue to yield those results!!

Hearing that several associates had lost their mojo made me wonder whether, as an industry, we are doing enough to take care of the “others” upon which our results depend. After all, each of the things they mentioned, yes even the impact of long dark winter workdays, can be mitigated.

Motivation is such a powerful force in IT Project Management, it can ignite individuals’ passion and inspire project teams to accomplish remarkable feats. Motivated teams are self-fulfilling, they cultivate environments that are conducive to teamwork, collective effort and achieving common objectives. Key success factors like meeting deadlines, staying within budget, ensuring high quality, scope control and meeting stakeholder and end-user expectations become significantly easier for the engaged and motivated team.

ACHIEVING RESULTS THROUGH OTHERS

In a paper presented at the PMI’s Global Congress back in 2007, Tonya Peterson wrote:

“Stimulating team member performance requires a project manager to harness many different interpersonal skills, including good communication, the ability to train others, make decisions, lead by example, and create a positive, motivational environment by understanding and associating with the key components of motivation. Unlike most tangible project management functions, motivation is not designated by the project manager to a team member, instead motivation is internal to each team member and derived from a team member’s desire to achieve a goal, accomplish a task, or work toward expectations. Motivation can be considered the conduit of ambition applied to the desired accomplishment.

I love EVERY word of this, as you’d expect, the PMI and Tonya hit the nail on the head – “Motivation can be considered the conduit of ambition applied to the desired accomplishment” – that’s a great line, isn’t it?

Motivation is a multi-facetted challenge though, psyching your team up to achieve great results is just one dimension, the real test of leadership comes when your talent is suffering from those issues we talked about earlier – “burn out”, “workload”, “stress”, “unrealistic deadlines”, “impractical expectations”, “uncertainty about the future” and “long, dark winter workdays”.

Tonya adds, “Just as some teams are stimulated to achieve great success throughout all project efforts and assignments, other project teams may remain uninspired and shuffle meekly, quietly, unpretentious toward project completion.”

It’s at these times that leaders and their teams can really grow.

FORGED BY THE FIRES OF HELL

I saw a quote, mounted in a frame on the wall of a CIO’s office recently by New York Times and international bestselling author Sherrilyn Kenyon that said, “The strongest steel is forged by the fires of hell. It is pounded and struck repeatedly before it’s plunged back into the molten fire. The fire gives it power and flexibility, and the blows give it STRENGTH. Those two things make the metal pliable and able to withstand every battle it’s called upon to fight.”

It’s true. The lessons we learn, the solutions we discover and create when facing our toughest challenges, the relationships we build, are often the ones that go onto serve us best – and far into the future.

It is crucial for project leaders to grasp the roots of demotivation. If you can mitigate these issues, you can establish an even more motivating environment and stronger team.

The problem too often though is that we are treating the symptoms and not the roots!

Earlier, I told you that a handful of project professionals had shared that they were suffering from a loss of mojo. They work for seven different organisations and it’s interesting how their employers have responded to the dip in motivation that is risking project outcomes:

One business has called in motivational consultants (a further two are deep into investigating external motivational input), two have not yet reacted in any way to improve things for their talent, the remaining two have addressed the roots rather than the symptoms – they’re assessing how their projects are resourced! Let’s set aside the firms that are doing nothing for now, give them the benefit of the doubt – I’m sure they will, and look at the other two responses.

1 – CONSULTANTS/MOTIVATIONAL EXPERTS

Motivational coaching and consultants can obviously play a role in jolting your talent out of a funk or a rut that they have fallen into. Be mindful though that “you’re not applying sticking plasters to a gaping wound” as Jonathan, a PM friend, eloquently summed up a period of consultancy a few years back.

If your team has lost its impetus, it is possible that a fresh pair of eyes can help – just make sure that they’re looking at the right thing. I know the modus operandi of the two firms of consultants hired to help motivate these project teams, one will deploy Herzberg’s KITA motivation (carrot and stick), the other will first lean heavily into The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) – both are great approaches – but neither will work in these instances.

The problems these guys are struggling with will not be addressed with the “kick up the bum” that KITA can feel like, nor the psychological profiling of MBTI.

These teams haven’t lost their way, they have been lost along the way by their environment. So, the best consultancy in these instances is not psychological but proper and decent IT advisory to look at your systems, processes, and resourcing.

I remember my friend Jon telling me what he’d got out of his period of consultancy – “A rallying slogan and a bucket of toxic positivity!” Happily, according to a piece I read in Metro, toxic positivity is out in 2024! Therapist Sally Baker told the paper, ‘Toxic positivity doesn’t allow you to feel your full spectrum of emotions.” Honesty, when things go AWOL in IT Project Management it’s having access to your full spectrum of emotions (and a dictionary of the choicest language) that keeps you sane!!!

Instead of a slogan, you want actionable solutions that treat the roots of your IT project team’s issues.

2 – RESOURCING

Let’s take one last look at those symptoms – “burn out”, “workload”, “stress”, “unrealistic deadlines”, “impractical expectations”, “uncertainty about the future” and “long, dark winter workdays”.

Aside from the long, dark winter workdays, it is possible that all these issues are caused by ineffective resourcing. Why are your colleagues burnt out and stressed – are they taking on too much? Are “workloads”, “unrealistic deadlines” and “impractical expectations” actually a reflection on your deployable resources and how you’ve allocated them, or consequences of skills and capability gaps?

Even uncertainty about the future can be driven by perceptions around resourcing. If a team member leaves and isn’t replaced, the remaining talent can see this as a cost cutting measure, they may feel insecure because the firm isn’t hiring … the truth might be that the organisation can’t find a replacement because of the widely acknowledged talent shortages.

I’m even going out on a limb and positing the notion that more effective resourcing can also reduce the impact of long winter workdays. Client feedback tells me that Stoneseed’s Project Management as a Service talent can help enterprises complete projects on time and sometimes ahead of time. Now, this has resulted in teams enjoying a cheeky Friday visit to a local watering hole as a reward for an early transition in service, therefore it’s not inconceivable that enough hands-on deck might also allow for the occasional pre-sunset clock off and daylight drive home!!

RESOURCING SOLUTIONS  

Talent shortages are making recruitment, hiring, and retention harder than ever!

Stoneseed’s PMaaS – Project Management as a Service is a one stop shop for project professionals, resources, and tools at a flexible and predictable cost. Our services portfolio delivers a true end to end service, from IT Technical Advisory, Business Analysis Services and PMO Services through to Programme & Project Delivery.

Stoneseed’s groundbreaking on-demand resource model allows you to “dial up and down” IT project resources in sync with your delivery needs.  PMaaS gives you access to a wide range of project skills, made available against your demand schedule, from a single Project Manager, Business Analyst, Technical Advisory or PMO expert for a few days, right through to a large team of fully utilised project professionals.

RESULTS DRIVEN – LOOK AFTER THE ‘OTHERS’

More than ever, we are a results-driven industry. The fine margins between delivering the business change through IT are narrowing year on year, project by project. That old book definition that we are in the business of “achieving results through others” should be ringing in our ears, front of mind whenever our teams hit a perceived slump.

Maybe it’s not them, it’s you (or at least the resourcing of your projects).

In conclusion, and as an addendum to Simpson, Gould, Hardy & Lindahl’s lovely laconic line, “Look after the ‘others’ and the ‘results’ might just look after themselves”.

Sources

 

Find out more about Project Management as a Service from Stoneseed

 

 

BOOK: Essentials of Supervision, (Simpson, Gould, Hardy & Lindahl, 1991, p. 5)

https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/motivation-increase-project-team-performance-7234#

https://metro.co.uk/2024/01/01/toxic-positivity-2024-couldnt-thrilled-20048232/